The Perfect Example—Christ
1. What is needed for us to want to imitate Jesus Christ?
FOR us to be moved to follow someone wholeheartedly, we must believe that his example deserves to be imitated. The higher our esteem and the greater our affection for that person, the more intense will be our desire to be like him. So the extent to which we copy Jesus Christ as our model largely depends on our having deep love and appreciation for him. What will help us to grow in our affection for the Son of God?
2, 3. (a) What shows that our coming to know Jesus Christ is not dependent on our literally seeing him? (b) Why did many Jews who actually saw the Son of God not come to appreciate him?
2 Like many who became Christians after Jesus’ death in the first century, we have not personally seen the Son of God. (1 Peter 1:8) But our not beholding him with our literal eyes is no barrier to our coming to love him to an ever greater degree. Many who actually saw Jesus Christ in the flesh did not come to know him. They judged him by what they thought the Messiah should be like, and were stumbled. For example, people from his home territory said: “Where did this man get this wisdom and these powerful works? Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary, and his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Where, then, did this man get all these things?”—Matthew 13:54-57.
3 Truly, the eyes and ears of those who expressed themselves in this faithless way did not convey accurate information to their minds and hearts. Because they judged him by outward appearances, as being from the family of a lowly carpenter, they failed to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah, the Son of God. The significance of Jesus’ miracles was obscured in their minds. They saw his fine qualities but misjudged them.
4. How can we come to know the Son of God better, and what are some things that we can learn from this source?
4 We, on the other hand, can come to know and love Jesus Christ to a greater extent by carefully and prayerfully considering what the Scriptures tell us about him. (Compare 1 John 1:1-4.) The Bible presents a most heartwarming picture of the Son of God. Though perfect, Jesus Christ was never hypercritical or overbearing in his dealings with suffering humans. (Matthew 9:10-13) His superior wisdom did not make others feel ignorant or uncomfortable in his presence, for he was “mild-tempered and lowly in heart.” (Matthew 11:29) Even children were at ease with him. (Matthew 19:13-15) Jesus Christ took into consideration the limitations of his disciples and patiently repeated vital lessons. (John 16:12) When seeing the sick and the spiritually needy, he was moved with pity and gladly came to their aid. (Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:34) His interest in the poor is shown by the fact that he and the apostles had a common fund from which they could draw to assist the needy. (John 12:4-6; 13:29) Eagerly God’s Son expended himself fully in behalf of others, and courageously exposed hypocrisy and error. (Matthew 23:2-35) Finally, in proof of his great love for humankind, he gave up his life. (John 15:13) What a superb example of courage, humility and love the Son of God set for us!
JEHOVAH’S ESTIMATION OF HIS SON
5. What important knowledge about Jesus Christ cannot be obtained by the physical senses of sight, hearing and touch?
5 Furthermore, only the Scriptures teach us how Jehovah God regards his Son. Such knowledge about Jesus Christ could not be obtained merely by the physical senses of sight, hearing and touch. Take, for instance, the apostle Peter’s words to his fellow believers about the honorable position of God’s Son and the benefits that result from coming to him. The apostle wrote:
“Coming to him as to a living stone, rejected, it is true, by men, but chosen, precious, with God, you yourselves also as living stones are being built up a spiritual house for the purpose of a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it is contained in Scripture: ‘Look! I am laying in Zion a stone, chosen, a foundation cornerstone, precious; and no one exercising faith in it will by any means come to disappointment.’” (1 Peter 2:4-6)
What did this mean to first-century Christians?
6. (a) In the first century, how did believers come to the Son of God “as to a living stone”? (b) Why is Jesus rightly called a “living stone”?
6 By acknowledging Jesus Christ as their Lord and the one through whom they could gain salvation, they came to him “as to a living stone.” The expression “living stone” is very fitting. Jesus Christ is not like an ordinary, cold, inanimate stone from which no life-sustaining substance can be drawn. The Son of God is like the rock-mass from which the Israelites received a miraculous supply of water in the wilderness. According to the inspired apostle Paul, “that rock-mass meant the Christ.” It was a symbol or a pictorial type of the Son of God. (1 Corinthians 10:4) Jesus himself said:
“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:37) “Whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty at all, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water bubbling up to impart everlasting life.” (John 4:14)
Thus the Son of God indicated that his teaching, if taken in like refreshing water, would lead to salvation—to life without end. Moreover, Jesus Christ has also been granted life-giving power. Therefore, like his Father, he can impart life to others on the basis of his propitiatory sacrifice, raising them from the dead.—John 5:28, 29.
