This past Sunday was Palm Sunday, the Sunday that marks the beginning of the week in which Jesus was arrested, leading to his crucifixion and the promised resurrection. It's a good time for all people --whether they are one of his followers already, or whether they know very little about Jesus -- to ask themselves the question - "Who Is Jesus to Me?"
Here is the verse to prompt the reflection:
Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way, he asked them, "Who do people say that I am?"
They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets."
"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say that I am?"
Peter answered, "You are the Christ."
Mark 8: 27-31
Who do people say that Jesus is? Today, the answers are much the same as they were in 32 AD. Some people say he was just a very good man who lived in ancient times. Some will say that he was "just some ancient guy who walked around in sandals," preaching and teaching on the streets in ancient Israel. Some will say he was one of the few fully "enlightened," spiritual individuals who have ever lived, and he had good teachings that many people still follow. Some will say he was a prophet of God, like all the other prophets. Some very wrongly say that he was just a fictional story, or even a conspiracy instituted by the Roman government to control the people.
Notice, though, that Jesus asked this question individually to his disciples. "Who do you say that I am?" This is an individual question that deserves, and requires, an individual response. Peter responded without hesitation, for once, and stated, "You are the Christ."
What would have caused Peter to say this? What would have caused him to be so certain in his response? We know that after Peter said, "You are the Christ," that Jesus replied to Peter, "You are blessed!....No human revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven revealed it to you." (Matthew 16:17)
How did God reveal this to Peter and the disciples? Think about this some more. For the way Jesus drew people to himself then is very similar to the way he continues to reveal who He is today - in a spiritual way.
First, when Jesus called each of his disciples to follow him, something was stirred up in their hearts. They dropped whatever they were doing, left their jobs, and were prompted, and perhaps compelled to follow him.
And today, the call of God continues to work the same way, through his Spirit, the same Spirit that was fully in Jesus. At some point in the lives of His people, God's Spirit, through His word, will almost literally "pierce the heart" (Acts 2:37) of those who are willing to find Him, and reveal to the person that He is real and He is available. The person becomes aware that there is more to life than this world, and there is an eternal purpose that may be found by following Him. This is often referred to as the "conversion experience" of the new Christian. It may also be called the "revelation" experience; it is the instant that God reveals truth - directly from His Spirit to a human soul. Anyone who has had this experience knows what I am referring to. It's not just a moment of inspiration. It's not just a decision the person makes because it seems right at the time. The transformation within the soul is palpable and strong -- when the person has an incredibly deep, strong, and unshakeable conviction of who they are in relationship to God. It is a very special thing; and we tend not to talk about it too much, lest we seem crazy --
but I think we should all feel free to share about our initial experiences. Because it is an experience in which we have reached out to God, and He meets us right where we are. It is a tangible experience that can usually be remembered and recalled well througout one's life. It is our personal testimony and it is a description of what we have that many others want to have. Those outside the faith don't seek a list of rules, or a set of doctrines, or a path to heaven that they doubt may even exist. But many do wish that, if a God exists, He would prove Himself to them. And this is what we have experienced - proof of Him within the knowledge and experience in own Spirits. But we are so often too timid, or too fearful, -- or too afraid of seeming weird or of being mocked -- to share the truth that our faith in God is based not on blind faith, but on a personal relationship with Him through His Spirit.
After their first calling, how did the disciples further come to know who Jesus was? They came to know His identity, not through his teachings, but through their experiences with Jesus.
Each of Jesus' disciples received a first call, a first hint of revelation, and they each decided to seek more. In return, they had the following types of experiences:
- They were direct witness to many miracles. Including the witness of his resurrection, which emboldened their faith and compelled them to spread the gospel message throughout much of the world. They spread this message as if their lives dependend on it. And in the end, we know that most of them did give up their lives, by exile or execution, in order to share Jesus' teachings and their experience with him, post-resurrection, with others.
- They received many blessings of provisions that came from following Him.
- They came to trust what He said; and to know that His promises were true.
And today, those of us who follow Christ are able to have many of the same types of experiences. How? Through our relationship with the Spirit of Christ. See, when Christ was crucified he released His Spirit to the use of the Lord (Luke 23:46). And several weeks later, God then released this Spirit, the "Holy Spirit" back to his followers and to the world. (Acts 2). And that Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is still available to us today.
It is actually the Holy Spirit that allows us to have the "initial conversion" or the first revelation that God is real and is a relationable, spiritual being. And as our spiritual formation strengthens, usually through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, reading and studying the Bible, and seeking God's will in all areas of our lives -- we will then go on to experience many of the very experiences that the original disciples had.
Those of us who have been sincerely walking with God know these same things the disciples knew and experienced:
- We know that God always provides for our needs, usually just at the time they are needed.
- We know that God answers prayers rooted in faith. When it seems prayers are not answered the way we like, He eventually reveals the reason why, as He also comforts us through any disappointment.
- We know that the Holy Spirit convicts us and confronts us of our sinful nature, and often rewards us with spiritual gifts and further insights, when we heed God's instructions, by repenting and following His ways.
- We know that God still performs healing miracles and provision miracles, each and every day throughout the world. If we haven't experienced this directly; we know someone personally who has received these types of miracles or provisions.
Many of those outside the faith think that most adults who remain Christians do so merely because it is "their culture" or the way that they were raised. But actually, this is not true. Adults who remain strong and secure in their Christian faith, into and throughout adulthood, do so because they have sought and had their own revelation experience from God, through the Holy Spirit. Most children and teens who merely grow up in religious Christian homes either completely leave the faith or grow very "lukewarm" or doubtful in their faith and belief in God, unless they have their own, personal relationship with God through the Holy Spirit.
And it is through this relationship that God proves who He is to us, and proves who Jesus is to us. He has proven this to us through years of guidance and faithful provision. We do not "evangelize" because we wish to cast judgement on others, or at least we should not. Instead we do so because we long for anyone who wants to know God, the Creator and sustainer of all life, to be able to know Him.
So who do you say Jesus is? Have you experienced the Spirit of God? Has he proven his promises to you, proven his provisions to you, or provided for you in a time of need?
If you do not know what your spiritual life purpose is, or if you do not know what it means to "experience God," then you may wish to learn more by reading one of these life-changing books:
- First, read the gospels yourself, if you haven't done so. Or you may wish to read them again. of course, the New Testament is freely available to be read online, I recommend beginning with the book of Mark, as it is the earliest gospel that was written, and it circulated while all the disciples and the contemporaries of Jesus were still alive. It is short and concise and includes nearly all of Jesus's teachings. Book of Mark
- For the person who has never really learned much about the Bible or about God, or who wants to understand more about "What is my purpose and why am I here?" You may find some insight in The Purpose Driven Life
- For the person who already identifies as Christian but hasn't fully "experienced" God in their lives, you may find some insight in Experiencing God
The last two books have helped to communicate the truths of God to many millions of people in our current, modern times -- and throughout the world. Both of those recommended books have been recently updated, too.
Finally, you may also enjoy these other posts on this blog: