I made my confession of faith in August of 2004. I remember what I was wearing. I remember which friend went to church with me that day. I remember where I was sitting in the church. I remember taking communion for the first time.
I affirmed my confession of faith at my ordination and again when I was installed on my first Sunday here. I asked Matt to affirm his confession of faith when he joined this church. A confession of faith may seem a simple act but it is the confession that Jesus is the Christ that binds us as a fellowship to one another. The Disciples of Christ believe “No creed but Christ”. We may differ on many things, but we agree on Christ.
We all have or will make a confession of faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. We each start on a path of faith that leads to a confession and we continue on that journey with many opportunities to continue to confess our faith through prayer and service. At some point in our journey, we are all asked, “Who do you believe Jesus is?” “Do you believe Jesus is the Christ?”
Our text today is Jesus asking the Disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” “Who do you say that I am?” The Disciples have been traveling with Jesus across the countryside and back and forth across the sea listening as he taught and witnessing His miracles. It was time for the Disciples to talk about who they thought Jesus was and what has been said about who He is.
People have been saying the same things about Jesus that had been said about John the Baptist. He is Elijah or one of the great prophets of Judaism. Jesus said, “Yes, but who do YOU say that I am?” As the Disciples spokesman, Peter says, “You are the Messiah.” Now, any confession of human words is inadequate to define who Jesus is, His mission, His power, His divinity, His humanity, or His authority. The title Messiah was limited by the many expectations that came with the title.
The term Messiah carried a 1000 years of baggage with it. The long-awaited Messiah was believed to be one who would overthrow an oppressive foreign rule and re-establish the Davidic kingdom of Israel. By Davidic, I mean many Jews believed that Israel would once again be a sovereign nation and there would be a king like the beloved King David to sit on the throne ruling by the authority of God. This could only be done by the supernatural power of God and military might to overthrow the Roman empire. It would take great force to drive out Rome. Many Jews believed that was possible and maybe even probable when the Messiah came.
However, this Jesus of Nazareth didn’t fit the Messianic mold. He wasn’t rallying troops and amassing an army. He didn’t seem to be challenging the Roman emperor. What He was doing was healing people and driving out demons. The coming kingdom He was talking about didn’t seem like a mighty nation. He didn’t seem like one who could be a great king. All He was doing was causing synagogue and Temple leaders a lot of grief.
When Jesus hears Peter’s confession that He is the Messiah, Jesus’ response is to tell the Disciples to tell no one. Jesus knows that when people hear that He is the Messiah that He will be burdened with a millennium of expectations that He can’t live up to because He is not that kind of Messiah. He is not the one they are expecting.
The Disciples don’t yet understand what it means to call Him the Messiah, because they don’t know what kind of Messiah He is. They don’t understand that He will not fulfill their Messianic hope of a military leader and king. They don’t understand that He comes to save and has been anointed by God to be a Savior through self-giving love and sacrifice, not military might.
Who Jesus is cannot be understood apart from the cross and they have not traveled the distance yet.
They haven’t witnessed self-sacrifice and the grave-defeating power of the resurrection.
Only then can they begin to truly confess that Jesus is the Messiah.
Jesus tries to explain to the Disciples what it means for Him to fulfill His Messianic mission and what lies ahead for Him. Jesus tells the Disciples, “I must suffer and be rejected. I will be killed, but I will be raised.” Peter didn’t want to hear any of it. He pulls Jesus aside and says, “Why are you saying all these things will happen? Stop it.” Peter is worried that Jesus’ words may be true and, in order for them to be true, Peter has to lay aside his expectations of Jesus.
Isn’t it difficult to set aside what we expect to happen, what we want to happen, and accept that what will happen will be better than we can imagine? It is really hard to say in our prayers, “I’m not going to be anxious about how things turned out or how things will turn out, because God has always given me more than I need and better than I wanted.”
We can understand Peter’s anxiety about Jesus’ declaration that things won’t go as Peter hopes. We all have worries about what lays ahead of us. We all have dreams that we hope will come. We all have plans for our lives and are trying to plot out what we need to do to get there.
It is okay to have hopes and dreams and make plans. But, we shouldn’t cast our worries too far down the road. Instead, we should spend a little time reflecting on the past to recognize that God has done far greater for us than we could have hoped. We are happier than we planned to be, in spite of our past and present problems.
Jesus has final words on the matter of His fate and the future of His Disciples. In order for them to understand who Jesus is, what He does, and what it means to call Him the Messiah, they must journey on to the cross. They must lay aside their expectations and be willing to follow Him to the very end. Christian theologian Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm says, “they must put Jesus’ priorities, purposes and path ahead of [their] own; take up the cross to willingly suffer the consequences of faithful living and follow him to unknown destinations that promise to be both dangerous and life-giving.”
Put Jesus ahead of us and follow to the unknown.
Isn’t that what faith requires?
Sometimes we think that trivial things are our cross to bear; sometimes, we think important things are our cross to bear. But, actually, the cross we bear is the cross of faithful living. Bearing the cross is the willingness to set aside anxiety and worry, to set aside our dreams and desires, to set aside what we think might be absolute and necessary in order to put first God’s priorities and accept God’s gifts as they come.
Bearing the cross is not standing still waiting for God to lift the burden. We must be willing to carry the cross to places where we can be buried and God can resurrect us. If we reflect on our journey, we can remember times that we lived faithfully, trusted God, continued to hope, felt like we had been through death, and, yet, God raised us.
When we feel the weight of the cross across our shoulders, we are on the threshold of new life. We have to muster up the strength to carry that cross to wherever God is calling us. Stake it. Die upon it. Be buried in the dirt. And, wait for God to give us new life. Our lives are what they are today, because we’ve carried that cross before. We’ve gone the distance and found new life. Confessing that Jesus is the Messiah means that we’re willing to make the journey, because, regardless of the moments of death, we find rebirth along the way.