August 29th, 2010

Brad Williams

Follow the Leader

Who do you say I am?


Hi everybody!

Sometimes your response to a single question, your answer to one request can change your life, or the lives of those around you, possibly forever.

This past week we were spending some time on my brother-in-law’s property just outside of Sweet Home, Oregon.

It’s an amazing piece of property. It’s got old outbuildings, pastures, and forest, bordered by a nice little river on one side.

We love the scenery, but we also love the people who live there.

Cheri’s brother has four boys, 10, 8, 4, and 2, and they are 100% pure-bred males. Everything that boys living in an environment like that could be, they are.

Which is why it’s so much fun when my 3 city girls, 12, 10, and 7 invade that place and get in the mix of all the country has to offer.

They run, and jump, and get dirty and muddy, and scratched, and bruised, so much fun.

But, to my amazement, after a few days of being there I heard cries of ‘We’re bored!’

Now, I’m a pretty good pitch-man. When plans or promises are about to be broken and someone needs to break the bad news, usually I’m the guy that gets called in. Because when I’m on my game I can make washing the car, brushing your teeth, or even going to bed sound like an adventure.

So a little boredom on the farm isn’t about to stop me.

I said, “Guys, remember what you were watching this morning?” It was one of those man versus wild type shows.

I said, “What if we did real life man versus wild?” They all screamed, “Ya!”

“What if we pretended that in a desperate moment of distress the helicopter you were flying on dropped you off in the middle of this wild jungle? I’ll leave a few supplies on the back porch of this uninhabitable shack, (Cause mom and dad want time alone). You will then take your supplies, into the forest, and you will not only create shelter but you will also figure out how to sustain yourself for the next twelve hours. How’s that sound?

Again, they all scream, “YEAH!”

Within a few minutes they’ve gathered their supplies, hit the woods, and we hear, from the porch, hacking of branches, and yelling of orders, occasional crying, more working. They are getting after it.

A short while later, they were asking us to come inspect their magnificent survival skills.

We hike down into the woods, and I am looking at these little branch and moss lean-tos that were impressive, but certainly lacking some essential amenities. And then comes the question.

“Uncle Brad. You said we would have to survive on our own; can we spend the night out here? Pleeease Uncle Brad?”

The moms are looking at the shelter in disgust, my brother in law is thinking about the six cougars spotted there earlier this summer, and I am thinking about how awesome it would be to let these seven kids sleep out here and then for me sneak down in the night and scare the bejeebers out of them.

I am such a bad parent! I’m a horrible uncle.

So I answered that question the way any respectable adult man would: “Why don’t you ask your mom what she thinks?”

Now, the point, and there is one, is that your response to certain questions will determine the outcome of your life.

If I’d have said yes, certainly, the outcome of my life would be quite different.

Now, today, we’re going to ask a question.

One question that is destined to alter the course of every person’s life, no matter how you answer it.

We’re going to ask a question today that everyone, at some point or another will have to answer, and regardless of how you answer it, your answer will shape the rest of your life.

It’s not complicated. It’s not hard to understand. In fact, it’s surprisingly simple. But before we get there, I want to pray.


Gabrielle Byrd at 11:15  (her name is pronounced with short “a” – like gabby — and Sunday is her first birthday)

Jason Dixon at 6 PM (you will introduce them, but Rodney McAuley will pray)

Evening service time change (back of tear-off)—on Sept. 12, the evening service will shift to 5 PM.  This change will help families with young children attend church in the evening, and still get their children home at an early hour.

Fall test drive (#1)—allows people to try leading a Life Group for just 6-weeks.  Special orientations will get them ready to lead—pick from five different orientation times.

Women of Faith (#9)—coming soon at the Spokane Arena.  Women’s Ministries leaders were able to purchase a block of tickets at a reduced price.  All the Life Center women will be sitting together in excellent seats–don’t be left out of the fun! Stop at the Info Center or check the website for ordering information.


Prayer Time


Well, for the past two summers we’ve been walking through the first eight chapters of the book of Mark in a series we’ve called “Follow the Leader.”

