Who Do You Say That I Am?
By Pastor Douglas Huston
Pastor Huston, affiliated with the United Methodist Church
We live in one of the greatest times of spiritual longing. The boisterous prosperity of the '80s and the '90s have given way to a quiet desperation, a simmering longing which none of the things we acquired are able to fulfill. In the past we sang about looking "at clouds from both sides" of searching for the silver lining and finding only vapor. We tried to "drop out" and when that didnít work we "dropped in" with more intensity believing that if we simply got enough stuff we would be satisfied.
That didnít work either, and so we begin to look beyond ourselves for answers. We choose crystals, which are guaranteed to connect us with the power of the cosmos. We pound on drums to connect with the base spirit of creation. We call psychic hotlines so that we might know our destiny, so we might control our future.
We sense instinctively that there is something beyond us, which we desperately need. We feel the emptiness within our being and endeavor to fill it with anything and everything. Still, like a round peg in a square hole, there remain parts that are not filled, and the longing grows.
A long time ago a man named Augustine wrote, "Our hearts are restless, O God, until they find their rest in you." This, I believe is what we are experiencing today. A restless searching and spiritual yearning for the presence of God.
In the Gospel of Mark, we read about a man who I believe had such a yearning. He approached Jesus and asked, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" (Mk 12:28). Like many of us today, this person was a "bottom line" kind of person. It is as if he is saying, "There is a bunch of other stuff floating around with regards to spirituality, good living, and all of that, but what is the bottom line?"
Jesus, we read, answered him saying, "The most important one is this: ĎHear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength."
In other words, Jesus is saying that the answer to our spiritual quest is found in a wholehearted and complete commitment of our lives to God. This relationship, he indicates, is more than just following some rules to the best of our abilities, or participating in some "club" on a weekly basis. The answer lies in a commitment of our "Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength".
In another place Jesus asks, "Who do you say that I am?" It is not an easy question to answer. In the following pages I will share with you my response by combining this verse with Jesus question and asking, "Who do you say I am in your heart?, Who do you say I am in your mind?, Who do you say I am in your soul?, and Who do you say I am with your strength?"
Who Do You Say That I Am?
I met Foster at a spiritual renewal weekend at a neighboring congregation. Over the course of the weekend I learned his faith story. It was not unusual, nor was it dramatic. He said:
Before I was born I was involved in church. My father directed the choir, and my mother played the organ, so even while she was pregnant I was in church. After I was born I became the "pass around baby during choir practice and worship" and my involvement continued from there.
As a young man I joined with some friends to form a "Christian Quartet", and we sang in our congregation and other churches in the region. In fact, while singing at a neighboring congregation a young woman setting near the front caught my eye. Being in charge of the schedule I booked a number of appearances in that congregation. Eventually it paid off, and Ruth agreed to marry me, and we began our life, our family, and our faith commitment together.
Like our their parents, we raised our children in the church. We were involved in worship, choir, and the committee leadership of the congregation. That is what we understood being a good Christian meant.
Then one day a young person came up to me and asked, "Are you a Christian?"
I was appalled that someone would dare to even ask such a question. Look at my pedigree. Look at what Iíve done all my life, how I have lived. How could anyone doubt, or even wonder if Iím a Christian? I mumbled a response, and then walked away as quickly as I could, expecting that to be the end. But it was not.
The question continued to bother me like a chipped tooth that your tongue revisits time and again, or like a grain of sand or a small speck of dust in your eye, that will not allow you to do anything else until it is removed. No matter what I did, or where I went I heard this person asking, "Are you a Christian? What about you? Who do you say Jesus is?"
It seemed that even though Foster had spent many years singing about the faith, teaching church school and telling others about God, now he felt uncertain about what it all meant. The question disturbed him at the central core of his life. He was uncertain how he would respond to this question.
The disciples who stood with Jesus outside the city of Caesarea Philippi, the Roman capital of Palestine faced a similar dilemma. There in the shadow of the seat of political and economic power in their corner of the world Jesus challenged them to declare their faith.
He asked them first, "Who do people say that I am?"
Answering that was easy. They rattled off the responses they had heard, "John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets" in our Old Testament. Sharing what others said was not a problem.
We find we also have little problem with this query. In fact, we may delight in such a philosophical question and declare he is a wonderful teacher, a miracle worker, a gifted philosopher, or even a great man of God. Such responses involve no commitment, no ownership and provide us with complete deniability. After all, this is what "others say".
