Who Do You Say I Am?

Architecture, Stairway, Columns, Inside
Not the stairway to Heaven

Proverbs 1:20-33

Psalm 19

James 3:1-12

Mark 8:27-38

Last week, the reading in Mark ended at the end of chapter 7. Let’s take a quick look at the first 26 verses of today’s chapter. First comes the feeding of the 4,000; often debated as some misunderstanding of a single feeding account. There are so many differences between the feeding in chapter 6 and this one in chapter 8 that they are likely two different events.

The Pharisees again seek a clear sign that Jesus is the Promised One. ‘You will have no sign because you cannot see the many signs I have already given.’

The disciples fail to understand the dangers of becoming as obtuse as the Pharisees. Jesus tells them, ‘Read the signs.’

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” 28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” 30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about himNIV

We generally read this event in Matthew 16:13-20, where Jesus praises Peter and gives him the keys to Heaven. Mark, as is generally the case, has a shorter version. Mark’s Gospel is half the length of Matthew and Luke. Ninety percent of Mark’s accounts appear in Matthew. Mark’s Gospel fits on a standard half scroll, making it popular with early churches because it was cheaper. While the early church decided to list Matthew first, few modern scholars agree.

What that means for the account of Peter calling Jesus Messiah, is that Mark could have included the additional statements, but he had to fit the scroll. Think of Mark as the condensed version. We used to say the Reader’s Digest Condensed version when the magazine sold over 16 million copies instead of the 60,000 today.

Peter gets the credit, but it is likely that others were getting the same feeling. Peter was outspoken and willing to stick his neck out while the others were willing to let him. Don’t forget that just three verses later in Matthew, Jesus said to Peter; “Get behind me, Satan!”

Mark includes the exchange.

31-33 And he began to teach them that it was inevitable that the Son of Man should go through much suffering and be utterly repudiated by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He told them all this quite bluntly. This made Peter draw him on one side and take him to task about what he had said. But Jesus turned and faced his disciples and rebuked Peter. “Out of my way, Satan!” he said. “Peter, you are not looking at things from God’s point of view, but from man’s!” Phillips

Notice first that Jesus accepts the title of Messiah, but never uses it himself. He mostly called himself the Son of Man, likely to stress his humanity. Had he not done that we might never have heard of him because he would have been taken as just another god. Jesus lived on earth as a man, not as God. He accepted being the Messiah, the Chosen One, but he insisted that he was a man. He never denied that he had a close relationship with God the Father. In fact, we can call it a perfect relationship.

Peter had no idea what it meant to be the Chosen One, he just believed Jesus was the Messiah. When Jesus began to tell his disciples (not the crowds) that he would suffer, Peter could not stand the idea and let his outspokenness get him into trouble.

I like Mark’s version of Jesus rebuking Peter. We see Jesus turning his back on Peter and saying to the other disciples, ‘Peter, you are a Satan.’ We are also prone to ‘get it wrong.’ Many in the past centuries have distorted the Gospel beyond recognition and many of us today do as well. It is a challenge to follow a person who was not willing to fight for his own life, to carry the battle to his enemies. Turn the other cheek? You must be joking.

Still, the words of Peter stand as the ultimate statement that all Christians should be able to agree with; “You are the Messiah.”

34 Then Jesus called the crowd, along with his disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me and because of the gospel will save it. 36 For what benefit is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his life? 37 What can a person give in exchange for his life? 38 For if anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” NET

Jesus speaks to the crowd, including you and me. To follow Jesus, our Master, we must deny self. We can disagree about what he meant about taking up the cross, but we cannot misconstrue the notion of denial. We have no record of Jesus being self-centered. He first listened to God, then did what God wanted him to do. He also never complained, even when he was praying to God about his instructions to die in a few hours.

We Americans do not believe in denial. In the 1990s, China’s hottest selling book was, To Get Rich is Glorious. It could have sold well in the US. We—including we Christians—follow the thinking of the farmer in Luke 12.

16-21 Then he gave them a parable in these words, “Once upon a time a rich man’s farmland produced heavy crops. So he said to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have no room to store this harvest of mine?’ Then he said, ‘I know what I’ll do. I’ll pull down my barns and build bigger ones where I can store all my grain and my goods and I can say to my soul, Soul, you have plenty of good things stored up there for years to come. Relax! Eat, drink and have a good time!’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this very night you will be asked for your soul! Then, who is going to possess all that you have prepared?’ That is what happens to the man who hoards things for himself and is not rich where God is concerned. Phillips

We live now in the decadent age of the American Empire where we worship gladiators—football, basketball, baseball, hockey, Olympics, movie and music stars—we seek fun, hang the expense; we believe we are God’s gift to the world—and it’s savior.

None of that is found in the Gospels.

Jesus did not just decide one day to tell his disciples that death was to be his future. He told them because God said it is time to get them ready. They will not believe you and you will have to say it over and over, but now is the time to start.

And so, Jesus must tell us over and over to give up being selfish. Share from our wealth, and perhaps from our poverty.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Let the Children Be Fed First

How Alexander Turned The Island of Tyre Into a Peninsula | Amusing Planet

September 5, 2021

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

Psalm 125

James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17

Mark 7:24-37

24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secretNIV

Many Greek MSS add Sidon with Tyre, as it is found throughout the NT. But this may be the lone exception because many of the oldest texts leave Sidon off.