And along the way we’ve met some really interesting characters, and we’ve seen some very interesting things.

We saw a possessed man delivered from his demons, to the detriment of a herd of pigs.

We learned about a woman who, so desperate to be healed by Jesus, reached out and touched his garment in faith, and was healed.

We saw Jesus show up too late to the house of Jairus, his daughter was ill, and when they got there his servants announced her death, Jesus said she was merely sleeping, and he went in and woke her up.

We’ve watched as Jesus was rejected in his own home-town.

And we’ve witnessed him feed thousands of people from what most of us would consider a happy meal.

Amazing stories.

But there’s one question in everybody’s mind. It’s a question that everyone is asking, including us.

We’re asking it because Mark wants us to ask it. We’re asking it because God wants us to ask it.

And here’s the deal, I don’t want you to miss this, I want you to get this. Our answer to this question will determine the course of all of our lives, no matter how we answer it.

Everyone, at some point or another will have to answer this question, and regardless of how you answer it, your response will shape the rest of your life.

It’s a simple question that everyone in the book of Mark was asking; it’s what everyone was talking about, and if you’ve been here for any part of this series, then you’ve asked this question yourself.

Because the more Jesus does, the more spectacular his behavior, the more radical his claims, the more people, people then, and people now, ask: Who is this guy?

That’s the point of the first eight chapters of the book of Mark.

Everything we’ve looked at in this series has been leading us to this point of asking, “Who is this Jesus?”

And your answer, and my answer, it’ll shape the course, the direction, of the rest of our lives.

If you’re a high-school student, or a college age person, wondering what this next year will be like, your answer to who Jesus is will shape this year.

If you’re a mom, doing the mom thing, your answer will define how you do life this week.

If you’re a guy, pulling on your work boots day after day, showing up, doing your job, your response will determine the direction of your life.

No matter who you are, or where you are, or what your stage of life, the impact of this question, and your answer is undeniable.

And I believe that after today, after looking at what we’re going to look at, after you hear what your hear today, and after you are faced with this question, I believe you will see your life much more clearly.

So if you have your Bible with you, turn with me to Mark 8. If you don’t, the words will be on the screen.

And if you want to take some notes, there’s an outline in your program that will help you keep up.

Mark 8, starting in verse 22.

Jesus is traveling with his disciples, and here’s where the story begins.

Mark 8:22

22And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 

This is fairly normal. We’ve seen this before. People who cared about other people would bring their friends and family to Jesus to have them healed, because, regardless of what they knew about Jesus, they knew, at least, that he had a reputation for healing people.

I have a reputation for figuring out electronics in my house. It’s not really a statement of my skill, more a statement of everyone else’s lack of skill.

So often times, when I hit the door at night, I’m also hit with iPods to fix, and batteries to charge, and buttons to punch. Because I’m the guy that does that stuff.

Dad makes ipods work right.

Jesus heals people. Similar concept. Verse 23.

Mark 8:23

23And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes (Jesus is spitting on this guy’s face. When he had spit on his eyes…) and laid his hands on him, he asked him, (check this out) “Do you see anything?” 

Now this is really unusual. This is not a normal question for Jesus to ask.

In fact, this is the only record we ever have of Jesus asking whether or not what he did worked.

I kind of assumed that since he was Jesus, and always seemed to know what he was doing, that he knew it would work.

This is crazy.

Jesus, you just spit on this guy, rubbed his face with you hands, and now you’re asking whether or not this worked?

I think if I was a disciple at that point, I’d have probably been suggesting to Jesus that if you’re going to spit in people’s faces you better be pretty sure that this method is going to work, or be ready for fight, now what I mean?

But Jesus says, “Do you see anything?” In other words, “Did it work?”

Verse 24.

Mark 8:24

24And he looked up and said, “I see men, but they look like trees, walking.” 

Basically he’s saying, “Hey, thanks for the spit bath, it worked Jesus, but just barely.” I see men, but they look like trees.