Jesus second question, however, requires a response from an entirely different level. In order to respond to this question one must commit oneself, and become bound by your words.
I am sure the disciples felt a discomfort similar to Fosterís as they stood in the shadow of that ancient, but great metropolis. I do not doubt that they squirmed under the weight of the silence that enveloped them.
Like Foster, they were good people. They had left homes and family in order to serve God, to follow this itinerant preacher. They had shared with others what they had seen and heard. Now they found themselves called to a commitment, to speak from their heart, soul, mind and strength. How they responded would change them, and eventually the world.
Today we stand in the same place. The symbols of political and financial power rise up around us. Standing with the disciples we hear Jesus say, "Who do you say that I am?"
Who do you say that I am?
"Who do you say that I am, in your heart?"
Jesus didnít ask this question directly, but I certainly find it inferred in these scripture passages from the Gospels of Mark and Matthew where we hear Jesus asking his disciples "Who do you say that I am?"
This is not an easy question to answer. It seems that we instinctively know that how we respond will impact the rest of our lives.
I, like Foster, grew up in the church. I am sure I was present in worship just as early in my life as was he. Church was not an option for our family while we were growing up. Sunday came, and we would be there. By the time I got into high school that meant that I arrived at church around 7:30 AM, for choir practice, church school and worship, took a break after Noon, and then was back again in the evening for youth fellowship. But my involvement had little to do with a spiritual quest. I was much more interested in nurturing relationships with Jody, Helen or Sandy than with Jesus. In fact, if someone had asked at that time, "Who do you say Jesus is?" I would have said that Jesus was a dream, an illusion, a fantasy or a great cosmic Santa Claus. As a youth I could see little relevance between the church, Jesus and the reality in which I lived.
One weekend during the fall after I graduated from High School our church hosted a spiritual retreat weekend called a "Lay Witness Mission". I attended primarily because on the first evening I discovered a number of very nice young ladies from out of town whose acquaintance I desired to make. By Sunday morning, I began to realize something was different about how these young ladies, and the young men who had also come, lived and talked. I saw in them a depth and connection to God I could not even begin to imagine, but I knew with certainty this depth and connection was not a part of my life or experience. That day, in response to an invitation given during worship I knelt in prayer and asked Jesus to forgive my sins, to come into my life, to be my savior. That, I believed took care of the spiritual stuff for my life. With that out of the way I could get on with my life. I could, and did, honestly say, "Jesus is my Savior" but I didnít let that bother how I lived. I had taken a first step, but Jesus was still far from the center of my heart.
We speak of the heart as being the "center of our emotions", of focusing our "passions and desires". Though at that point in my life I felt I "knew" God, I was definitely not ready for a commitment. In fact, I wasnít even sure I wanted to go steady. I longed to go and do all the fun parts of life, and as the Beach Boys sang in "Surfing Safari" I didnít want to "go steady because it wouldnít be right". My heart was not involved in the relationship.
To "love God with all our heart" means that God becomes the center and focus of our passion and desires. God is the one with whom we long to spend time, who we desire to get to know, who creates within us a passion for life.
At that point in my life my wants and needs remained the center and focus of my passion and desires. I felt better knowing Jesus forgave me, because that is what I needed. I expected Jesus to make things better for me, but my heart was not in it. I could not say I loved God with all my heart.
What is the passion and desire of your life? Do you love God with all your heart?
Who do you say that I am?
Frances Havergal writes in a classic hymn of the church:
Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee,
Take my will and make it thine,
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart it is thine own,
It shall be thy royal throne.
In the United States we are not much into "royal thrones", but we do have a semblance of understanding of the "seat of power". We watch each day to see what is reported from the financial seat of power "Wall Street". We receive numerous reports from the political seat of power "Washington DC". We even identify within our own families the ones who wield the power and control. The one on the seat is the one in control.
A number of years ago pamphlet was published entitled, "Four Spiritual Laws". I donít remember much more than the first law, but I remember a series of pictures it contained. The pictures were two circles with a chair in the center of each. The circles, it said, symbolized our lives, and the chair the seat of power and control in our lives, the throne of our heart of which Frances Havergal wrote.
