This is the final post in the series looking at questions Jesus asked, and today we come to what is probably the most important question of all.
Who do you say I am? (Mark 8:29 NLT)
Throughout this series we have looked at a lot of what the Bible has to say about Jesus:
What Do You Want Me To Do For You?- He wants us to come to him with our requests and to have faith in his power.
Do You Want To Get Well?- He has power to heal and he wants us to cooperate with his work.
How Much Bread Do You Have?- He wants us to give what we have and, even though it seems completely inadequate humanly speaking, he is able to do amazing things with it when we do.
Who Touched My Robe?- He notices and cares for each of us individually, he offers even greater healing than we’d ever have imagined and he calls us out of hiding to testify about his grace.
Can Worry Add To Your Life?- He cares about our worries and wants to defeat them by his perfect love.
Do You Believe That I Am Able To Do This?- He wants us to believe that his power is for now, for us, for our situation.
Why Have You Abandoned Me?- He experienced abandonment so that we don’t have to. He understands pain and suffering and allows us to be honest about our struggles.
Why Are You Crying?- He cares for us in our times of sorrow.
The question each of us has to answer at some point though is, “Who do you say I am?”
It’s not just about what we were taught as children or what people have told us. It’s about the conclusions we reach for ourselves and how we respond to Jesus.
I was learning this week about a faith development theory by John Westerhoff. It identifies four stages of faith:
- Experienced Faith- A child is brought up in a particular faith tradition or community. They may experience things like prayer and hearing Bible stories. Because that is what they are brought up with, that is all they know.
- Affiliative Faith- The child sees themselves as part of that faith community. They choose to take part in its activities and they feel like they belong.
- Searching Faith- Unfortunately many people never move on to this stage. For those who do, it is usually from adolescence onwards. This stage involves searching and questioning- moving beyond a blind faith which automatically accepts what they’ve been taught, to seek answers for themselves.
- Owned Faith- A mature faith that has been thought through and that is lived out- impacting the person’s thoughts, attitudes and behaviour.
If this model is accurate, then searching and questioning is necessary for a mature faith to develop. I believe it is, and it saddens me when people are left feeling they can’t ask questions, when conversations are shut down and issues are left unexplored.
Of course, reaching a mature faith is an ongoing process and that is illustrated well by looking at the character of Peter in Mark 8.
Following a miraculous feeding of thousands of people and a conversation with some Pharisees, Jesus and his disciples are in a boat, crossing the lake. Jesus is trying to talk about spiritual matters but the disciples are fixated on the fact that they only have one loaf of bread. Jesus is frustrated at their lack of understanding and fires a series of questions at them:
“Why are you arguing about having no bread? Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? You have eyes- can’t you see? You have ears- can’t you hear? Don’t you remember anything at all?” (Mark 8:17-18 NLT)
Later though, Peter shows that he is beginning to get it. After mentioning opinions other people have about Jesus, he is asked directly, “Who do you say I am?” and he replies, “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8:29 NLT)
Unfortunately this great statement of faith is followed up by another moment that reveals his lack of understanding. Jesus talks about how he will suffer and die and Peter tells him to stop saying these things, earning himself a rebuke from Jesus: “You are seeing things from a human point of view, not from God’s.” (Mark 8:33 NLT)
In the middle of these incidents is a curious story of a blind man healed by Jesus. It is different from the rest of Jesus’ miracles because the healing is not instant. The first time Jesus lays his hands on the man’s eyes he receives partial sight. It is only after Jesus touches him a second time that Mark reports “His eyes were opened. His sight was completely restored and he could see everything clearly.” (Mark 8:25 NLT)
Could this be a parallel to Peter’s story and the gradual opening of his spiritual eyes to see who Jesus is? As with the blind man he begins to see; his sight is restored, but it is imperfect.
I think it’s true for all of us. Jesus opens our eyes and we begin to see. As we search and question and explore, we gain insight and understanding but our sight remains incomplete.
“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” (1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT)
It encourages me that growth in faith and understanding is gradual. It challenges me that there is always more to learn. It prompts me to keep asking questions, to keep exploring, to keep discovering more of who Jesus is and to stay open to his transforming power.