The older I get, the more difficult I find it not to be cynical about other people. I would imagine that my experience is not untypical of many. When we are young, we tend to look up to others – initially it is our parents, then perhaps our teachers at school, or perhaps a BB captain or Sunday School teacher or even a minister at church, and may be later still a politician or a leader of industry. But as we grow older, we discover that all these men and women whom we have idolised have feet of clay. There seems to be a skeleton in everybody’s closet. Or if not a skeleton, then we discover that they are beset with all kinds of warts or foibles. An American author, Ambrose Bierce, once said: “A saint” is “a dead sinner revised and edited“. How true that is. Even the greatest have feet of clay.
But there is one who is in a totally different league, and that is Jesus. Put the life of Jesus under the sharpest of microscopes, and we discover that his life bears the closest of scrutinies. The Apostle Peter who knew Jesus so well, who spent almost every day of three years with Jesus, could say of him that he was “without defect or flaw” (1 Pet 1.19). Similarly the writer to the Hebrews wrote that he “was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin” (4.15). In the words of one commentator:
Jesus experienced the full ambiguity and uncertainty, the weakness and the vulnerability, the temptations and the sufferings of life without compromising his humanity, without straying from his calling to be a human being. (Thomas Long)
Jesus was not immune from the temptations of anger and lust, envy and jealousy, gluttony and pride, but he emerged intact, morally unscathed.
Jesus may have been human, but he was more than human. Napoleon, in exile on the island of St Helena, once wrote:
I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not a man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires, and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and whatever other religions the distance of infinity… Everything in Christ astonishes me. His spirit overawes me, and his will confounds me. Between him and whoever else in the world, there is no possible term of comparison. He is truly a being by himself…. The nearer I approach, the more carefully I examine, everything is above me – everything remains grand, of a grandeur which overpowers. His religion is a revelation from an intelligence which certainly is not that of man… One can find absolutely nowhere, but in him alone, the imitation or the example of his life… I search in vain in history to find the similar to Jesus Christ, or anything which can approach the gospel. Neither history, nor humanity, nor the ages, nor nature, offer me anything with which I am able to compare it or explain it. Here everything is extraordinary.
Jesus is the one true celebrity – he alone will never let us down. His is the only life worth emulating. “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus” (Hebs 12.2), says the writer to the Hebrews. It is possible that the very use of the personal name “Jesus” – as distinct from a title such as ‘Chris’” or ‘Lord’ – should encourage us to look at the life of Jesus, and not least the last three years of his short life, when he began to go the way which was to lead to a cross. Jesus, in the very way in which he lived life God’s way, has set us a pattern for our living. As Eugene Peterson puts it in his paraphrase, The Message:
Keep your eyes on JESUS, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God – he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s THERE, in the place of honour, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. THAT will shoot adrenaline into your souls.
Jesus is a truly inspirational hero.