The first circle contained a number of dots of a variety of sizes placed randomly around the circle. It was not hard for me to imagine these dots, these different activities of my life, moving around within the circle crashing into one another and causing chaos and stress. In the center of this circle, on the seat of power was the letter "I". In other words, this was where I was in charge, where I determined the order, where I followed the passions and desires of my heart, and the picture was not pretty.
I knew this picture to be real and true. I knew the chaos and stress, and that I could not control all the different aspects of my life. Like the person spinning plates on sticks I knew I would not be able to keep them all going and that one or more would soon come crashing down.
The second circle was different. The dots, though still different sizes, now appeared ordered, the chaos removed. At the center, on the seat of power sat a cross, and "I" stood to one side. Jesus sat at the center directing and controlling this life. This, I knew, was that for which I longed.
This is that for which I believe we all yearn, to have order amidst the chaos of our lives. We long for peace in the middle of the storms that assail us. We desire a place where we might rest and be restored.
To "love the Lord your God with all your heart" begins with Godís call to commit our hearts to God. We do this first by acknowledging we are a great distance from God, and that only God, through the power of the resurrection of Jesus, can close that gap. We accept Jesus Christ as our savior who forgives our sins. Knowing we are forgiven we have a new beginning. Our love for God in our hearts continues to grow as we acknowledge, as the picture in the pamphlet indicated, that Jesus Christ is the Lord, the leader and director of our lives.
That is what happened in Fosterís life and in my life. Though we had been involved in the church all of our lives we knew our answer to Jesus question, "Who do you say that I am?" was inadequate. We understood that as we place Jesus on the throne of our heart we declare, "Jesus is my savior. He has forgiven, and continues to forgive all of my sins. Jesus is the Lord of my life. He is the focus of all my passion and desires."
What about you? Who do you say Jesus is in your heart?
Who do you say that I am?
Asking Jesus to come into our heart is such an easy thing to do. All we need do is recognize our emptiness, acknowledge our separation from God, and ask God to forgive us in the name of Jesus. One canít imagine anything simpler, yet it seems this can only be accomplished with great difficulty.
People experience this emptiness in a wide variety of ways. For some it is a deep longing, or unsettledness that wonít go away. There are times when we feel we have it under control, but then like the mythological Medusa it comes back to haunt us in another form. Some work to fill the emptiness with a wide variety of activities. Alcohol or drugs have remained popular throughout history. As long as we keep ourselves appropriately numb we can pretend the emptiness no longer exists. We ignore the fact that we need increasing amounts of our drug of choice in order to keep the emptiness at bay until one day we find ourselves in a deep empty abyss.
Others strive to fill the emptiness with work. The emptiness for us is insecurity, and we feel that when we establish ourselves as financially secure, or successful, we will be fulfilled and the emptiness will disappear. Yet we find, as the clichť declares, "The harder we work the behinder we get". Stories abound of those who have sacrificed to get ahead, who reach the peak of their careers only to find they stand alone with little more than a feeling of emptiness. Their success did not fill the void.
Or people seek fulfillment in a variety of activities or cults. Some have spiritual overtones; others are physical or sexual in nature. The proliferation of the "spiritual" chat rooms and the pornographic websites on the internet reflect peopleís desire to fill the empty voids of their lives. Some hope to find fulfillment and answers to the mysteries of life through the "certified authentic" readers of tarot cards or psychics. Others follow that dark and twisted path of voyeur sex hoping that somehow they might satisfy the deep hunger of their addiction and the emptiness they feel within.
Yet no matter which path we follow we find ourselves dissatisfied with the results. Like wearing second hand clothes, they just donít fit quite right.
God alone can fill the emptiness of our hearts.
That is what I learned as I knelt in prayer a number of years ago. I realized the one who created me, who designed me to commune with the eternal, wanted to connect with me even more than I wanted to connect with him. God longed to "walk with me and talk with me" even as he did with Adam and Eve at the beginning of the world. God wanted me to know I was loved, and that nothing could ever separate me from that love. That goes a long way towards filling up any emptiness we might feel.
All we need do is pray even the simplest of prayers. To pray to God something like:
"Lord I know I am separated from you by what I have done and said. Forgive me of my sins. I long to be united with you. Please come in to my heart and my life."
That is all it takes to make a beginning. How it grows from there is a wondrous and marvelous experience.
Jesus asks, "Who do you say I am in your heart?"
Who Do You Say That I Am?
