Preached FCCW, September 16, 2018
Does anyone watch the game show, “Family Feud”? If you do, then you know that the questions put to the contestants are first asked of a studio audience. The object of the game is to try and guess what the audience responses were. Success in the game depends not on original thinking, but in thinking like the crowd.
After the contestants give their answers, Steve Harvey turns to the board and with a wave of his arm calls out, “SURVEY SAYS!” and the results of the audience poll are revealed, determining the success or failure of the contestant’s answer.
The gospel lesson for today reminds me of that game show.
Jesus asks the disciples the question, “Who do people say that I am?” Then, “SURVEY SAYS!” the disciples begin to call out the popular impressions that people have of Jesus.
Some said Jesus was channeling the spirit of John the Baptist, who was executed by King Herod. Others said, Jesus was Elijah, who was expected to return to earth to herald the coming of the Messiah. Still others thought that Jesus might be the return of one of the other illustrious prophets from Israel’s history.
But if this was a game show, as each answer was revealed it would have been greeted by that obnoxious buzzer and big red “X” that signaled. WRONG ANSWER!!
Suddenly the spotlight shifts from the opinions of the crowd, to the disciples themselves. The tension mounts. You get the feeling that this question is for all the marbles.
Jesus asks the question, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter blurts out, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”
Jesus congratulates Peter on his answer and rewards him, not with the keys to a flashy sports car, not with a fabulous trip to some exotic destination.
But with an invitation to a cross!
He says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
A Cross?! What kind of a prize is that?!
Peter decides he needs to straighten Jesus out. Seems Peter’s projection of Jesus’ future did not line up with the reality that Jesus foresaw for himself. But like a lot of game show contestants, Peter should have quit while he was ahead. Because it is Jesus who corrects Peter. “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things,” Jesus tells him.
Of course, this was no game show. In fact, it was a crucial turning point in Christ’s ministry and his relationship with his disciples. From here on, he would begin his journey to Jerusalem for the Passover and his priorities would shift to preparing the disciples for the inevitability of his rejection, death and resurrection.
And while public opinion polls might make for entertaining game shows, they are no place to base one’s faith or to build a church.
We need to remember that because if Jesus were to ask any one of us today, “Who do people say that I am?” we might be able to come up with our own list of answers, just like the disciples did.
While hardly anybody would flat-out deny that the historical Jesus did exist, opinions about him vary widely.
Some consider him to be irrelevant, and so they disregard him.
Some see him as a great man, but still … just a man. So, they admire some of the things he taught, but little else beyond that.
Then there are those who look at Jesus and see a Savior.
They trust that he, and he alone, can offer the peace and abundance that constitutes true life; and so they are willing to let go of the lesser life that others seek to acquire through the pursuit of wealth and power.
That’s what he meant when he said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”
To take up the cross and follow Jesus doesn’t mean that we wallow in a joyless life of martyrdom and self-deprivation. It means that we discover the deepest meaning and fulfilment life has to offer in the experience of God’s grace in our lives and in sharing that grace with others.
Truth be told, a lot of what Christ calls us to do as his followers doesn’t rate very high on any public opinion poll of how to get ahead in life. That’s the lesson Peter had to learn about the difference between focusing on human things and divine things. And, it’s the lesson that confronts us all, sooner or later.
Divine wisdom alters our choices. Beginning with the choice of whether to follow Jesus or not.
Baptism is the moment where each of us must answer for ourselves the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?” And it is not a multiple-choice question.
When a person is baptized, the questions asked of them, or of their parents when they are too young to speak for themselves, are very specific.
Like, “Do you promise, by the grace of God, to follow in the way of our Savior, to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and to witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ?” Which means, will you take up your cross and follow him?
When asked, “Will you encourage your child to renounce the powers of evil and desire the freedom of new life in Christ?”; what is really being asked is, “Will you parent in a way that helps them choose between the flawed, self-centered wisdom that governs so much of the world, in order to be saved for a life that is grounded in the alternative wisdom of God’s love and justice, revealed to us through Jesus?”
And, the defining question for anyone who seeks to be a disciple of Christ. “Do you profess Jesus as Lord and Savior of the world?”
In other words, “Who do you say he is?”
Copyright 2018 Raymond Medeiros