One of the things we did at Student Soul was work our way through the gospel of Luke. We started a lot of explorations with different pictures of Jesus, Different ways that Jesus is portrayed by Christians and non-Christians in popular culture: In film, on the net, and art. Here are a few…
We saw ‘Buddy Christ’ a statue from the film ‘Dogma’ part of an attempt, so the film tells us, of the Catholic Church in America to change people’s perceptions of who they were. The statue was an attempt to rebrand Jesus as a softer, kinder more accessible character. To do away with the cross and have a bloodless saviour who was more into giving you a boost. It’s a parody of Jesus as friend. Now I happen to love the metaphor of Jesus as friend, but ‘Dogma picks up that it can be a plastic presentation of who Jesus is with no real substance.
Another was this picture of the business Jesus: Jesus the executive, Jesus totally identifying with the western world. Maybe it is an attempt to acknowledge Jesus’ presence in our twenty first century reality. But I fear it is simply an understanding of Jesus perpetrated and portrayed in church messages about 5 steps to finding the good life, and the Jesus way to business success. One Cartoon I saw as I searched google had a man in a suite asking Jesus “how is your Business going?” and it spoke to me that often people simply see religion in our world as big business.
Yet another is the revolutionary Jesus, it’s based on the famous 1960’s Che Guevara poster. It is an attempt to counter the business Jesus. It epitomizes Jesus as counter cultural as the champion of change, freedom and the fight against oppression. It was very apt when we read Luke’s gospel because Luke does grown his theology in some very challenging application socially and financially.
And I could on… maybe these would be some of the answers we would give today to Jesus question and who do people say that I am? That we had at the beginning of our bible reading today. Because these are some of the answers that are out there, unlike the answers that the disciples gave they are not formed by an imagination steeped in the scripture of the Old Testament. An Answer in the words of NT Wright that went for models of prophets both old and new, from Elijah to John the Baptist.”
We are working our way through the E100 essential Jesus Bible Reading Challenge. We’ve been working our way through those same Old Testament scriptures that shaped the imagination of both the crowds round Jesus and his own disciples. Today we are at a cross road in that journey, A cross road in two ways we have finished the Old testament section and are starting to look at significant passages in the New Testament of and about Jesus. Secondly we are finishing off following the E100 essential reading challenge in our Sunday services. So when I chose the passage to preach on for today, and if I was writing a film review I’d say spoiler alert here, I went to the last reading in the e100 series; The reading that finishes up, where we started, with that most important of questions ‘But who do you say that I am?”
It’s also appropriate that we look at this passage at this crossroad because it is itself a pivot point in the gospel narrative. In all three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke it is the first time that someone has publically voiced in Jesus ministry that he is indeed the messiah, the anointed one, who all of Israel was looking for as we have seen in our exploration of the Old testament. Up until know while peter and the others had followed Jesus they are perplexed about him, now they dear to voice what they believe. But it’s also a pivot point in the gospel story because it is the start of the cross road, Jesus road to the cross. Jesus follows Peter’s confession by starting to talk about the fact that he must suffer and die. It’s also the pivot point for the disciples, in Matthews Gospel Jesus says on this rock, that is the confession that Jesus is the Christ, I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. But it’s also the pivot point because in all three gospels Jesus says that any who would follow him must also walk the cross road.. deny themselves, pick up their cross daily and follow him.
“But who do you say that I am?” is a question for all of us this morning. Jesus had called the disciples and they had been with him for a period of time. They had heard him speak; he had explained and conversed about his parables with them. They had viewed his character his compassion and seen the things that he had done. They had been called and commissioned. Where ever you are today in your journey with Jesus it is the question. In fact I would go so far as to say that it is the quest we are on… to know more fully as time goes on who Jesus is and what it means to call him Christ, God’s anointed one and Lord. It’s a developmental thing… Philip Yancy in his book the Jesus I never knew talks of having meet three different Jesus in his life. A Sunday school Jesus, captured in that wonderful poster of Jesus surrounded by the different children of the world, a Jesus that fitted his teen and college understanding, an activist Jesus and as he was concerned as a journalist with what was going on in the world with a global Jesus, standing over the world with arms outstretched. And still as he grew he desired to know more and more of Jesus… the Jesus I never knew. To answer that question ‘who do you say I am? At every new life and maturity stage.
It is a quest that draws us into God, note that Jesus asks this question in the context of his disciples being with him in prayer and in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus affirms that Peter’s confession is only possible because of the revelation of the Holy Spirit. Brain McLaren in his book ‘Generous Orthodoxy’ talks of meeting seven different Jesus’ and it’s not a contest between writers by the way. AS he has meet with and sat alongside, prayed and studied scripture with and lived and served with Christians from different traditions, from incense wielding chanting eastern orthodox to chandelier swinging tongues chattering Pentecostals, he has seen how they emphasise a different aspect of Jesus and it has enriched and deepened his own understanding, his own knowing of Jesus. “who do you say I am’ is the journey we are on its the pivot that draws us to our knees and to each other to hear from God.
It is not a destination… Peter makes the confession and right away Jesus tells him to be quite, because there are different understanding of what Messiah means. The prevailing view was that it meant victory and a new sovereign rule for Israel. Jesus who fully understood the Old Testament says that the Son of Man, another title from the book of Daniel and Ezekiel, must suffer and die before being vindicated. That to be God’s anointed was to walk the cross road. Was to be serve rather than to be served, was to lay down his life for his flock, not to dine off their backs: That liberty and freedom and forgiveness and wholeness for us came through walking the cross road.
To answer the question But who do you say I am? by confessing ‘Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one of God’ is also for us a call to walk the cross road. Jesus puts it in three imperatives: To deny ourselves, to pick our cross daily and follow him.
Maybe we’ve domesticated Jesus imperatives somewhat; We don’t see people carrying their cross round today. A traitor or revolutionary in the empire or a criminal would be condemned to death on a cross, and it was common in Jesus day to see these condemned criminals carrying the cross member of their own cross, through town to the place of execution. Maybe we capture some of that in the American penal system, where prison Guards would call out ‘dead man walking’ to clear the way as a prisoner on death row was being taken to their execution. To deny one’s self and to carry the cross is to put Jesus and his person and mission first, to have done with this world and to live in the kingdom of God.
Jesus illustrates that in with two metaphors, which pick up central themes in western and eastern culture because Jesus invitation is for all … A financial one of profit and lose… what good does it do to gain the whole world but to lose our souls, our lives all that we are. The other of honour and shame… if we are ashamed of Jesus now when he does come in his kingdom he will be ashamed of us, but if we honour him now he will honour us.
It was over shadowed a bit this week by happenings in the Ukraine and Gaza, but another possible genoside illustrates the reality of identifying Jesus calls us to walk the cross road. Behind me in red is a symbol… It is the Arabic letter “N”… “N” for Nazarene… The ISIS fundamentalists have taken the city of Musal in Iraq which houses one of the oldest Christian communities in existence. The ISIS soldiers have gone round and painted this symbol on all the houses of the those who profess to be Christian in that city. They have bee identified and have been given the choice to flee and leave behind everything they own which according to the ISIS understanding of Islamic law is forfeit, convert to Islam, or they will be killed. The writing in black in Arabic, is cause for hope as it is written by brave muslim neighbour’s and says “we are all Christians”, very much like the king of Denmark during Nazi occupation as a Christian saying we are all sons of Abraham and calling on all his people to ware a star of David. We need to make sure that this does not slip out of the world’s eyes or their will be a blood bath.
Maybe even then we cannot identify with what it means to suffer and walk the cross road like that. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote ‘the cost of discipleship’ on the sermon on the mount, and was lauded for it all over the world, he only found the fullness of what it meant and the joy of Christ’s presence on the cross road when he was a condemned prisoner in a Nazi jail. We wrestle with making decisions each day, maybe with those insidious ‘first world problems” about what it means to confess that Jesus is Christ, to walk in the path of one who came to serve and not to be served, there are many pivot points we daily face and we are challenged to live out our confession on the cross road. Joel green says “the emphasis on perseverance in one’s discipleship points to the ongoing character of the journey, one that begins with momentous decisions but is not content only with good beginnings.”
Finally the thing that gives us hope is that we follow the one who has Gone before, that there is joy and hope and life itself because of what Jesus the anointed one has done, that we are forgiven and made whole we are loved and cared for and consoled and provided for because we follow one who has gone down the cross road before us. the cross road is the road that leads to life… It starts at the crossroad, the pivot point of our answer to Jesus question “But who do you say that I am?”
Here is a change to respond to this message and make this your song and prayer... be thou my vision.