We feel the emptiness in our heart. We long to fill it, and all this God stuff sounds great. We may even want to ask Jesus to come in a live in our hearts, but does it really make sense? Can we give up all reason and take a great leap into the unknown by faith?
Faith and reason have been considered adversaries for years, maybe even centuries. Some great intellectuals have said that when you take a step of faith you must check your mind and your intellect at the door. But is considering the information available to us and taking a step of faith based on that information really any different than any number of scientific explorations?
I live in an area where the nuclear industry was born. One day while taking a tour of the nearby nuclear reservation our guide spoke of the early days of experimentation and research. He told how even the great scientists like Albert Einstein did not really know what might happen. They had their ideas, their hopes, and their theories, but there was no certainty. They knew that if the radioactive rods were raised in the reactor they produced heat, and that if they were lowered the reaction ended. They did not know, however, if they could really control the reaction. The rods were raised and lowered with a rope, so they established a "SCRAM" procedure for emergencies. This procedure involved a man with an axe standing next to the rope as it passed over a chopping block. If the reaction got out of control he was to chop the rope and lower the rods. He was the Safety-Control-Rod-Axe-Man (SCRAM).
This is a long way of saying even these scientists had to take a leap of faith to make their discoveries. There came a time when considering all the information available they simply had to move forward.
I believe God wants us to do the same thing with regard to our faith. God does not want blind leaping. God wants us to love him with "all our mind". In order to do that we cannot check it at the door. Instead, using the scientific method we can search for answers to our faith.
There is far too much material presented by far greater scholars than I to even begin to summarize in the space available. C. S. Lewis, Josh MacDowell, and most recently Lee Stroebel have written significant works in this area. However, drawing from some of their writings I will address three areas in the next three chapters: The Bible, The Claims of Jesus, and Proof of the Resurrection.
Who Do You Say That I Am?
The Bible is the most important document for those who want to learn about and live the Christian faith. It is however dismissed by some as being "little more than embellished folk tales," or "A document good for children and the simple minded, but not for thinking and reasonable adults." Lee Strobel states, "During my years as an atheist Ö although I had never studied its contents, I was quick to reject the Bible in order to free myself to live the kind of corrupt lifestyle that was blatantly at odds with its tenets.
In other words, though some people do not know what the Bible says, and may never have studied it, they quickly denounce it as being irrelevant so that they donít feel bad about how they are living. It seems they know instinctively when their lifestyle is out of sync with what the Bible proclaims.
But can we trust the Bible?
The Bible is more than a book. It is really much more like an encyclopedia, a collection of many books and articles written by a wide variety of authors. In fact, the Bible was put together over a period of more than 1000 years. With a number of authors and such a long span of time one might expect the message to become fragmented or distorted. But one of the Bibleís greatest strengths is that throughout the years, from one author to the next, the message remains the same. God the creator of the universe, is present in our world, concerned and involved with the creation, will never let us go, and is constantly working to bring reconciliation between the creator and the creation. This message rings loud and clear from the first page to the last. The message of the authors is consistent.
But can we trust the information it contains? Arenít there a number of mistakes in the Bible?
Lee Strobel states that this is not true, that the Bible has, in fact, been repeatedly proven to be correct when at first it was doubted. For example, he refers us to the Bibleís mentioning the people called "Hittite". For an extended period of time modern scholars felt this was a mistake because no "extra-biblical" reference could be found of these people. Then at an archeological dig in Turkey evidence was found to corroborate the Biblical claim.
William F. Albright states, "There can be no doubt that archeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of the Old Testament."
Colin J. Heimer says the same is true for the New Testament. He says, "In just the book of Acts, hundreds and hundreds of details have been corroborated, like which way the wind blows, how deep the water is a certain distance from shore, and the names of local officials.
Strobel then concludes, "If archeology shows the Bible to be accurate in what can be checked out, why would it be any less accurate in it other points?
A very good question.
His conclusion, and mine, is that the Bible contains can be trusted. A further evidence of this is found in the lives that have been changed as people study this "holy" word and come to a new understanding of what it means to live in a right relationship with God.
Foster discovered this in his life. Though he had been living according to the Christian principles all his life, he found a new depth and meaning to life as he opened his life and heart to the living presence of God as revealed in the Bible. These old and familiar stories took on new meaning as he understood the reality and truth of these words in his life. This book became something more than a cherished treasure, it became a trusted resource for guidance and strength.
