The great comedian Charlie Chaplin, whose antics as the pitiful but beloved Little Tramp in silent movies brought laughter to millions, once explained that of all his unfulfilled desires, one of his greatest ambitions was to play the real character of Jesus Christ on screen.
By ‘real’ he meant this of Jesus… that Christ was a splendid, virile, red-blooded man of strength personified and powerful intellect, delighting in the fellowship of others. That his very appearance at any gathering would immediately create an atmosphere of good humour and happiness. And that he was full of life.
A distorted Christ
Chaplin claimed that in having ‘long studied the Bible and many works on the Christian religion’ he considered Jesus Christ ‘the most powerful, most dynamic and most imposing character ever’ but one that ‘has been terribly distorted by tradition.’
Jesus, he once wrote, was not a man ‘speaking with a sepulchral voice, and looking exceptionally tired and distressed…I once saw Christ depicted in a film. He appeared to be suffering from stomach-ache. It was awful and ridiculous. I was so angry I walked out.’
70 years ago the Little Tramp’s creator shared these thoughts, beliefs and role ambition in Bravo magazine. It would have been a great role well acted. And although it was his ambition, Charlie Chaplin never got round to playing it. But we can!
But it must be for real!
Now we don’t mean ‘play-acting’ as such but fulfilling the role for real. Remember…Charlie Chaplin was a master craftsman at his profession. To win his audiences he didn’t go for anything that reeked of phoniness. And if he ever would have ‘played’ the role of’ Christ he would have enacted the real Jesus, not some phony that people would see through and walk out on, turning away in disgust.
So it must be with Christians! It has often been said that the only gospel some people will ever see and read is the ‘fifth one’ … ‘The Gospel According to You.’ True! And it has got to be right! There’s enough phoniness in the world and people are looking for real hope. They have a right to expect realness and truth in the church but their initial contact is usually local through Christians… us, the people from the local church, out there in the marketplace.
For Christians that means being in the public eye, the spotlight, and we just better be for real!
Jesus frequented the marketplace
One of the great things about Jesus Christ was that he was a marketplace man. What do we mean by ‘the marketplace?’ Simple…wherever people are.
And that’s not always at church! Many don’t or won’t go to a church for several reasons. We like the sign over the exit doors of one church we know…as people leave after services, they cannot miss the large letters challenging: ‘You are now entering the mission field!’
Jesus regularly visited the mission field – places where he could catch up with locals and bring comfort, straight answers, healing, miracles and all sorts of help. Marketplaces, beaches, hillsides, weddings, funerals, homes, dinners, cities and towns as well as ‘churches.’ And in doing so, he was in the spotlight, the limelight and he had to be genuine, the ‘Real McCoy.’
And Jesus was real all right. His words rang true. People looked to him. He could be trusted. They could expect something solid from him. John 7 is a great chapter about such contacts in the life of Jesus as he walked around Jerusalem, his chosen marketplace for the day.
The local people, living in expectation of the Messiah, loved his sharing, the strength and comfort he brought, and the miracles he did. Committing themselves to him in faith many boldly said, ‘Will the Messiah, when he comes, provide better and more convincing evidence than this?’ (Verse 31 Message).
All amazed and impressed, wondering where Jesus’ understanding and learning came from (v15). Even tough police officers declared, ‘We’ve never heard anyone speak like this man’ (v46). But of course Jesus’ jealous enemies, the religious Pharisees, tried to verbally degrade him but couldn’t. They couldn’t even seize him that day. He was a man apart!
Do we come across like Jesus, men and women apart?
At the start of each new year wise ministers bring cheerful sermons of ‘new things in God this year’ to encourage their flock. That’s acceptable and actually necessary as it brings great and needed hope and a vision for the coming year.
But the real challenge comes afresh…are we living as Jesus would have us live before the immediate world around us? How do our workmates and colleagues see us? What impressions do we make on people when that all-important first contact is made? Has it been friendly and open enough to develop later into an opportunity to share our faith? Closer to home, does our spouse and children see Christ in us? Do other Christians wonder about us?
Really closer to the bone, how does the all-seeing eye of Jesus see us? Scary, huh? But every now and then we all – and that includes the author – need to hear this and be challenged afresh lest something precious slips away!
Of course we can’t be like Jesus regularly working the supernatural (although miracles can happen as we trust him, pray in faith and live in expectancy!) or be crucified – that’s been done on our behalf!
But there are certain simple, everyday ‘Jesus standards’ we should live out.
Living out real Christianity
For example, do we take opportunities, God-given or as they come up, to brighten someone’s life? When we come across someone ill, do we readily pray for them? If someone shares their personal problem with us, do we offer them hope from heaven? What would Jesus do?
On a personal characteristic note, do we smile enough or are we always frowning? Are we positive people that others delight to be around? Or are we always negative, repeatedly moaning and whinging at life and even at church life(!), lacking vision, purpose and imagination. And passing that disease onto others? And for that matter do we display that we really trust our God in everything that life throws at us? How would Jesus live life today?
Chaplin said that he had read scripture and indicated that he believed he knew the real Jesus. Do we know the real Jesus? Not just as Chaplin believed he did from only reading the Bible about Christ but from our daily personal relationship with Christ?
And how do we do that – and live out those other Christian principles of being bright, friendly and positive, at ease with the current world situation, upsets and even satanic attacks, caring and praying for people and expecting miracles and answers to prayer?
Relying on our own energy, confidence and talent won’t be enough. However Jesus gave his listeners the answer that John 7 day when he spoke of the coming refreshing Holy Spirit. Read about it in those famous verses 37-39 and take it all on board!
Jesus himself did all he did, speaking and acting effectively, and achieving all God required of him though the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit who indwelt him. Peter confirmed this in Acts 10:38. So can we!
Talk about this to a Spirit-filled Christian or pastor in whom you see and hear the real Jesus. Be filled – empowered – with God’s Spirit and be determined to real, to live positively for Christ. And let the Spirit reveal the real Jesus and enable you to build a trust in him as you read the Bible and pray and act in faith.
No more looking like you have a stomach-ache!
With the Spirit’s help you’ll be able to ‘act’ it out yourself, revealing the real Jesus to others. Be full of life, not dull. But causing others to be delighted to see you, to enjoy your company as you bring humour, happiness and an atmosphere of positiveness and real hope to their lives. Opportunities to share Jesus on a meaningful level will arise.