I had a really fun time last night speaking at New Community Church in Dolton, IL. It’s a warm and beautiful church pastored by my good friend Chris Dodd. Pastor Dodd invited me to speak in two different sections of the service. The first was to be more of a testimony; the second more of a traditional sermon.
When I shared my testimony, I covered a lot of the same themes that I blogged about here. But I particularly focused on one question – the same question that defined the Apostle Paul’s (well he was still Saul back then) encounter with God. It’s recorded in Acts chapter 9:
“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.”
Each of us have our own stories, and there’s no need to try to fit it into the stories of others. But at the same time, there are often themes that come up in another person’s story that help you understand your own.
When Saul had this encounter on Damascus Road, there was no doubt in his mind that it was God he was speaking with. He was overwhelmed by the presence and holiness of God, and the only way he knew to describe it was a light that flashed around him. There was something both illuminating and blinding about the light all at the same time.
But even though Saul knew it was God he was talking to, he still couldn’t help but ask, “Who are you, Lord?”
I find this to be very similar to the experience that has shaped my own life the past 20 years. I had an encounter with God that was unmistakable, and it put my life back on a track of surrender and submission to God. And yet, despite my clarity that it was God, I have found myself continuing to ask this same question: “Who are you, Lord?”
This question has again become relevant recently. We are teaching through the book of Matthew at River City, and I am beginning to see how the question “Who are you, Lord?” was not just significant for Paul. It is the question that all of the disciples were asking too… and it was intentionally provoked by Jesus himself.
As Matthew records the events that marked the life of Jesus, we see that the process of how and when that Jesus revealed himself was an important theme. Through the first half of the book we watch as Jesus chooses to reveal himself in a myriad of different ways: through teaching, relationships, miracles, healings, and personal conversations.
It becomes apparent that it was all about revealing himself by the time we get to Matthew chapter 16. Here Jesus takes the disciples to Caesarea Phillipi and first asks, “Who do people say that I am?” They repeat what they’ve heard – Jeremiah, Elijah, John the Baptist, a prophet – the crowds weren’t entirely sure. Then Jesus turns it specifically to them: “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”
This is a question of revelation. He has been wanting them to ask, “Who are you, Lord?” at every stage of the way. Now he wants to hear what type of conclusions they’ve come to so far.
Peter famously answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then says, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”
This theme continues in the next chapter. Just as this encounter finishes, Jesus takes three of the disciples to a mountain top and allows them to see him in a transfigured state. In Matthew 17 we see that the face of Jesus shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light (sounds a lot like what Paul saw on Damascus Road, doesn’t it?)
Once again, we see how significant the theme of revelation is. Jesus is continually trying to provoke within the disciples this ever important question: “Who are you, Lord?” And in response he wants to show them more and more of who he is.
“Who are you, Lord?”
This question has shaped the last 20 years of my life. Each time I ask it, I find that it puts me in a specific kind of posture. It’s a posture of desire and of longing. It’s a posture of humility and curiosity. It’s a posture of openness and availability.
As we travel through the final stages of the Lenten season over these next three weeks, I pray that you will be provoked to ask the same question that changed the lives of the disciples, of the Apostle Paul, and of countless others:
“Who are you, Lord?”