One of my seminary professors put it this way, "It is not true because it is in the Bible, it is in the Bible because it is true."
Can we trust this ancient holy book?
Yes, I believe we can because it is the "Living Word" of God.
But donít take my word for it. Read it and see for yourself if that which is written is true and can be trusted.
Who Do You Say that I Am?
How do we do best read the Bible?
If it is a book should we not start at the beginning and keep reading until we get to the end? In other words, start with the book of Genesis and slog our way through until we get to the book of Revelation?
I donít think so. Though such an exercise can have great merit, for the one seeking to begin to understand it is commonly seen as a formula for failure.
As we have stated, the Bible is a collection of books whose authors faithfully present a theme of Godís presence in the world. Each of the books in this collection repeats and reinforces that theme. With that in mind one could say it then doesnít matter where one begins to read, and you would be partly correct. But like with most other things, there are better places to start than others.
Take a jigsaw puzzle for example. When all the pieces are spread out on the table we know that each piece with connect with several others to reveal a picture when complete. You could pick up any piece and search for the other pieces to which it would connect, and in that way make your beginning. However, those who are much more expert in the art of jigsaw puzzles than I tell me that it is best to find the pieces that form the border, connect them, and then work on that which lies in the middle.
In the Bible the books of the New Testament, which are commonly called the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, might be considered the borders for which we search. These books provide for us the account of the life and teachings of Jesus the Christ, the messiah to whom the books of the Old Testament pointed, and the foundation upon which the later books were written. These books are not long, and even if taken as a whole they are shorter than most popular novels. Even so we find ourselves unable, or at least unwilling to read them in such a manner. Rather we take them a little at a time.
With that in mind I recommend people begin with the Book of Mark. It is the shortest of the four Gospels, and at a chapter a day can be completed in less than three weeks. Mark also moves quickly. One of the authorís favorite words is "immediately". As one event ends he depicts Jesus as moving "immediately" on to the next.
To develop the habit of reading the Bible it is good to pick a time and a place when and where you can do so. Though most people recommend beginning your day with this activity, and though such a habit has many benefits, it is best to build this habit into the fabric of your life whenever you are most alert rather than at some outside directed time.
Once a place and time is established, do all you can to remove outside distractions. Turn off the cell phone, television, radio and CD player. Let your family know you donít want to be disturbed for a period of time. Then, acknowledging the one whose word you are about to read, open the Bible and begin.
If the goal is to develop a habit, donít overdo the first few times. Like beginning an exercise program, the goal is both immediate and long term. We want to strengthen our spiritual understanding and connection with God, but we donít want to be so sore or overwhelmed that we never try again.
In starting a spiritual discipline, like reading the Bible, I recommend that people begin with ten to fifteen minutes a day. I even encourage them to set a timer so they donít have to keep looking at their watch to see how much longer they must endure. Instead, set the timer and trust that through the miracle of electronic or mechanical wonders it will sound after the appointed time, signaling the time to move on to the other tasks of the day.
So begin with Mark. Discover what that Bible really says, rather than what others might proclaim it says. Learn for yourself the truth this wondrous book contains.
Who do you say that I am?
The Bible we learned can be trusted. Its references to ancient cultures and civilizations have been repeatedly affirmed by archeology. Some of the minutest details have been proven accurate. If then the Bible is accurate in small details, is it not reasonable to assume it is equally accurate in all else it contains?
I believe it is.
With that foundation and belief we step forward to consider the central figure of the New Testament, if not the entire Bible, Jesus the Christ, and what is recorded concerning him.
Jesus, the Bible reports, declared the coming of the Kingdom of God. The specific date of his birth is in question, but very specific records are preserved concerning the place of his birth, the identity of his parents, as well as some events, which happened surrounding that event. Each of these, along with the miracles reported happening in his presence as an adult, affirmed that God was with him in a unique and powerful way. In fact, Jesus is presented as the physical presence of the spiritual creator. Or as is stated in the gospel of John, he "became flesh and lived among us." In fact, Peter would later proclaim in response to the question that is guiding our discussions, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:16).
As such, the Bible tells us he not only spoke for God, but he frequently spoke as God. Repeatedly we hear Jesus say, "It is writtenÖ but I say to youÖ" Those hearing him affirmed that his teaching was different from other Rabbiís and other teachers of his day. They spoke as those quoting the authority of others; Jesus spoke and taught as the one with authority.