7. How was Jesus Christ rejected as a “living stone”?
7 As Peter pointed out, Jesus was “rejected, it is true, by men.” Especially the proud religious leaders saw nothing in the Son of God that they regarded as worthy of imitation. They did not appreciate his exemplary compassion and love for humankind. When Jesus gave spiritual help to persons known to be sinners, the religious leaders objected: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2) They witnessed how the Son compassionately made use of the sabbath to open the eyes of the blind, to heal the sick and to free the crippled from their affliction. But instead of rejoicing and praising God, the religious leaders were filled with rage and plotted to kill him. (Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:7-11; 14:1-6) They told a blind man whose sight had been restored: “This is not a man from God, because he does not observe the Sabbath.” (John 9:16) Finally, the Jewish supreme court, the Sanhedrin, sentenced Jesus to death on the false charge of blasphemy. (Matthew 26:63-66) With a view to carrying out the penalty, the Jewish rulers changed the charge against Jesus from blasphemy to sedition. At their instigation, the Roman governor, Pilate, ordered the execution of him on a stake like the worst kind of political criminal.—Luke 23:1-24.
8. What is Jehovah’s estimation of his Son?
8 The action of men in rejecting Jesus Christ as a foundation did not alter Jehovah God’s own estimation of his Son. Since the Most High foreordained him as the one through whom the human race would be redeemed and as the “living stone” on whom the Christian congregation would be built, Jesus, as Peter states, was a “chosen” one and continued to be such. There was never any doubt in the mind of the Father about the Son’s carrying out the divine purpose without a single flaw. Jehovah knew that his Son was perfect in devotion and affection. On earth, Jesus Christ proved his deep love for his Father by doing his Father’s will perfectly while undergoing great suffering. The Son’s faithfulness under severe testing made him very precious in the eyes of the Most High. So the Christian congregation is blessed by having as its foundation the one whom Jehovah God regards as his most highly valued Son. (Ephesians 2:20-22) And devoted members of this congregation strive hard to imitate the faithful course of Jesus Christ.
9. Why could first-century believers be sure that their faith would not come to disappointment?
9 Those to whom the apostle Peter wrote shared God’s view of his Son. As the apostle stated: “It is to you, therefore, that he is precious, because you are believers.” (1 Peter 2:7a) They recognized that Jesus Christ was the extremely valuable foundation cornerstone that the Father had laid in heavenly Zion, fulfilling the words of Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 8:14; 28:16. Because of being in harmony with Jehovah’s evaluation of his Son and putting their faith in him as the foundation cornerstone, first-century believers could rest assured that they would not experience disappointment, a shattering of their hopes. No one can damage the costly, precious foundation that is firmly established in the heavens and thus cause loss to those whose hopes are intimately bound up with it. As long as believers remained in union with Christ, the congregation’s unshakable foundation, they were certain of receiving the object of their faith, namely, life without end. The unbelievers, however, would experience great loss. The apostle Peter continued:
“But to those not believing, ‘the identical stone that the builders rejected has become the head of the corner,’ and ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock-mass of offense.’ These are stumbling because they are disobedient to the word. To this very end they were also appointed.”—1 Peter 2:7b, 8.
10. How did Jesus Christ become “a stone of stumbling and a rock-mass of offense”?
10 Because the prominent Jewish religious leaders refused to accept the Son of God as their ideal and to build their hopes for everlasting life on him, they lost out on the grand privilege of being Kingdom heirs. Jesus Christ had warned them: “The [repentant] tax collectors and the [repentant] harlots are going ahead of you into the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 21:31) The course taken by those religious leaders did not prevent Jesus from becoming “the head of the corner,” the crowning stone of “a spiritual house.” Moreover, in treating Jesus Christ as a stone that was unsuitable for their building work, these men were at the same time still forced to reckon with him as a stone that stood in their way. They could not ignore God’s Son even after his death and resurrection, for his faithful disciples boldly continued witnessing about him. (Acts 5:28) Thus Jesus Christ became a rock over which all who persist in unbelief stumble to a calamitous fall. Just as those who show themselves to be genuine believers are appointed to salvation, so the ones who prove themselves to be unbelievers are appointed to experience loss. The Son of God even said with reference to himself: “Everyone falling upon that stone will be shattered. As for anyone upon whom it falls, it will pulverize him.”—Luke 20:18.
RESULTS FROM ‘COMING TO THE LIVING STONE’
11. How did first-century believers come to be like “living stones”?
11 First-century believers, by accepting Jesus Christ as the divinely chosen, precious “living stone,” came to be like “living stones.” In what way? They ceased to be ‘dead in trespasses and sins,’ enjoying instead a “newness of life” as sons of God. (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:13) Through Christ, the “living stone,” life benefits were imparted to them. However, they were not to lie about as lifeless building stones and serve no useful purpose. No, they were to form a harmonious building. To form a unified structure, they needed to manifest the same kind of self-sacrificing love toward one another that their Exemplar had manifested toward them. (John 13:34) They were also to be workers, as was Jesus Christ on earth. The Son of God was fully absorbed in doing his Father’s will, responding to the needs of others and helping them to start on the way to everlasting life.—John 4:34.
