A Highly Personal Question and a very Public Answer

Proverbs 1:20-33
Psalm 19
Mark 8:27-38


8:27 “Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:27-38, NRSV)


Let us pray: O God, without you we are nothing, we pray that your Holy Spirit will fill our hearts to direct and guide our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.


Jesus is walking with his disciples when he asks them what people are saying about him. What a question!  Did you know that Jesus asked over 300 different questions in scripture and today we hear one of the most personal questions he ever asked?[i]


The disciples have been with Jesus for a while now, they have seen him at work, teaching, preaching, healing and praying. The disciples have seen it all so he asks them what others are saying about him.


The disciples respond, “Some say you are John the Baptist; others say you are Elijah; still others say you are one of the prophets.”[ii]  Jesus listened.  He remained quiet as they kept walking and then Jesus gets intensely personal as he asks them point blank: “Who do you say that I am?”


Peter faithfully declares that Jesus is more than a prophet; he is the Messiah, the son of God, the one to save all of Israel.  Peter responded to Jesus question with a wonderful by the book answer but Jesus sees through his answer and pushes him further to answer with his heart and not just his head. “No, but who do you say that I am?”


Peter gives the same answer that we teach our confirmation class, the “book” answer, Jesus, the only begotten son of the living God.


Peter believed the Old Testament prophets who taught that the promises of God were fulfilled in the Messiah, who would be a deliverer, and a Savior of God’s people.  Peter believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the very one of who the prophet Isaiah spoke centuries before:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.[iii]


The New Testament and centuries of Church history also bear witness to who Jesus is, they tell that Jesus is:

God’s promised Messiah

Jesus is God Almighty.

Jesus came to save us from our sin

Jesus is the Son of God

Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of lords


The Presbyterian Church (USA) defined who it believes Jesus to be as stated in the Brief Statement of Faith:

“We trust in Jesus Christ, fully human, fully God. Jesus proclaimed the reign of God: preaching good news to the poor and release to the captives, teaching by word and deed and blessing the children, healing the sick and binding up the brokenhearted, eating with outcasts, forgiving sinners, and calling all to repent and believe the gospel.”[iv]


The whole purpose of  a church, is to be a gathered community of faith that bears witness to the truth that Jesus is the Son of the Living God…born in a manger, he lived a human life, was betrayed, convicted, died on a cross, rose on the third day, and lives forever.


Who we say Jesus is a question that the church has struggled to answer since its beginning and the church continues to try to answer today.  It is also the question that each individual believer must to define: “Who do you say that I am?”

I wonder how:

  • A child, growing up today in the United States, who was born and raised in a upper middle class family in suburbia… Who do you say that I am? Or a child born to a broken family in poverty, hungry, homeless living under a bridge… Who do you say that I am? Or a child living in a refugee camp in Africa, or a bombed out neighborhood in the Middle East? Who do you say that I am?


  • A teenager, struggling to find her identity, bombarded with images and ads telling her she is not thin enough, pretty enough, sexy enough… Who do you say that I am? Or the boy who is shunned by his family, ridiculed by his friends, uncertain about his sexuality…Who do you say that I am?


  • The college student facing freedom for the first time, intellectual insights and challenges that they have never dealt with, philosophical choices that push their morals like never before, not to mention friends and peers who influence them… Who do you say that I am? Or the young adult unable to find a job or make a living or be herself because of the stresses of family, economics and debt… Who do you say that I am? Or Military personnel, or family of an active Military personnel, who do you say that I am?


  • Who is Jesus to a Businessperson? Who is Jesus, to a Physician? Who is Jesus, to a nurse? Who is Jesus, to an attorney, a teacher, an engineer, a custodian, a cafeteria worker, a migrant worker, an illegal alien? Who do you say that Jesus is?


  • Who is Jesus to the Kentucky clerk refusing to issue marriage licenses? Who is Jesus to Pope Francis?


