Questions are often recognized as the most powerful tool of human language.
Whether through the Socratic method, or through some form of art that raises unexpected thoughts in the observer’s mind, questions confront assumptions and cause us to seek answers. Information can be taught by statements and by official declarations, but the most powerful transformations seem to occur when a student discovers answers to questions they have done battle with themselves.
Unanswered questions make people feel like their world has a leak, out of which their very existence drains out, if they don’t find a way to plug it. As parents discover, even a two-year-old child is consumed with finding answers to a million questions. Mental health, and even human survival, demands satisfactory answers.
Regardless of our education level, cultural heritage, or measured intelligence, people all face that same major questions in life, and we all struggle to find answers that both internally satisfy as well as can endure external challenges. Our sense of personal stability depends on it.
They may begin with What: “What is that?”, “What does that taste like?”, and “What time is it?” Then we mature into questions of How: “How do birds fly?”, “How do I win?”, and “How come I feel like this?” As we develop, we take on Why questions: “Why do I have to go to bed?”, “Why can’t I do what I want all the time?”, “Why is the sky blue”, and “Why do I exist?” And then somewhere along the way, the questions start to show a recognition of others, like “Who is that funny person with the round red nose?”, “Who are you?”, and “Who is in charge here?”
The answers can be either specific or multiple, and the variety of what can be explored is endless. However, there is one question elevated above all others. It is the central question to which all others point. In different ways, it asks the same ultimate thing; someway of asking about who is responsible for life?
The record of Scripture is the testimony of God answering the major questions faced by people. That big question, about who is behind all this, led people to the conclusion that the One True God Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, is to be worshiped. Many related answers have been given, evidences tested, and beliefs established, as a result of what God had shown to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, and to the Israelite people of long ago. But then came Jesus.
The first coming of Jesus rocked the world. He questioned nearly every answer that people had previously found satisfying about themselves and about God. The Jewish people, in particular, thought they knew God, but Jesus rejected their claim, and said that he alone could reveal God the Father. Knowing God was declared to only be possible by knowing who Jesus is.
Whether recognized yet or not, at the core of every human mind and soul burns the same question: “Who really is this Jesus?” In fact, every question about self-awareness–like “what do I want to be when I grow up”, or “what gender am I?”, or “why am I alive?”, are all dependent upon being able to rightly answer that great question behind self-existence.
New Testament Scripture, from Matthew through Revelation, records how the early disciples of Jesus struggled with this question, and it also presents the instructions on how all future Christians must discover and accept the same dramatic answer. Like an introductory band prior to the main show of ourselves before God, Peter struggled with how the promised Messiah could be both man (who shouldn’t have to die) and God (who is holy and intends to destroy the wicked), and by extension he also wrestled then with how such a divine Lord could still want to be friends with a sinner like himself.
This “Who is this” question was asked by Jesus-The-Teacher in three ways.
Followers of God through Jesus admitted, when asked “Who do others say that I am?”, that they had heard others try to answer this question by calling Jesus a great prophet and teacher. Some even thought he might be the ghost of John the Baptist or Elijah. He was certainly a miracle-worker; a man powerful in word and in deed. But ultimately, he was viewed as just a man. Whatever the response, none of them knew the right answer, and as a result none of those people were allowed to know God. They thought they knew him, but he remained hidden, obscure, and out-of-reach to them, because they could not rightly answer “who is this Jesus”.
The next, more personal question Jesus asked was “Who do you say that I am?” Many today have been taught that this is the most important question a Christian could ever answer. Although it is not the most important question, it is certainly an essential one that every person must answer. How you and I view Jesus, is absolutely central to being able to declare faith in him.
The problem with this question, however, is that it allows for God to become defined differently in each person’s mind. You may have heard people say things like, “my God would never do that”, or “I believe in Jesus as ‘Lord, Lord’”, or “my God forgives everyone”. God does not accept polytheistic definitions for himself. You and I don’t get to declare who-is-this on our own. The answer to that great question can only be found through the most important question of all.