12. Into what are the “living stones” built up, and so what is their responsibility?
12 The words of the apostle Peter forcefully emphasize that Christians who are being built up by God into a spiritual house, a sanctuary or temple, have important work to do. (Compare 1 Corinthians 3:5-17; 6:19.) Note that Peter says: “You yourselves also as living stones are being built up a spiritual house for the purpose of a holy priesthood.” Yes, this temple of “living stones” is also a “holy priesthood.” Every spirit-begotten Christian, therefore, is a priest, serving loyally under the great High Priest Jesus Christ. Such a Christian does not need any man or a body of men to officiate for him in a priestly capacity. As a priest, his work is “to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5) But what are these sacrifices?
13-15. What are the “spiritual sacrifices,” and how can this be proved Scripturally?
13 Peter says that they are “spiritual,” hence not animal or grain offerings presented on some material altar. The time for making material sacrifices of this nature came to an end when the Son of God offered himself up as an acceptable sin-atoning sacrifice.—Hebrews 10:11, 12.
14 Even in the Hebrew Scriptures we find indications as to the nature of acceptable “spiritual sacrifices,” as in the following passages: “Offer thanksgiving as your sacrifice to God.” (Psalm 50:14) “Let them offer the sacrifices of thanksgiving and declare his works with a joyful cry.” (Psalm 107:22) “May my prayer be prepared as incense before you, the raising up of my palms as the evening grain offering.” (Psalm 141:2) “We will offer in return the young bulls of our lips.” (Hosea 14:2) Thus the “spiritual sacrifices” would include such things as prayer, praise and thanksgiving.
15 The Christian Greek Scriptures provide us with yet more detail. We are told: “Through him [Christ] let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name. Moreover, do not forget the doing of good and the sharing of things with others, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” (Hebrews 13:15, 16) In Philippians 2:17, the apostle Paul speaks of “the sacrifice and public service to which faith has led you,” and upon which he himself was “being poured out like a drink offering.” These passages emphasize the importance of being actively concerned about the spiritual and physical welfare of others, being willing to expend time, energies and assets in their behalf. Such a concern is manifest by sharing God’s message with fellow humans and coming to the aid of persons in physical need, as did their Exemplar, Jesus Christ. Think of it, the Most High views what his servants do to promote the welfare of their fellow humans as a pleasing sacrifice of praise.
16, 17. What sound reasons are there for offering such “spiritual sacrifices” and declaring God’s “excellencies”?
16 Because of the grand things that Jehovah God had done for them through the Son, first-century believers had good reason to feel compelled “to offer up spiritual sacrifices.” At one time they were in great “darkness” and without hope. While a part of the world, they were under the domination of its “ruler,” Satan, the “authority of the darkness.” (John 14:30; Colossians 1:13) The non-Jewish peoples were virtually in total ignorance respecting the true God and his purposes. They had no standing before him. The apostle Peter called attention to this fact when he said: “You were once not a people, but are now God’s people; you were those who had not been shown mercy, but are now those who have been shown mercy.” (1 Peter 2:10) Yes, by accepting Jesus Christ, both Jews and non-Jews became “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession.” (1 Peter 2:9) They were “chosen” by God as his people, called to be king-priests in association with Jesus Christ, constituting a nation set aside for a holy or sacred purpose, and were obtained as the Most High’s own property with the priceless blood of his Son. (Compare Exodus 19:5, 6; Revelation 5:9, 10.) What an outstanding display of mercy this was to the spiritual Israelites! Members of this “holy nation” enjoyed divine enlightenment and the light of divine favor. That contrasted sharply with the time when they were in “darkness,” alienated from the Most High and ignorant of his will and purpose.
17 In view of their being granted Jehovah’s recognition and unmerited favor, these disciples of Jesus Christ were moved to declare to all what the Most High had done for them by means of his Son. They simply could not stop speaking to others about the “excellencies,” the marvelous deeds, of their heavenly Father.
18. What application should we personally make of what we have considered in this chapter, and why?
18 Today all true disciples of Jesus Christ, including those of the “great crowd” who come into association with that “holy nation,” should likewise feel impelled to live upright lives and to be active in helping others to gain divine approval. (Revelation 7:9-15) It should be our heart’s desire to expend ourselves in efforts to aid persons who are in spiritual need. Our thus imitating the Son of God will do much to enrich our lives. What joy we can experience from contributing to the happiness, comfort and strengthening of our fellowmen! (Acts 20:35) In turn, we gain the affection and appreciation of those in whose behalf we unselfishly give of our time, energies and assets. While some may fail to show gratitude, we still have the deep inner satisfaction of having pleased our heavenly Father. And because of doing his will, we can rest assured of his aid and guidance. (1 John 3:22) May we continue reaping bountiful blessings from copying the example of the One who is most precious in the eyes of Jehovah God.