In the Gospelís of Matthew and Luke we have the accounts of Jesus birth. We read of the stable and manger in Bethlehem, of the shepherds being surprised by the rowdy angels and of the kings who traveled great distances to celebrate this one whose birth would change the world. Each year at Christmas we set up our CrŤche in order to celebrate this event, and gather as families to sing carols and exchange presents. Yet if we stop there then we miss the most important part of the story, that this one who was born is the Son of God. In Jesus we discover a new way of relating to God. Before people came to God hoping to get close enough to be heard. Now, after the birth of Jesus we are able to "climb up into Godís lap" and say with Jesus, "Abba, Father". Or literally, "Daddy, let me tell youÖ", for in Jesus we learn that we, too, are children of God.
No other faith structure promises, nor even infers the possibility of such a relationship with God. Only through Jesus have the terms of relating with God been changed.
Jesus and God are one. In Johnís gospel he tells us "I Ö tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me. Ö I and the Father are one."
Such a claim is preposterous for a man to make, but in the Bible we learn Jesus is not just a man. He is more than a doer of good deeds. He is more than a teacher of good morals. He is more than a prophet in the line of many. The Bible tells us he is the Messiah, the Christ the redeemer of the world, the Son of God.
Study the facts. Read in the Old Testament that which the "messiah" was supposed to do and be. Then compare that with what the writers of the New Testament say about Jesus. You will find, as have hundreds of millions in the past, that all of the foretellings in the Old Testament are fulfilled in this one who was born in Bethlehem.
What are the odds in that?
Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. The Bible affirms this. C.S. Lewis is quoted as saying "in this regard we have but two choices. To believe the claims of Jesus, or to dismiss him as crazy and disregard all that has been said or taught in his name." But the real proof comes from that which happened after Jesus was killed. The real proof is found in the event that changed the hearts and minds of the disciples who denied, disobeyed and deserted Jesus in the final hours of his life. The real proof is the resurrection.
Who do you say that I am?
The resurrection of Jesus is the integral piece required to support the premise of the Christian faith. If the resurrection is proved to be false, then all else is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. So we examine the resurrection to see if we stand on the rock of faith or the shifting sands of popular belief.
Some say that Jesus did not die on the cross at Golgotha, but rather that he just passed out and the soldiers, other official and family members who laid him in the tomb just thought he was dead. "Just thought he was dead" after he had been beaten with a whip until his back was crisscrossed with open and bleeding wounds, had nails pounded through his hands and feet, was suspended for hours in such a manner that he was forced to push against these same wounds in order to get a breath, and then was stabbed in the side with a spear causing "water and blood" to pour out of his side. "Just thought he was dead" when a Roman soldier, who had probably witnessed many such crucifixions, declared him to be dead. "Just thought he was dead" when even modern medical personnel point to the outpouring of blood and water as evidence of cardiac arrest from asphyxiation. This, they affirm, means Jesus was dead. Of this there is no doubt.
Also, no doubt surrounded the placing of Jesus in the tomb. Though today there is some question of the exact location of the tomb, at that time people knew where to go to find Jesusí tomb. On Easter morning the women knew where they were headed. When they brought news back to the disciples of what they had seen, Peter and John knew where to run.
Jesusí body was placed in the tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea. This is another of those details that have been carefully recorded. As was the custom a great stone was rolled into place over the entrance to the tomb, it was sealed with a government seal, and an armed guard was placed before it to keep "fanatic" followers from stealing the body and declaring Jesus had risen. All this to keep a dead man in his grave.
But it was all to no avail. Three days later the tomb was empty. Of this there is no question. The religious and political leaders of the day affirm the tomb is empty, and they, like the women who first arrived at the empty tomb ask, "Where is the body?" The record shows that the religious leaders even bribed the guards to say the body was stolen, for they had no explanation for the empty tomb. Jesus body was never found. One must ask why?
The answer is there is no body. Jesus is alive.
This the disciples and their followers firmly believed and loudly proclaimed. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul records one of the earliest creeds, written and distributed within the first twenty years following the resurrection. It states, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: That Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred Ö"
These appearances were not some ghostly apparitions as might be depicted in some seedy Hollywood production. Rather, at least twice he encouraged those present to touch him, and to feel the reality of the wounds he bore. On more than one occasion Jesus ate with the disciples. One time we are told that he actually prepared food for them to eat. In every possible way the disciples experienced Jesus as real and alive.
