by Gayle D. Beebe, Ph. D.
For me, the Gospel of Matthew opens up some of the great questions of life. In the middle of the book comes an incredible query. Jesus turns to Peter and asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter makes a response that echoes throughout the chapters: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”
What do we say in our answer to Christ when he asks us, “Who do you say that I am?” What kind of response do we make with our lives, our thoughts and our behavior? As I have responded to Christ in my own life over the years, I’ve learned so much from him. I want to mention five things in particular.
First, watching Christ teaches us how to respond to others. Every time I read the gospels, I am stunned by the way Jesus reacted to people who were out to get him. The religious authorities, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, probed, questioned and challenged Jesus, trying to get him to take their bait. But they could not lure him by their devices to ruin his life, his opportunities and his spirit. He anticipated their motivation, and he made the appropriate response in every situation. He repeatedly exemplified a spirit of love, care and respect for others. In Matthew 5:44 he says, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” He wants us to love everyone, but he doesn’t want us to be foolishly lured by their malicious intentions.
Second, we should follow Jesus in everything. Matthew repeatedly asks us what we believe about God and our behavior toward others. How should we respond to the great challenges of life? As we go into the world to represent Christ, one of the first things people experience is not our arguments for Jesus but his love in our lives that draws them to him. The most impressive thing for me growing up was not knowing all the Bible stories or even what we were supposed to believe; it was experiencing the love of God other people directed toward me. The challenge for us today is that we often respond in one of two ways. Jesus says there are the two commandments: love God with your heart, soul, mind and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself. But we can end up being so focused on God that we ignore our neighbor, or we become so focused on loving our neighbor that we forget about God. We as Christians need to think both about the love of God in our life and our opportunity to love our neighbor.
Third, Jesus teaches us to redeem our suffering. The problem of evil and suffering was a riveting issue for me in my own Christian life. It took five years of sorting through what I believed about the love of God and the reality of suffering to come to an understanding. Any of us who live long enough have an opportunity to learn from suffering, and so many young people have suffered in real ways. There is natural evil like earthquakes, but there is also human evil. How can we begin to make sense of that? Jesus helps us face the reality that suffering happens to all of us and that we have an opportunity to choose how we respond. Suffering can be a huge hurdle to belief in God, but it’s meant to be a passageway that opens a whole new understanding of the depth and complexity of life. Rather than giving up on God, we can come into a deeper place and make a redemptive response.
The fourth thing I’ve learned is not to expect everyone to agree with me but to follow Christ anyway. When I first came to a conscious decision of faith and began to pattern my life after Christ as best I could, I recognized I needed all the help of a community of faith and the Holy Spirit — and I really wanted everyone to agree with me. But over time I realized everyone wouldn’t agree with me — and the point was to work with the people who disagree. Jesus says, “And so I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.” How do we recognize what’s going on around us and not become embittered by it? I think this is one of the great challenges of the Christian life. We have to work to exemplify the spirit of Christ as we face the obstacles, persecution, attacks and slander that will come against us in order to make a loving response with our own life.
In Acts 17 Paul speaks in Athens, and Luke reports, “Some believed, some scoffed and some had more questions.” The experience of my life is that when I’m faithful to Christ not everybody agrees with me but people are often drawn to Christ because of the faithful witness.
Finally, we must be discerning in all things. At the end of the parable of the sower, Jesus says, “But blessed are your eyes because they see and your ears because they hear.” The nature of the Christian life is to learn how to see and hear so we can understand all that life throws at us and still make a response to Christ that is honorable and redemptive. That is one of our goals at Westmont as we think together about how we respond to Christ. We want to face our challenges without illusions and follow him faithfully.