“’I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.’ ‘Who are you?’ they asked. ‘Just what I have been claiming all along,’ Jesus replied.” (Jn 8:24-25)
The most important question presented in Scripture is: “Who does Jesus say that he is?” The answer to that question forms the basis for all other answers to all other questions, and it alone provides satisfactory and sustainable truth for real life. It doesn’t really matter what I think, only if I accept what he says!
When the disciples saw Jesus walk on water and then calm the storm simply by his words, they asked in fear and amazement, “Who is this?” It was a question they repeatedly asked. They wrestled with what they saw and experienced, but such empirical, human-controlled methods of discovery, remained limited and assured of error, unless they came to accept what he declared about himself. This is what Scripture refers to as: taking him at his word.
“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (Jn 8:31-32)
Only those believers who accept his teachings, and show it by how they rightly and faithfully live out each detail, will be granted the insight about who he really is—this truth that has the power to set a person free forever, from the burden and threat of all other questions, can’t be learned primarily by study, education, intelligence, or good deeds. The answer to who really is Jesus must be discovered by each person on the basis of what the Bible declares about him.
As referenced in a previous article here, many early believers in Jesus accepted him as Lord, but what they meant at that time was leader, teacher, and a master over their lives, but not that he was Lord God. That understanding of Jesus as Lord didn’t sink in until he declared himself to be the “I AM”, or until the Spirit raised him from the dead, or until those believers where filled with the Holy Spirit and allowed to recall what Jesus had previously told them about himself.
The timing was likely very different for each of those early Christians to know Jesus as the Lord that he claimed to be, but the requirement remains the same even for us today. Will you accept Jesus for who he says he is? If you think so, how does the way you respond with your life show that you rightly view him as Lord God? For example, when you recall his own words recorded by the writers of Scripture, do you obey as if they are the very commands of God? Humanly, we have a common tendency to measure ourselves by degrees, but God measures us by absolutes.
The majority of the churches that Jesus confronts in the book of Revelation are commanded to repent or face the wrath of God. They claim to accept Jesus as Lord, but their some seemingly small part of their lives dishonor his words, and shows that they are not fully accepting him for who he claims to be.
Many churches have become distracted with their doctrinal claims, by answers to the big questions which they think are sufficient, but who have gotten off course from what the Bible records as foundational. They appear to elevate questions about assurances of salvation, where the dead go, or the nature of God, like the Trinity, and answers about who is the Holy Spirit. Such questions may well be worth considering, but they are not the primary. Details within the Gospel of Jesus must always remain submissive to the truth about the focus upon the identity of Jesus. Even religious questions can distract from keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, as Scripture commands.
The Lord declares that Christians will be held accountable for every careless word, be expected to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, be perfect as God the Father is perfect, obey every word of Jesus without giving excuses or expecting to be forgiven for continued sin, and teach others to obey every word without adding to them or skipping over any parts that seem disturbing. Those who reject who Jesus is–as worthy of worship as well as worthy of absolute obedience–will find their personal claim of faith in Jesus as Lord rejected and their right to the tree of eternal life sucked out of them. It sounds mean, but that is what the Lord himself says to Christians, because some will be careful with his words and others not so much.
“’I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star….I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Rev 22:16-19)
The message and mission for Christians is to hold onto Jesus for who he claims to be. As God himself has thundered from heaven, in the context of considering three possible approaches to hearing God in Scripture (the Old Covenant Law-giver, the biblical writings of the Prophets, or Jesus himself):
“This is my Son whom I love, listen to him!”
If you really want to know yourself, or be able to find solid answers to why this life is what it is, or discover what is coming around the next corner, or how to get through suffering, seek to know God in Christ Jesus. He is the rock and foundation for everything else.
Jesus is the only way to God. There is no other acceptable path. There is no other answer more important to discover, from the greatest question every posed to man, than “Who do you want me to say has sent me?”:
“I AM, who I AM”