Throughout the Gospels, the question asked of those listening to or following Jesus is who he is. Jesus asks it explicitly in passages like Mark 8:27-29 and it is still the question we must ask of others today.
Last week on our way down to the LaTrobe / Swinburne uni Summit (Mid-Year Conference) we gave a lift to two mainland Chinese guys. One had become a Christian about a year ago; the other, Frank, was not a Christian. He was quite open about that. He observed that Christianity was ‘Western’ and that it was believed because it was cultural to do so. He saw Australian society as founded on Christian principles, and so speaking of Christianity for him was speaking about a set of values and a lifestyle. Such an association of Christianity with the West is ironic considering its Middle-Eastern roots but certainly understandable, in light of the current worldwide religious and political climate. But in the end, discussions about values or the history of Christianity were side-tracks. We said to Frank that we thought that Christianity was more about following Jesus than signing up to Western values. His Christian friend at this point added that Jesus was Lord, not just of the West, but of the whole world, including China! So we asked him who he thought Jesus was. Did he exist? What did he teach? Did he die? Did he rise?
Yet, it is not just our international friends who need to consider Jesus. Someone was lamenting to me about a girl in her small group who is not a Christian. This girl has been coming for some time but she just has too many questions that result in unsatisfactory or distasteful answers. Many have engaged with her on an apologetic level, yet to no avail. Apologetics are an essential part of (pre-)evangelism but I wonder whether they were masking the real issue here. Because in the end, we can explain the gospel all we want, but ultimately, our job is not to sign people up to a philosophy but to call them to a relationship with Jesus. Based on his character, can you trust him? In our conversation, I likened it to a marriage. In the end, you don’t know if the person you marry will turn into a complete psycho and you certainly can’t know everything about them before you marry them, but from what you do know, you decide one way or the other. That’s not about knowing the information. That’s about knowing the person. Who do you say Jesus is?
The more I talk to people who aren’t believers, the more I’m convicted that this is the central question. The more I talk to Christians, too, the more I see the importance of it. When it comes to obedience or trust, time and again, the issue is a lack of understanding of Jesus’ goodness, Lordship or compassion. And so that question Jesus posed to his disciples is one for each of us. ‘Who do you say I am?’
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.