Monday, January 03, 2011

Follow in His Steps

[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church titled "The Irony of the Crucifixion." Click here to listen to the audio.]

Charles Sheldon wrote a book published in 1896 under the title In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? It is the story of a pastor who meets a destitute man and then challenges his congregation to take a one-year challenge. This challenge was to not do anything until they answered the question, "What would Jesus do?" Just under 100 years later, in 1989, a youth leader from Holland, Michigan, decided to use the question from Sheldon's book to challenge her teenagers. She had the original bracelets made for her students, and one thing led to another. The American culture popularized the idea so that, eventually, one could get "WWJD" on anything from necklaces to T-shirts to hats to shoes to dog tags...and much, much more. The question even became the object of parody.

Now, while the question "What would Jesus do?" seems relatively helpful at first glance, it is actually not. The answer to the question (and, thus, the behavior that follows) is typically based on one's opinion of what Jesus would do in a given situation. As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we do not make decisions based on our opinion of what Jesus might do in a given situation. We must live our lives based on the actual teaching of the Scripture. Rather than dream up Jesus' response to one situation or another, God would have us know His Word and respond to life's circumstances in ways based on His guidelines...not our guesses.

In saying all this, I do not mean to imply that Christ has not given us an example to follow, for 1 Peter 2 tells us that He has. "...while Christ's perfect obedience is elsewhere said to earn for us God's approval which Adam failed to earn and which we could not earn ourselves (cf. Rom. 5:18-19), Peter here emphasizes that Christ's obedience through unjust suffering has left us an example to imitate, an example of the kind of life that is perfectly pleasing in God's sight" (Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, in The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, p. 129).

This is where we intersect with the text from Mark 15. In Mark 15:16-32, we see Jesus being mocked by Roman soldiers, mocked by the crowds, and mocked by the chief priests and scribes. How did Jesus respond? He took all of it! 1 Peter 2 puts it this way, "When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly" (v. 23). It is in this way that Jesus was "leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps." [That's where Sheldon got the title of his book, by the way.]

The mocking of Jesus was unjust and uncalled for. There was nothing valid for which to mock Him. Yet, He did not revile in return...He did not threaten. If anyone had the power to exact revenge on His assailants, it was Jesus Christ. He was their Creator, and with a word, He could end their existence. As surely as He raised Jairus' daughter from the dead, He could have sent them to their deaths. However, He did not. He knew that vengeance was not His to take in that moment. Instead, Jesus entrusted Himself to His heavenly Father. And, in a very real sense, He entrusted the justice these men deserved to His heavenly Father.

This glimpse at Jesus' life reminds us of just how unique our Savior was as He lived on earth. He was fully God and fully man. Yet, being fully man, He did not respond the way that we would respond to such mockery. Our instinctual response is to bow up, to bark back, and to begin a verbal assault in return. Rather than humbly accepting the mockery as part of following Christ and inwardly being honored (even counting it joy) to suffer for Christ's sake (Acts 5:41; James 1:2), we want to win the argument, prove that we are not "mock worthy," and turn the tables on those who mock us. We want to threaten.

The pride of the human heart is quickly revealed when we are treated unfairly...particularly for things to which we are deeply committed, like the gospel. The human heart is also desperately wicked and deceitful...making us feel as though this is the way we should respond. We desire the temporal triumph rather than trusting in our faithful Creator. Of course, there is a time to give an answer for the hope we have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15). Yet, even then, we must behave with gentleness and respect toward the unbelievers, so that when they continue reviling us, our good behavior shames them (1 Peter 3:16).

In thinking about this line through Peter's letter, one place where such humility, gentleness, and respect is especially needed is in the marriage relationship between a believer and an unbeliever. The stories of unbelieving husbands reviling their believing wives must have been as real and widely-known in Peter's day as they are today. The mockery of unbelieving husbands toward their believing wives can be particularly reviling...deeply hurtful. It is bothersome and divisive enough for only half of a marital relationship to be committed to following Jesus Christ, but certainly, some unbelievers take every opportunity they can get to mock and criticize and tear down the faith of their spouses.

What is a wife to do with that? Peter's answer is "Likewise, wives, be submissive to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives - when they see your respectful and pure conduct" (1 Peter 3:1-2). Peter's counsel is to not revile and threaten in return. Repaying evil for evil does nothing for the soul of your husband. It does not glorify God, and it does not reveal "the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit" (v. 4). Only those who have walked in these shoes could truly speak of the difficulty of doing so, but God's Word is believers, we do not revile and threaten in return...we follow the example of Jesus Christ, who entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly.

Last Friday, I attended the funeral of Virginia Merrett. I was her pastor and knew her for only about 15 months, but I was so encouraged by every interaction I had with her. Her funeral service was a beautiful testimony to God's grace and Virginia's faithfulness. It was wonderful to hear, over and over again, how God used this humble woman to pave a path of godliness for her family.

During the service, her daughter recalled that Virginia was converted in 1941, upon her first hearing of the gospel. She was married at the time, and the Lord immediately gave her a burden for the salvation of her husband. For over 20 years, Virginia prayed for her husband and lived, as her daughter testified, "as a 1 Peter 3 wife." She did not seek to win an argument with her husband about religion...she sought to win his soul through her prayer and submission. In the early 60s, God answered Virginia's prayer, and her husband was saved.

I recall this story because, due to our pride, we often fail to see how humility and even silence can produce fruit of lasting value. Jesus' silence in the midst of mockery is an amazing example for all Christians. If we would please God, then we must "follow in his steps" (1 Pt. 2:21).