A Strange Path to Glory

The way of Christ in a culture of celebrity

by Ron Powell

It wasn’t the path I would have chosen, but I wasn’t in charge. I’d have chosen a more direct route, one more comfortable and less obscure. There would have been perks and privileges along the way with a regular dose of public recognition—and more faithful followers. The route Jesus chose seemed to go in all the wrong directions. It was as if He were taking his cues from a manual called The Road to Obscurity or Not Looking Out for Number 1! The way the world works is: if you’ve “got it,” you have the right to “flaunt it”! But in stark contrast, the Son of God chose to downplay His miraculous power, or He commanded people outright to keep His role in the miracle a secret. Jesus missed the memo that explained how to win over the world by self-promotion using blogs, web pages, viral videos and tweets regularly enough to amass millions of followers.

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Let’s face it: Jesus is an enigma to our celebrity culture. We love celebrities. There are sociologists who claim that we long for the status, notoriety and ultimate fulfilment of all of our hopes and dreams in the ones we adore.[1] We obsess over every aspect of their lives, living out our hopes and fantasies through them. Maybe that’s why Jesus remains a mystery. He purposely rejected the lifestyle of the rich and famous.

Instead of following the Dale Carnegie method of How to Win Friends and Influence People, the Saviour of mankind had a habit of offending the very power brokers who could have advanced his “career.” Jesus associated with the wrong crowd and moved in circles that couldn’t provide a network for gaining greater social credit. As for His mission statement, it wouldn’t fly today to have a life verse that says, I have not come to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many (see Mark 10:45)—not a motto many people would adopt for their own purpose statement.

His lifestyle contradicts preaching that is popular in some quarters of the Christian world. The Scripture describes the Saviour as “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53:3). According to some preachers, this would be an indication that He was not living in a right relationship with God, or living below His favoured position as a child of the King.

“Jesus associated with the wrong crowd and moved in circles that couldn’t provide a network for gaining greater social credit.”

Even Peter, one of Jesus’ own disciples, didn’t think that Jesus should suffer. When Jesus explained His approaching suffering and death, Peter rebuked Him: “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:21-22). Peter is stunned and repulsed by the idea of Jesus suffering. I don’t blame him. If the most righteous person alive is not afforded a life of ease, there isn’t much chance that a sinner like me will fare any better. If the biblical promises of pleasantness and peace don’t apply directly to Christ, how can I claim unconditional health, happiness and wealth for myself? If the Master is expected to suffer, won’t His students also suffer? Peter believed that bad things should not happen to godly people. Jesus knew different. He knew that His glory could be reached only by enduring the cross. It’s a paradox, but Jesus viewed being suspended by his hands and heels above a mocking crowd as exaltation. It’s what He meant when He said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).

The path to glory through suffering has also been a common path for Christ’s followers. His brother James was put to death with the sword. Stephen, one of the first deacons in the Jerusalem church, was stoned to death. Paul suffered greatly throughout his life and was finally executed after a long imprisonment. Peter, tradition tells us, felt unworthy to be crucified like Christ so he asked instead to be crucified upside down. The three hundred years of martyrdom following Jesus’ death proved one of the promises of the Bible to be very true: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Many of our loved ones have passed from this life to glory along a hard road of suffering. As one person suffering with Parkinson’s told me recently, “When I received my diagnosis, I felt like I was looking down into a dark black hole in the ground.” Often the last years of a believer’s life involve a painful battle with cancer or another terminal disease. There is not much comfort in this thought. And, while I know God does not cause or take pleasure in our suffering, it seems the last miles of life’s journey often involve suffering before our triumphant entry to the joyful glory of God’s presence. This hope sustains suffering Christians worldwide. Sometimes God heals. God always comforts. Eventually all die. But receive these words of solace from a fellow sufferer: “Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner” (1 Peter 4:12-13).[2]

[1]. Karen Sternheimer, Celebrity Culture and the American Dream: Stardom and Social Mobility (New York: Routledge, 2011), 2.

[2]. Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE. Copyright Ó 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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At the time of writing, Ron Powell was the director of the School of Graduate Studies at Vanguard College. He lives in Edmonton, Alta. This article appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of testimony, the bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2014 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photo © istockphoto.com.

 

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