By Peter Amsterdam
April 26, 2016
When we are in the process of finding ways to transform our lives so that we can become more like Jesus, it follows that we should look to the example of how Jesus Himself—the only human who had full godliness—lived His life. We should find direction from the way He lived, including how He interacted with His Father and with others. Along with this, we would want to explore the rest of the New Testament in order to see how those who originally followed Him lived their lives and instructed others to follow His example. We will explore both within this series.
To start, let’s take a general look at some aspects of Jesus’ life that serve as guideposts in our quest to be more like Him.1
In the Old Testament, we see that humans responded to God with awe—an emotion with shades of submission and fear.2
For example, Scripture tells us that when God spoke, Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.3When in God’s presence, Isaiah the prophet said: Woe is me! For I am lost … for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!4
By comparison, we see that Jesus’ relationship with God was different. He had a deep intimacy with God, which He expressed by addressing God as “Father.” Jesus knew that He had both the love and approval of His Father.
Jesus taught His disciples that they should address God as their Father as well.5 In doing so, Jesus conveyed that His Sonship to some extent also encompassed them. Even though they were not God’s children in exactly the same unique way as Jesus was, they were nevertheless God’s children; and as such they were loved by Him, had a relationship with Him, were part of His family, and had His approval. All throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus emphasized to His disciples that God was their Father.6
Understanding that God is our Father and that we are loved by Him sets the foundation for our relationship with Him. As children of God, we can be secure in knowing that His love for us is unconditional. We can approach Him with an attitude of confidence and an expectation that He knows what we need and will provide and care for us.
Jesus expressed God’s fatherly love and care for us when He said:
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.7 Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!8 Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried … your Father knows that you need them.9
Looking at God as Father doesn’t mean that we maintain a relationship that is similar to that of a small child with their parent. While we will always depend on Him for our being, He has also given us free will and autonomy. Besides showing us that we can be secure in our relationship with the Father, Jesus also shows us that we can approach our Father in an adult-to-adult manner. We see this reflected in Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, when Jesus asked that, if it were possible, the Father would “remove this cup” of suffering from Him. Jesus posed a question, reflected on the situation, and then made the decision to align Himself with His Father’s will.
As God’s children, we are expected to use our minds and intellect, labor in prayer, seek guidance from Scripture, discuss our issues with God, and listen to His response; these things are all part of our decision-making process and relationship with Him.
Though He was God incarnate and had the power to heal the sick, raise the dead, and feed the multitudes, Jesus used His power humbly. He could have demanded privileges, which He would have been entitled to, considering His status in relationship to God. However, He set those privileges aside and served others.
Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.10
Instead of using His power to gain fame or exercise authority over others, as Satan tempted Him to, He used it for the sake of others. When He perceived that people were going to try to make Him king, He withdrew to the mountains by Himself.11 He said,
The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.12
He repeatedly taught His followers that they were to have an attitude of humility and service.
Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.”13
Jesus, God the Son, took on the form of a servant in humility; and as believers, we should follow His example.
Jesus faced numerous competing demands from His family,14 His disciples and friends,15 and His enemies and opposition.16 Above all, there were the demands of the crowd, as they desperately wanted His help. The crowds surrounded Him and pressed upon Him.17 In one instance He commented that He felt power had gone out of Him.18 At one point, He was in danger of being crushed by the crowds.19
Besides describing the demands placed on Jesus, the Gospels also show His response to these demands. His pattern was to be with the public—teaching, healing, debating—and then to balance that by withdrawing with His disciples, and sometimes alone, to be with His Father and to pray. Periods of time when He faced conflict or danger were also balanced by strategic withdrawals. These withdrawals provided rest and recreation, spiritual refilling which would sustain Him.
Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee..20 At a different time, Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.21
We also read that Jesus seemed to enjoy eating meals with others, which included drinking wine. The Pharisees, as a result, accused Him of being a glutton and a drunkard.
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!”22
One of the main forms of showing someone hospitality is to host a meal for them in your home. In the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day it was somewhat different, as when someone of prominence such as a rabbi or teacher was invited to a home, it was understood that the guest was the one showing hospitality. Accepting an invitation and being a guest in another’s home brought honor, respect, and acceptance to the one offering the invitation and to their home and family. An example of this type of hospitality on Jesus’ part can be seen when He told the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, who was hated by his fellow countrymen, that He wanted to come stay at his house. The people grumbled that He had been the guest of a sinner.23 Zacchaeus was a social outcast because of his collaboration with the Roman oppressors, and he would have been considered an enemy of the Jews.
This wasn’t the only time that Jesus extended hospitality beyond socially-accepted boundaries. Other examples include the Samaritan woman,24 the woman who washed His feet in the house of the Pharisee,25 tax collectors,26 the Roman centurion,27 as well as touching and healing lepers and others who were considered ritually “unclean.” They were all outsiders, but He welcomed them. He was declaring them worthy and acceptable, showing an example of His Father’s love for and acceptance of sinners as well as His desire to save them. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus spent time with the social outcasts, those who were looked down upon, the outsiders, the “others.”
