Time To Re-Read the Gospels and Rediscover Jesus, Part 2

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: 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: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/07/05/time-to-re-read-the-gospels-and-rediscover-jesus-part-1/

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9 Replies to “Time To Re-Read the Gospels and Rediscover Jesus, Part 2”

  1. Matthew 23 is the most caustic chapters in the Bible. Here Jesus really get stuck into the religious leaders of the day. No wonder why they wanted to get rid of him, since he made their life very uncomfortable and rocked their world. They certainly would want to get rid of Jesus after what he said to them.

    Ian Nairn

  2. Yes and it’s what attracts me to our Lord.
    He is tough in the way he stands up to anyone who is deceived, and there is a clear distinction between the truth and lies so how could he be whimsical about truth be uncommitted about himself. To me it seems so disrespectful to think Jesus came to be good bloke to everyone, the world didn’t need a good bloke and still doesn’t.
    Daniel Kempton

  3. Hi Bill,

    A great reminder for so much of the church.

    Also worth reading is Ann Barnhardt’s recent admonition to the Superfun Rockband Churchgoers! (http://www.barnhardt.biz/)

    Superfun Rockband church™ has poisoned so many people into thinking that love, and thus Jesus, is just a nebulous, warm fuzzy feeling that one gets by sitting around on a floor in a circle and listening to Michael W. Smith songs. Love is banality. Love is insipidity. Love is tranquilizing and obtuse. Jesus is your imaginary friend, who like a Golden Retriever, does nothing more than lay at your feet, be warm and fuzzy and look pretty, and when inconvenient can be sent outside to sleep on the porch.

    No, young pagan. Jesus Christ is ferocious. Love is ferocious. Love burns, immolates and consumes itself, but is never never exhausted because He is infinite. Jesus isn’t nice. Jesus commands every one of us to hate with the passion of a thousand suns all evil, hate all sin and to never rest until it is either exterminated, or we rest in Him.

    You don’t hold hands with satan and love evil. Incredibly bad music, warm fuzzy feeeeeeeelings and your imaginary friend/pet “jesus” aren’t going to save anyone or anything. They are only going to get people killed, and more importantly, they are going to get souls lost forever to hell, including possibly yours so long as you remain outside the Church and a devout pantheistic self-worshiping pagan. Love, and thus Christ, means fighting evil for the sake of your fellow man and laying down your life to get not just yourself, but a many people as possible to heaven.

    The modern working definition of indifference, which is indeed the opposite of love, and thus in opposition to Christ, is naval-gazing self-worship and the elevation of sentiment and feeeeeeeelings over Truth.

    Mansel Rogerson

  4. Thanks again Bill.

    I’ve listened to some talks on John 3:16. You can find these at davidpawson.org, I think. There’s also a book version.

    Many people consider John 3:16 to be the gospel in a nutshell. However on deeper analysis it’s quite clear that it’s nothing of the sort. For one thing there’s no mention of repentance in the verse.

    David Pawson said that he couldn’t find anywhere in his Bible where God said that he loves everyone unconditionally and in reply he got correspondence from several people asking “What about John 3:16?”

    I recommend his talks on the subject. The gospels were not meant to be primarily read superficially: a verse or even a passage at a time; but rather a book at a time. When considered in its proper context John 3:16 can be seen as an exhortation by John to fellow believers to go on believing, reminding them that salvation can be lost, which is remarkably different to how it is usually interpreted today.

    Matt Vinay

  5. Hi Matt,

    Rather than John 3:16, I find John 3:36 is a more holistic one-verse presentation of the gospel:

    Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.

    Mansel Rogerson

  6. Mansel I can’t find any single verse that would adequately sum up the gospel. As for the purpose of the book that’s a different matter. The purpose of John is for believers to go on believing.

    While chapter and verse numbers make it easy to find a snippet of scripture, I believe that they are not inspired and have done more harm than good. Any other book we’d read a book at a time.

    Matt Vinay

  7. Perhaps some of the rot started with men like this whom we put on a pedestal but ended up in error.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=TNCnxA91fHE
    Perhaps it was the refusal to listen to men like this.
    “…much of what is called Christianity today is not the Christianity of the New Testament; it is distinctly different…. Jesus is not the fountainhead of modern Christianity. He is scarcely thought about. Christian preachers, Sunday School teachers, religious books, all without any apology patronize Jesus Christ and put Him on one side.

    “We have to learn that to stand true to Jesus Christ’s point of view means ostracism — the ostracism that was brought on Him. Most of us know nothing whatever about it.

    “The modern view looks upon human nature as pathetic; men and women are poor ignorant babes in the wood who have lost themselves. Jesus Christ’s view is totally different. He does not look on men and women as babes in the wood, but as sinners who need saving, and the modern mind detests His view.

    “Our Lord’s teaching is based on something we violently hate, namely His doctrine of sin; we do not believe it unless we have had a radical dealing with God on the line of His teaching.

    “Remember that a disciple is committed to much more than belief in Jesus, he is committed to His Lord’s view of the world, of men, of God and of sin.”

    -Oswald Chambers Daily Devotional Bible, p. 586

    Rob Withall

  8. Last Sunday in my local church we had a reading from Mark Ch.6: 1-13. and 2 Corinthians, which I understood to be about how the Word of God could be made known to others. We heard about Christ’s rejection at Nazareth, and St Paul’s anxiety about how to deal with feeling of inadequacy in dealings with others. The readings included three biblical sayings, well known to scholars (but the first two were new to me).

    *He could do no deed of power there;
    *My grace is sufficient for you as power is made perfect in weakness”
    *When ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them.

    Part of the reading was taken from Mark 6:1-13. I came away with the knowledge that Jesus came to his home town of Nazareth and on the Sabbath, began to teach in the synagogue. His listeners were astonished saying “where does he get all this? Is this not the Carpenter’s son? They took offence and Jesus said to them “A prophet is not without honour but in his own country and amongst his own kin” and he could do no miracle there except he laid his hands upon a few sick people. He wondered at their unbelief and went on to teach in other villages.

    This gave me a great insight into Jesus the man, especially that ”he wondered at their unbelief”. (translated in our church as “he was astonished at their unbelief”).

    Obviously things get lost and added in translation but I found this gospel reading fascinating, revealing and a valuable piece of new knowledge about Jesus Christ.

    Coincidentally the Archbishop of Canterbury was preaching on exactly the same source material at the same time – maybe sermons are coordinated across-country so we all hear the same teaching at the same time, especially on notable dates. The Archbishop used the bible verses to illustrate at length his chosen topic of “frustration at the reality of humanity”. I read the Archbishop’s sermon, link below, and found myself lost in opaqueness, whereas I found the sermon which gave a line by line translation of the bible verses much more revealing, startling and enlightening. In that sense there is much to be said for sticking to the original text as much as possible and letting people draw on their native intelligence to arrive at their own conclusion, with a little help in translation. I was more interested in the historical documentation than an interpretation used to illustrate a current issue.

    http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/2558/archbishops-sermon-at-york-minster

    Rachel Smith, UK

  9. I am reading a couple of Psalms a night at the moment; but I want to read Luke and Acts next. That just reminded me of Luke 11:37-53. I don’t think Jesus was very popular after that.
    Carl Strehlow

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