The word Christian, perhaps first mockingly coined, is a word that means “little Christ.” The idea of the word is that those who are followers of Jesus are little models or imitators of the Savior. Of course that is not intended to call believers divine or to suggest that we take part in the work of saving people from their sins. But it does mean that our lives, as followers of Jesus, should mimic his character as we obey his teachings and model his values. We are not, of course saved by such obedience, but if we are saved, such obedience becomes part of our lives.
That concept, the concept of looking like Jesus, came to my mind as I read the little transition section between two particular stories in Matthew’s gospel. At the beginning of Matthew 14, Matthew tells of the murder of John the Baptist, a good man, at the hands of Herod. Then, Matthew tells of Jesus crossing the sea, meeting a crowd, and feeding the 5,000.
What we often miss is the little section about why Jesus crossed the sea. I think it is significant as we consider modeling our lives after the Savior.
Matthew 14:13-14 – 13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Matthew says that, when Jesus heard about the unjust execution of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat. This news was sad news. It seems that Jesus and his disciples got in to the boat to get away for a little while. It is fair to say that they needed a rest. It is fair to say that they needed some time to grieve.
But, the crowds figured out where Jesus was going, and they raced around the lake to be there before the boat. Thus, when Jesus got off the boat, aiming for a place of solitude, he found a clamoring crowd of thousands. The crowd was full of hurting and needy people.
What did Jesus do? He did not tell the people to go away. He did not declare that he had a right to some down time. He did not tell them that his disciples were his priority, they needed a rest, so the crowd would have to go away. No, Jesus taught and healed those who desperately sought him.
I wonder, then, how much we who call ourselves Christian really want to model the Savior? If we do, modeling his character will include giving up our comforts and our rights for the good of others in the name of God. It will mean letting go of a well-deserved vacation from time-to-time to love others in need. It will mean letting go of our rights and even our perceived needs for the honor of the name of the Lord.
This is not all about things we must do outside the church, by the way, as if this attribute of Jesus is all about mission trips or soup kitchens. We also need to model the self-sacrificial commitment of Jesus to the good of others in our church lives. God has commanded us to be a part of the formal worship of the Lord. When we attend church, we display that God is number one and we encourage other believers simply by being there with them—not to mention how great it is for us to get into each other’s lives for prayer and encouragement. But how many of us will blow off that commitment the moment we think we need a little down time or that we think some other priority presses? Modeling Jesus’s character would have us giving up our rest and even our convenience to invest in the lives of others, even other believers.
No, this is not a call to legalistic rules about church attendance. Neither is it a radical outcry against taking a vacation. Rather, the point here is that we must become a people who model Jesus by being faithful to the commands of the Lord and compassionate toward others, even when we have the desire to be left alone or to do our own thing. We must ask if we look like Jesus with the decisions we make.