The period from the first day of Lent through Resurrection Sunday constitutes the most important Christian season of the year. As the Apostle Paul explained, “if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. … If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” So predictably each year at this time great energy is exerted on behalf of the antagonists of Christ to flood the airwaves with convoluted “the historical Jesus” stories to dilute people’s faith and doctrine. Just as predictably, Christian TV and movie producers annually counter this onslaught with their own dramatizations of Biblical stories. Unfortunately these more often than not are watered-down versions of the Gospel message – so as to not offend some.
What DID – vs – What WOULD – Jesus do!
Many years ago, shortly after I made a firm commitment to my Lord, I read a book written at the end of the 19th Century entitled “In His Steps.” The Charles Sheldon book grew out of a series of sermons he delivered in his Congregationalist church in Topeka, Kansas. The ethos of Sheldon’s approach to the Christian life was expressed in this phrase “What Would Jesus Do”, with Jesus being a moral example as well as a Savior figure. In this popular novel the fictional Rev. Henry Maxwell encounters a homeless man who challenges him to take seriously the imitation of Christ. The homeless man has difficulty understanding why, in his view, so many Christians ignore the poor:
“I heard some people singing at a church prayer meeting the other night, ‘All for Jesus, all for Jesus, all my being’s ransomed powers, all my thoughts, and all my doings, all my days, and all my hours.’ and I kept wondering as I sat on the steps outside just what they meant by it. It seems to me there’s an awful lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing such songs went and lived them out. I suppose I don’t understand. But what would Jesus do? Is that what you mean by following His steps? It seems to me sometimes as if the people in the big churches had good clothes and nice houses to live in, and money to spend for luxuries, and could go away on summer vacations and all that, while the people outside the churches, thousands of them, I mean, die in tenements, and walk the streets for jobs, and never have a piano or a picture in the house, and grow up in misery and drunkenness and sin.”
This leads many of the novel’s characters to ask, “What would Jesus do?” when faced with decisions of some importance. This has the effect of making the characters embrace Christianity more seriously and to focus on what they see as its core — the life of Christ.
Many people, Christians and non-Christians alike have embraced this principle of “What would Jesus do.” Some have even made a lot of money designing and selling WWJD bracelets and related paraphernalia. The problem is that it’s become a catch-phrase for justifying one’s own behavior based on personal opinion rather than Kingdom principles. While the goal of Rev. Sheldon’s book was to help people transform their lives into the character of Christ; to many it has become an excuse to conform their view of Christ into their own image.
Pursuing the real Jesus
During this season what we really need to pursue is the real Jesus and an understanding of what He did for each of us. The only way to do that is to study the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Then we’ll learn not some hypothetical “what would Jesus do,” but actually “what did Jesus do,” and what did He say.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on the day we celebrate as “Palm Sunday,” He was exalted by the common people as an arriving King and condemned by the religious leaders as a blasphemer. Yet He let neither the former go to His head, nor the latter to dissuade Him from doing what He had to do a few hours later – namely purify the Temple by driving out the money changers and sellers, and returning it to its intended purpose as a house of prayer, praise and power. He knew that less than a week later both groups would be united to crucify Him – yet He had a job to do: truth to speak, followers to prepare, prophesies to fulfill, a life to lay down and souls to redeem.
Today those who have committed their lives to Christ are that Temple of God. It’s up to us to assure we keep our house (our body, soul and spirit) just as pure, prayerful, and worshipful as our Lord demanded of those whom His Father had installed as “caretakers” of His house in Jerusalem. Then and only then are we fully equipped to exercise the power and authority so delegated to His people. Then and only then can we fully appreciate this Holy Season of the Son of God.