This weekend I saw the movie “The Blindside.” The movie is the true story of a family that takes in a poor black teenager from the projects in Memphis that eventually becomes a professional football player. It’s a fantastic story that is deeply moving. It is a story that should be told. And yet I couldn’t help but think about the fact that we love these stories because they end with someone becoming famous and successful in the world’s eyes. If that young man had become a college graduate and then a lawyer or businessman or something of that nature, we would have never seen that story on a movie screen. Quite frankly we wouldn’t have been interested. But we love the story of a nobody becoming a celebrity. Shows like American Idol and others are the opportunity for ordinary people to become extraordinary. And that is the American dream. We love it.
And yet, a worldview that believes this to be the worthy pursuit of our lives is deceptively and subtly unbiblical. In fact, when one examines the content of the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus, we could say that becoming a Christian is about somebody’s becoming nobody’s, rather than the other way around.
Jesus is the supreme example of this. Philippians 2:5-11 tells us that Jesus, God the Son, did not count all that came with being God as something to be held on to, as something not worth letting go of, but humbled Himself and took the form of a slave (doulos) and went to a cross as a supposed criminal. This is a trip as far down as is unimaginably possible. God the Son Himself, the greatest “somebody” so to speak of, in the universe, became the least of all, an utter nobody by the world’s standards. That kind of humility and character is unfathomable.
The Bible, along with church history tells similar stories. Paul, who was Saul, may have become the future leader of the Pharisees (a distinct possibility in light of having Gamaliel as a teacher). Instead he spent his life in and out of prisons and ultimately beheaded in Rome. Men like William Borden are more recent stories. The heir to the Borden fortune who dies in Egypt a few weeks after arriving there to be a missionary. Lottie Moon, the great Baptist missionary to China, who was regarded as one of the most capable women in America in her pre-missionary years. Church history is loaded with these kinds of stories.
The call to follow Jesus is a call to forsake all that is of the world for the greater purpose of the advance of Christ’s kingdom. To become a nobody in the eyes of the world. The beatitudes teach us what the citizens of His kingdom are like: poor in spirit, mourners, meek, peacemakers, the merciful, and those who hunger for righteousness. Not an impressive list of qualities by the world’s standards. Jesus requires that the rich young ruler sell all he has to follow him, and speaks of the challenge that worldly wealth poses to the surrender of human lives to Christ (harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than a camel to go through the eye of a needle).
Jesus’ life reflects no value for the things of this world. Faithful Christians have been committed to the same throughout the history of the church. Somebody’s who become nobody’s. Won’t draw any attention from Hollywood, but it is the way of Jesus. Let us not spend our lives headed the wrong direction.