The idea of following in the steps of Jesus captures the attention of mystics, sages, skeptics, and scholars alike. If you or I were to ask the average person on the street what they thought about Jesus Christ, certainly they would almost universally say that they believed Him to be a good man or a great moral teacher. But the perspective of humanity cuts off the man Jesus at His knees. For, you see, to call Jesus a “good man” falls ever so short of what He really was. Imagine that you were to have a conversation with Bono or Lady Gaga or Yo-Yo Ma in which you told them that you felt that they were a “good musician.” Failure to use the superlative when interacting with one who deserves a superlative is not a compliment, it is an insult. When dealing with the Jewish carpenter, we ought not to carry on with this thought of His being a good man. We ought to refer to Him as “the good man.” The historical record does not allow us to do any different.
And it is to this end that the incarnation moves. All through the ages leading up to the incarnation, the dictates of God were preserved in the Law. The psalmists and the prophets ascribed great value to the Law as it was critical to their direction and living. The Law taught man what God expected, but Jesus Christ showed men how to live what God expected in action and in motive. For those who follow after Christ, no greater responsibility, no greater joy exists than to walk as our Lord walked (1 John 2:6).
But I tend to think that there is more to this walking in the steps of Jesus than we often would like to admit. For proof I offer the testimony of the Apostle Peter. Not long after Peter’s great confession, Jesus starts talking about dying and Peter tells Him off. Jesus fires back at Peter “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Jesus is calling Peter to walk like Him, and by this He means that Peter and all of His other disciples must take up crosses. Peter heard Jesus explain that in the kingdom of God, loss=gain, losing=finding, gaining=forfeiting, and a cross=glory. What a bizarre thought! Finally, towards the end of his life, the Apostle Peter speaks to the churches of Asia and elaborates on this idea. Peter told the Christians who were about to suffer the worst persecution they had ever known that they were called to follow in Christ’s steps (1 Peter 2:21). By this Peter meant far more than just going around and doing good things. Peter meant that they ought to be ready to follow in the example of the suffering of Jesus Christ. Peter goes on to expand on the point that Jesus made to him those years ago. He lays out the following paradigm:
Christ suffered and was glorified (1:11).
Christ suffered and will be glorified (5:1).
When we suffer rightly, God is glorified (4:16).
We share in Christ’s sufferings, but will also in His glory (4:13; 5:10).
Only in the plan of God can trial (1:7), death (1:21), slander (2:12), or defamation (4:14) lead to glory. But this is the path that Jesus walked (Philippians 2:5-8, 9-11) and it is the path that we are called to walk. The incarnation introduces the good man from Whom our entire ethical paradigm ought to be shaped, but further, Jesus Christ, in the incarnation, gives us a pattern for suffering. Without the incarnation we would have no example of how to live morally even in times of intense suffering.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)