If Jesus Christ was to visit the United States in the flesh today, where would he go? What would he do? Who would he spend his time with?
I’ve been pondering this question for many years, and try to pattern my life after the answer. Here’s what I’ve discovered.
Jesus spent a fair amount of time in the synagogue, the church of his day. He preached, taught and argued there. He healed people there (despite the over-abundance of rules of the Pharisees and Sadducees). He toppled money tables in there.
Jesus was out there
But as I read the gospels – which is where we learn what Jesus did on Earth – I see that he spent most of his time on the road, outside the walls of the church. He met in homes, including those of Mary and Martha, and Matthew. He taught the masses on hillsides. He healed a demoniac near his own home (a cave). He spent time on the Sea of Galilee, preaching from a boat, walking on water and calming a storm.
He walked. He talked. He prayed, alone at night on mountains and in gardens. He poured into his 12 disciples, especially to his three leaders – Peter, James and John.
He healed people. Lots of people. Gave sight to the blind, and healthy limbs to the lame. Raised one or two from the dead.
He met people where they were. A Samaritan woman at a well outside her village, a place no self-respecting Jew would dare go. Nicodemus at night. Family and friends at a wedding.
Jesus didn’t wait for people to come to him. He went to them, spoke to their deepest needs, then told them, “Follow me.” Some did, many didn’t. Jesus did not chase after those who walked away. He let them go, and headed to the next town.
Truth, not judgment
But everyone who met Jesus was forced to choose. Will I follow him, or will I walk away? A rich young man turned away when Jesus told him to sell his possessions, since the young man had made his wealth his god. Did the young man ever repent and turn to Jesus later? The Bible doesn’t say.
Jesus didn’t judge. He put himself out there, claiming to be God, and let us choose.
And got himself killed for it.
What would Jesus do in 2020? He would follow a similar pattern that he followed when he walked around Israel and neighboring areas, I’m sure.
He’d visit our churches. He’d listen to what we were teaching about him. If we’d let him, Jesus would preach about himself to us. He’d shock us with his radical message. Yes, even though we have access to the Scriptures, we’d be shocked not only at what Jesus said, but the way he said it. He spoke with authority, after all. He’d get our attention.
We’d plot against him, because he likely would say things that anger us as church leaders. We are caught up in our own egos and power surges, just like the scribes and Pharisees were.
Jesus would teach, and equip
Therefore, Jesus would hit the streets.
He would visit our houses and apartments, teaching us in small groups. He’d show up in public parks and preach in fields and on hillsides. He might even do an evangelistic crusade in a big football stadium (once COVID-19 passes on, of course).
He’d challenge us, as his followers, to feed his sheep. He’d equip us to do his work, then send us out.
He would not judge our hypocrisy – unless we know better. Then, he’d let us have it.
He might heal some physical infirmities, but probably not do a lot of that. We’re too good at explaining that away. Instead, he’d reach for our hearts – our lost, broken, sinful, searching, damaged hearts. That’s where Jesus would do his greatest work.
And where he’d challenge us, his followers, to obey his commands.
A deep connection
Jesus would visit inner cities. Lots of people there, plenty of searching souls there. He’d stop in rural places too, like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where I used to live. He’d get there, eventually. Jesus understood farming and growing plants, common activities in the days when he did walk the Earth.
He’d adapt to modern technology. He’d drive a car, maybe fly in an airplane to meet people in airports and in the skies.
Would he avail himself of social media? I wrestle with that one. Jesus is much more personal than that. He never preached to masses from a living room – he preached face to face. He wanted to see our reactions. No mumbling under our breath out of sight. No scrolling. No hiding behind memes. Jesus wants our hearts, and he knows how to reach them.
In the United States, Jesus would meet us where we are. In our workplaces. In our theaters and sports arenas. In the grocery store.
Again, he’s not judging any of our choices – of entertainment, food or anything else. He’s seeking our hearts.
When we encounter Jesus, we know intuitively what he would do. We know right away what good and bad choices are. We can judge these things for ourselves. The decision is yours and mine. Will we follow Jesus, or not?
This is what Jesus would do if he were here in the flesh today. He’d draw us to himself, and to his father, the living God. He’d give us the Holy Spirit so we could understand these things.
As his followers, he’d challenge us to draw our friends, family and other people we meet to himself, and to his father. If we explain the Holy Spirit to someone, Jesus is right there to give it – that is, to give himself.
That’s why Jesus is not here right now, actually. If Jesus was everywhere, the Holy Spirit wouldn’t be necessary. But Jesus was a man. Men (and women) can be in only one place at a time. That’s why he sends his followers out, so God can be everywhere at once.
But because we haven’t seen him in the flesh for about 2,000 years, we’ve grown complacent. We’ve misrepresented him. Even in our churches. Especially in our churches.
When Jesus walked the Earth, he was all compassion for people outside the church. He gave them the benefit of the doubt every time. He didn’t compromise his theology, but he explained it and showed it in ways that made it attractive.
To believers who knew the Scriptures, Jesus wasn’t so patient. He explained to them how the Scriptures were being fulfilled in their hearing, in his very presence. They didn’t buy it. Instead, they eventually crucified him.
If Jesus visited the United States in the flesh today, we’d crucify him again. I have no doubt. We think we know better.
This is why I never have been, and never will be, an ordained pastor or employed church worker. Bless you if you are; you have a wonderful calling. But Jesus spent most of his time outside the church, and so must I.
Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, inside the church and outside. We have the same message today that Jesus presented in the four gospels. Let’s take it out there, share it – and live it.
Let’s make it attractive.
Jesus is not very attractive these days. That’s our fault, as followers. Jesus isn’t here in the flesh to right our ship. He has already given us the blueprint. Let’s open our eyes and ears, listen and follow.
There is no Plan B.
The greatest miracle
When Jesus comes back – and he will, he promised – it will be too late for many of us.
Heart change is not instantaneous; that’s not how God works despite today’s instant-gratification society. We need to be different. A good different. Attractive. Appealing.
I won’t change your mind about anything. That’s God’s job. All I can do is show you God, in my sinful, pathetic way.
And yet, that’s often good enough.
When Christians talk of miracles, that’s the biggest one, right there. Jesus uses fallen, sinful people to share his message – and if you are paying attention, you’ll understand. You’ll see it. You’ll get it.
This is the Jesus we worship, the Jesus we live and die for.
If Jesus visited your town today, would you welcome him?