The most important question ever asked is the one Yeshua put to His disciples at Caesarea: “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). The debate over this question has engaged some of the most thoughtful minds as well as engendering some of the greatest controversy in history.
For years, we have been asking, “Who do you think Jesus is?” as part of our evangelistic efforts all around the world. It is actually the opening of what we call our “proposal statement.”
This past month, we emphasized the question even more by making “Who is He?” the theme of our New York City Summer Witnessing Campaign. We wore T-shirts presenting the question in both Hebrew and English, “Mi Hu? Who is He?” We created a postcard with that same question on one side, and on the other side we invited people to consider how the Bible answers it. Each week of the campaign, we emphasized a different aspect of those answers.
When people stop and give their opinion, it often becomes the basis of a meaningful witnessing encounter. The most common answers we hear are “He was a good man,” or “He was a good teacher.” Of course what is meant by these responses is that He was just a good man or just a good teacher—definitely not the Messiah. That is what most Jewish people are taught to believe.
On man answered by saying, “Jesus was a cosmic cowboy from outer space,” which I have to admit sounded pretty funny to me at the time. But it is no laughing matter when people are unable to see or embrace the truth, no matter how positive or creatively constructed their denials might be.
The fact is most people —Jewish or Gentile—don’t want to think about who Jesus is. Many consider the question irrelevant.
Some have suggested that we ought not ask questions until we know that our audience finds them relevant. Still, I am not discouraged from asking because everyone should have the opportunity to consider the question of who Jesus is—whether or not they choose to take that opportunity. If we tried to figure out who will brush aside the opportunity before we extend it, we would miss conversations with those who are interested, or are becoming interested.
I’d like to clarify something about personal evangelism: I think it’s a good idea to try to discern the questions that people are struggling to answer in their own lives when we engage them in spiritual conversations. At least it’s a good idea when witnessing to family and friends. But we don’t want to create a false dichotomy between building those personal relationships and raising a question to the man or woman on the street who may or may not consider it relevant. Sometimes people don’t even understand, much less express, their spiritual need until they see an opportunity to have that need addressed.
I am persuaded that whether it’s the first thing we ask a stranger, or whether it’s something we work up to asking a friend, the question of who Jesus is is the most important thing we can ask anyone. It cuts to the heart of the gospel and it is, after all, the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation.
When Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:16, 17).
Peter was truly blessed because his faith in Jesus as Messiah was a gift from the Father, a gift that transformed his life and saved him for all eternity. And if we consider only a few of the answers Scripture gives to this most important question, we see how these answers are powerful enough to address all the other questions people might ask. In keeping with the four-week duration of our summer witnessing campaign, we focused on four biblical answers to the question, “Who is Jesus?” this past month.
During the first week of the campaign we emphasized the answer, “He is the Prince of Peace,” as noted in Isaiah 9:6. Think of it. In a world full of fear and uncertainty, many people are deeply troubled—wondering what disaster their future might hold, be it financial, medical or emotional. Because Jesus is the Prince of Peace, He can be our calm in the midst of all of life’s storms. Whatever our circumstances, if we place our faith and trust in Him we can face our future, secure in the peace He alone can bring to our hearts and minds.
The second week we emphasized the fact that, “He is the pierced One” from Isaiah 53:5. In a world of suffering and pain, few if any lives remain untouched by trauma. It may be physical pain they or a loved one is enduring, or the emotional pain and disappointment of broken relationships. Most people know about pain and suffering—for some, it is almost all they know. The fact that Yeshua willingly endured the deepest of physical, emotional and spiritual pain imaginable for our sakes and for our salvation can make all the difference in the world. He doesn’t promise to deliver us from all suffering in this life, but His own suffering gives meaning to ours and provides us with the strength to endure and overcome our pain.
The third week of summer campaign we focused on Jesus, “the risen Messiah” from Psalm 16:10. Death is an ever-present part of life. We see its ravages all around us and when death touches our family or friends—or even as we face it personally—its forceful, destructive power can overwhelm and shipwreck our very souls. But Jesus conquered death! His resurrection took away its sting. Because He triumphed over the grave, those who put their faith and trust in Him can triumph as well. We do not escape death. We cannot remain untouched by its ravages, but we can know that there is life beyond death and that life beyond can become our hope-filled reality in this life as well.
The fourth and final week of campaign, we emphasized “Jesus, King of Glory” from Psalm 24:10. Think of the profound sense of disappointment many feel in our political situation today, the sense of intractable partisanship and the failure to find effective leadership among our public officials. With presidential politics likely to dominate the coming months, the fact that Jesus is the glorious King should have particular and poignant meaning for people today.
In our democratic form of government, people may not understand or easily relate to kingdoms and thrones—but they sorely realize the need for true, authentic and effective leadership. That is who Jesus is. His platform is just, all His promises will be kept, and in Him our future is certainly glorious.
Who is Jesus? We could have kept going from the fourth week of summer campaign through all 52 weeks of the year and not exhausted the wonders of who He is. Many people in New York City discovered the importance of answering that question for themselves this past month. As you and I are faithful to present that question to people we meet, we can be quite confident that many will find their answers in Him.