At Christmas, did you find yourself wondering how Jesus would celebrate His birthday if He were still walking the earth today? I did. And it was hard to picture Him opening presents by a Christmas tree in a well-decorated home next to a warm fire. In my mind, it’s far more likely He’d be spending His birthday on the other side of town serving and sharing His life-changing message with the brokenhearted and downtrodden. Nor would Jesus want His family and friends to be rushing to the mall to buy last-minute gifts for Him or complaining about non-believers who refuse to join in His birthday celebration. He’d probably prefer we spend that time visiting those feeling most alone, without loved ones to hug or gifts to open – even if they’re among those pretending Christmas isn’t about Christ, saying “Merry Xmas” or “Happy Holidays” instead.
If you agree that every day should be Christmas for Christ-followers, then the question “Where Would Jesus Be on His birthday?” has serious implications for how each of us should spend our time in 2020…
Why So Many Missed the First Advent
Jesus lived differently than most expected. His actions didn’t match up with common interpretations of God’s Word. Religious leaders in Jesus’ day misconstrued the message God had been trying to convey for centuries through His actions and words. They expected a deliverer from oppressors, not from sin. They expected more rules to follow, not grace to accept. They expected an earthly kingdom, not a heavenly one. In other words, they expected religion, not a relationship. They traded what mattered most for what God most abhorred, exchanging forgiveness for condemnation and humility for arrogance.
Because the Lord’s own people misunderstood who He really was, God appeared before them in the flesh on Christmas Day. Christmas is about the greatest act of love in the history of the world. To seek and save the lost, God Himself took on human flesh and assumed the role of a humble servant, even to the point of death on a cross. Advent means we now know exactly who God truly is – not only by what He said, but by what He did. Jesus lived a life we should all seek to emulate.
Yet once again, the Word of God, this time spoken directly by His Son, couldn’t convince most that He was who He said He was. Those who came to faith recognized Jesus as the Messiah primarily because of His supernatural acts of compassion – healing the sick and feeding the poor.
“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I say are not my own but are from my Father who lives in me. And he does his work through me. Just believe it—that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or else believe it because of the mighty miracles you have seen me do.” (John 14:10-11)
“Are you really the one we are waiting for, or shall we keep on looking?” Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him about the miracles you’ve seen me do — the blind people I’ve healed, and the lame people now walking without help, and the cured lepers, and the deaf who hear, and the dead raised to life; and tell him about my preaching the Good News to the poor.” (Matthew 11:3-5)
It was also the power of Jesus’ actions (of outright defiance and miraculous kindness) that made the religious leadership want to kill Him. In the end, they cited something He said to condemn Him to death, but it was most certainly what He did that put Him on trial and led to the final verdict. They understood that His actions, not His words, were going to win everyone over and undermine the religious establishment they had carefully constructed.
“’What are we going to do?’ they asked each other. ‘For this man certainly does miracles. If we let him alone the whole nation will follow him—and then the Roman army will come and kill us and take over the Jewish government.’ And one of them, Caiaphas, who was High Priest that year, said, ‘You stupid idiots – let this one man die for the people – why should the whole nation perish?’” (John 11:47-50)
Why So Many Miss Jesus Today
The failure of American churches and Christians to imitate Jesus, leading with words rather than actions, is the primary reason why the Church is in decline in growth, impact, influence and public perception. To help those around us recognize who Jesus is in 2020, we should do exactly as He did over 2,000 years ago.
Acts of service have tremendous missional and evangelistic power. But to be clear, we’re not recommending “good” OVER Gospel. Rather, Jesus’ model was “good” THEN Gospel – Prayer, Care, then Share. Jesus typically healed and fed before telling people who He is, and He instructed His disciples, like you and me, to do the same.
“If a town welcomes you, follow these two rules: (1) Eat whatever is set before you. (2) Heal the sick; and as you heal them, say, ‘The Kingdom of God is very near you now.’ (Luke 10:8-9, TLB)
However, it is in that respect most Christians today look less like Jesus and more like the religious leaders 2,020 years ago. Churches are no longer on the front lines of compassion – serving as the food bank and homeless shelter – like they were for the better part of 1,900 years. Jesus was a humble servant, but many Christians criticize culture without first demonstrating love and compassion. Therefore, what society sees in most churches and Christians today isn’t faith that attracts but religion that repels. At Christmas, we held worship services behind closed doors and fought religious battles at arms-length to put “Christ back in Christmas”. The distance we maintained, lamenting the sins of society from the comfortable confines of a church building, appears as self-righteousness – blocking their view of Jesus. What society needs most, not only on Jesus’ birthday but throughout 2020, isn’t more words about their shortcomings but more actions expressing God’s love. But operating at close proximity rather than judging from afar risks exposing our own shortcomings, which ironically is a key to evangelism – revealing our own need for forgiveness and grace.
So secular culture observes Christians from a distance, making their own judgments about the “sins” that we try to carefully conceal. Recent studies show that Christians do not appear on the surface much different than their non-Christian neighbors. Our joy at Christmas should have welled up inside of us as we worshipped, and overflowed into the lives of those around us. Instead, non-believers saw Christians getting caught up in the holiday stressors that come with the shallow pursuit of happiness (e.g. social obligations and consumerism). We speak of wanting society to conform to our picture of how things ought to be, yet we looked a lot like everyone else during the Christmas season. If they saw our Savior in more believers, they wouldn’t so easily be able to dismiss the “reason for the season”.
“Where Would Jesus Be” in 2020?
Jesus didn’t take a break from doing good. Compassion wasn’t seasonal or event-based for Him. Jesus knew that people were still hungry and hurting in January and February, so He never stopped seeking out those in need of help and hope. My guess is Jesus would be spending most of 2020 discipling His closest followers, and hanging out in homes (Luke 10:38-42), hospitals (Luke 7:22), orphanages (Matthew 19:14), red light districts (Mark 2:17), assisted living facilities (James 1:27) and homeless shelters (Luke 9:58). Yet most churches are kicking off 2020 taking a deep breath from the compassion events they ran over the holidays, patting themselves on the back for how kind they were during the Christmas season – while hoping those they served over the holidays will show up next Sunday for a church service.
That inconsistency is why society questions whether churches today truly care or whether they’re using outreach largely as advertising to grow their congregations and bottom lines. No one will be able to question our motives if they see Christians truly living like Jesus, demonstrating His Agape (love) compassionately throughout 2020. If you want to live like Jesus, go where He went – because that’s where He would be (and where He is) at this very moment.
It’s Your Turn
If your church is starting off 2020 resting from outreach events during the Christmas season, how much concern does it truly have for the poor? Do we have the same sense of urgency after the holidays to see others saved from the eternal separation from God that we once feared ourselves? Are we as thankful for God’s grace as we once were or have we lost our first love? Are we spending nearly all our time with those who are safely on the boat, while so many are drowning in an ocean of despair all around us? Where Would Jesus Be (WWJB) today? Follow in His footsteps daily in 2020 by getting out of the “4 walls” to seek the lost, living out God’s love through acts of service, and then telling people who Jesus is.