I heard about a town in Southwest Oklahoma that had a community-wide Easter pageant. It so happened that the character chosen to play Jesus had obviously been miscast; he was more suited for the part of a Roman soldier.
This man, a roughneck, a seasoned oil field worker, was known for an occasional barroom brawl. With his burley physical presence and no-nonsense personality, he could have easily moonlighted as a bouncer, had he wanted the job.
After weeks of rehearsal, the day of the Pageant finally arrived. It was a moving scene when Jesus was carrying the cross to Calvary. A host of characters shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
At that point, one little man who was only filling in as a second, got caught up in the emotion. Forgetting himself, he truly played the part, shouting “Crucify him!” with energetic gusto. This small man, who could have posed as the skinny guy in the “before” pictures for the old Charles Atlas commercials, was so into the moment that he shouted insult upon insult at Jesus.
And then he did the unthinkable: He spit in the face of Jesus.
What did the big, brawny, tough guy do? He stopped, wiped the spit from his face, glared at the puny man, took one step toward him, and whispered through clenched teeth, “I’ll be back to take care of you after the resurrection!”
It’s been my observation that too many Christians recast Jesus’ post-resurrection image into a character that crushes, dominates, and subdues his enemies by force.
And too often it seems his followers play the part of the character they have created in their own image, using the Bible as a holy club to intimidate the world’s résistance, pursing opponents with a full court gospel press.
These Christians make the mistake of confusing what they say about Jesus with what he actually said.
What he did say after the resurrections was “Peace be with you.” Those are some of the first words he spoke to his frightened little band of followers. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you,” (John 20:19; 21), he told them.
The same Jesus who said, “Love your enemies,” is the same Jesus who appeared to the disciples after the resurrection. He didn’t come back as a Greco-Roman style, conquering Caesar, intent on retaliating against those who had opposed or failed him and his cause. You don’t find the resurrected Jesus hounding Pilate, putting him in a headlock, and taunting, “You asked ‘What is truth?’ Well, how does it feel now, you little punk?”
Going in peace is rooted in something deeper than international politics, although it most certainly involves that. It has everything to do with how Christians treat those unlike them, those who do not hold the Christians’ particular perspective on the truth and consequently live a different lifestyle, those who dare oppose that for which Christians stand and hold sacred.
The gospel of peace affects the way Christians treat the vulnerable, the unfortunate, the outcast, the resident aliens, and yes, the earth and its creatures. It is shown in how they use or abuse the power they have been temporarily given. It is reflected in their actions more than their words, in whether they exult in the power of love or the love of power.
I read about an international student who came to the United States to study at a Christian school. She was a bright and brilliant young student but not a believer in Christ.
“How can we ever convince her to become a follower?” some Christian students asked.
Eventually the student did make a commitment to become a Christian. Someone asked her what argument convinced her to make that decision. “It wasn’t any argument,” she said. “It was another student.”
Then she spoke of a student, one not particularly popular or well known, who had accepted the international student for who she was. “No, she did not use any arguments,” she emphasized. “She just built a bridge of love from her heart to mine, and Christ walked over it.”
That would be the Christ of peace who walked over the bridge of love into the young lady’s heart.
And that would be the same One who sends Christians on their way.
Into the world.