Christianity affirms that Jesus came to us as a baby, grew up, atoned for our sins through His sacrificial death on a Roman cross, and rose again. Christianity affirms that Jesus defeated every enemy, and that Jesus is our Savior and Lord. Christianity affirms that this same Christ, through the Holy Spirit, indwells people who respond to Him in repentance and faith. Christianity affirms that Christ changes those people from the inside out.
That’s a whole lot of affirming. But how often do Christ-followers live out these realities we affirm when we gather together? Do these realities make a noticeable difference in the way we talk and act and react during the 167 hours that transpire between our weekly worship experiences? Does relationship with this death-conquering Christ transform the people who follow Him?
In the early years of the church, people who said yes to the loving lordship of Jesus were transformed and became transformative. In fact, the world faced a decision: do we join them or do we kill them? They couldn’t simply tolerate the church, which was in those days a dynamic movement, not an institution.
Fast forward to today. Did Jesus choose this path of incarnation, agonizing crucifixion, and resurrection just so people would attend church services and clean up a few bad habits along the way? Can the people around us observe from their interactions with us that the living Christ indwells us and empowers us? Is there anything transformative about us?
The book of Acts chapters 3 and 4 chronicles an outlandish event in the life of the early church. On the way to the temple, Peter and John encountered a crippled man who begged them for money. John and Peter stopped and made eye contact with the man. Then Peter said, “I don’t have any money, but what I do have I give you in the power of Jesus’ name…get up and walk!”
The man grabbed Peter’s outstretched hand, got up, and walked. Actually, he jumped around in aerobic worship on legs that were functional for the first time ever.
This miracle stirred up a commotion exactly like the commotions Jesus had stirred up, and the religious leaders reacted exactly like they reacted to Jesus. They had Peter and John arrested and brought before a tribunal where they demanded that Peter and John come clean about how they were able to say such troubling things in the name of their crucified Rabbi and do such a troublesome thing to that crippled beggar. Filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8), Peter responded by proclaiming the good news about Jesus.
Check out what happened next. “The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing right there among them, there was nothing the council could say.” (Acts 4:13-14, The Passion Translation)
The council members were doing their best to connect the dots. In front of them were three common Galilean fishermen. The Jewish leaders had no reference point for common Galilean fishermen saying and doing anything remarkable, but they knew these common Galilean fishermen were associated with that carpenter’s son who said and did extraordinarily remarkable things before they killed Him. They knew that these common Galilean fishermen had invoked the name of that carpenter’s son in healing the man.
The council members shifted into damage control, attempting to contain the uncontainable. I am quite sure the Gospel was never meant to be containable.
Can people recognize about you and me what the council recognized about Peter and John? Can people correlate our words and our behavior with what they have observed about our relationship with Christ? Because self-giving love is the timeless and international signature of a Christ-follower (see John 13:34-35), let’s start there. In the way we relate to people – especially the unloveable ones – is the love of Jesus evident? Are we attracted to the same kinds of people to whom Jesus and His early followers were attracted? Do we attract the same kinds of people Jesus and His early followers attracted?
The crippled beggar in Acts chapter 3 was physically challenged from birth and was a fixture next to the temple gate. How many people had ignored him as they walked by him or had glanced dismissively at him as they walked around him? Let’s zoom in on what Peter and John did before commanding him to walk and on what Peter did immediately after commanding him to walk. Before commanding him to walk Peter and John stopped, they made eye contact with the man, and they spoke to him. After commanding him to walk, Peter took him by the hand, which required physical contact without access to hand sanitizer.
Peter and John dignified him before and after they invoked the name of Jesus in commanding him to walk.
Paying redemptive attention to somebody does not seem like a big deal until you are the one stuck at the temple gate day after day being ignored. Are you and I willing to stop and move toward people, especially the ones who are inconvenient or objectionable or might require something from us? With whom can you and I make eye contact? With whom can you and I initiate a conversation? Who can you and I touch?
If we ordinary Christ-followers will move toward people and pay redemptive attention to them, who knows what OTHER miracles might happen?
May you and I become increasingly swept up in the bigger-and-better-than-life realities of the Christ we follow, because this world desperately needs us to step up and love like Jesus.
Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, firstname.lastname@example.org)