Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Believing in Jesus

I've told the story many times about Dr. Paul "Bud" Achtemeier leading a devotional during a faculty meeting at Union Theological Seminary (now Union Presbyterian Seminary) back in the mid-1990s. I attended these meetings as a student representative, and one of the professors typically offered a short devotion at the beginning.

Dr. Achtemeier was a preeminent New Testament and Pauline scholar, and on that particular day he was reading a passage from Paul's letter to the Roman church. Naturally he was reading from the Greek New Testament, translating to English as he read. I have no recollection of what the passage was or what he did in the devotion that followed. What I do recall is a rather lengthy pause when he finished reading, after which he said, "I'd never seen that before."

I've long cherished that moment and the idea that a brilliant man who spent his professional life teaching and writing about Paul could still discover something fresh and new when he looked at the Bible.

Someone on Twitter provided me an "I'd never seen that before" moment the other day. It had to do with an event often reported in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), one seen in today's gospel reading. The "demons" that Jesus encounters and "casts out" of people know who Jesus is. They regularly say, as they do in today's passage, "You are the Son of God."

Now I was well aware of demons and the devil knowing exactly who Jesus is the synoptic gospels. But what the that Twitter post made me notice for the first time was that these demons profess Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, without it changing them in the least. They are not "saved" or transformed one tiny bit by their knowing and acknowledging this truth.

What struck me about this was, in an "I'd never seen that before" kind of way, that these demons performed the very thing oft times cited as the core of Christian faith, believing that Jesus is the Messiah or Christ and the Son of God.

Out of this notion of faith, many Christians view atheists as the antithesis of faith and as threats to faith because they do not believe in God, because they refuse to profess what the demons do. But in these gospel stories, the enemies of God have no problem believing.

So then, what is it that moves someone from believing to real faith?

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