(Obviously this man hadn’t been born blind because he knew what a tree looked like right? But he also knew that trees don’t move around, so he knew something wasn’t quite right.)

This puts Jesus in a little different category doesn’t it?

I mean, for Jesus to perform this miracle, and it only partially work, doesn’t this change things?

We’ve got a little friend that lives in our house.

His name is gluey the snail. I’m not sure where he came from, some book somewhere.

But when the girls were young, and something would break, Cheri would tell the girls to leave it on the counter and during the night gluey the snail would come fix it. (As if we didn’t have enough mythical individuals to explain already.)

Now, you know you gluey the snail is, right?

So after they’re asleep, I get the parts, and glue, and the stuff and fix things up.

But as my girls have gotten older, and the toys have gotten more complex, the role of gluey the snail has become more difficult.

Not only that, but they know who gluey the snail is now, which, for me, makes matters worse.

I mentioned the electronics, earlier. (the fact that I call them ‘electronics’ by the way is sign that I’m aging.) But my daughter’s Nintendo DS was having some issues with the screen, and so she brought it to me. And so I try a couple of things, and neither of them work, in fact, she’s looking at me with that, “Dad, are you kidding me. Of course I tried that already” look.

So then I had to say something I’ve never really had to say. ‘Sweetie. There’s nothing I can do.’

The look on her face…oh. So disappointed in me.

Jesus drags this guy outside the city; he had to be so stoked. “Jesus is gonna heal me!”

He spits in his face, not so stoked, but hey, whatever works Jesus.

Open your eyes, and…ok. This is ok. I guess this is better, but, Jesus, you’re Jesus. I think you can do better than this

Mark 8:25

25Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26And he sent him to his home, saying,  “Do not even enter the village.”

That’s better isn’t it? Isn’t that better?

Don’t you read that second part, and say, ‘Ok, ok, that’s more like it Jesus. If you’re going to heal someone, that’s the way it’s done.’


But that doesn’t resolve this does it.

Sure he may have eventually gotten right, but first time out of the gate, it didn’t quite work. And I can’t quite explain that.

Unless of course Jesus is trying to teach us something.

Last week, David Lewellyn, our Sr. High pastor, taught on the feeding of the four thousand, and he was a little bothered by the fact that Joe had just taught the feeding of the five thousand a few weeks earlier.

I reassured him that, because it was our outdoor service no one really heard, or paid that close attention. So people won’t realize the redundancy.

But later I realized something. Mark knew that someday we’d be reading this book, and for some strange reason, he included two occasions when Jesus fed lots of people, that were remarkably similar.

I’m not sure why he would do that.

But then, why would he include this story? Especially if you’re trying to convince people to put all of their trust in this guy named Jesus.

Couldn’t he have just skipped to the end? Jesus healed the guy. Great.

The only reason he would have included this story is if there was a greater point being made, and there is, and here it is, (first one on your outline). The point is that

1. Not everyone understands Jesus all at once.

This guy wasn’t immediately healed. It took a couple of times. I’m not sure why. I don’t know what the issues were involved, it just seems very clear that sometimes it takes multiple touches from Jesus to receive all that he has to offer.

Sometimes it isn’t the flip of switch, or the turning on of a light bulb.

Sometimes, it takes time to get it.

You know, my family started going to church when I was eight.

Before that, we went to the lake on Sundays. We didn’t go to church.

But then we stated going to church, and I started hearing about Jesus.

And here’s the way it’s worked for me, and maybe this is the way it’s been for you.

I have had these moments when, because of some circumstance or something I’ve realized, I think to myself, “I knew about Jesus, but I didn’t REALLY know Jesus!”

It’s like I saw, but it was blurry. Men like trees, walking around, right? But then suddenly it became really really clear, and I’m realizing how little I knew Jesus before.

It’s not always like the Apostle Paul.

Maybe you know his story. Maybe you don’t. But Paul’s story, to keep it short, is that he was persecuting Christians, jailing them, killing them, and then, Acts 9, you can read this, he’s walking down the road, and there’s this light from heaven, and he audibly hears the voice of Jesus, and BOOM, everything changes. Everything becomes clear, and he becomes the most influential Christian of all time.

