Who do you say He is?

Mussolini, Il Duce

Week 8 (February)

Some Italians believed that Benito Mussolini had the right answers for our world. Because they so fully believed in Mussolini, they threw their lives into helping him achieve his goals for their country.

For more than 20 years Mussolini was the virtual dictator of Italy. He took on a special title Il Duce: "the leader or head." The Roman Catholic Pope in 1929, Pius XI (himself an Italian), said that Mussolini was a man whom "Providence has ordained," a man "halfway between heaven and earth."

The people's faith in Mussolini proved to be a false hope, of course. He did not do all that he claimed he would do. Because Mussolini was not all that his followers believed him to be, his dreams came crashing down on him in the ruin of World War 2.

To think about the followers of Hitler, Mussolini, Idi Amin and other evil political figures makes us shudder. People have so believed in such men that they unquestioningly dedicated their lives to helping each fulfill his particular ambitions.

But it also ought to cause us -- who claim to believe, with Peter, that Jesus is the Christ of God -- to reflect on our level of commitment and willingness to sacrifice.

Some dedicated Italian Christians in the 1930's were convinced that Jesus the Christ -- and not Mussolini -- had the ultimate answers for our world. They even wrote a song about "Christ, our Duce." For their courageous outspokenness, they paid a price. Some spent time in prison for their witness. A few even died as a direct result of profound conviction that Jesus, and Jesus alone, was the Christ.

Their belief that Jesus was the Messiah would allow them to do no less than throw their lives into helping Him fulfill His desires for the world. From this commitment growing out of their belief in Jesus, Italian Protestants emerged from the years of Fascism stronger than before.

I sometimes wonder if our belief in Jesus as the Christ is as profound and deep as we say it is. Do we really grasp what Jesus being the Christ really means in terms of His divine majesty? Do we understand that, if we actually believe the words of the songs we sing in church, our lifestyles will be markedly different fromthose of the non-Christians around us?

If we were formally charged in a court of law with being a believer in Jesus as the Christ, would there be enough evidence in our way of living to produce a conviction? Or would we have trouble convincing the court that we really did believe in Jesus the Christ?

A band of dedicated Christians who really believe that Jesus is the Christ of God must strike fear in Hell itself. If believers in political figures can bring about change in the structure of our world, shouldn't believers in Jesus Christ be able to do at least as much?

Maybe we don't stop often enough to let the wonder that Jesus of Nazareth was the anointed Messiah prophesied from the beginning of the world sink in on us. Jesus was more than the imagined fulfillment of a couple of vague prophecies. He is the Messiah or Christ down to the last prophetic detail.

One of the confirmations of that came a week after Peter had acknowledged Jesus to be the Christ (the Anointed One). We've come to call this historical event the Transfiguration. Shortly thereafter a storm would break in on the men who had witnessed that glorious occasion, but even in that storm the Transfiguration memory would serve as a revelation of hope. For us today, it confirms as well the glory awaiting believers after death -- a glory that will be ours because Jesus was, and is, truly the Anointed One of God.

I wrote these devotional thoughts while servong as a missionary in Italy. They originally appeared in the February 24, 1980 edition of Standard, a take-home piece for adult Sunday school classes.

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