Tony Snow, a news columnist, talk show host, and one-time White House Press Secretary, died of colon cancer in 2008. But before he passed away he spoke frequently about how cancer had changed his life. The following quote is from a 2007 Christianity Today article called, “Cancer’s Unexpected Blessings.”

“The moment you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change. You discover that Christianity is not something doughy, passive, pious, and soft. Faith may be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But it also draws you into a world shorn of fearful caution. The life of belief teems with thrills, boldness, danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs, and epiphanies.”

Nicely put. No one goes out looking for tragedy. It comes to us. But a potential for blessing hides in the storm clouds we face. A walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death peels away the façade of our “business as usual” routine. When faced with life-changing events, we can no longer afford to be unconscious of what we truly believe.

It is in these difficult moments—illness, divorce, financial troubles, death (ours or someone else’s), etc.—that we must deal with the most elemental aspects of our faith. We must ask ourselves, “What do I really believe? And how will it carry me through this?” To borrow a metaphor from sports, it is the end of the preseason, when every game counts.

Today we get to witness what happens to Jesus’ followers when they come face to face with this reality. What do they do when following Jesus becomes a matter of life and death? And how does Jesus respond to them? His actions draw them deeper into a life of following, because they are left asking this all-important question: “Who is this man?”

I don’t know what your life is like right now. I know that some of you are taking your own stroll through the Valley. For the moment others of us are able to go about our days in a business as usual manner. Either way, my prayer is that we all will spend some time asking the same question as the disciples.

Whatever the reason you have come, I am glad. But I would be doing you a disservice if, at some point during your time with us, I did not encourage you to ask this question about Jesus: “Who is this man?” Because both the experience of asking and the answer we come to can make all the difference in our lives.