Friday, May 7, 2010

Christ our Example

1 Peter 2:21, “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.”

More than ever before in the history of mankind there are people offering themselves up as examples worthy of following and emulating. From movie stars, to athletes, to singers, to clothing designers who promise you’ll feel better about yourself if you buy their clothes, to auto makers who promise you’ll turn heads if you drive their cars, there are countless people who are either directly or indirectly vying for the hearts of men. Throw all the famous and infamous religions and religious leaders into the mix and you have a countless supply of men holding themselves up as examples, encouraging people to follow in their footsteps.

Tragically, there are more people today, especially of the younger generation who want to be like the newest basketball or football star, who want to be famous like the newest singer, who want to amass wealth like the newest miser, than to be like Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, who came to this earth and poured himself out in love for all of mankind.

It is an undeniable fact that those we follow reveal the desires of our hearts, and the nature of our hearts. We cannot belong to Christ, and follow the world; we cannot belong to Christ and give our hearts over to foolish things or vain practices. When we follow Jesus, we are inevitable changed by Jesus from within, so much so that it is evidenced in our external countenance as well. Those you follow will leave a mark on your soul; those you follow will shape the way you view the world, the way you perceive God, the way you pursue either the narrow path or the wide path of faith, because to follow is to inevitably reach the same destination as the one you are following.

If we follow after Christ, then our destination is the kingdom of heaven, that place of which Christ spoke and assured that He would prepare for those who were faithful to Him. If however we follow after worldly things, if we surrender our hearts to gurus or programs, steps and fanciful plans, if Jesus is no longer part of the equation but has been replaced with manmade, man constructed, and man implemented plans, then our destination is no longer the same as Christ’s for we have veered off the path that He has set for us, wandering in the desert of this life, hoping to reach a good end.

It is a tragic thing to see men and women surrender their hearts to something other than Jesus. They are so committed to either a person or an idea, that when the person falls short of their expectation, when the idea does not deliver what was promised, they are utterly shipwrecked, absent of hope, seeing no light at the end of their darkness, no reason to press on and witness another sunrise.

Jesus did not encourage us to follow men; He did not encourage us to follow a denomination; He commanded us to follow after Him if we desired to be with Him in eternity. I come from a very traditional people, a people very set in their ways, a people who in large part have set Jesus aside, or completely replaced Him with ceremonies, traditions of men, and man centered practices. They have placed their denomination above Jesus, and so when the words of Christ contradict the practices of their denomination, they side with the denomination rather than Jesus. I realize that some of you are thinking to yourselves, ‘well, that may be your people, but it doesn’t happen here.’

Really? It doesn’t happen here? I can give you countless examples where denominations have broken with the Bible; I can site countless edicts that have been passed, and decisions that have been made in certain denominations contrary to the Word of God. Yes, unfortunately it happens here as well. It happens everywhere, throughout the world, in every place where people take their eyes off Jesus, and stop following after Him. When Jesus is not who we are following but rather another person, a certain doctrine, or a set of ceremonies, we replace the passion, hunger, devotion, commitment, and obedience to the word of God, with religiosity. I’ve seen people who no longer follow after Christ, become more religious than they were when they did follow after Christ, but religion does not save, Jesus does.

The enemy loves the idea of replacement theology, and replacement doctrine. ‘Anything but Jesus’ is his motto, and as long as we follow anything other than Christ, the enemy is content, for only in Christ, through Christ, and by Christ can the enemy be defeated, and only at the name of Jesus will the enemy flee.

We can have our name up on a plaque in our local church, we can be on the leadership council, we can sit in the front pew every service, but if the nature of Christ is not evident in us, if we are not daily transformed into an image of Christ, than we have missed the mark, and we are not following after Christ.

It is inevitable that men will see Jesus in you if He is there. It is inevitable that men will hear the words of Christ coming from your mouth, if He is there. Lazarus was not a theologian, he did not attend seminary, he was not well versed in oration, but his testimony was profound, impacting and life changing.

“I was dead, but now I live! Not of my own will, not of my own strength, but because Jesus called me forth!”

As is often the case, we get into the deeper things of the Bible, and get so caught up and consumed with them, like eschatology, or end times prophecy, that we miss out on the simple yet glorious truth that our entire life, our entire purpose, our entire quest is to daily be more like Jesus. We can know of future events, we can study prophecy, but if our lives are not right in the sight of God, if we do not possess the nature of Christ in our hearts, then all the knowledge that we amass will be in vain. Am I saying it’s wrong to study the deeper things of God’s word? Of course not, but never lose sight of Jesus; never replace Christ with something else. Remember always, that it is Christ in you, the hope of glory. There is no hope of glory in anything or anyone else, but Christ and Christ alone.

So what is it that we must follow? What did Jesus do that we must also do, that we might follow in His footsteps?