And that, for some strange reason becomes the gold standard, of what it looks like to ‘come to Jesus’.

When, for many of us it might be more like a guy, being led out of the town of Bethsaida, to be healed of his blindness.

It might take time, and it might be a process.

It might be a lot more like Peter, who we see next if we continue reading.

Mark 8:27

27And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 

Now this is really really interesting, because, by asking this question Jesus reveals one of the greatest distinctions between himself and all the founders of any other religious system.

You would have never caught Mohammed asking this question. Never.

You would have never heard this question from Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. Same with Confucius, never.

Moses, the father of Judaism, would have never thought to make this about him.

But Jesus, Jesus is totally different. Jesus is intentionally asking a question that brings the attention to himself.

Can you imagine if your boss walked into your office tomorrow, gathered a few employees in one room, and said, “Who do people say I am?”

Well, let’s start with narcissist, because you’re asking this question. And then, we’ve got a list here, but we’re not sure we can read it aloud on network TV.

This is such an unusual question. And it gets even more intriguing when we look at their response. Verse 28.

Mark 8:28

28And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 

Now there are a couple of fascinating aspects to their answer.

The first is the fact that there WAS an answer. Know what I mean?

If you were to ask, “Who do people say Brad Williams is?” the vast majority of people in Spokane would say what? “Brad Who?”

I mean, really, even for some of you here, when I stood up today, you thought two things: A. Where’s Joe. B. Who is this guy?

Nobody is sitting around trying to figure out the truth about Brad Williams.

But that’s not the case with Jesus.

People had heard about Jesus, and they were trying to figure out who he was. People were talking about Jesus. He was the topic of conversation.

“Hey did you hear what the teacher did today?” “Did you hear about Jesus, ya, he spit on some guy’s face today, can you believe it.” Or “Jesus, a priest and a rabbi go fishing…” Just kidding.

People were talking about Jesus, and they were trying to figure out who he was.

Which is another fascinating part of this.

I mean, think about this, if you want to know who I am, it’s pretty easy; come to my house, watch me with my kids. Hang out with me at work, and see me interact with my friends.

It will probably take you about 24 hours, and you’ll not only be bored to tears, but you’ll also realize I’m about as average as they get.

Just a guy living in Spokane.

But not Jesus.

The people Jesus is asking about, they’ve been watching him for some time, right?

They’ve been watching, and listening, and following. They’ve heard the stories, seen the healings, and yet they are still trying to figure out, “Who is this Guy?”

Why are they doing this? Why the confusion? Why were people even attempting to answer this?

Here’s why. Second point. Because…

2. The actions of Jesus demand that we make a decision about who he is.

The actions of Jesus demand that we make a decision about who he is.

You can’t just ignore Jesus activity, or his claims.

You can’t sit back and be ambivalent.

At some point, you have to recognize that his behavior demands explanation, and his claims deserve thoughtful consideration.

I’m not telling you what you need to decide, just simply the fact that you have to choose something.

Because we have this historical record of an individual who healed people, and multiplied meals, and raised people from the dead.

We have recorded conversations of a man claiming to be God himself, in the flesh.

He said things like “I have come that they would have life, and life to the full.” John 10:10.

An individual, who from a rag tag group of twelve individuals, began a spiritual revolution that continues to sweep the globe, 2000 years later. And then, then there’s the cross, and the resurrection.

See, you have to decide something.

People did then, and they do today.

People said Jesus is John the Baptist, He’s Elijah. Both of whom had died but were the only two people who had lived lives that looked anything like this.

Other’s said, what some say today, that he’s a prophet. Which is quite respectable, right?

And today, people say he was a good teacher, he was a good example.

Some say he was delusional, and others say, he was exactly who he said he was, the point is that eventually everyone has to make a decision about who Jesus is, which is why he makes the question personal. Verse 29.