The reading above does make more sense not to include Sidon because Jesus enters a house. Since the two towns are some 15 miles apart, it is not likely that he found a house halfway between them.

But neither of these details is important. It is important that Jesus chose to leave Galilee and go north into Phoenicia (modern Lebanon) to avoid the crowds. Why not have the fishermen take him across the lake?

Probably because Jesus had that run-in with Jerusalem-based legal experts who challenged him about hand washing. You may recall from last week’s reading that he unloaded on them, even suggesting that pork may not be banned any more.

Getting out of Dodge was the plan.

25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughterESV

If Jesus hoped to travel incognito, the plan failed. We tend to think of Jesus only being famous to the Jewish people, but clearly, the healing powers of Jesus knew no boundaries.

Did you wonder how Jesus knew which house to enter? As far as we know, he had never been to Tyre before. As you will notice in the photo above, Tyre was an important port city with ships from the Mediterranean stopping all year round. Many who could afford it added rooms to their houses to rent to travelers. Don’t forget that there were probably a couple of dozen people with Jesus. Unless the text states that Jesus went alone, we must assume that his disciples were always with him. In those days, disciples lived 24/7 with the master. That makes it hard for Jesus to hide. It’s like the circus has arrived.

Tyre was not always a peninsula. In 333 BCE, it was mostly an island city heavily fortified when Alexander’s army demanded they surrender. Tyre refused and over the span of 10 months, the ocean was filled in from the mainland to the island until Alexander lead his troops into the city.

Ferrell Jenkins

A Syrophoenician comes from the northern part of Phoenicia. Some people read that and assume it means she was an outcast, but no, she just moved from north Phoenicia to south Phoenicia.

27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” ESV  

This passage is listed as one of the Hard Statements made by Jesus. When we look at it, we see a woman giving her all for her child, and Jesus calls her a dog. That seems cold to us. But we see the words from a 21st Century American prospective.

First, small dogs were common household pets and they lived on table scraps, as did American dogs until a century+ ago. They were small to keep the expense low. [Americans spend about $1.2b a year on dogs alone.] The dogs were also mousers. Cats were not yet common outside of North Africa and China. The Greek word used is different from the word for the dogs that roamed the streets and country sides.

Second, Jesus knew the woman and her child. The advantage he had over all other humans was his constant contact with God. As he walked through a crowd, God fed him information about those he, Jesus, would need to know. If you doubt that, read this.

46“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” 48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” NIV John 1

Jesus was never surprised.

Third, Jesus always said his ministry was to Israel and that his disciples would go to the rest of the world. Feed the children first.

Yes, Jesus’ dog comment was a bit ragged, but he needed to be sure that she had the faith needed to save her daughter. Or, more to the point, he needed her to know she had the faith.

Allow me to steal from the best. The Gospel According to St. Mark by Vincent Taylor, 1959. This is a narrative proper containing details which stamp it as primitive. Among these details are the locating of the incident, the vain quest for privacy, the woman’s witty reply, the pleasure it gave Jesus, the passing reference to the cure, and signs of Aramaic tradition reflected by the vocabulary and style.

28 But she replied, “Yes, Lord, I know, but even the dogs under the table eat what the children leave.” 29 “If you can answer like that,” Jesus said to her, “you can go home! The evil spirit has left your daughter.” 30 And she went back home and found the child lying quietly on her bed, and the evil spirit gonePhillips

I believe Jesus was smiling at that exchange.

31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the DecapolisNIV

If you see the route on a map, Jesus had to walk north to Sidon, then follow a small river through the mountain range to get to the mouth of the Jordan River. That river runs south between two great mountain ranges before emptying into the Sea of Galilee. He would have then walked along the northern shore, then south to enter the Decapolis (often called Ten Cities in Aramaic). I don’t know if there were established trails along the rivers, but it seems likely. Still, this was likely a three-day hike…if no one asked him for a healing, etc.

32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on himNIV

Too often we fix our thoughts on the miracle and miss other important details. Some people brought the man. Jesus and his disciples had just traveled through a foreign country, arriving unannounced in another country where few Jews lived. Yet, Some people knew him and they knew what he could do.

33 Taking him off alone, away from the crowd, Yeshua put his fingers into the man’s ears, spat, and touched his tongue; 34 then, looking up to heaven, he gave a deep groan and said to him, “Hippatach!” (that is, “Be opened!”). 35 His ears were opened, his tongue was freed, and he began speaking clearlyCJB

At once you can see this healing as very different from the demon possession. Both miracles, but the first was done at a distance with what appeared to be little effort by Jesus, and the second involved a complex set of moves and words.

Notice in both cases that Jesus did his thing without the presence of crowds (though probably by at least some of the disciples). Most miracles were witnessed by many. This was likely done to avoid too much notoriety outside of Israel before the Twelve began their work.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about itNIV

We should never forget that Jesus did miracles because it came with the job description. The Messiah was expected to do the kinds of things done by Moses and the Prophets. We Christians tend to forget that the OT is filled with miracles—Exodus 14:21-22.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their leftNIV

But just because it was expected doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t want to heal people. He did and he does.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence