As we journey through the Witness of Mark, we want to encourage you to first begin with the Daily Reading that will take you through the entire book of Mark. Then, read the First 15 Scripture and Reflection to dive a little deeper into verses from the Daily Reading.
Today's daily reading is: Mark 8:22-9:1
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.
One of the most prevalent and unmistakable themes running through Mark centers on the identity of Jesus. Who is he? Mark is clear: Jesus is the Messiah, God’s Son (Mark 1:1). But for everyone else in the narrative Jesus’ identity is an open question. The only beings who identify Jesus immediately are the demons, whom Jesus quickly silences and dispels. When Jesus heals someone or does a miracle, he mostly tells them to keep quiet and, maybe, show the priests that they are well. Mark records a tension: Jesus proclaims the kingdom and offers the signs it is near, but also stresses secrecy in certain moments about who he is and what he has done.
Mark’s presentation of Jesus’ identity builds suspense and draw us in. Mark wants you and I, his readers, to consider his opening claim in light of his unfolding narrative. Is Jesus the Messiah? Is he God’s Son? We see the signs. We notice the intensification of conflict and controversy that surrounds him. He amazes us. But we also notice that some aren’t sold on Jesus’ Messiahship. Does Mark have it right?
That’s why Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” is so important for us today. It is directed at the disciples. But it is also directed at us. We’ve been along for the ride with Mark thus far. What have we seen? What do we think? Is Mark right?
When Jesus asks the question, he has taken his disciples on a field trip to Caesarea Philippi, located north of Galilee. Caesarea Philippi was located at the base of Mount Hermon in what is known as the Golan Heights. Caesarea Philippi was a Roman settlement, very near an ancient temple, spring, and grotto dedicated to the Greek god Pan. You can visit the ruin today, see where Pan was thought to dwell and observe the ruins of porticos and temples used for religious observances. Jesus took his disciples away from the crowds, into a foreign culture, and led them where other gods were worshipped. Then he asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?’
It is a clarifying moment. Who is Jesus? The disciples offer various theories: “Some say John, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” These theories have validity. But Jesus turns the question on his associates. “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers first: “You are the Messiah.” Peter agrees with Mark’s opening declaration. Or, I should say, Mark agrees with Peter. Church tradition holds that Mark was a young companion, scribe, and recorder of Peter’s testimony. If that is correct, Mark heard this story straight from the source.
What happens next validates Peter’s claim. Jesus talks about the kind of Messiah he will be. Jesus tells Peter and the others about his impending suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection. But Peter is convinced Jesus is wrong about his vocation, so he takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him. Peter probably said something like, “Me and the guys have been talking over this stuff about death and suffering, and let me tell you, Jesus, we think you have this Messiah thing--well, it’s a little grim, isn’t it? That’s not a very inspiring message; we really think it won’t give us a boost in the polls. We have to get back on track here. How about conquest, a renewed Israel, overthrowing the Romans--that kind of stuff?” How comic!
But Jesus turns to all of the disciples and rebukes Peter. Peter was right about Jesus being the Messiah, but he did not fully understand what that would mean. Jesus would be a suffering Messiah. His rescue mission would disarm the powers and principalities of this world. He would conquer sin and death forever. Jesus was not only for Israel, but for the whole world, all that God had made. Peter had clues about Jesus’ Messiahship, but lacked the big picture. Jesus was and is the Messiah, which is good news for us all.
At this point, the question turns to us. Who do you say that Jesus is? Are you like Peter? Do you have an idea about Jesus who is (or who he should be) that is in need of correction? Or have you begun to see Jesus and the salvation he brings in all of its fullness, magnitude, and scope? Does Jesus need to take you on retreat, as he did with his disciples, into a place where he can be contrasted with the empires and other gods of this world, so that you might gain clarity concerning who he is and how his kingdom is different?
Who do you say that Jesus is? Considering he is one of the most influential people who ever lived, I would say it is a pretty important question, one you want to answer as accurately as possible. So search it out. And if you find yourself agreeing with Mark, trust in Jesus, follow him, and go wherever he leads.
Lord Jesus, open my eyes that I might see you as you truly are. Give me understanding and wisdom with regard to your way. Help me to know you and to honor you as the Messiah, the Savior, God’s Son. Soften my heart, and teach me. Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.