Mark 8:29

29And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” 

In other words, I don’t care what other people say about me, I want to know what you have to say? Who do YOU say I am? And…

Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 

You are the Christ.

This is such a significant statement. Peter says, “Jesus, you are the Christ.” And that word may not mean much to us. I know, for me growing up, I thought Christ was Jesus’ last name.

But “Christ” was a title unique to Jewish culture that had global implications.

Literally he was saying, “You are the Jewish Messiah.”

The Jewish Messiah had been written about for centuries, prophesied about specifically, and it was said, and what Peter believed, was that the Christ would be the king to end all kings, the one who would put all things right. That the world would be renewed and restored through the reign of this new king.

And Peter, a fisherman from Galilee, is the first to say it, the first to believe it, the first to proclaim, “Jesus, you are the Christ.”

This moment would come to define his life.

His answer to the question would shape all of his existence, the same way your answer will define yours.

See, here’s the principle I want you to understand today. If you don’t remember anything else I say today, please, don’t forget this.

Principle: Who you say Jesus is will determine who you are.

Who you say Jesus is will determine who you are.

Your answer to the question “Who do you say I am?” Will determine your identity.

It doesn’t matter how you answer it, your response to Jesus will define who you are because Jesus is all about identity.

Let me show you.

If you say, “Jesus is a lunatic. His claims are outlandish. The Bible is revisionist history.” Then Jesus will have little or no bearing on your life, or your identity.

Who you are will be completely determined by you. You will be the ultimate authority on what matters, or what brings meaning to your life.

Even if you choose another religious system, those other world systems all share, in common, the idea that it’s up to you to perform a particular way.

So even if you reject Jesus for the sake of some alternative system, you are still the one in control. It’s still your definition of your identity.

The same could be said if you decide that Jesus was a good teacher, or prophet.

If that’s the case then he’s like one of your favorite college professors. You may respect some things that he says, and he may impact some of your behavior, but ultimately, it’s still up to you to pick and choose what teachings you like or don’t like.

I call it iTunes theology. You know in iTunes you don’t have to buy the whole album, you can pick and choose which songs you like. And, then you can create a playlist that perfectly suits you, and what you want to hear.

But when we do that, we’re the ones making the decisions, and our identity is still up to us. We’re the ones doing the choosing.

If your response to Jesus asking, “Who do you say I am?” is anything other than, “You are the Christ!” then you are choosing a life that will be defined by, or find it’s ultimate authority in, you.

Your identity will be defined by you.

But, if you say he is the Christ, as Peter did, then the implications are so far-reaching that your identity, the very core of who you are, will no longer be shaped by you, but instead, by him.

And here’s why.

Jesus begins to describe himself in a way that is completely earth shattering. And, he goes on to describe the life of one who says, “You are the Christ” in a way that may be challenging and new to many of us here.

Look at what he says in verse 31.

Mark 8:31

31And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 

Jesus doesn’t deny Peter’s claim, in fact, he re-affirms it, and uses one of his favorite titles for himself: “Son of Man”.

“Son of Man” is a reference to the Old Testament Prophetic book of Daniel. In chapter 7 Daniel speaks of a heavenly figure whose kingdom would never be destroyed.

By using that term to describe himself, and Jesus often did, He is saying, “I am that king! I am the one that was prophesied about.”

But then, Jesus explains, I’m not a king like any other king you’ve known.

He says, “I MUST suffer.”

Now if I’m Peter, I want to say, “Hold on here Jesus! Time out. We just got done saying that you were the Christ, the king! What’s with the suffering?

Cause Jesus didn’t say, I ‘may’ suffer. Or I ‘could’ suffer. He said, “I MUST suffer.”

Essentially he’s saying, “You’re right Peter, I am the king, but I am a king going to a cross, not a throne, and I’m going there for you, to liberate you, to free you, to forgive you, the way a good king would.”

I have to suffer, in order to accomplish all I want to accomplish for you.

If you ever have any hope of finding your true identity, if you ever have hope of being a whole person, I MUST suffer.


