I remember that when I was a kid in Sunday school, it seemed like half the answers to the questions my teacher would ask were “Jesus.” Salvation? Jesus. Rose again? Jesus. God’s only son? Jesus. Reason for the season? Jesus.
When I got in the upper grades, the questions got harder, but my friends and I would still go to “Jesus” as the default answer. How should you behave at home? Jesus. What is the best way to share your faith? Jesus. What did Paul want Timothy to learn about being a young leader in the church? Uhhh…Jesus? Why have we all kissed dating goodbye? Jesus!
OK, so it didn’t work all the time. But most of the time, it gave us something to say without ever having to really think about the question. And technically, we really couldn’t be wrong. Jesus is the model for every Christian, so of course we are supposed to act like him.
I’m sure most of you enjoyed giving the Sunday school answer when you were kids as well. Eventually, though, we all grew up, and we figured out that we had to actually think about actual answers about how to worship and behave and live. Even though Jesus may technically be the answer, we have learned to dig deeper.
Every once in a while, though, it might be good for us to return to the old Sunday school answer. Ever since my last blog post about the failures of apologetics to create lasting faith in our young people, I’ve been wondering if there is a better way, and what it might be. Clearly there is a problem, but what is the solution?
I’ve thought about it a lot and talked with several people, and after all of that, all I can come up with is the Sunday school response. Jesus. And yeah, I know that giving that answer says absolutely everything and nothing at the same time, but I don’t think we should miss how unique and attractive the person of Jesus remains in today’s world. What will hook and keep young people in the faith? Jesus.
I was talking to my friend Trevor about this, and he showed me an article written by an atheist in Esquire magazine titled “Pope Francis is Awesome”. The article raves about the amazing Pope who turned down the luxury of the papal apartments, who rides a mini bus, who gave a ride in the Pope-mobile to a kid with Down’s syndrome, and who washed the feet of a woman who also happens to be a Muslim and a prisoner. He seems amazed that the Pope, a stuffy old Christian, has both humility and a charming sense of humor. He seems amazed to see a Christian acting like Christ.
It isn’t just this writer who is astonished by the new Pope, either. People of all backgrounds seem thrilled to watch a leader of a world religion whose character is marked by selflessness and humility and grace and love and good-natured friendliness. Perhaps we would even dare to say that Pope Francis looks a little bit like Jesus. Maybe even a lot bit.
Trevor put it this way: “Look how little effort it actually takes to impress people with Christlikeness.” Pope Francis isn’t doing anything but his job, yet the world stands in awe. There is just something about seeing self-denial in other people that the world finds extraordinary. (Self-denial is attractive unless you are the one doing the self-denying. The Spirit helps us get there, though.)
The funny thing is that there is no reason to think that Pope Francis is any more Christ-like than his two predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict. But he stands out to many because of his visible self-denial. The author of the article says, “It was one thing to hear Benedict XVI talk about the poor — on a golden throne draped in ermine. It’s quite another to hear it from a guy on the minibus who pays his bills.” (Hey, Jesus paid his bills too! And he kept his money in the mouth of a fish. Weird. (See Matt. 17:27.))
Selflessness is the trademark of Jesus, the word that sums up how he loved and how he treated other people. In our world of materialism, what better way to set ourselves apart as Christ’s image-bearers than through selflessness?
The point is not that we need to be nicer or more caring or more generous so that people will like us. The point is that, if we look like Christ, something about us will be irresistible to those who are watching. Somehow, simply learning to live like Jesus is more impactful than teaching every correct fact about Jesus.
Why try to prove to young people that Jesus is real, when we can simply introduce them to him? And when I say that, I’m talking about introducing him face to face through our lives. As Paul said, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27). Have you put on Christ? Then you can look like Jesus. You can do what he did.
So what do the younger generations need from us Christians? Not answers alone. Not service alone. Not greater authenticity alone. Not even rides in the Pope-mobile.
They need Jesus. More specifically, they need to see Jesus in the way we live and talk. They don’t need to just hear about selfless humility, they need to meet selfless humility in the flesh.
So, yeah. Jesus. And that’s all I got.
But if that doesn’t work, you can always try flannel board.