CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Time To Re-Read the Gospels and Rediscover Jesus, Part 1

Jul 5, 2012

There are so many false and distorted pictures of Jesus around, and so much muddled thinking about who he is and what he did, that one could be forgiven for thinking that those who make such foolish and inaccurate statements about Jesus have not in fact actually read the Gospel accounts.

Or if they have read the Gospels, they have simply glossed over them, putting their own spin on them as they go along. Letting the Gospels actually speak for themselves, without preconceived ideas and agendas, is incumbent upon all believers.

And when I speak about reckless and distorted understandings of who Jesus is, I do not have in mind all the usual suspects: the theological liberals and those from the liberal mainline denominations. I am here thinking of those who would call themselves evangelicals, and who would say they go to Bible-believing churches.

Unfortunately there is so much sentimental sap in our churches today, so much political correctness, and so much influence from the world, that plenty of those who should know better are basically thinking and acting like pagans. They have managed to strip Jesus of his deity, his holiness, his majesty and his Kingship.

They have remade him into their own PC image – so much so that Jesus looks more like a hippy, trendy lefty, socialist, meek and mild peace-lover, and Obamaphile, than he actually is as portrayed in the gospels. Even if all the leftist nonsense so often attributed to Jesus is not there, we still find an anaemic, watered-down, limp-wristed and cowardly Jesus who would never hurt a fly, and would dare not ever be “intolerant,” confrontational, or offend anyone.

As part of my daily reading I have just finished the Old Testament and am now ploughing my way through Matthew’s gospel again. So I will confine my remarks here to what is found in the first gospel, but remind you that the other gospels would of course say much the same.

And what I am finding there is just so radically different from all the trendy, mushy pap that we hear so often by today’s rather biblically illiterate followers of Jesus. It seems an entire generation of younger believers has simply lapped up all the baloney about “tolerance” and non-judgmentalism.

I suspect they would be absolutely shocked if they actually read the Gospels for themselves and saw the true Jesus. Do we find a loving, gracious and merciful Jesus there? We sure do, but we also find a whole lot more. We find a Jesus who made very strong demands; who offended many; who went out of his way to make things difficult for people; and who did not in the least bow to the political correctness of his day.

Indeed, he seemed to be quite rough, “bigoted” and abrasive at times. He certainly didn’t mess around with folks or sugar-coat his message. His words were straight-forward, sharp, hard, convicting, and demanding. The wimpy Jesus so many believers follow today is nothing like the Jesus we find in the gospels.

There are in fact dozens of such passages in just this one Gospel alone. So let’s look at a few of these texts from Matthew. Consider first Matt 6:24: “You cannot serve God and mammon.” This is part of a larger section warning about riches (Matt. 6:19-24). How many believers today think that the basic message of Jesus is this: “Come to me just as you are, and stay just as you were”?

We have this idea that Jesus made no demands on anyone whatsoever. But we find him making exceedingly strong and hard demands all the time. Here he says absolutely clearly, you “cannot” be a disciple of his if you love your wealth. So how many rich Christians today – or those who desperately want to get rich – would be immediately condemned by such a passage?

Indeed, how many of the peddlers –and adherents – of the prosperity gospel are being singled out as well by Jesus? He made it quite clear here: it’s one or the other. As John Stott comments, “Anybody who divides his allegiance between God and mammon has already given it to mammon, since God can be served only with an entire and exclusive devotion.”

Or consider Matt 8:34: “Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region”. Wow, did you grasp that? Everyone rejected him. Yet we keep hearing namby-pamby believers say that if we were only more like Jesus – more loving and tolerant and accepting and non-judgmental – we would draw everyone to Christ.

They say we must stop being so intolerant and hard and demanding – just accept everyone as they are and they will flock to Jesus. Well that is certainly not at all how Jesus operated. He confronted sin all the time, and told people what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear. In this case we have the story of the demons being cast into the pigs, which then leapt to their death (vv 28-34).

This text perfectly ties in with the first passage we just looked at: the people were upset with Jesus because their livelihood was lost. Whenever Jesus confronts money and dependence on it, there is an angry reaction. The disciples discovered this as well. Indeed, whenever the gospel proclamation resulted in a loss of income, riots ensued. See Acts 16:16-40 and Acts 19:23-41 for example. My discussion of those passages is found here: billmuehlenberg.com/2008/10/27/on-being-a-troublemaker-for-jesus/

John Nolland makes this interesting observation about Matthew 8:34: “It might only be fortuitous, but the verb used to speak of the plea of the townspeople is the same as that used in relation to the demons. Is an unflattering commonality between the demons and the townspeople being hinted at?”