I realize this first observation might seem strange to some, but it is important from a practical standpoint. The first thing that we can learn from Jesus as our chief example is never to rush to a decision, or make hasty decisions. Consider that Jesus had a limited time of ministry on the earth. He began His ministry at the age of thirty and by the time He was thirty three and a half years old, He was being nailed to a cross for the sins of mankind. Three and a half years, that is all the time the ministry of Jesus lasted on the earth. He knew His time was short, yet he was never hasty, He was never rushed.

Luke 21:19, “In your patience possess your souls.” These were not the words of a mere man, but rather they were the words of Jesus Christ.

I realize this may sound counterintuitive taking into account the accelerated pace of human existence in our generation, but the wisdom of God transcends time, and it transcends culture, remaining vital and true from age to age. In your patience, possess your souls.

Jesus always took His time, He was patient. We want everything in an instant, yet God tells us to possess our souls in our patience. Hasty decisions are dangerous things, and they have lifelong ramifications.

We serve a God to whom a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a day, yet somehow we do not learn from this undeniable truth. We pray a prayer then start tapping our wristwatches because in our estimation it seems that God isn’t quick enough in answering our prayers, that He is dragging His feet, or that He is taking too long. It is not God that needs an attitude adjustment, it is not God that needs to keep better track of time, it is we who must learn patience, who must learn to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and not be hasty in anything other than fleeing from evil.

The second thing we can learn from Jesus is that He always set aside time for rest. Yes, another practical thing that will go a long way in teaching us to have balanced lives. I realize how difficult it is to set time aside for rest. I am one of those people that loves what he does, and is wholly devoted to the work of God. I love to study the Word, I love to preach, I will do radio interviews, television interviews, I’ll teach Bible study classes for pastor friends, whatever it is that I can do to help the body of Christ, I do with joy. I started out in ministry at the age of 12 translating for my grandfather because he did not speak English. He preached in Romanian, and I translated in English. I share this to point out that it was very difficult for me to set aside time for rest. Whenever I tried to set aside a block of time to just go for a walk, or read a book, an idea would pop into my mind, something would draw me back to my notebooks, and sermon outlines, and I would give in.

That all changed the day that I went to the Word of God, and an interaction between Jesus and His disciples really opened my eyes and convicted me. As the apostles gathered to Jesus, and told him what they had been up to, and what they were teaching, Jesus said to them, in

Mark 6:31 “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”

Throughout my years of ministry, I have seen many preachers, evangelists, and pastors burn out because they did not know how to come aside by themselves, to a deserted place and rest a while. No matter how strong and full of life we might think ourselves to be, we still need to rest once in awhile, we still need to be alone, and remove ourselves from the tumult of the world, just so we could recharge our batteries, just so we could be alone with God and fellowship with Him.

It was hard for me at first, to make time for rest, to make time for quiet time, but I began to see the benefits, to see how much more work I got done when I would take some time and just rest in between projects. Make time for your soul, whatever you might have to cut from the list, whatever you might have to remove from the roster, make time for your soul; find a place and rest awhile.

It is one of the paradoxes of our modern age, we live fuller lives, but less meaningful lives, we toil and labor holding down two jobs, to make a future for the children we never get to see, and are not there to watch grow up, only to realize that we should have invested more of ourselves into their lives, that they might grow up productive members of society, than simply invested in their college fund, that they squandered their first semester away.

The third thing that Jesus did was remain humble. Jesus never flexed His muscles; He never advertised about Himself, He was not a self-promoter. If we study the Word diligently, Jesus never did anything to prove Himself. He hung on a cross, as men mocked Him, as the scribes and the elders said, “If He is the King of Israel, Let Him now come down from the cross and we will believe Him.”

Do you really think the nails kept Jesus from coming down from the cross? Do you really believe that He who had the power to call down legions of angels didn’t have the power to remove himself from that piece of wood? Even in death, Jesus remained humble, and love kept Him nailed to the cross that your sins and mine might be washed by His blood, that your disease and mine might be healed by His stripes, that we might be reconciled unto God, that we might stand before His holy throne one day and hear ‘Well done good and faithful servant.’

If history teaches us anything dear friend, is that if we do not humble ourselves, if we ourselves do not remain humble, God will humble us. Humility is a beautiful attribute of God’s children, and when we have it, we will be following in the footsteps of Jesus.

So how can we keep humble? By remembering every day, and reminding ourselves constantly that everything we are, everything we have, every gift we possess, are not our own, do not come from us, but rather they are God’s, they come from Him, and they belong to Him.

It’s always interesting to me how some people take pictures with other people’s cars. They see a nice car parked on the side of the road, and are quick to lean on the hood and pretend it is theirs. This is how many Christians act today, if God has endowed them with a gift, or blessed them, they act as though it is theirs, when in fact it is God’s. By continually acknowledging that all we are, all we possess, and all we do either belongs to God, or is done for the glory of God, we will continue to live a life of humility before Him.

