Who is Jesus?
That is a question many people have asked throughout history, even Jesus Himself.
The People's Response
Walking with His disciples into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked them who the people say He is (Matt. 16:13). The people's response in Jesus' day is about the same as it is today. Jesus is a good prophet or teacher who has come to teach them about the Father, show them the way to God, or be a good moral example, but He isn't "The Way" Himself. He doesn’t provide us with salvation through His work, but rather shows us how to attain salvation through our work. For millennia, people have been responding to Jesus in this way.
The Disciples' Response
The disciples, however, respond differently. Instead of seeing Jesus as the masses do, they believe Him to be the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16). In other words, they believe Jesus is God incarnate, who has come on a God-directed rescue mission to save His people from sin, Satan, death, and God's wrath through His work, not theirs.
Why the Difference?
As you can see, the disciples' response is markedly different than the crowd. Why the difference? Was it because they were smarter? Or was it because they had personally walked with Jesus, seeing Him perform miracles firsthand, hearing His teaching, and experiencing private tutoring sessions with the Messiah Himself? Did those things lead to their response, or was it something else?
Jesus tells us they responded in the way they did because the Father in heaven revealed it to them (Matt. 16:17). He opened their eyes so they could see the truth about Jesus (Matt. 11:25-27). That is not to say the things they saw and heard weren't a part of the Father's revelation, they certainly were. It is to say, however, that without the Father opening their eyes, all that they experienced wouldn't have made a difference.
While God can do anything, we see that the disciples' profession didn't occur overnight. Rather it happened over time as they saw with opened eyes the truth about Jesus. Overtime as they walked with Jesus, they were confronted with His teaching, miracles, arguments, and private conversations. It was all those things, along with the Father opening their eyes, which led to their profession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God.
That's true in our lives as well. Thinking back on my own salvation experience, a lot happened before I professed Jesus as my Savior. I was blessed to be raised in a Christian home, where I was taught God’s Word. I went to a Christian school, where I learned more about Jesus. I attended church weekly, and I was involved in a Youth Group. Overtime, as I experienced those things through opened eyes, I came to see that I was a sinner, who was in need of a Savior, and Jesus was that Savior. I bet most people came to Christ that way as well, because salvation is a process. That’s true even for those who respond to the gospel the first time they hear it.
So while I would like to think my preaching convinced someone in that moment to come to Christ, when I really stop and think about it, I know a lot has happened behind the scenes beforehand. I know God has been working on their heart, whether they realize it or not, and God has opened their eyes so that they finally and fully understand the truth about themselves, that they are sinners, and about Jesus, that He is their Savior (Matt. 16:17). So whether we realize it or not, salvation is a process. At times, we get to play a part in that process.
Knowing that salvation is a process we at times get to play a part in, helps us see our role. Thinking about our God-given spiritual gifts, we see that someone has to teach, pray, answer questions, encourage, etc. We can’t do all those things all the time, but we can be a part of the process in one way or another (1 Cor. 3:5-10a).
We Must Prepare
But here's the thing: if we want to be a part of the process, we must be prepared. One of the best ways to prepare is by being in God’s Word. After all it is what we are sharing with others and what we are allowing to guide our counseling and prayer, so we must know God’s Word. Which means if you are not reading God’s Word on a regular basis, then it's time to get started, so you will be prepared when God calls you to play a part in the salvation process.