Jimmy Peters was on his way back to Lagos from a wedding in Benin City. Suddenly, the road ahead was blocked. Before he could say “Jack Robinson,” some armed men sprang out of the bushes. Instinctively, Jimmy’s wife hid their baby on the floor of the backseat of the car; quickly throwing a cloth over him.
The armed robbers were professional and clinical. They rapidly stripped them of their money and valuables. They hit the jackpot when they found thirty-five thousand naira in the boot of the car. But just as they were about to leave, the thing Jimmy’s wife feared happened. The baby cried out; not surprising, since he was practically smothered by the cloth thrown over him. One of the armed robbers stopped in his tracks. “There’s a baby, there’s a baby,” he exclaimed. He removed the cloth for confirmation. There indeed was the baby, cooing away, totally oblivious to the tension in the air.
The armed robber was very angry. He turned to the mother; scowling. “You people are very strange,” he said. “Do you think I would hurt a baby?” Then he went further: “I want you to know that I am a Christian, so I would never hurt a little baby like this.” To demonstrate this beyond reasonable doubt, he decided to give the baby twenty naira out of the thirty-five thousand he had stolen from the parents.
This story is not fiction. It actually happened; and it serves to underscore the widespread confusion that now exists among those of us who call ourselves Christians. Christians are now a motley group of very strange bedfellows. It would appear that virtually anybody can claim to be a Christian without fear of contradiction. But who exactly is a Christian?
Today, Christians are often identified by church affiliation. We are people who go to church on Sundays. We are people who “read their bible and pray every day.” We are people who pay tithes. We have a tendency to quote the scriptures. We like to pepper our speech with “hallelujahs” and “praise the Lord.”
But we are also people who fail to show compassion when it is required. We are people who despise Moslems and people of other faiths. We are people with deep hatred for homosexuals. We are people who insist on retributive justice, even to the point of going to war. We are those who go to church on Sundays but also beat our wives on Mondays. We are those who pray down the rain but also use our tongue to lie, deceive, insult, abuse and curse. Of such is not the kingdom of God.
Some church workers came to a high-rise building to ask for “Sister Mary.” But nobody seemed to know her. “What does she look like?” the residents asked. The visitors gave an elaborate description of her, from her favourite hairstyle to her preferred manner of dressing. “That sounds like Mary Ikejiani,” somebody replied. “Is it Mary Ikejiani you are looking for?” “Yes,” replied the visitors. “We have it on good authority she lives in this building.” “Why didn’t you say that in the first place?” the residents chorused. “Instead, you asked for ‘Sister Mary.’ Do you mean to tell us Mary is a Christian?”
Mary was a Sunday-Sunday Christian. At church, she was the epitome of holiness and virtue. But at home, she could not continue the lie. Had the people asked after “Quarrelsome Mary,” instead of “Sister Mary,” there would have been no difficulty in identifying her.
Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do men say that I am?” Let us turn the question around. Who do men say Christians are? Are we known by virtues or by vices? Does the designation, “Christian,” denote someone of sound character who is honest, godly and peace-loving? The truth is it does not.
When Jesus sees Nathanael coming down the road, he says about him: “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit.” Jesus refers to Nathanael as a real Israelite, thereby differentiating him from Jacob; the man to whom God first gave the name Israel. Jacob, of course, was a liar and a cheat. But Jesus identifies in Nathanael that the real Israelite (or Christian) is a man of proven integrity.
If Nathanael is a real Israelite then there are fake Israelites. If Nathanael is a true Christian then there are fake Christians. Indeed, many professing Christians are much more dishonest and deceitful than the average unbeliever. We seem to forget that people are supposed to be drawn to Christ because of what they see of him in us.
A lady asked me to pray for her. When I asked what her petition was, she said she was the Chairperson of the Armed Forces Officers’ Wives at a particular military cantonment. Her colleagues kept a certain amount of money with her for safe-keeping, but it now appeared she had misplaced the money.
“What happened to the money?” I asked her. “I tampered with it,” she said. “What does that mean?” She said: “I spent the money. I didn’t know they would want it back so soon.” “So what do you want me to do now?” “I want you to pray that God should have mercy on me,” she replied. But what about the money with which she was entrusted?
Disciples of Christ are called to follow his example. Why then do Christians steal, cheat, fight, lie, fornicate and commit adultery? Surely we know that the kingdom of God is only for those who stand in the righteousness of Christ.
Have you ever had the experience where a man literally drives you off the road and, as he speeds away, you see the inscription on his windscreen declaring: “Jesus is Lord?” How does reckless driving testify to the lordship of Jesus Christ?
Some cars were waiting at a railway intersection because a red light indicated a train was approaching. But one driver felt all the others were daft. He was convinced he could quickly cross over before the train arrived. So rather than wait on the queue with others, he decided to drive across quickly at top speed.
Onlookers shouted at him to stop, warning him of the danger in his line of action. But he ignored them, accelerating all the more. At the last minute, he suddenly saw the train. It was much closer than he had anticipated, but it was now too late to slam on the brakes. If he did, he would be crushed for sure. So he had no choice but to continue on his suicidal path.
Somehow he managed to get across unscathed. But just as he was about to breathe a sigh of relief, the train hit his back bumper and sent him on a tailspin. His car went through several somersaults but finally ended right side up. Dazed but uninjured, the man opened the door and came out of the car. “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus,” he cried.
But was it Jesus who told him to take such an idiotic risk? Was it Jesus who led him to presume all other drivers were daft but he alone was smart?