Many of the trendy emergent church Christians of today will also try to convince you that the only folks who didn’t like Jesus and his message were those really bad guys – the Scribes and Pharisees. And they will claim that it was basically only to this group that Jesus reserved his harshest words.

But neither contention is true. As the verses I have already cited show, Jesus was rejected by all kinds of people, and he spoke harshly to all kinds of people as well. Sure, the S&P mob did get plenty of flak from Jesus, but they certainly were not alone in this, nor were they the only ones to reject Jesus.

Consider the entire chapter of Matt. 10. Here Jesus very clearly warns his disciples that their work will not be easy, and plenty of people will reject them altogether. And he tells them in part why this is: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (10:34).

Not peace? But a sword? Hey, that sure does not sound like the Jesus most Christian trendies and evanjellyfish are talking about today! Jesus was all about peace and love, as if he just spent the weekend at Woodstock. He would likely join the Greens today and sing “give peace a chance”.

Nuh-uh, not the Jesus of the Bible. As Craig Blomberg notes, “Jesus did not come to eradicate all human conflict but he actually promises hostility (v. 34). His ministry proved so confrontational that he either attracted people to himself or visibly repelled them.”

Or as Leon Morris comments, “The previous words would have made it clear that all is not sweetness and light for those who serve him, and this is now made very clear. . . . The peace he came to bring is not simply the absence of strife; it is a peace that means the overcoming of sin and the bringing in of the salvation of God. And that means war with evil and accordingly hostility against those who support the ways of wrong. So it is that Jesus says that, far from peace, he comes to bring a sword, that is, conflict.”

And Matt 10:14 makes it crystal clear that not all will warmly receive the disciples and their message: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet”. As James Montgomery Boice remarks:

“Our first reaction is to suppose that they should have been well received. Who is more welcome than bearers of good news? Or those who are able to drive out demons and heal diseases? But when we remember the way people received Jesus, we know that presuming a good reception is too facile. Jesus did all these things, but he was ‘despised and rejected . . . a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering’.”

Matthew has so much more to say along these lines, so I will continue this article in Part Two, which can be found here: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/07/05/time-to-re-read-the-gospels-and-rediscover-jesus-part-2/

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4 Responses to Time To Re-Read the Gospels and Rediscover Jesus, Part 1

  • Great article Bill, ‘evanjellyfish’ made my day….LOL.

    Daniel Hagen

  • Good one Bill, yes Jesus did confront, He is not soft on truth, but remember that Jesus did everything in the most wise, perfect and even loving way. I`m still finding my way in this, I`m sick of tip-toeing, but I want it to be as Jesus would confront. Thanks for the encouragement again Bill.
    Johannes Archer

  • Being a strange person out of the loop, one of many concerns I have today in this area Bill is the images one see’s promoting certain ministries.I refer to a link to a women’s ministry the other day a friend put up on FB I looked at. Not an older or unattractive woman in sight anywhere. Not a hair out of place, glamorous, fashionable, youthy, spiritual, successful, sexy, a sisterhood on a mission, placing value on humanity, committed to change the global community. A revolution of peace and light, connected to positive pathways, wearing daylight like a crown, so goes the advertising and the images. Talk about attractive and having it all together!
    But do those images line up with the images of Christ who’s appearance was nothing to look upon? Over the years and the sufferings I guess I have developed a image of Christ and frankly find it impossible to reconcile it with what I am now seeing as something lacking any family likeness to the Jesus I know.
    In fact it seems the opposite and more like idolatry though no doubt there are many wonderful and sincere women involved.
    But then I am just not in the loop! And my image of a godly woman would more line up with the likes of my own wife and other dedicated homeschooling mothers I know who neither have the time or want anything to do with such things.
    Rob Withall

  • This is good stuff, Bill. It concerns me greatly that the world seems to have more impact on the church than the church on the world, mainly because of that attitude of “Come just as you are and stay just as you were”, with no talk of the change of behaviour and attitudes that Jesus looks for.
    We get so familiar with the gospel stories and used to hearing what others think about Jesus and their interpretations, it is sometimes hard to really get back to the basic facts. For this reason I recently set myself a task of reading the gospels like I was hearing the stories for the first time. I found that I got a whole new take on things. I saw some facts I hadn’t picked up before and I looked at many things with a fresh wonder and amazement. It touched me deeply. I recommend it. You have to read it in the present tense, not like you are reading history .
    The reality of who Jesus is purely and simply, ‘no ands, ifs, or buts,’ made me fall in love with Him all over again.

    Lesley Kadwell

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