Taking on the Character of Jesus

January 26, 2018

Are you patient? Are you kind? Are you good?

Romans 12:2 tells us not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds.  As the Apostle Paul says earlier in Romans, God predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). In the book of Galatians, Paul elaborates on what that looks like, saying the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

So, Jesus must have acted with patience. With kindness. With goodness. Right?

Consider the incident recorded in Mark 9. Jesus and three disciples return to find a distraught father, a boy with a demon, and the other disciples unable to help. Jesus says, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” (Mark 9:19).

Was Jesus being patient?

Or consider a story from Luke 11. A Pharisee invites Jesus to eat with him. When Jesus arrives, He does not perform the normal ceremonial washing prior to the meal. The Pharisee doesn’t say anything, but is surprised. Then Jesus upbraids His host: “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39).

Was Jesus being kind?

Consider also John 2. Jesus find people selling oxen, sheep, and pigeons in the temple, together with money-changers. He takes the time to make a whip out of cords, and then uses that whip to drive them all out (John 2:14-15). Note that the Greek word translated “goodness” especially refers to showing an “interest in the welfare of others.”

Was Jesus showing concern for the welfare of these people?

Or imagine you hear me say, “O these church members, how long do I have to put with them!” Or we both are invited to dinner with a prominent Charlotte businessmen and I insult our host. I don’t think your first thought would be, “Wow, Coty’s really displaying the fruit of the Spirit! He’s so patient and kind!”

Now, we know that Jesus perfectly displayed God’s character in every interaction in His life. Thus, He always displayed the fruit of the Spirit. As those who are in Christ, we are indeed to exhibit patience, kindness, and goodness. But our reactions to these stories about Jesus show that we need to learn better what it means to exhibit them.

If we are to become like Jesus, we need to understand how Jesus displayed patience, kindness, and goodness – NOT how our culture would like to define those terms, NOT how the world expects kind people to act. In this way, we will not be conformed to the world, but will be transformed by the renewal of our minds.

To explore this topic, we will first consider examples of Jesus displaying extraordinary patience, kindness, and goodness. Then we will look at the seeming contradictions, when to our eyes He seems not to show these qualities. From these contrasts, we will gain insight into the true nature of Jesus’ character, and thus the fruit of the Spirit. We’ll use those insights to help us see how we can live transformed lives, taking on the character of Jesus.

Examples of Jesus’ Patience, Kindness, and Goodness

Examples of Healings

In Mark 2:1-12, Jesus is teaching in a crowded house – when the roof above Him is removed and a paralyzed man is let down in front of him! Instead of rebuking this man’s friends for disturbing His teaching, Jesus sees the paralytic’s faith, forgives his sin, and heals his paralysis.

In Luke 7:11-15, when Jesus approaches a town, He meets a funeral procession. The dead man is the only son of a widowed mother. In that society, she could well face destitution. Jesus has compassion on her, brings the dead man back to life, and gives him to his mother.

An Example of Feeding

After several days of teaching, Jesus says to His disciples:

“I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way” (Matthew 15:32).

Jesus is concerned for them and is willing to take responsibility for them.

Examples from His Passion

Again and again during this most severe trial, Jesus display patience, kindness, and goodness toward others around Him.

On the night He is to be betrayed, Jesus knows that Peter will deny Him. But He tells him, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).

What patience! Jesus says, “You will deny Me. You will claim that you don’t even know Me. Satan wanted to condemn you for that. But, Peter – though you deny Me, I will not let you go.                 I have prayed – and my prayer is effective. You WILL turn again. So when you deny me, don’t despair.  Don’t give up hope. I have much work for you. I will use you to strengthen your brothers.”

Fast forward about fifteen hours. Jesus, condemned to death, whipped, beaten, and mocked, stumbles toward the place of His execution. A crowd follows, many of them women who are mourning. Jesus – weak as He is, knowing He is about to die a horrible death – turns to them and says, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:28). He foresees the horror that will come upon this city within forty years when the Romans will destroy it. He feels compassion and sorrow for them – even when He Himself is suffering immensely.

Fast forward another two hours. Jesus hangs from the cross. He is hardly able to breathe. He experiences a stabbing pain whenever He lifts up His body to breathe. And He fights for the breath to able to say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Then, when Jesus sees His mother and John standing near Him, He says to her, “Woman, behold, your son!” And to John, “Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26-27). He thus provides for the needs of Mary while He suffers intensely.

This is our Savior. This is our Lord: Exhibiting patience, kindness, and goodness, showing great concern for the welfare of others, even in the midst of torture, even in the midst of cruel and inhuman punishment.

Resolving the contradictions

These incidents contrast sharply with the ones cited earlier. Could this Jesus – so patient and kind with Peter, so patient, so kind with his tormentors while hanging on the cross – could this same Jesus exhibit a lack of patience with His disciples?

Let’s look back at these seeming contradictions.

