Recently, a new Harris Poll was released ranking the people Americans “admire enough to call a hero.” The top five are Barack Obama, Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush. As part of the results, Harris Interactive also listed the top five criteria for considering someone a hero: “Doing what’s right regardless of personal consequences;” “Not giving up until the goal is accomplished;” “Doing more than what other people expect of them;” “Overcoming adversity;” and “Staying level-headed in a crisis.”
While the articles covering the poll were moderately interesting, the comments following the articles were absolutely fascinating. The hero poll of course raised the ire of many people. Some bemoaned the fact that Obama was President. There were multiple tasteless references to drinking the Kool-Aid, cyanide, and Jim Jones. One commenter proclaimed emphatically that Barack Obama was not his President, and another said the poll confirmed his suspicions of Obama as the anti-Christ. Several people took a more positive approach arguing vehemently for Christ as hero par excellence. All of the fervor over the issue raised two important questions: 1. Does it matter that Jesus was not first on the hero list? 2. Should Jesus be on the hero list at all?
When one reads the given criteria for being a hero two things are clear. First, The working definition of hero is a very base definition. Second, one could easily argue that almost anyone has met the given criteria to one degree or another. In other words, the Harris Poll is a glorified popularity contest. So, does it matter that Jesus was not first on the hero list? Absolutely not! Whether or not Jesus is well received by the general population does not in any way affect the truth of the person and work of Christ. If the validity and strength of our faith is based on how well received our savior is, we would do good to pick a religion that had enough constituents to quell a mob and keep its messiah alive.
Should Jesus be on the hero lists at all? Merriam-Webster offers the following definition, among others, for hero, “a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities” (www.meriam-webster.com). The criteria given in the Harris Poll on heroes certainly fit within Webster’s definition. In addition, one could include emulation. Often, we view heroes as people whose lives are to be copied. We see what our heroes do, and we say, “I want to be like that.” Admiration and emulation are key to our working definition of and response to our heroes. In attempting to answer our second question, “Should Jesus be on the hero list at all?” we must answer another question. Is Jesus to be admired and emulated by people?
Admiration is in some ways akin to worship. However, admiration is typically quite different from the biblical understanding of worship. One may admire President Obama for his willingness to endure the pressures that come with making history as the first black president of the United States of America, while at the same time be unwilling to stake his life on the Obama presidency or the policies it is producing. Jesus Christ demands more than our simple admiration. Simply admiring Jesus as only a good moral teacher, or an advocate for the socially oppressed is to exalt Christ as something he did not claim to be and deny the very thing he did claim to be, the Son of the living God, the Messiah, the Savior. We cannot rightly admire Christ without, by faith, staking our very life on him and his work. If Jesus is to be admired at all, then he is to be exalted and worshipped as the true and living God who came to Earth as a man in order to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1.21).
Is Jesus to be emulated? Yes and no. Peter writes regarding suffering, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (I Peter 2.21, ESV). Clearly, this and other passages teach believers to follow in the steps of Jesus Christ. However, this passage is addressed to believers. Followers of Christ are to follow Christ, but only by faith and in light of what Christ has accomplished on their behalf. If we look at Christ and then simply set out trying to be like him, we have utterly missed the point. Jesus Christ is perfect, without sin in any form or fashion; he is holy. Holiness is what is required to stand before God. Jesus came precisely because we are not holy and cannot be holy on our own. If we could walk in Jesus’ steps on our own, we would not need Jesus. The point of Christ work was to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. We are dead in sin (Ephesians 2.1). We cannot emulate Christ, which is precisely why we need Christ.
Should Jesus be on the hero list at all? Jesus Christ is different from all others. If our definition of hero allows other men and women to stand alongside Jesus, then we degrade our Lord by including him and lead people astray with the false hope of emulating the One who came to do what they necessarily could not do.