In 1896, Charles Monroe Sheldon, pastor of Central Congregational Church in Topeka, Kansas, began a story-telling series as part of his Sunday evening services. The story Sheldon told takes place in the fictional railroad town of Raymond, and focuses on pastor Henry Maxwell of First Church of Raymond. In the story, Maxwell challenges his congregation to not make any decision for one year without first asking the question, “What would Jesus do?” Each Sunday evening, Sheldon added a new chapter to his story, with each chapter focusing on one of the fictional members of First Church.
The chapters of Sheldon’s story were later collected, published by Advance Publishing Company, and sold in paperback form for ten cents per copy, selling over a hundred thousand copies in just a matter of weeks. Advance Publishing, however, committed a grievous error in filing the copyright for the work, thus other publishers picked up the book and published it without paying proper royalties to Advance Publishing or to Sheldon. To date, the work has sold more than thirty million copies, ranking it as one of the best selling books of all time. Indeed, I have a hardback copy of this work on the night stand by my bed.
The concept of walking in Jesus’ steps is presented to us by the apostle Peter:
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21 – ESV)
While it is a worthy thing to ask what Jesus would do when facing various decisions throughout our days and weeks, that scenario is not what is presented to us in this context of 1st Peter. The example Jesus left us is a behavior couched in suffering, and ultimately dying sacrificially for us. Let’s look again at the quote from Peter, but get it in the full context:
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 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. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:19-24 – ESV)
Walking in the steps of Jesus is not so much asking what Jesus would do in this situation or that situation, but rather it is enduring unjust suffering in virtual silence, and not just suffering for my own decisions and my own actions, but even suffering on behalf of others who have sinned against me.
Consider the prophet Isaiah’s treatment of this same subject:
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7 – ESV).
Our tendency is to want to protest the unjust persecution of Christ-followers (particularly ourselves), whether it is governmental oppression or individual actions. We want to strike back – to defend. But these are not the footsteps of Jesus. We endure suffering unjustly, and we endure suffering on behalf of others. When we do this, according to 1st Peter 2:19 & 20, this is what finds “grace” (literally) with God.
Victoriously in Christ!
Over to you: How do you typically respond to injustice, and how does 1st Peter reshape your thinking on that?