Let me be blunt: Jesus is not your superstar. He’s not going to bring glitter or glamor or bedazzle your life. He’s not here to entertain you. He’s not here to make your life more convenient or more comfortable.
We’re not the first generation to try to mash Jesus into the superstar mold. At one point in his ministry, Jesus had drawn a huge crowd of people (see John 6). They saw his miracles and got excited. In Jesus, they saw a man who could feed an army with just a few loaves and fish. In Jesus, they saw a liberator. In Jesus, they saw a superstar.
But how did their perception match the real Jesus?
The Real Jesus
The real Jesus had fewer disciples while he was on earth than I have followers on Twitter. The Kardashians have had a longer stretch in the public eye than the real Jesus did in his lifetime. The real Jesus could make bread from rocks—but we have Nutella.
The real Jesus wasn’t a superstar.
But lots of people wanted him to be. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Jesus Christ Superstar captures this perfectly in “King Herod’s Song”: “Prove to me that you’re no fool; walk across my swimming pool. . . . I only ask what I’d ask any superstar. What is it that you have got that puts you where you are?” In the Gospels we read that Herod’s audience with Jesus ended with Herod disappointed. Jesus didn’t impress him.
And remember that crowd from earlier? The real Jesus lost the crowd’s attention with his difficult teaching. The real Jesus doesn’t promise an easy, glamorous life for his followers. The real Jesus suffered. The real Jesus died. On a cross.
Then Why Jesus?
If Jesus can’t deliver on the demands we make of superstars, why keep him around? The crowds left him and Herod sent him away. Many who grow up hearing about Jesus choose to walk away from him as they walk into adulthood. The world is full of superstars.
But when the crowds in John 6 left, Jesus turned to his disciples and asked them this chilling question: “You do not want to leave too, do you?”
If I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure how I’d answer Jesus if he asked me this. I’m afraid that I’d be looking down at my phone. I wonder if my superstar-seeking habits would already be pulling me on to the next big thing.
Simon Peter answered Jesus’ question like this: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” What an answer!
Others may be more entertaining. Others may be more fun. Others may have more glitz, glamor, pizzazz, and pizza. But Jesus has life to offer. Only Jesus has life to offer. He gives us life free from the burden of crippling shame, life in reconciled and reconciling community, life that links God’s world-changing purposes with even our most mundane circumstances. He offers us abundant life and, with it, struggles.
Be Honest About Jesus
When we try to convince ourselves that Jesus is a superstar, we end up treating him as just another celebrity. We evaluate him for his entertainment value. We compare him to others. And, ultimately, we move on from him to the newest and latest trending piece of glitter.
Let’s be honest about Jesus. The real Jesus offers us real life. We don’t have to cover him with body glitter and false promises to make him interesting or compelling. What would have been a humiliating failure in the superstar world (Jesus’ death) was actually the sign of a love for us deeper than any person can ever give, and a commitment to the redemption and restoration and healing of all that he has made.
We also need to be honest about Jesus with others. In our attempts to win people over to Jesus, we can be tempted to present him as a superstar: “Jesus will fix your problems, give you community, and change the world. And he’ll do all of that as soon as you bow your head and bend your knee. Make the jump before it’s too late.”
But presenting Jesus as the consummate superstar to others will have one of two effects: either it will break trust with people who know that we’re exaggerating, or it will cause people to bail on him when they realize they don't get the entertainment and flashy miracles they were expecting from him.
The best marketers tell true stories. Jesus has given us more than enough material to work with. And, what’s more, he’s actively engaged in this world by his Spirit, drawing people to himself. When we step out as honest witnesses telling the truth about Jesus—scars and all—we will be at our most effective.
Challenge: Try reading the Gospel of John this week so that you can see the real Jesus and blast away the false pictures of him that you’ve accumulated.
Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Matt Kirk.