Note: I fully affirm the fully human and fully divine nature of Jesus. I believe that He is, always was, and always will be part of the Godhead. However, His time on earth was in a world much different than ours. When that world and ours intersect it creates a natural tension. This series will explore how to live within this tension. See previous entries here.
That acronym became huge when I was in grade school. It was put on cloth or rubber wristbands, which caused all sorts of school policy issues. They were kind of like jewelry, but they also challenged kids to respond as Jesus would. Should they be banned or allowed? My school settled on banning them.
Years later, I realized the issue is a little bigger than school dress codes. I hate to even say it out loud, but…
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Sometimes I think doing what Jesus would do is a really bad idea.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Jesus is incredible. There are a lot of times where we should try to be like Him. Other times? Not so much. Starting with the obvious, and moving into some trickier examples, let’s take a look at a few stories which might cause us to ask, “What would Jesus want me as a twenty-first century disciple to do in this situation?” I already have a Kickstarter up for WWJWMAATCDTDITS bracelets.
I AM…not God
A pretty easy example that I think we can all agree on comes in the book of John. In chapters 7-8 John captures a scene in which Jesus appears before a large crowd during one of the annual Jewish feasts. Jesus is bringing an especially divisive truth to this crowd. Some proclaim that He is the Messiah. Others think He is a fraud. In the culmination of this dialogue, Jesus says something that’s easy to miss. As the crowd asserts their chosen status as God’s children because they are descendants of Abraham, Jesus challenges them. He says they can’t be God’s children because they don’t love the one whom God sent: Jesus himself. Things start escalating until the crowd accuses Him of being demon-possessed for declaring Himself beyond death. They ask if He’s somehow greater than Abraham, who died. In response, Jesus says this:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
Jesus is not saying “I am” in the way you and I would say it. He’s calling Himself God (see Exodus 3). The crowd does as crowds were wont to do in those days, and they try to kill Him with rocks.
When people question our credentials, you and I should probably not ask what Jesus would do. Turns out, Jesus tells people He’s God. This is a great answer for Jesus. For you and I? Not so much.
Guns, and Voting
Now that we all agree (hopefully?) that we shouldn’t always do what Jesus does, let’s look at some trickier examples.
If you want to arm yourself or become a martyr, Jesus has a quote for you. In the sermon on the mount He tells us to “turn the other cheek” when we’re struck. As he nears the end of His life, he tells his disciples who lack swords to “sell your cloak and buy one.” Then, just moments later he admonishes Peter for using one of the swords they had. Some say we shouldn’t arm ourselves because Jesus didn’t practice violence. Others say we should arm ourselves because Jesus told the disciples to arm themselves. I’ve heard both Luke 22:36 and Luke 22:50-51 used in the same argument to support opposing sides of a Second Amendment debate. Which one is it?
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day constantly tried to trap Him. They always failed. Reading through the gospels is like an episode of Pinky and the Brain. Foiled plot after foiled plot. One of the most popular examples of this is in Mark 12, when Jesus is approached and asked about paying taxes. This scenario is a recurring nightmare of mine, by the way. My life hangs in the balance over a tax question. They ask if a coin should go to God or Caesar. Jesus deftly maneuvers the trap and responds that since the coin has Caesar’s face on it, it should go to Caesar and things that belong to God should go to God. Crisis averted. Fast forward thousands of years later, and this has become a story about whether or not people should vote or whether they should talk about politics. Does Jesus’ refusal to get involved in politics mean I shouldn’t?
Both these stories present tricky challenges for the modern Christian. When faced with the Second Amendment or voting, what exactly would Jesus do?
The Good News
To help us answer these difficult questions and the many others that crop up when attempting to follow Jesus’ footsteps, it’s helpful to look at what Jesus said about His time on earth. In Luke chapter 4, Jesus is trying to leave and go somewhere else when a crowd attempts to stop Him. He tells them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”
Read through the gospels and take note of how intentional Jesus is. He is constantly explaining what He’s up to and where He’s going next. He constantly references time and goals. When people try to rush Him, He tells them, “my time has not yet come.” When He isn’t yet ready for mass attention that will eventually bring about His death, He tells those He heals to keep it a secret. Jesus is a man who is on a very specific mission and he is always aware of it.
This mindset is key to his followers who wish to follow in His footsteps. Rather than taking too literal an approach to what Jesus did, it’s better for us to ask, “What has Jesus called me to do?” What would Jesus want you, a twenty-first century disciple, to do in your situation?
As disciples of Jesus, we each have a unique and wonderful calling. We’ve been bestowed with special gifts by the Holy Spirit. If we want to be like Jesus, we don’t need to parrot everything He said or mimic everything He did. Instead, we should seek to constantly live out our God-given calling as best we can.
And on the days we can’t? The days we sin and fall short? Just be thankful that there’s one in heaven ministering on your behalf because He did the things you can’t. Repent, make things right, and continue spreading the good news that the kingdom of God is at hand!