If you were asked to give a description of a Christian, and I mean by that a disciple of Christ, not a person who goes to a Christian church, what would you say? Notice I said a description, not a definition.
I think I can capture the essence of a follower of Jesus in two words: changed and grateful.
I purposely did not describe a Christian as: holy, righteous, loving, caring, peaceful, generous, or humble. A true disciple of Christ will become more and more like this – over time. The more telling description is that something happened, something changed. He or she may still be nervous, easily irritated, a tightwad, or whatever. But there will be a change, and that process of change will continue.
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” Matthew 18:1-3 (Bold added)
Prior to the first Easter the disciples were focused on who’s in “the greatest” group. John was even audacious enough to ask if he and James could have thrones next to Jesus.
But John was changed:
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” 1 John 3:16
Peter was so prideful he bossed Jesus around. But he was changed:
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” 1 Peter 5:6
James, Jesus’ little brother, chided Jesus, mocking him, daring him to go show himself in Jerusalem if he was really The Messiah. But James was changed:
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ …” James 1:1
Just to be clear, we’re not talking about the kind of change that just sort of happens anyway as we get older: “I don’t cuss as much, drink as much, fly off the handle as much, or lust as much.” Nor are we talking about church starting to feel good: getting more involved because it’s all warm and fuzzy to go to Bible studies and cook pancake breakfasts and have all the kids at the Wednesday night suppers.
Jesus is talking about real heart change. A plate tectonics heart shift. You and I know the difference, and if you have to ask yourself, “Have I experienced this,” then most likely you haven’t.
Has anyone saved your life … at the cost of their own? Has someone rescued you from a sure death? I cannot imagine how my life would be affected. But I do know one thing: I would be eternally grateful.
Here are two excerpts from the Columbine High shooting accounts:
Daniel Lee Rohrbough, 15, held an exit door open long enough for a group of his classmates to get out of the line of fire. He was shot and killed after helping the others to escape.
Dave Sanders was the only teacher slain. “He saved my life,” one student cried out. Another student was shot in the leg and Sanders dragged him to the side with bullets flying. “He was the one jumping over the kids, getting people out of the way. Now we’ll never see him again.” After telling students to get down, then running to help others, he was shot by the killers. He was pulled away by several students and the last thing Sanders said to them was: “Tell my daughter I love her.”
Do you think any of those students will ever forget Daniel Lee or Dave Sanders? Do you think their parents remember them only casually? Is it possible that they would only remember them when they are in trouble or have a problem – or mainly just on Sundays?
If they did forget their brave sacrifice, there would be only one word to describe them: ingrates.
Sitting at a pub in Woodstock, England were three men in their 80’s, each with a pint of Best Bitter in front of them. But there is a fourth pint at the table and an empty chair. The men salute and touch their glasses in a toast to someone who is not there. When asked what was going on, they said this:
“Back in WWII we were in a hellacious firefight with the Krouts. Suddenly a German grenade dropped into our trench. We froze in horror. Our friend Collin didn’t freeze. He jumped on the grenade right before it exploded, saving our lives. His body was blown to bits right in front of us. Each year we gather here on that date to honor Collin. He is a hero and he saved our lives. Our gratitude is eternal. We will do this until we die.”
We can learn from Jesus. We can study his teachings and seek to emulate him. But is he your hero? Has Jesus rescued you? Has he saved you from eternal damnation? He has me. He covered my body so the bullets wouldn’t hit me. He jumped on Satan’s grenade so I could live. He marched right up to the cross, took the beating and took my blame.
He took my blame.
Have you been changed? Do you move through life with a pervasive sense of joyful gratitude? Are you compelled to begin each day, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, Jesus?”
I have to say, gently but with great conviction: If not, you are missing it.
May this Easter become the starting point of a new life for you. A changed and grateful life.