This transformed the discipleís lives. Following the crucifixion they huddled in fear. After they experienced the resurrected Christ they proclaimed it as truth, and clung to that truth even at the peril of their lives. The Book of Acts tells us how Peter, who before the crucifixion denied even knowing Jesus, now, after the resurrection, stood before the crowds declared Jesus as the risen and living messiah even when his life was threatened not by some housemaid, but by the very same religious leaders who had voted a few short weeks before to crucify Jesus.
People will die for their religious beliefs. Of this there is no doubt. September 11, 2001 h as marked that truth indelibly in our minds. However, people will not die for beliefs they know are false. For Peter and John, and for the millions of believers since that time, the resurrection has become the foundational core value of their lives. Upon the rock of that truth they are willing to live, and to die.
From that time until the present people declare they have experienced the transforming presence of the resurrected Christ. They are found in all nations, on all continents, from all cultures and social status.
For upon examination of the evidence each one found that the Bible could be trusted, that the claims of Jesus were true, and the resurrection of Jesus was real. As a result, in their minds they could only believe. They chose to "love the Lord their God with all their mind."
Who do you say that I am?
Having made a critical examination of the issues of faith and having reached a conscious and mindful decision about our faith we are ready to move on. We understand what it means to love God in our heart and in our mind, but now we respond to Jesusí query, "who do you say I am in your soul?"
In considering this, one of the first questions that come to mind is "Does the soul exist?"
Many studies have been conducted in this area. I remember hearing a legend of one person offering a considerable amount of money if one could prove that at death the "soul" left the body. The legend inferred that a great number of people tried a significant number of things from sensitive scales to electronic measuring devices or full spectrum photographic cameras, all to no avail. To the best of my knowledge no "scientific" evidence exists affirming the reality of a "soul".
Yet all around us in religious as well as secular materials authors affirm the reality and the importance of ones soul. In some movies like "Sixth Sense", "souls wander (haunt) the earth until they either complete something left undone, or are freed by some specific act. That the "eternal state" of ones soul is impacted by how we live in this life is acknowledged in other movies like "Ghost".
Other religions support this as well. They speak of a part of each being that is eternal, which yearns to be connected with the divine. Some go through a number of reincarnations in order to become divine. Others proclaim that the "soul" is a piece of the divine, which is placed within each one of us and is reconnected with the divine when we die.
The Bible assumes the reality of the soul. Its writers refer to the soul over 130 throughout its text. The Psalmist declares, "The law of the Lord is good reviving the soul."
God loves us. That is the Law of the Lord. We can write it in a wide variety of ways, but it always boils down to "God loves us". Can anything revive our souls more than that?
There are times in life when our souls feel like a flower wilting under the summer sun. Cut off from the source of life, attacked by the very light from which we received life, we feel that only darkness and uncertainty surround us. Then the light of Godís love breaks through and like water upon a dry land we are restored and we have new life in our soul.
How do we do that?
First by connecting our soul with the one who created. We come to God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Second we nurture our soul by drinking regularly from the living waters of the well of eternal life. We study Godís word, spend time with God in prayer, and share in fellowship with other believers
Third, we live out our faith. We share the reality of Godís presence with those around us by feeding the physically and spiritually hungry the bread of life, and by giving generously to the poor and the poor in spirit from that which we have receive from God.
It is not an easy thing to do. Like Jesus in the wilderness we are tempted to care for ourselves, to use that which we have received to satisfy our needs, but that eventually leaves us empty and wanting.
Jesus says, "If anyone will come after me they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will save it. What good is it for a person to gain the whole world yet forfeit their soul?"
Jesus asks, "Who do you say I am in your soul?"
How we answer, how we live will have eternal consequences. What is the answer that wells up from your soul? What is the cry that comes from the divine in your life?
Peter, standing before Jesus declared, "You are the Christ!"
Who Do You Say That I Am?
Standing in the shadow of the city of Caesarea Philippi Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" Through these pages we have combined that question with the "Shema" that which Jesus identified as the greatest of all commandments and have examined what it means to Love Jesus "with all our heart, soul, mind and strength."
When asked, "Who do you say that I am in your heart?" we have learned to respond, "Jesus sits on the throne of my heart." There in the center of our lives he brings order, fills the emptiness and gives us peace.
When asked, "Who do you say I am in your mind?" we have learned that we do not have to leap blindly into the unknown abyss of faith. Through careful study and consideration of that which is written and declared we can take a logical step forward and experience the physical truth of a practical faith. We can know the one in whom we believe.
When asked, "Who do you say I am in your soul?" we learned we must nurture that part of us which is eternal and connect it with the one who is the vine of life. Through study and prayer our souls are nurtured and fed, and this has eternal consequences.
There remains one question we have yet to address. We have yet to ask, "Who do you say I am with your strength?"
This question may have been asked best by Francis Shafer in his book entitled, "How Then Shall We Live?" That is really what we want to know. How then shall we live?
In response to this question Foster and his wife Ruth decided to use a considerable part of their spare time and vacation to travel around the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and participate in Lay Witness Missions, using those opportunities to tell others about the love of God they experienced through faith in Jesus Christ. Later, they went to Chile as volunteer missionaries teaching English and Chemistry, and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. In between these big events they lived as the children of God. Sharing with others from the deep well of life poured out upon them by God.
And it is in those in between times where the living is often most difficult. On a retreat, or at a special event it is not too difficult to put on our best behavior, to watch how we act and speak so as to make the best impression. Much like we would on a date, or while courting. But in the long-term daily grind of marriage we often find it difficult to maintain that level of positive behavior. We become irritable, or feel slighted or used and we want to get even. Which really means we feel another has taken advantage of us and we want to get ahead. And so we fall below the ideal toward which we might aspire.
Yet it is in the daily living that we are called to love God with all our strength. To me this means that we are to live as those who stand in the presence of God each and every moment of our lives. In other words, to "love God with all our strength" does not mean that we stop by the station once a week to fill up, or plug in on occasion to recharge the batteries. Rather it means standing with God at all times and in all places.
When discussing this topic one time I challenged those present to compare how they talked in church with how they talked in their homes or in their place of employment. I told them of a man, who was a friend of a friend, who when we first met, shared with my friend and I a very off colored story. He then turned to me and inquired as to my employment. When I told him I was a preacher he was greatly embarrassed and apologized for his story. You see he acted one way around his friends and buddies, and another way in church and those he deemed to be "religious." He is not alone in this attitude. One day after saying in a sermon that our speech should be the same wherever we might happen to be because we always stand in the presence of God, a member came up to me and said, "You mean everywhere except the golf course."
No, I mean everywhere. This is what Moses was trying to get across to the people of Israel when he told them to teach the commandments to their children when they sat down and when they stood up. To bind the law upon their arms, to keep it before their eyes, and on the posts of their door where they would see it as they went in and out of their home.
Paul admonishes us to do "ALL to the glory of God". He doesnít say some or even most. He is not talking about what we do on Sunday in church, but what we do each and every moment of our lives.
The church through the ages has tried to address this by establishing rules to follow. I like to summarize those rules with the old clichť "You donít smoke or chew, or go with girls who do." As church leaders we want to believe that if everybody just acts right, if everyone just knows the proper thing to do, then we will all be right. Unfortunately it doesnít seem to work that way.
A young man came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him about the commandments, and the young man said he knew them and had lived by them all his life. Jesus told him he had but one more thing to do, he give away all that he possessed and come and follow Jesus. In other words he must use all his strength to serve and honor God.
It is not an easy thing to do. In this situation, even though the young man was standing physically in Jesusí presence, he turned and walked away. He could not do it. In the discussion that followed the disciples affirmed to Jesus that they had in fact left everything to follow him, and he assured them they would know the blessings of God. Still it is not an easy path to follow.
We long to be like everybody else, to be "one of the guys", and when we follow Jesus we find we talk, act and even think different from others. We also find that the more of our strength and life we commit to following Jesus the more difficult it becomes to be like everyone else.
So our transformation begins with our committing our heart to Jesus, to declaring in response to Jesusí query, "In my heart I declare you are my savior." It continues as we study and learn more about this one who comes in the name of the Lord until we can say, "In my mind I proclaim you are the Son of God." It begins to bear fruit in those around us as we affirm, "In my soul I avow you are the vine that I might grow to eternal life." It is made known to the world when we live each day proclaiming, "Lord you are my strength. This is how I will live."
Jesus says that the most important commandment is "to love the lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength." As we stand with Jesus he says to you and to me, "Who do you say that I am?"