Did you ever wonder? If you had been in Palestine in the early first century and had the opportunity to interact with Jesus on a daily basis, what would that have been like? The ‘correct’ response is to say what a wonderful experience that would have been. But there might also be a twinge of apprehension: Wouldn’t it be stressful, always having to be on my toes about what I say or do? I mean, I feel inadequate enough already about all my failings without the constant comparison to and correction by the sinless Son of God!
If you have an unchurched friend or relative, chances are pretty good that you’ve heard some version of this: “The problem I have with religious people is the way they act like they’re better than everyone else.” Let’s face it; a popular stereotype of a Christian is the ‘holier than thou’ type we all prefer to avoid. So if you were around Jesus who actually was holier than everyone else, wouldn’t it have been even more so?
However, when we read the gospels, we get a very different story. Here’s the thing: a lot of people found Jesus irritating and infuriating to be sure, but those were the ‘holier than thou’ folks! Ordinary people who didn’t have such a high opinion of themselves flocked to Him! It’s interesting to note that Jesus was never criticized for being ‘too perfect.’ Instead He took abuse for being too ordinary. He wryly noted this when He remarked: “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Luke 7:34) Now, Jesus was certainly neither a glutton nor a drunkard – but He was a friend of sinners! Over and over we see badly flawed people being drawn to Him (e.g., Luke 7:36-50, 19:1-10, John 4:1-42). How did that work? Why weren’t they intimidated by His holiness?
Maybe we need to rethink what ‘holiness’ looks like!
Perhaps the first idea we need to dispel is that a sinless person would be conspicuously different in outward behavior or demeanor – someone who would stand out like a tuxedo in a homeless shelter. But actually, there are lots of ‘decent’ people who try hard to behave themselves. So, outward good behavior isn’t all that remarkable. The thing that’s so noticeable about ‘holier than thou types’ is that they flaunt external forms of piety that really have little to say about what is going on in the heart where true holiness actually resides (Matthew 15:1-20). Jesus, on the other hand, never seems to have criticized anyone for not acting ‘religious’ enough. So an observer might not have thought there was anything particularly exceptional about His outward piety.
What made Jesus sinless was that His thoughts and His actions were in perfect harmony with the will of the Father (John 6:38-40). And that is what also makes Him so attractive when we get know Him! You see, the will of the Father is to reclaim us and restore us to the perfection He intended. So when Jesus interacted with people, rather than feeling accused, they felt invited by his holiness.
Did you ever watch one of those Antique Roadshow programs where someone brings in a beat-up item that had been gathering dust, and the appraiser identifies it as a real treasure because it is the work of a master craftsman? That’s what it’s like when Jesus looks at us! He looks past the abuse and neglect and sees the image of the Father who created us as His own children. And God never makes junk!
So ‘hanging out with Jesus’ isn’t about having Him scrutinizing my failures or cataloging my defects – He knew all about those when He died for me, and they are fully and gloriously wiped away! To be in the presence of Jesus is to see through His eyes the incredible value of God’s own handiwork and to know that He is committed to restoring me to ‘original condition.’ Both His correction and His compassion are pieces of His total commitment to bring me home to the relationship and joy for which I was created – a depth of commitment that put Him on the cross in my place.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:16