Some famous people respond to Jesus question by saying this:

–Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France and Military leader in the 18th century:

“I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His Empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.”[v]


–Mother Teresa, Roman Catholic Sister and Missionary:

Who served the poor and needy of Calcutta said that “Each one of them is           Jesus in disguise.”[vi]


–Mike Tyson, former champion heavyweight boxer:

“I’m a Muslim, but do you think Jesus would love me? I think Jesus would have a drink with me and discuss why are you acting like that? Now, he would be cool. He would talk to me. No Christian ever did that and said in the name of Jesus even. They’d throw me in jail and write bad articles about me and then go to church on Sunday and say Jesus is a wonderful man and he’s coming back to save us. But they don’t understand that when he comes back, that these crazy greedy capitalistic men are gonna kill him again.”[vii]


So here we are face to face with this personal question from Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?”  This week I spent some time asking people just who they say Jesus is and here is what some said:


When it comes right down to it, the simplest way I can put it is and what I believe is Jesus IS God.[viii]


Jesus is the One who was with me even when I was eating the food of the pigs. You are the One who has called me by name to come and follow me.[ix]


It’s interesting the question is, “Who do you say that I am?”  He didn’t ask, “Who do you say that I was?” or “Who do you say that I will be?”  The question refers to the here and now of Jesus.[x]


  1. Jesus is the person that cut you off in traffic
  2. Jesus is the person beside/next/front/back of you everywhere
  3. Jesus is your best friend
  4. Jesus is your greatest enemy
  5. Jesus is a baby’s cries
  6. Jesus is forests, deserts, seas, and hills[xi]


I fail to understand how it would be possible to be in Jesus’ presence and not sense the divine.[xii]


          I love that you said, “Very personal question.” To think that Jesus was leaned in close, just having a conversation with his friends…that’s a great mental image.  My answer?  Well, it’s overly simplistic…but I think “love.” I believe Jesus was love lived out for us, and by virtue of that, when we show love for others, believers and non-believers…friends or foes…we are living love…and sharing Jesus and his message.[xiii]


Jesus is the son of God.[xiv]


As musician music and hymns really speak to me and the lyrics and words say it much better than I can so it is the hymn #210, Our God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come, Our shelter from the stormy blast, And our eternal home.”[xv]


Now it is my turn:


At this point in my ministry but more importantly my life right now I wonder who Jesus is to me.      When someone asks I can give the theological answer, “Jesus Christ is the son of God,” I can give a biblical answer, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6) but what I really want to say is from my heart and my soul…Jesus is the great physician and healer but he is also the one to point out my sin and brokenness, he is the forgiver of sin and he offers grace but it is not cheap grace.  It is costly grace that challenges me to deny myself and take up my cross and follow him. Jesus comforts me in my afflictions but he afflicts me in my comfort.  He is my Lord and Savior but he challenges me to be more open and accepting of others.  He is God’s son to save the world and he loves even me for the bible tells me so and he loves me so much that he died for my sin and he loves me enough not to let me live in it.  Jesus is everything to me but even more to all of us:  He is God, savior, mediator, sacrificial lamb for our sin, advocate, comforter, and Lord.


Now it is your turn: “Who do you say that I am?”


Let us pray: Lord Jesus, we confess that you are He – the blessed Son of God and our Savior.  Make us bold in our witness, our service and love, that we too might be known by what we profess about you. Amen.


[i]The Rev. Martin Copenhaver, “Eating Jesus” John 6:51-69, 13th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B August 26, 2012
The Rev. Martin Copenhaver is senior pastor of Wellesley Congregational Church UCC in Wellesley, MA.

[ii] Mark 8:28, NRSV, Scripture texts are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Lections are from the Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings. See the Terms of Use for copyright details. The online Revised Common Lectionary is a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, a division of the Jean and Alexander Heard Library. Support is provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity School.

[iii] Isaiah 42:1, NRSV, Scripture texts are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Lections are from the Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings. See the Terms of Use for copyright details. The online Revised Common Lectionary is a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, a division of the Jean and Alexander Heard Library. Support is provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity School.

[iv] A Brief Statement of Faith of The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), section 10.2. 1983.

[v] Napoleon Bonaparte., Xplore Inc, 2012., accessed September 11, 2012.

[vi] Mother Teresa., Xplore Inc, 2012., accessed September 11, 2012.

[vii] Mike Tyson., Xplore Inc, 2012., accessed September 11, 2012.

[viii]Theresa Blanton  via e-mail

[ix] John Hinkle via e-mail

[x] Jeff Anderson via e-mail

[xi] Dan Townes via e-mail

[xii] Chris Heard via e-mail

[xiii] Sharon Edwards via e-mail

[xiv] Frank Robinson  via e-mail

[xv] Wayne Bomar via conversation, Hymn #210, “Our God our Help in Ages Past, The Presbyterian Hymnal, and Words: Isaac Watts, The Psalms of David, 1719. Music: St. Anne, William Croft, 1708.