Welcome to the STC Sheffield podcast. My name is Helen and I’m looking forward to spending the next 5 days reflecting on Bible passages from Mark Chapters 8-10 with you.
Today we start with Mark 8:22 through to Chapter 9:1. In this passage sits v29 where Jesus asks Peter the following questions:
“But what about you?” Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?”
It’s a big question. It’s an important question. And depending on the answer, it’s a life changing question. And it’s this idea of asking questions and knowing the answers that we are going to look at in today’s podcast.
English children are among the most tested in the world, and in December 2018 the former Head of the Civil Service said that in the UK we have an “addiction to exams.”
I was at a training course recently where the presenter used the following quote from a 15 year old girl: “I guess I could call myself smart. I mean I can usually get good grades. Sometimes I worry though, that I’m not equipped to achieve what I want, that I’m just a tape recorder repeating back what I’ve heard. I’m worried that once I’m out of school and people don’t keep handing me information with the questions….I’ll be lost.”
There are many people who believe that the education system in this country no longer allows children and young people to ask questions, find out things for themselves, or develop the skills needed to become independent learners. Instead we have raised a generation who are used to being spoon fed the answers and taught to the test.
Let’s have a look at Peter’s revision period, leading up to his big question in verse 29, to see how it compares.
In many ways it is much easier for us to answer the question “Who do you say I am?” than it was for Peter, because we can read the Gospels and see how the story of Jesus unfolds, and because we live in a time after his death and resurrection. However, poor Peter did not have this advantage. He can’t even be spoon fed the answers by those around him……in Chapter 4 v41, the disciples in the boat questioned who Jesus was, and in Chapter 6 we see that both the Jews in the synagogue and Herod in his palace, are also asking the same question – “Who is this man?”
Finding the answer to this question is seemingly made even more difficult by the fact that in the space of 8 chapters, Jesus has told people 8 times not to say who he is, or what he has done. There is no way Jesus could be accused of teaching to the test! In fact, if you re-read Chapters 1-8, you will see that the only declarations of Jesus being the Son of God are made by demons……which must have been very confusing for the disciples. And finally, earlier in Chapter 8, Jesus twice asked his disciples “Do you still not understand?” Just a few days before a big exam, no student wants to hear their teacher say those words!
And this is why Chapter 8 v29 is such a key verse – because it shows that Peter does understand, that he does know who stands before him, that he does know who this man Jesus really is.
He’s got the answer. He wasn’t spoon fed it, no-one prepped him. He worked it out by himself.
There are two things about Peter giving this answer that it would be good to reflect on:
Firstly, Peter’s answer was radical, politically incorrect and dangerous. As we have seen, Herod is already asking questions, and has recently beheaded John the Baptist for talking about a potential new kingdom and king. 1st century Palestine is not a safe place to be making statements about the Messiah – the anointed deliverer and Saviour. And so Peter puts himself on the line, at risk, for speaking out this truth. Are we prepared to do the same?
On the one hand we teach to the test, but on the other our post modern society and culture tells us that there is no truth, no correct answer, everyone can just believe or act according to what they think is right, it’s all about finding your own personal truths. In 21st century Sheffield do we as Christians feel confident to answer the difficult questions, or are we afraid that it wouldn’t be safe? Do we fear accusations of being judgemental, a fundamentalist, or being bigoted?
Jesus gives us a powerful challenge to that way of thinking in verse 36. He says, “After all what use is it to win the world and lose your life?” When it comes to big questions, important questions, questions of faith or morality, have we become too concerned with winning the world, that we have become too afraid to answer questions with the truth that is found in Scripture and through the person of Jesus.
Secondly, after Peter gave this answer, Mark makes an interesting comment in v31. He writes, “Jesus now began to teach them something new.”
Only when Peter (and the other disciples) recognised Jesus as the Messiah, does he really begin to teach them.
And so the other reflection here for us is this: Are we still prepared to be taught?
Because when we declare that Jesus is our Messiah, our Saviour, that is what we are saying. We are admitting that we don’t have all the answers, and so instead we need to follow Jesus and learn from him. Just declaring that Jesus is Messiah, but then doing nothing else in response to that, is a bit like opening the exam paper, answering the first question only, and then leaving the rest blank – but still expecting to ace the exam.
But instead, if we are prepared to be taught, deny ourselves, our knowledge, our level of education, and choose instead to follow Jesus and be taught by him, then we can live in the certainty that he will always be with us, and he will fill in the details and the blanks along the way.
We don’t need to be like the 15 year old student – worried about being lost in the world, and without the answers. Instead, we will be found in the truth.
Lord Jesus, thank you that you are the way, the truth and the life. When we don’t have all the answers or are faced with difficult questions, help us to learn from you and follow in your ways. Amen.
READING: Mark 8:22-9:1
They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spat on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, ‘Do you see anything?’
He looked up and said, ‘I see people; they look like trees walking around.’
Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, ‘Don’t even go into the village.’
Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, ‘Who do people say I am?’
They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’
‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’
Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah.’
Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.’
And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’