In Mark 9, when the disciples couldn’t cast out the demon, what was Jesus exhibiting? Commentators from the Puritan Matthew Henry to the Reformation Study Bible to John MacArthur admit Jesus was impatient or exasperated. But this was not a sinful impatience. Why not?

Some impatience is good and godly. There are times when we should be impatient.

Ask yourself: What must we long for? What must we hope for with all our being?

We must long for the new heavens and the new earth! For God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven!

THAT is Jesus’ longing here.

Our impatience so frequently is a longing to have our burdens lifted NOW – quite apart from any longing for God to change the entire world around us and glorify His Name.

If when you are burdened by this world, you burst out, “Lord Jesus, come quickly! Right this wrong! Bring in your justice! Usher in the new heavens and the new earth! Show who You are!” Then you are exhibiting a godly impatience.

So be patient with affronts to you personally. And long for His coming kingdom. Long for justice to be done. Long for Jesus to be recognized as King.

That’s the true fruit of the Spirit.

Turn now to the cleansing of the temple In John 2. Note that Jesus paused to make the whip. At first, you might think, “This was a premeditated action! That’s even worse!” But think: Jesus did not let His emotions get the best of Him. He did not drive out the moneychangers in a fit of passion. He knew exactly what He was doing. He knew what was right.

Why?

He says, “Do not make my Father’s house a house of trade!” And His disciples remember the Scripture, “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:16-17).

God’s house, the temple, is a picture of His presence – indeed, a picture of His glory. Jesus is consumed with zeal for the glory of God.

Godly patience, kindness, and goodness are always for the purpose of glorifying God. That is our goal – to magnify His Name, not to be nice to people or to make people think highly of us. Oftentimes we CAN glorify God by being civil and nice, according to the standards of our society. But at other times, magnifying God’s glory means appearing unkind, means breaking the rules of civil conduct.

Jesus was ready not to conform to the standards of this world for civil conduct, when by doing so He could glorify the Father.

Thirdly, look again at Luke 11, when Jesus pronounces woes on His host. How is He showing kindness and goodness in this case?

If we are truly concerned for the welfare of others we will say what they most need to hear. And this host most needed to hear of his sin. He and the other Pharisees thought they were right with God. They needed to be shocked. So Jesus was doing what was in their best interest.

Our goal is not to avoid offending others. We instead must love others enough, care about their souls enough, that we are willing to offend them – if those words are what they most need to hear.

How Then Are We to Have Patience, Kindness, and Goodness Like Jesus?

We can take away two principles from these passages:

1) To Be Like Jesus We Must Love the Glory of God

Like Him, we will desire to glorify God through showing compassion for physical needs. One day, God will wipe every tear from our eyes and end all mourning, sorrow and pain. We foreshadow that by showing compassion and helping the hurting.

And like Him, we will desire even more to glorify God through bringing many to saving knowledge of Jesus, who then share this Good News with others who also come to saving faith. We, the church, will not end poverty, disease, and suffering in this world. But we will preach this Gospel of the kingdom as a testimony to all nations before the end comes (Matthew 24:14). We will see those from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation come to faith. We pray for and work to alleviate physical suffering not INSTEAD of proclaiming the Gospel, but rather to BETTER proclaim the Gospel, to the glory of God.

So we are to love the glory of God as much as Jesus, and thus proclaim the Gospel in word and deed.

2) To Be Like Jesus We Must Hate Sin

Jesus was sinless. We don’t take on that aspect of His character in this life.

But we must long to be sinless like Him, and so hate our own sin.

We begin by acknowledging our rebellion against our rightful King, our Creator, seeing Jesus and His righteousness as our only hope, confessing that apart from His death on the cross, we have no access to His presence.

Then we confess our sins day by day, hating our own hardness of heart, our own lack of faith, the puniness of our desire for His glory.

After confessing our own sin and repenting of it, we, like Jesus, need to speak to others of sin. Having patience, kindness, and goodness does NOT mean we never speak to others of their sin. However, we do speak:

  • Humbly, knowing our perceptions can be wrong
  • Carefully, knowing we could fall into the same sin, or into pride because we don’t share that person’s sin
  • With discretion and wisdom – Jesus did not confront every sin, either in unbelievers around Him or in the disciples. Oftentimes, silent forbearance is the right action. But too often, we are silent NOT because that’s what is best for the other person, but because we are afraid, or lazy, or just don’t feel like speaking. Sometimes we should confront gently, as Jesus confronted the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11); sometimes we should confront offensively, as Jesus did with the Pharisees.

To take on the character of Christ is to hate sin, and deal with it. Jesus dealt with it – even at the risk of appearing unkind and impatient. Are you willing to do the same?

Appearing patient, kind, and good is not our goal. Our goal must be to be transformed into Christlikeness. Thus we will sometimes appear ungracious and inconsiderate – even when we truly have the welfare of others at heart.

Is that your desire? To be truly like Christ?

May God be pleased conform all of us into Christ’s character, by His Spirit.

[This devotion is an edited and shortened version of a sermon preached December 9, 2007. You can download or listen to that sermon at this link.]

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