If we wish to be like Jesus, we will open our hearts and lives to accept and welcome those who are “other” than we are. This could mean those with different religious or political beliefs, nationality or ethnicity, economic status, likes and dislikes—those who are different from us in any way. Showing hospitality and a welcoming attitude toward those who are not part of our normal circle breaks down barriers and reflects the spirit of Christ.
Compassion is an emotion that moves one to action; it’s a consciousness of others’ distress along with the desire to alleviate it. Within the Gospels, we see that compassion is the emotion most consistently attributed to Jesus. He was moved when He saw those in need, and He took action to alleviate their situation. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.28 Just before feeding the multitudes, He said: I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.29 When two blind men cried out to Him, Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.30 When He went to Mary and Martha after their brother Lazarus died, Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.31 He wept and then raised Lazarus from the dead. In each case, Jesus was emotionally moved by compassion and acted for the benefit of others.
The Greek word used in the Synoptic Gospels for compassion is splagchnizomai, which means to be moved in one’s bowels, for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity. In John’s Gospel, the Greek word embrimaomai is used to express Jesus being deeply moved and greatly troubled at Lazarus’ graveside. Both of these words are deeply physical in tone, and carry with them a sense of indignation at the sight of human suffering and need. Each time Jesus is described as having such emotions, we are told that He took decisive action to remedy the situation.
Compassion is taking action in order to make someone else’s bad situation better. If there is no action, it isn’t compassion—it’s sympathy, the awareness of someone’s need, or empathy, feeling for someone in need. Jesus moved beyond sympathy and empathy, and took action—something for us, His followers, to emulate. While we may not be able to respond exactly as Jesus did, we can follow His example of taking some action which is helpful to those in need.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the principle of non-retaliation:
If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.32
Besides preaching non-retaliation, we see that He practiced it as well. During His passion, when the soldiers came to take Him, He rejected the option of defending Himself by force.
Jesus said to [Peter], “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”33
Peter, His disciple and friend, later wrote of Him:
When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.34
Jesus taught that His disciples weren’t to seek tit-for-tat retaliation for harm done to them. He told His followers to refrain from rendering evil for evil, that two wrongs don’t make a right. This principle is built on trust that God is in control and will judge or avenge those who deserve it. Instead of retaliating, we are meant to forgive those who have wronged us. This doesn’t mean that there are no consequences for those who have caused harm, but that we aren’t to take it upon ourselves to return harm for harm.
Walking in Jesus’ footsteps by having a deep sense of intimacy with God, serving others in humility, maintaining godly balance in our lives, showing hospitality to those who are different from us, being moved by compassion to help others, and not retaliating when others have hurt us in some way doesn’t just happen automatically because we are Christians.
To walk the walk of Jesus, to grow in godly character, to manifest the fruit of the Holy Spirit, takes personal transformation. Such transformation comes through the grace of God, which is given to those who make the decision and put in the effort to grow in Him, to apply what He taught, and to become more like Him.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 The following points are summarized from The Psychology of Christian Character Formation, by Joanna Collicutt (London: SCM Press, 2015).
2 Collicutt, Psychology of Christian Character Formation, 31.
3 Exodus 3:6.
4 Isaiah 6:5.
5 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9).
He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come’” (Luke 11:2).
6 Matthew 5:16, 45, 48; 6:1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 14, 15, 18, 26, 32; 7:11, 21.
7 Matthew 6:8.
8 Matthew 7:9–11.
9 Luke 12:29–30. See also Matthew 6:25–32; 7:7–11; Luke 11:11–13; 12:22–30.
10 Philippians 2:6–8.
11 John 6:15.
12 Matthew 20:28. Also: Mark 10:45; Luke 22:27.
13 Matthew 20:25–27. Also: Matthew 23:11, Mark 9:35, 10:43–44, Luke 22:26, John 13:15–16.
14 Matthew 12:46–47; John 2:2–4; 7:1–7.
15 Matthew 16:22, 20:20–21; Mark 10:35–37; John 11:21,32.
16 Matthew 16:1, 19:3, 21:23, 22:16–32; John 8:1–11, 10:24.
17 Luke 8:45.
18 Luke 8:46.
19 Mark 3:9.
20 Matthew 4:12.
21 John 11:54. Also: Matthew 14:13, 15:21; Mark 7:24; Luke 9:10; John 4:1–3, 7:1.
22 Luke 7:34, Matthew 11:19.
23 Luke 19:5–7. Also: Matthew 8:8, Luke 7:6.
24 John 4:1–42.
25 Luke 7:36–50.
26 Matthew 9:10–13.
27 Luke 7:2–9.
28 Matthew 14:14.
29 Mark 8:2.
30 Matthew 20:34 NIV.
31 John 11:33.
32 Matthew 5:39–41.
33 Matthew 26:52–53.
34 1 Peter 2:23.