“ Who do people say that I am?” That’s the question that Jesus asks his disciples. Clearly people have been talking about this miracle worker who heals the sick, teaches about God with authority and even casts out demons. The disciples answer readily: "John the Baptist; Elijah; one of the prophets."
People haven’t stopped talking. It’s not “new news,” but in our media – print, internet and social media - there is still plenty of “talk” – and disagreement about “who is Jesus”. So, if Jesus was to ask today, “Who do people say that I am?” What are other people saying today? Turn to your neighbor and tell them – You’ve got about 30 seconds – Go!
So who DO people say that Jesus is? (Invite people to share).
OK – That’s what “THEY” say. You know the next question: Who do YOU say that Jesus is? Turn to that neighbor again. 30 more seconds – GO!
So who do “YOU” say that Jesus is? (Invite people to share).
At our pastors’ text study this past week, Pastor Ashley shared a survey of ELCA youth – kids like ours – that was done by Jen Bradbury, a seasoned youth worker who was working on her Masters in Youth Ministry project. She asked the youth this same question: Who do you say that Jesus is?
I was a bit surprised at the results. Remember, these were church kids. After Bradbury compiled the responses, the most popular description of Jesus was: “SUPERHERO JESUS” – a Jesus with power to do miracles. The runner up she calls the “Mr. Rogers Jesus” – a kind, friendly teacher who teaches and demonstrates a good way of life. In third place came a“God-like Jesus” – but still a man just with higher powers. She also found youth who described Jesus as a “Spiritual guru Jesus, “Joe Jesus” – my best buddy, and King Jesus. To be fair, Jesus is described in all of these ways in scripture – but the “REAL JESUS” encompasses all of those characteristics – and more. Distinctly missing from these descriptions was the description of Jesus as God. For the REAL JESUS is both a real human being and really GOD. Jesus is incarnate God – God with flesh and blood.
A popular song a while back asked the question, “What if God were one of us.” Well… YES. That’s exactly who Jesus is. Really human –AND really God. One of the biggest challenges for Christians today is that so many people in our culture THINK that they know who Jesus is – but they don’t know the REAL Jesus.
I hope our youth – and you all – would score higher than the youth that Jen Bradbury surveyed. At Camp Wapo our youth sing a great song called “Prince of Peace” that helps articulate who Jesus really is – by naming Jesus as: “Lord, King, Mighty God, Emmanuel, the Great I AM, Prince of Peace, Lamb of God, Living God, Alpha, Omega, Savior, Messiah, Redeemer and friend.” The REAL Jesus – both God and Human encompasses all of these names.
Reading just a part of Bradbury’s study convinced me that I and YOU need to talk more about Jesus – and for two reasons. First – because other people don’t know the REAL Jesus – God and Human. And, because simply knowing who Jesus is – both God and Human – is just the first part of being a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ.
The other part of being a follower of Jesus is just that: it’s following… following Christ.
That was Peter’s problem. For a brief moment, it sounded as if Peter “Got it.” He was able to answer Jesus’ question by confessing: “You are the Messiah” – which could also be translated as“God’s anointed. The One we have been waiting for.” But Peter had his own idea of what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah”. The Messiah that they had all been waiting for was one who would purify the society, put Israel first among nations and bring in a new era of peace and holiness.1 Peter had big ideas for the Messiah he was looking for and it didn’t have anything to do with Rejection. Suffering. Death. Or a cross.
That’s when Jesus gets in his face and says, “Get behind me Satan!”
Imagine what this might have looked like. Jesus is standing here, with his face pointed to Jerusalem. That’s the destination, that’s the direction that he is headed – come hell or high water – literally. So if Jesus is standing here – and looking in that direction – where is Peter is standing? He’s probably standing right in front of Jesus – but that means he is looking 180 degrees in the opposite direction. He’s headed the WRONG WAY.
Ever accidentally turn the wrong way down a one way street? You don't have to admit it. But let me tell you, that …once you realize it, it’s pretty scary. I did once see a man drive down the wrong way onto a freeway – and I just wanted to yell across the freeway to him: TURN AROUND. You are going the WRONG WAY. That’s exactly what Jesus is saying to Peter.
Peter’s ideas of the Messiah might have been for a “superhero Jesus” or a kingly Jesus. Peter’s way would have led to Glory and stardom and superhero status – not the cross. But that’s the WRONG WAY. It’s not the way of Jesus.
To Peter, Jesus says, “Get behind me.” Anything that stands in the way of Jesus is like Satan, going against God’s will. Instead, Jesus rather pointedly commands Peter – Get behind me. Or in other words: Don’t lead because you’re going the wrong way. Follow. Follow me. That’s what Jesus said to Peter and now, Jesus invites you, saying: “Follow Me”.
So what does it mean to follow Jesus?
Following may sound easy. But following Jesus doesn't mean sitting back and simply receiving God’s gifts of grace. Following is active – not passive. Following Jesus means actively making choices in your life that follow Jesus. And, following Jesus means that you can’t follow other things that would send you a different way.
How do we follow Jesus? We follow Jesus by doing what Jesus did – and by doing what Jesus taught: Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. It isn’t complicated. There aren’t a lot of rules. But that doesn’t make it easy. It’s challenging because the culture – and human nature – often encourage us to do just the opposite – and to go a different way.
But Jesus wants us to follow and so he gave us four tools, gifts, to help us. Jesus taught us to PRAY – to ask God for help; Jesus entrusted us with the WORD of GOD to guide us; Jesus gave us ONE ANOTHER – Christian community and finally, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit so that we would not be alone.
Jesus said, “Follow Me.” It’s an invitation and a challenge. So let’s follow. Follow Jesus – the Real Jesus, who is God incarnate, God made human. Amen.
1Matt Skinner – Working Preacher website: