Audio length: 10:50 minutes
Transcript published: December 07, 2010
What is the most important question of all time? Fr. Gregory addresses that in today's episode.
Right at the heart of Christianity there is a Big Question. It is a question asked of all people in every place and in every age; however, it is a question not heard by some simply because they have never heard it asked. This question does not arise easily, naturally or automatically in a mind that is dull or distracted by worldly cares or pleasures. If then it is a question to be heeded it must first be given serious attention and this implies metanoia, repentance, literally “a change of mind.” All sorts of factors can be involved in bringing this about but having acquired repentance the question then reaches down into the depths of the soul and if it be truly answered there then begins a truly remarkable work of healing grace. This is the question asked by Christ himself at Caesarea Philippi immediately before St Peter gave him the answer: “who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). St Peter says: “you are the Christ the Son of the living God.” St Paul in the Epistle today explains a little more fully this answer in these words:
15 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the pre-eminence.” (Colossians 1:15-18)
Let us take this confession phrase by phrase and spiritually drink deeply from the life-giving waters. First, Christ is the image (in Greek, icon) of the invisible God; that is in his humanity being God he makes God visible. In one sense, therefore, things have been made very easy for us. St John says in the prologue to his gospel: “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.” (John 1:18). This is the first step in anyone’s pilgrimage, namely meeting Jesus Christ, getting to know Him, trusting Him, following Him, finding out in Him and from Him what God is truly like. Again from John’s Gospel Jesus Himself makes this plain: “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9). Next St. Paul describes Jesus as the “firstborn over all creation” by which he means pre-eminent, that is above anything Created, as befits God. “Firstborn” should not puzzle us in this context for in the Scriptures King David is referred to as the Lord’s “firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth” (Ps. 89:27),” despite being the youngest of Jesse’s sons. So, since Christ is God, we are not surprised to read that everything that exists was created by and through Him. He is before anything created as God and in Him all things have their being. He is the Victor over death in death and by His resurrection He has created a new humanity out of the ashes of the old. He is the Head of the Church, the resurrection community.
When we compare this answer to all the earthbound ideas that would reduce Jesus to a prophet, a good man, a sublime religious or ethical teacher or perhaps a guru of things divine, then the inadequacies of such views are laid bare. Simply put, such a Christ could never by offering Himself to death on a cross destroy death. Our Lord’s death was not that of a martyr but rather the sacrifice of the Eternal King of Life who then destroyed death in and by his resurrection. No prophet, good man, sublime religious or ethical teacher, no guru of things divine has ever done this nor ever will.
However, even in saying all of this we have only given half of our answer to the Big One, the Big Question. The other half is in that little second word: “you”. “Who do you say that I am?” All of us must answer this question for ourselves and in terms of our own experience and commitments to God. St. Paul, however, does give us a hint as to how we might go about giving a full answer that includes ourselves. He declares: “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (verses 13 and 14).
Who Christ is comes down then to what he has done for us at Pascha, at Easter. His Incarnation is also all about that. It’s there in all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah, Emmanuel, ‘God-with-us’, and especially in the prophecy of Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2).
So what is our experience of being “delivered (us) from the power of darkness and conveyed (us) into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins”? That is not only our own Christian story and testimony, personal to each one of us, but it is also the raw material of our witness to others concerning who Christ is. Jesus did not ask this question at Caesarea Philippi out of idle curiosity or even simply to test the soundness of his disciples’ faith. No, he asked this question to emphasise how important it was that an answer be given personally from one’s own experience of deliverance at His hand and how it is we have moved from death to life, from darkness to light, from sin to glory. This is how we shall know who Christ is and how we shall answer others when they ask the Big Question themselves. So, as you can see, we have returned full circle to repentance. There is no entry into the Kingdom without it. There is no answer to the Big Question that does not draw from it, that is repentance, the fullness that is God in Christ, the Vanquisher of sin and death.