I saw something today that I’ve never seen before. I was driving along and there it was just a few car lengths ahead of me. I thought, “Wow, I’ve never seen one of those before.” And I hadn’t. So I was glad when we soon came to a red light and I was able to take my camera out of my pocket and snap a picture of it.
What is it? Well, I don’t know the exact name of it, but I’ll call it a hoist truck. It was clearly designed to lift and carry things on and off of its bed. Sitting there on the back of this truck that was rumbling down the road, clear as day, was the unmistakable sight of a casket case. What struck me was the normalness of it all. It was very matter-of-fact, like the driver was running a casket errand or something. No pomp, no processional, no long line of cars all with their hazards or headlights on. Just a casket case sitting in traffic on the back of a truck.
As a pastor, I’ve been around an awful lot of death. Just last month, I stood in a hospital room with a family weeping over the dead body of their father, grandfather, husband, and friend. Death, as they say is a “fact of life”. We’re all going to die physically. Nobody argues that. What gets people upset is when I say things like, “But none of us will die spiritually.” Just as true as the first statement is, so is the second. We’ll all live eternally in one of two places: heaven or hell.
That is precisely why the way I live must be marked indelibly by the centrality of Jesus. Jesus is many things to many people. To some He is a historic figure, to others a good teacher who lived long ago, to others Jesus is someone on a long list of options. To others He is a crutch, to others He is a fairytale. To still others He’s a nice idea that just doesn’t “work” for them.
As I said, I’ve been a pastor for a long time and I’ve been alive even longer. And as long as I can remember, Jesus has been an issue in my life. Even in my “rebellious” phase as a teenager, I still knew in my heart that while I lived contrary to His character and indulged in a completely selfish way of life, He was still there; waiting, watching, wanting me for His own.
We’re in the season of Lent. That’s the 40 days preceding the celebration of Jesus death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father while I type these words. He’s going to return in glory someday…anyday…maybe even while I’m typing these words. And during this time I often find myself cogitating on the reality of who Jesus really is, because that question stands alone as the one question every person in all of history has had to and will have to answer.
Jesus asked that very question of Peter one day. “Who do people say that I am?” and then a few minutes later, “Who do YOU say that I am?” Make no mistake about it. The answer to THAT question is THE defining issue in my life. Either Jesus is the Messiah, the Lamb of God, the risen Son of God, the Redeemer of mankind, the sacrifice for my sins and yours, the One who has conquered death, hell and the grave, the Healer, the forgiver, the author and perfecter….or He’s not. And if He’s not, then He isn’t much of anything at all. If He’s not, then He stands on equal footing with Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Buddha, Martin Luther King, Jr., and a host of other revolutionary “good” people. If He’s not, then I might as well have spent the last 21 years of my life surrendered to Winnie the Pooh, environmentalism, Oprah or even (dare I say) “purpose”.
But I didn’t. I chose Jesus because Jesus chose me. God has shown me love poured out on a cross, has convicted me of my sinful dead end, and invited me to receive grace heaped on top of forgiveness, with a hefty side of mercy. Not because I deserve it, but because of who He is. God loved me, and so now I know what love is.
Studies show the 80% of Christian teens today do not believe in the centrality of Jesus as Lord. Read that again.
That means that to the vast majority of teens who claim Christianity as their “religion”, they do so with a very loose grip on the hand of Christ, if any at all. That means that while they claim Jesus as a way to heaven, He is by no means the way to anything. That means that for 8 out of 10 teens today, Jesus is nothing more than one person on a long list of options; one of many roads that all end up in the same place. And where that leads us is to Jesus being a bold-faced liar. Jesus simply lied when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.”
To that many say, “Haha, Jesus. Good one.”
So when Jesus asked Peter, “Who do YOU say that I am?”, Peter actually got it right: “You are the Christ.”
May we never exalt Christ-like behavior over Christ. May we never worship the worship more than the King. May we never rise up in social activism apart from rising up in declaration of Jesus as Coming King. May we never make good things, nice things, right things, or Godly things central to our lives. May we take hold of the face of Jesus, stare into His eyes, and lose ourselves in that gaze. May that be the center of each word, may that be the catalyst of each action, and may that permeate each thought.