I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.Michael J. Fox
Have no fear of perfection-you’ll never reach it.Salvador Dali
Years ago, the brilliant author Philip Yancey wrote a book titled The Jesus I Never Knew. Though I enjoyed the book, the title has stuck with me through the years. As I’ve gotten older, through my study and reading of the Bible, I’ve found that the Jesus I’ve always known has been too small in my view. In actuality, He is so much bigger, complex, profound, and magnificent than I’ve ever conceived.
One aspect of His character that has struck me recently is His perfection. I’ve found so many, now obvious, examples of this characteristic that often escaped me in the past.
The author Oswald Sanders listed seven characteristics of the moral perfection of Jesus in his book 31 Days on the Life of Christ. They are:
- No word he spoke needed to be modified or withdrawn
- He never apologized for any word or action (nor needed to)
- He confessed no sin (John 8:46 “Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me?”)
- He never asked for pardon
- He never sought advice (He even taught in the temple at the age of 12)
- He never sought to justify unclear conduct (see the story of Lazarus resurrection and His not being present for his death)
- He never requested or permitted prayer for himself
Those are eloquent and accurate. Inarguably, they provide a solid case for Jesus’s moral perfection.
At this point I should state, “Case closed,” and move right along. There are other examples of His perfection that have struck me in my study, however, and perhaps they may provide even more proof.
For example, just imagine His attractiveness to others. The poor and sinners followed Him. He wasn’t the dour, sober, sorrowful, pious, blank slate that popular fiction portrays. How could one keep devoted followers without occasional laughter? If one doesn’t exhibit joy, caring, and approachability, one won’t have followers for long.
This doesn’t even touch on the fact that children loved Him. (Matthew 19:14 “But Jesus said, ‘Leave the children alone, and do not forbid them to come to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'”) With my wife I’ve raised three children, I’ve loved and tried to spoil my grandchildren, and I taught American History for forty-four years. Simply put, I learned that you can’t fool children with fake caring. They can detect it in a second. They gravitate to joy.
Another sign is that He came as a servant but also unhesitatingly declared His divinity. (John 8:58 “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”’) This drove the condescending and sanctimonious, holier-than-thou Pharisees bonkers. Add to that the previously mentioned consorting with sinners, and they despised Him. Not stooping to their level of hate, He simply called those hypocrites what they were, graphically, in the entire chapter of Matthew 23.
He never contradicted Himself, but was always consistent and accurate. He also did not condemn sinners; He convicted them of their sin and offered redemption. When He confronted the crowd about to stone the prostitute, He required that the one without sin cast the first stone. I believe that what He wrote in the dirt was a list of their sins, and they couldn’t carry out the stoning. Rather than admit to sinning Himself, He said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
Two other examples of Christ’s perfection have struck me recently. The first is His perfect symmetry. Prior to His crucifixion, when Peter told Him that he would defend Him, Jesus told Peter that that very evening he would deny Christ three times. Peter did. Then after Jesus’s resurrection, He appeared to the disciples. On the third time He appeared to them, in John 21:15-17, we read that upon seeing Peter, He asked him if he loved Him. Each time He asked, Peter emphatically told him that he did.
Jesus asked three times. He balanced the scales with the three denials. I’m pretty sure that this fact did not escape Peter.
Even When Angry
The final proof is one I heard at a Bible study about fifty years ago. One of the attendees was a biker who wore all the paraphernalia and actually rode a Harley to the meeting. (Full disclosure, so did I.) During the course of the evening, people were asked what or who brought them to Christ. The biker was first to volunteer. I’ll clean up one of the words he used. He said, “The thing that brought me to Christ is the fact that even when He was [angered], He was perfect.”
Of course, we all asked for clarification. He said that when Christ was chasing the money changers out of the temple, He knocked over the tables and the sinners had to get down on the ground and pick up their money, etc. To those who sold doves, he didn’t turn over their tables, He simply told them to get out of the temple. If he had freed the doves, the guilty ones would have had no choice in the matter of continuing their sin or not. The money could have been easily collected, but the freed doves would have been lost. The biker finished by saying, “So even when He was furious, He was still perfect.”
Profound wisdom can come from what we perceive as unlikely sources. I’ve never forgotten the biker or the lesson he taught me that night.
By keeping an open mind, a spirit of wonder, and asking for God’s Holy Spirit to guide you, new ideas, perceptions, and wonders of the Savior can be yours simply for the asking. His perfection, though unattainable for us in this life, is ours in the eyes of the Lord because we can be covered by Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. That’s a perfection I intend to enjoy and praise Him for providing it for me: Matthew 5:48 “Therefore you shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”