In Part One of this article I wrote that Jesus is far different when we read the Gospels as if for the first time than what we find in so much preaching and thinking of contemporary believers. Today we have watered down his teachings, diluted his commands, nullified his holiness, and overlooked his very demanding words.
We have remade Jesus into our own worldly image, in other words. We need to repent of this and go back and ask God by means of his Spirit to help us read afresh what we find in the Gospel accounts. This article is simply dealing with what we find in Matthew’s Gospel, and there is plenty there to consider. Here then are some more revealing and shocking words of Jesus.
Consider Matthew 11:20: “Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.” What – denounce? That doesn’t sound like the sweet and gentle Jesus we hear of today.
And he was denouncing them for their refusal to repent. That is another word we hardly ever hear today. Indeed, many trendy believers today try to convince us that Jesus never really spoke much about repentance. But they of course are not reading their Gospels if they can make such a claim. I discuss this further here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/07/01/repentance/
Craig Keener reminds us of the corporate nature of sin and its judgment in the Matt 11:20-24 pericope: “When entire cultures perpetuate a hardness against God for generation after generation, judgment may be God’s primary means of getting the people’s attention (e.g., Ex 7:5, 17; 9:14; 10:2; Is 26:9-10; 28: 9-13; 29:9-14). This case is particularly severe, however, because Jesus has openly revealed himself to cities and they have continued to disbelieve, like Israel in the wilderness.”
Also, get a load of this passage: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matt 7:13-14).
Hey, I thought Jesus accepts everybody – just as they are. His love is unconditional and he demands nothing of us. Just come and get blessed. So what is going on here? How can only a few be saved? The question of how many might be saved I will here not address.
It seems the more important point of this text is the very demanding nature and exclusivity of the Christian life. It certainly separates the men from the boys. There is no easy-believe-ism here. No cheap grace here. Instead we are told by Jesus at the very beginning that if you want to embark upon this new life, it will be radical and different from anything you have known before.
As Martyn Lloyd-Jones, writes, “You must start by realizing that, by becoming a Christian, you become something exceptional and unusual. You are making a break with the world, and with the crowd, and with the vast majority of people. It is inevitable; and it is important that we should know it. The Christian way of life is not popular. It never has been popular, and it is not popular today. It is unusual, exceptional, strange, and it is different.”
He continues: “The Christian way of life is difficult. It is not an easy life. It is too glorious and wonderful to be easy. It means living like Christ Himself, and that is not easy. The standard is difficult – thank God for it. It is a poor kind of person who wants only the easy and avoids the difficult. This is the highest life that has ever been depicted to mankind, and because of that it is difficult, and it is strait and narrow.”
But all we seem to hear today is about how we should come to Jesus so that all our problems will be solved, and we will be happy and prosperous, and get a great job, and lose weight, and feel good about ourselves. We have made coming to Christ all about us and all about what a neat life it is. Jesus sure did not seem to preach such a gospel.
Instead he promised persecution and hardships and rejection and enmity and hatred. So who is right here – Jesus or the modern gospellers? Indeed, simply consider the many times we are told that people got all bent out of shape by Jesus and his words. They were offended by him! Here are some of these instances as recorded in Matthew:
-Matt 13:57: And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”
-Matt 15:12: Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”
-Matt 24:9-10: Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.
-Matt 26:31: Then Jesus said to them, “All you shall be offended because of me this night”.
Yep, they actually took offence at Jesus. But wait a minute, haven’t we been told that Christians are never supposed to be offensive, never meant to rock the boat, never meant to turn anyone off? We have been told that we are to leave everyone with happy and nice feelings.
Jesus would not offend anyone, and we are supposed to just be so very warm, affirming, and salubrious. But for some strange reason the most loving, gracious and merciful person on earth continually got rather negative reactions. People actually got mad at him and didn’t want anything to do with him.
And no wonder – just like today, people back then wanted comforting words; easy words; palatable words. Yet Jesus time and time again did just the opposite – he told them exactly what they did not want to hear. He actually made things very difficult indeed for any would-be disciple.
He challenged them exactly where it hurt, and he made demands on them which today’s sanitised and anorexic church would find deeply disturbing and unloving. Just consider another really hard saying of Jesus: “Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’ Another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead’” (Matt 8:19-22).
Wow, Jesus, don’t you get it? These guys want to follow you! Just cut them a little slack won’t you. Why are you making things so incredibly difficult and restrictive for these guys? Don’t you know you are unnecessarily turning people off and turning people away?
As Boice comments, “How many teachers stress that a personal, self-denying, costly, and persistent following of Christ is necessary if a person is to be acknowledged by Jesus at the final day? In the absence of such teaching, millions drift on, assuming that because they have made some verbal acknowledgment of Jesus Christ ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago and have not done anything terribly bad since, they are Christians, when actually they may be far from Christ, devoid of grace, and in danger of perishing forever. Jesus never permitted anyone to harbor such a damaging delusion. He challenged prospective followers to count the cost before deciding to join him.”
Many other passages from Matthew could be examined here. But it should be becoming clear by now that quite often Jesus did not seem all that “nice” in his dealings with people. He could be very hard, very demanding, and very abrupt. Sure, he is often seen as loving and gracious, but we must take all of Jesus, not just those bits we want.
All his attributes must be affirmed. Even his great love is a holy love, a righteous love, and a firm love. There was nothing sentimental or sugary about his teachings or his actions. He came offering forgiveness and new life, but it had to be on his own terms – and those terms were very stringent and daunting indeed.
So I urge you to go back and reread the Gospels – or perhaps read them for the first time if need be. Try not to let all the syrupy mush you have heard about Jesus colour what you read. Ask God to impress upon you what Jesus is really saying in these four books.
We need to accept Jesus for who he really is, and not the white-washed and antiseptic versions that mere men have dreamed up and have tried to palm off on us. We all need to rediscover Jesus, and we all need to come to him as he demands, not as we wish.
Oh, and don’t get me started on all the militant and military imagery of Jesus we find in the Book of Revelation…
You can find Part One of this article here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/07/05/time-to-re-read-the-gospels-and-rediscover-jesus-part-1/