August 27, 2023 Sermon: Who Do You Say that I Am?

Rev. Steve Nofel
First & Franklin Street Presbyterian Church
August 27, 2023
Romans 12:1-2
Mark 8:27-35

At exactly the half-way point of the Gospel of Mark – to the verse, half-way through Jesus earthly ministry, he asks the question: “Who do people say that I Am?”

In the Gospel of Mark, the answer is fairly obvious, Jesus has been preacher, teacher, and miracle worker. As Leeland sings, “Waymaker, promise keeper, miracle worker, light in the darkness that is who you are.” But the disciples know better. They aren’t sure who he is, but they know Jesus never looks for or accepts the obvious or the easy.

“Who do people say that I Am?”

Well, some people say you are the second coming of Elijah the mightiest and greatest prophet of old!
Others say you are the second coming of John the Baptist, the mightiest and greatest modern prophet!
Others aren’t sure, but you are a great teacher and prophet.

Who do you say that I am?

Peter exclaims, “You are the Messiah!” Pick your language, Hebrew = Messiah. Greek = Christ. English = Savior! Peter delivers! The right answer on the first try. If it were a gameshow, he won the new car – Peter doesn’t have to want to become a millionaire, he just became one.  If he were a ballplayer, he won the World Series with a grand slam! There should be confetti pouring down. Triumphant music. An announcer shouting into the microphone. The crowd goes wild!

Jesus reaction was all wrong. All wrong. Instead of celebrating Jesus says, “Shut up about it!” Don’t tell anyone I am Savior.  It is what the Scripture scholars call “The Messianic Secret.” In the Gospel of Mark every time, someone reveals Jesus true-identity as Savior, he tells them hush and then usually tells them off for saying it. Because they don’t understand Savior — YET…

Those proclaiming him to be savior are limited to thinking he is the savior of only the People Israel. They don’t understand Jesus is savior of the world. As the disciples themselves will say, He is “the one who will restore the kingdom to Israel.” (Acts 1:6) They don’t get it yet. They might be able to quote John 3:16-17, For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. But they don’t get it.

Here at the halfway point in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus travels from Jewish territory into the Greek / Roman town of Caesarea Philippi to ask about his true-identity. He is making the point geographically that he is Savior of the World, not the savior of one people, this or that believer. He is Savior of everyone who believes. Everyone.

There is an old joke that really knocks us up the side of the head when we think this people or that people have exclusive rights to Jesus Christ…

Jesus also keeps the Messianic Secret – hush, don’t tell anyone I am savior because they, everyone to this point in the Gospel defines Savior wrong. They see Jesus as waymaker, promise keeper, miracle worker, light in the darkness – preacher, rabbi and great prophet. Yes, he is all of that! The crowds, the disciples and Peter make the mistake that Paul warns us about: Conforming to conventional thinking.

In the Gospel of Mark, it is not until chapter 15, Jesus never, never lets anyone call him Savior of the World, Son of God. Finally, in Mark 15, it is the Roman Centurion who has witnessed Jesus undergo great suffering, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed – Who is not silenced because rightly identifies Jesus as Son of God – Savior – through the cross.

The centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God.” Finally, finally, Jesus is identified for who he is. The Savior of the WORLD the sinless who suffered for all humanity’s sake. Who was rejected and killed.

Now, we understand, who Jesus is.  Only at the cross and in death can we rightly say: Truly this man is the Son of God! And it is only by following him to the cross can we truly reveal our not-so-secret identities as Christians, the People of God, the Church, brothers and sisters in Christ, and followers of the Son of God into life everlasting.

Absolutely, positively, I say without hesitation, because we follow Jesus we must – MUST:

Live out the Fruit of the Spirit:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Live out the Golden Rule, treat others the way you want to be treated.
Live out the Great Commandment: Love God, Love Others.

We MUST live for the values of
Promoting Justice,
Practicing Inclusivity,
Helping our Church Families and Leaders Thrive.


Answer Jesus’ question: Who do people say that I am only with the cross and empty tomb in the forefront of our minds! Jesus is the crucified and risen – truly the Waymaker to life everlasting. When Peter says, oh no, no, don’t say you gotta die. Jesus says, “Get behind me. Get the heck out of the way! Get the devil out of the way! The only path to life eternal is through The Son of God’s cross, grave and empty tomb. Then take up your cross and follow Jesus! The camp song is right, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” AND they will know we are Christians when we take up our cross daily and follow him.

Taking up our cross daily does not necessarily mean rejection, great suffering and death. IT DOES MEAN: not conforming our minds and our lives to conventional thinking and acting out. It means living into the personality, the gifts, talents, skills, and even monetary giving which the Lord has gifted you. Taking up your faith daily in the ways in which you are God gifted that Love and Serve the Lord and the People of God.

Who are you?  Christian!
What does that mean? Take up your cross daily.
How do you do that? Live into Jesus’ command: Follow Me!

Follow Jesus as obediently as you can. Drink of the cup, live into the life that God has gifted you. Try to get out of the way, and let your life speak for itself.  I can’t tell you how. Nobody can. You may be conventional. You may be unconventional.  Somewhere in-between. You may be called to live out your faith the way people have for 2,000 years – you could be blazing a new trail. Sometimes you could be on a well-worn path or hacking through new territory.

Notice Jesus said that each must take up our cross and follow him. Our cross taking up is to show the world Jesus Christ, Son of God – Savior of the World. Your cross is different than mine. First & Franklin’s cross is different than Churchville Presbyterian Church’s.  Your / our cross is ours. No one can tell you what your cross or our church’s cross SHOULD look like, but thanks be to God we have each other and we work it out together.

Jesus said, take up your cross. Truly this man is the Son of God, not a micro-manager. He never said this is exactly what cross taking up should be. Nobody, I mean nobody, can tell us that. Jesus said, he had to go all-in to save humanity and he insists we must do the same. Dedicate yourself / ourselves to Jesus Christ, Son of God so that our part of the world can see and know that the Son of Man did come to condemn – But that the World may be saved through him.

Alleluia – Amen!

ABOUT REV. STEVE NOFEL: Steve was originally ordained in another denomination 32 years ago. He has been a PCUSA pastor for 28 plus years. His wife, Kim, is also a PCUSA pastor. Right after they were married, they moved to her first call in southeast Nebraska. Steve fell into interim / transitional ministry and found his calling. He served as an interim minister for 11 years. Then Kim and Steve became co-pastors for 12 years in Cortez, Colorado. After leaving Cortez, he once again found his niche in transitional ministry. Steve has been serving congregations in Baltimore Presbytery as “Staff Interim” for the last year.