Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen Beowulf’s fortitude, Robin Hood’s prudence, Harry Potter’s loyalty, and Superman’s generosity. We’ve even begun to see all these characteristics in the life of Jesus, the ultimate hero. But this topic is more than a literary rabbit trail; it’s a truth that has practical application for you and me. Want to find out more? Read on!
John 13:1 really sums up Jesus’ faithfulness to his disciples much better than I could summarize: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” This verse is beautiful even when taken alone and at face value. It shows how Jesus chose his disciples and loved them throughout their years of ministry together. Despite their thick-headedness, he taught them. Despite their hard-heartedness, he guided them. Despite their foolishness and sinfulness, he loved them. And now, with his death just days away, he chooses not to leave but to stay and love them to the end.
But even more mind-boggling is the truth that the disciples aren’t the only ones meant by “his own who were in the world.” That phrase, according to several commentaries, also includes those who are in Christ today—that’s you and I! 1 Faced with his last, agonizing moments on earth, he thought not about himself but about those he loved. And the phrase “to the end” doesn’t only refer to the duration of his time on earth. Instead, it could actually be translated as “to the ultimate extent” or “extremely.”2 His love for us didn’t end when he exhaled his last breath on earth; to the contrary, that’s when his love was consummated. But he loved us so intensely that, in the face of his death, he continued to love and serve. And his love for his own continues today as he stands before the Father in heaven as our mediator, lovingly interceding for those who are washed by his blood. His love for us will continue forever.
Jesus wouldn’t have been faithful to those he loves if he hadn’t also been faithful to his duty. But, like a true hero, his was a self-appointed duty, not a task imposed by some outside necessity. God, the trinity, had designed a plan to redeem rebellious mankind (before there was even a mankind to rebel, mind you), and Jesus followed that plan throughout his entire life on earth. In fact, he declared his dedication to that duty even at the age of twelve. When his parents found him discussing theology in the temple, his response to their questioning was, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Since these are the earliest recorded words that Jesus said, it’s no surprise that they set the tone for his entire life on earth.
And sure enough, throughout his whole life he was about his Father’s business. Not once do you see Jesus rebelling, straying from the Father’s will, or even slacking off. Rather, he states his purpose and his determination in John 6:38: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” Jesus actually makes statements like this so often that it’s difficult to pick just one example. He was literally always doing the will of his Father, right up to the very end.
Matthew 26:39 records the ultimate example of Jesus’ dedication: his prayer to the Father just hours before his crucifixion. “’My Father,’” he said, “’if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’” He had come to earth for the purpose of drinking this cup—the cup of God’s wrath for our sin—but that didn’t make it feel any easier when the time came. Yet the Father made it clear that this was the only way. And so, with blood and tears and yet a heart that anticipated the coming joy, Jesus fulfilled his duty.
While Jesus’ loyalty is undisputed, his generosity is probably even easier to spot. In our discussion about generosity a few weeks ago, we said one of its connotations is openhandedness. This doesn’t always look like giving alms to the poor; in the case of Jesus, it looks like much more. Yes, he was generous with the poor, sick, and broken, but he did much more than give them a few coins. Often, he gave them encouragement, truth, healing, and restoration.
In fact, he was the epitome of openhanded, freely giving up all that he had and all that he was. He gave up his heavenly body and comfort to become a regular, limited human. He during his ministry, he gave up his time to every crowd of needy people who sought him. He gave his power to heal them and his wisdom to teach and challenge them. He gave his heart in relationships and his love to everyone. Ultimately, he gave his own life for those who didn’t deserve or even want it. And all of this was done with a heart of compassion rather than piousness. That makes Jesus the perfect example of openhanded.
We consider an act to be selfless when we know that the one acting was under no obligation to do such a nice deed and, in fact, deserved much better. When I give you my last piece of chocolate, I’m being selfless. I deserved to eat it myself because it’s my candy, but I gave up my right for your benefit. (Fat chance of this happening, by the way. It’s just an example.) If someone wins a million dollars in a competition but gives all the money to someone who needs it, they’re being selfless. They deserved the money because they earned it, but they gave it up for someone else. You get the picture.
But who deserved more than Jesus? As rightful creator of the universe and king of all people, he deserved a throne and a fan club and endless praise. He deserved the love of the Father and fellowship with the Spirit. He deserved respect and instant obedience. And guess what? That’s exactly what he had in heaven! Philippians 2:6-8 encapsulates this idea best. It states that Jesus was in the form of God, but he gave that up willingly. Rather, he “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant… [and] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Why? To bring us back to God. He deserved to continue in perfect fellowship with the Father, but he gave it up for us. Hallelujah! Jesus’ selflessness won our salvation!
So, to wrap it all up, what makes Jesus the ultimate hero, and what does that mean for us? First, Jesus has existed since way, way, way before time began—eternally, in fact. He is perfect and has never changed. Therefore, if he displayed these four qualities in his life on earth, it’s because he had already possessed them (and infinitely more!) in his character forever. He has eternally been the ultimate hero.
Then, when he made man and woman, he made us in his image, although we seem to have made it our mission to mar that design. But once in a while, there is someone who stands out from the hordes of broken humanity, someone whose character contrasts with the often lazy, ignorant, cowardly, selfish majority. These people who display fortitude, prudence, loyalty, and generosity instead are so rare that we consider them to be heroes.
Why? Because these qualities are in vogue this year? No; as we’ve seen, these qualities have been heroic for thousands of years—since creation itself. I believe that it’s because we are made in the image of the ultimate hero, God himself. To the extent that we embody his character, we fulfill his purpose for us. That’s hard for us to do consistently, which is why it’s easier to find heroes in story books rather than history books. But one part of Jesus’ mission on earth was to set an example for us to follow. Sure, it’s impossible to live up to his example completely, but with the Holy Spirit’s power within us, we can make small strides to that end.
So what do you say? We’ve seen what it takes to be a hero. Isn’t it time we stopped settling for average and started striving for the heroic?