My friends – what do you know about Christ? What do you know about His teachings? When was the last time you actually interacted with Him? The more we act like He’s not real, the more atheist we are, even if we profess to be Christians.
It’s the Apostles’ Fast. This is supposed to be a fast for the service, it’s supposed to be about the Apostles and their mission after they received the gift of the Holy Spirit, but most of us (yes, myself included) make some kind of remark about, “really, are we actually fasting…again?” Yes, we fast a lot, but there’s been a growing sense of “This is lame, I’m not doing it.” This attitude has not just been about fasting, but about other things: clubbing, getting wasted, premarital sex, premature dating, you name it.
Before I get into this – I want to make something clear, this is not about people who are struggling with sin, that is, someone who knows something is wrong and is trying not to do it but sometimes falls. Nobody is perfect, and this is not a self-righteous blog to tell people how sinful they are…we already know, and I’m one of the “we”! This is about the people who profess to be Christians, but don’t care.
One day our Lord was with the Disciples, and He asked them, Who do people think I am? The Disciples replied how some people thought He was John the Baptist, others think Jeremiah, and other blokes think He’s a prophet. They stopped there, but the Romans probably had opinions of their own, so did the Gentiles, and so did the Samaritans who had heard of Him. Everyone who had heard of Him would have had some opinion of Him, even if not a profound one. We’ll come back to this point.
He doesn’t stop there, though, He then asks them, Who do YOU say that I am? (cf. Matthew 16:13-17) Peter, moved by the Holy Spirit, declares Him as the Living Son of God.
The answer to that question is what changed the lives of the Apostles – flesh and blood didn’t reveal it to Peter, as the Lord said, but God the Father. The Truth of these words weighed hard on the Apostles. They went through their struggles – one of them betrayed Him, one of them denied Him, all of them locked themselves up in the Upper Room when He died. The Lord’s work, however, His Resurrection, transformed them. They knew without doubt that He was in fact “the Lord”. This changed everything. Because they knew Who He was, they knew that His words carried real weight, because they weren’t the words of “some guy”!
Then the Christians changed the world. They were first changed, then they changed the world.
All of that was an intro to get into a question for us to reflect on today. Who do you say that He is?
As mentioned above, there are many opinions. Do you think He was a good philosopher? Do you think He’s just a symbolic figure? Do you think He’s just a prophet? If you do, you’re obviously permitted to that belief, but you cannot proclaim yourself to be a Christian if that’s what your opinion is. That’s not a mean thing to say. It’s as true as saying that if I don’t believe that Mohammed is a prophet of God, I can’t call myself a Muslim or Bahai. We’re just being factual.
The problem, though, is that Jesus testified of Himself. This was something that perpetually irked the Pharisees and many others. He was relatively straightforward about proclaiming to be God. This is why in multiple instances of the Gospels, we read of them being angry and wanting to stone Him for “making Himself equal with God”. So, if He says He is God…well, is He?
My friends, that’s a question that you cannot avoid answering. Everyone today has an opinion about Christ. Everyone. You have to ask yourself very seriously “WHO IS HE?” and depending on your answer, then like the converts of Peter’s sermon asked, “What then must I do?”
Who is He? The answer has countless ramifications that have to be confronted. You can’t ignore the historical reality of Jesus Christ – there’s really no doubt whatsoever that this Person existed. The testimonies exist even outside of the Bible. So if He existed, and we’re still talking about Him 2000 years later, you need to look at Him and think about what He says, and then decide, “Do you believe?” This was the question asked on your behalf at your Baptism (if you were an infant at the time), but that you have to ask yourself today. You need to have a living encounter with the Risen Lord to be converted in your heart the way the Apostles were.
If you don’t believe, the ramifications are also plenty. So many Christians today, including the Orthodox, don’t have a problem living secular or godless lives. They do their quick sign of the Cross here and there, they show up to Liturgy here and there, they go to youth group to get a tick by their attendance. Some don’t do any of that. Some say, “I believe in God in my own way.” Still others say about the lives they think they’re expected to live, “this is unrealistic, and it doesn’t make sense, I’m sure God understands”. Some don’t say any of this, but they’re still living as though they don’t believe – completely secular lives.
Suddenly, the moral code that our Lord set for us, has become totally irrelevant. We think that morality is a temporal and societally determined aspect of our lives. We think that chastity is old-fashioned and that we are now enlightened. We think that carrying a cross is painful and thus should be avoided. Being rich is more important than liturgical life. Actually, being rich is more important than even family life. We make time to watch all the episodes of Suits but we can’t afford a few hours for Eucharist. We read all the Harry Potter series but we haven’t finished reading the whole Bible. We know the current rankings of all the Soccer teams playing in Brazil, but we can’t name the Apostles.
My friends – what do you know about Christ? What do you know about His teachings? When was the last time you actually interacted with Him? The more we act like He’s not real, the more atheist we are, even if we profess to be Christians. The more secular we become, the more cold we become, and we begin to “quench the Spirit” (1 Thess 5:19). Our Lord said something scary, “Because sin will abound, the love of many will wax cold” – but elsewhere He says, “By this all men will know that you are mine, in that you have love one toward another”. Put the two together and it’s not a pretty picture.
It’s not pretty because today we love only ourselves, and as a consequence, the Gospel is not preached, people don’t know that we are His. We are a hedonistic society. We want pleasure. We not only want pleasure, we want it immediately. We are blinded to the reality of the world because we can’t see past ourselves, our wants, our lusts.
For those of us who think we know stuff. We have to ask ourselves real questions. If I am fasting, why am I doing that? If I am not having pre-marital sex, why is that? If I am not cussing and swearing, what is the reason for that? What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to be Orthodox? Why are we either of them?
The answer has to come at some point to the reality of Christ, that Jesus is Lord. You are able to find this out, to say it and to mean it, because you have the Holy Spirit.
Many people have been discussing lately friends that became atheist after going to university or college. It’s a sad thing, and we have work to do. I ask you, again, though, are you just like them but doing lip service to Church? Or are you actually a Christian who knows himself? Or are you someone who has an opinion that He’s just a great historical figure?
To end on a positive note – even if you have been living as a secular Christian or an atheist one, it’s not too late to rectify that, because Christ is eternally risen. Furthermore, you have the gift of the Spirit. Set some time aside for yourself and start interacting with our Lord. Make time to pray and talk to Him. Get to know Him through your Bible – not just by doing that as lip service but stopping and reading with attentiveness: what is this scenario? What is He saying? What does this say about God? What does this say about me? How does this affect our relationship? Make time for Christ and you will know Christ — because He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Ask questions. Seek the Truth. Ask. Seek. Knock. There are answers.
Let the Words of God transform you. If there is nothing different about you than the rest of the world, then you are a secular Christian. You’re as worldly as the rest but carry a name tag. Be transformed – as St. Paul says – by the renewing of your mind.
May the Spirit that transformed the Disciples work in us, that we be the salt of the earth, and the light of the world.