The fourth thing we see in the life of Jesus is that He never wasted His time answering His critics. I know, I know, it is human nature to defend ourselves, to defend our point of view, but if we are to follow in the footsteps of Christ, we must realize that attempting to answer our critics, is a foolish endeavor, that only serves to waste the precious time we’ve been given to do the work of God.

As Jesus stood before the governor, the chief priests and the elders began lobbing accusations against Him. It was their time, they had been looking forward to this for months on end, and they held nothing back. As they continued to accuse Him, Jesus remained silent until finally Pilate could take it no longer and asked, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against You?”

Matthew 27:14, “And He, answered him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.”

Why did the governor marvel greatly? Because even then, men were men, and they would all attempt to defend themselves, but here Jesus stood, and did not react to the accusations brought against Him.

Jesus reacted when He was hungry; He said ‘I hunger.’ Jesus reacted when He was thirsty, He said, ‘I thirst.’ Jesus reacted to religiosity and legalism, calling the Pharisees sons of vipers and whitewashed tombs. However, Jesus did not react to the accusations brought against Him. He did not waste His time with them.

Jesus knew something that we readily overlook, a verse found in the book of Proverbs.

Proverbs 23:9, “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words.”

Those who criticize you do not want to hear your explanation. Their mind is made up, and even if you speak wisdom to them, they will despise the wisdom of your words. You’re already pressed for time, you don’t have enough time to spend with those who love you, why waste time with those who despise you?

The fifth thing we see in the life of Jesus worthy of emulating is that Jesus overcame His past. I say this, in the context of His childhood, His humanity, His hearing men speak ill of his mother, because let’s face it; no one believed He was born of a virgin as He was growing up. We all know what they whispered when Jesus happened to be walking by, or when He walked down the street holding His mother’s hand.

Here He was, the Son of God, who was born in a manger. So, having social standing went out the window as well as He was growing up. Now manger is a nice word for barn. How many people do you know born in a barn, surrounded by animals?

So with all this baggage, being born out of wedlock, in a barn, his adoptive father being a simple carpenter, at thirty three and one half years of age, Jesus gets up after eating, to wash His disciple’s feet, with the full knowledge that He had come from God, and that He would be returning to God.

Not everyone had the grace of being born in a Christian family; your past might be a very colorful one; men may whisper about you behind your back; but your past is something you must overcome. It is God that gives you your identity, not those around you. God says you are My son, you are My daughter, and knowing that you are the sons and daughters of God, you know what your final destination is.

I need to word this properly. I know this is for someone who is reading this. Reject the sins of your past, despise the sins of your past, but do not reject or despise yourself. When we repent, and call on the name of Jesus, when we humble ourselves and fall at the foot of the cross, we are new creatures, and the old creature is passed away.

There is forgiveness at the foot of the cross, there is redemption at the foot of the cross, there is grace at the foot of the cross, and there is mercy at the foot of the cross.

There is joy in following in the footsteps of Christ, there is a joy in knowing that He has walked where we walk, and He has overcome, He has seen what we see, yet He was perfect in all things. We serve a good God, we serve a loving God, we serve a merciful God, and if only we would surrender our hearts, if only we would commit our ways to the Lord, if only we would repent of those things which have separated us from His love for so long, we would know the fullness of His glory in our lives.

There are countless other examples that Jesus left for us His followers that we ought to follow, from His prayer life, to His deferring to the Father, and giving all glory to Him, but these are deeper lessons for another time, today I wanted to focus on some practical aspects of our lives, that will make this journey through the desert of our existence a bit more bearable.

We are not called to follow men, we are not called to follow denominations, we are not called to follow fads; we are called to follow Christ. If we are to follow in His footsteps remember, not to try and rush God, and not to rush yourself. Kingdoms are not built in a day, and an oak tree needs two hundred years to reach maturity. God knows best and in His time all things work out for the good of those who serve Him.

Remember also to find time for God, learn to rest, let your life speak for you, let your faith manifest itself through you. That which is in the heart of a man inevitably flows out of him, and if Jesus is in you, He will flow through you.

Don’t waste time answering your critics, they will always find another reason to despise you. Focus instead on Jesus, on your commitment to Him, and let the critics and criticisms fall by the wayside.

And last but not least, overcome your past. Remember, in Jesus you are not merely a patched up old vessel, but a new vessel that the potter has fashioned to His liking.

With love in Christ,

Michael Boldea Jr.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, timely message, Michael. It's so important to remember not to waste time defending oneself. I am so guilty of this. I must learn to keep my mind focused on the Savior and what He wants me to do and forget about justifying my life to people.

Linda B
Lapeer, MI