There’s a verbal spat that takes place between Peter and Jesus in verse 32 and 33 because Peter realizes what you might be realizing.

If Jesus isn’t the kind of king you expected him to be, then his followers probably are the kind of followers you expect them to me.

In other words if Jesus is different that we expected, then so are those who believe he is the Christ, which is why Jesus continues teaching in verse 34.

Mark 8:34

34And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 

Jesus says if you want to be a part of what the Messiah, the promised one has to offer, you’re not going to find it in a traditional kingdom, with thrones and authority, and rulers and states, and money and power.

He says that if you want to be a part of what he has to offer, if you want to follow him, you have to…f o l l o w him.

And where will you follow him?

To the cross.

That word, cross, struck fear in the hearts of all who were listening, he said you have to take up your cross.

The cross is the epitome of suffering and shame.

Every other form of execution in that day preserved some form of dignity, but the cross was the most excruciating, most humiliating, most degrading from of punishment possible.

The cross represented being stripped of everything that made you, you.

And Jesus says that if you want a part of what he has to offer you’ve got pick your cross, and the old identity has to die.

And if you think that’s a stretch, that he’s not really saying that, look at what he says next. Verse 35.

Mark 8:35-36

35For whoever would save his life (the word there is the Greek word Psyche, it means personality, it means identity. Who ever wishes to save his life) will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (And then listen) 36For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 

Jesus says I don’t want you to simply lose your identity, (that’s the basis of eastern thought), if he did he’d have said, lose yourself to lose yourself, he says, lose yourself to find yourself.

Your identity is about to change. If you lose yourself, you will find yourself.

And then he uses this phrase “What does it profit a man to ‘Gain the whole world’?

See every culture points to certain things and says if you gain those, if you achieve those, then you’ll know you’re somebody. Then you’ll know you’re valuable.

Different cultures say different things.

Traditional cultures might say, ‘you’re nobody unless you gain family’

Individualistic cultures might say ‘you’re nobody unless you gain career’

Materialistic cultures say ‘you’re nobody unless you have a big house.’

In my culture, ‘you’re a nobody unless you have an iPad.’ And I don’t have one. Pastor Joe has one. But I don’t have one, so I’m a nobody.

See every culture says that identity is achievement based.

If you gain these things, then you’ll find yourself.

But Jesus says you could gain the whole world and still not have an identity. No matter how much of these things you gain, they will never make you more sure of who you are.

If you’re building your identity on “somebody loves me”, on “I’m building a good career” whatever that might be, if something goes wrong with those things, (and eventually it will), you fall apart because it’s where you found your identity.

Jesus is saying I want you to find a new identity by losing your old self and finding a new identity in me and in the Gospel.

I love the fact that he says the Gospel. You know why?

Because the only thing that really re-forges and changes a life at its root is Love.

And Jesus says you’re never going to know me, or the life I offer if you just accept me as a teacher, or as a prophet, or as a good guy.

You have to look at the Gospel. You have to look at the cross.

Because when you do, then you will understand my love for you.

Jesus says, “I went to the cross, and I lost my identity so that you could have one. I was stripped of everything that could make me me, including my relationship with my father.”

Why? To pay the price of sin to free you and me and offer us a brand new identity.

That is love.

In the final pages of Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis comments on this exact same verse. I’d like to share it with you. He says,

“The more we get what we now call ourselves out of the way and let him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. Our real selves are all waiting for us in him. The more I resist him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity, and upbringing and surrounding, and drives. Without him what I so proudly call myself, becomes merely the meeting place for trains of events which I never started and I cannot stop. Most of what I call me, can be very easily explained by my physical drives or by what others have said and done to me. It is only when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to his personality that I finally begin to have a real personality all of my own.”

Who do you say he is?

Your answer, to that question, will define you.

If you say he’s the Christ, it means putting your agenda, your desires, your wants, your control, your power on the cross, and sacrificing those things.

It means like Paul you say, Gal 2:20, 2 Cor. 5:15.

But that’s not the ending of your story, ironically, it’s just the beginning.

Who do you say he is?