One good thing about a regular Bible reading plan is you always get to read all of Scripture, at least at some point. If you do a Bible-in-a-year reading schedule, as I do, there will be no part of the Bible left unread during those twelve months.
And if you began Genesis 1 on January 1, then you should find yourself in the Gospel of Luke right about now. As I keep saying, if you read a mere three chapters a day (OK, around 3.25 to be exact), you will easily get through all 66 books of the Bible in one year.
So I am now enjoying reading the gospels again. And every time I do, I am amazed at how different Jesus appears from so many of our popular conceptions of him. In fact, the Jesus I read about in the four gospels often seems so distant from what we hear in most churches today.
The overwhelming impression we get of Jesus from far too many pulpits today, and from far too many tele-evangelists and megachurches, is that Jesus is little more than a tree-hugging, glorified hippy who would never harm a fly. The picture most often presented of Jesus today is of someone who would never offend anyone, never cause controversy or division, never rock the boat, and never be hard on anyone.
He was just such an accepting, loving and tolerant guy. He welcomes everyone, receives everyone, accepts everyone, and quarrels with no one. Yet here I am reading through the four gospels in a 40-day period or so, and boy, things sure look different there.
Do we find a loving and compassionate Jesus? We sure do. Do we find a gracious and tender Jesus? You betcha. But we find far more than that in the gospels. We also see a no-nonsense Jesus; a Jesus who brings division and discord; a Jesus who talks rough and tough; a Jesus who has little time for nonsense and rebellion; a Jesus who caused all sorts of controversy and public uproar.
This is not quite the gentle, sweet loving Jesus he is so often made out to be today. He was a pretty tough dude to be honest. He is not someone you would want to mess with. He would often use the strongest of language – if not actions – to take on his opponents.
As we read through the gospels, it seems that Jesus treated sinners in one of two ways. For those who were broken, needy, hungry, and desperate for God, he extended the greatest of mercy and compassion. Those who sought God with an open and honest heart met great grace and rich favour from Jesus.
But sinners who were hardened, defiant, rebellious and resistant to all that Christ said and did were treated quite abruptly, harshly and firmly by Jesus. He did not play games with such folks, or seek to win them over in a popularity contest.
Instead he really did tear into them, and showed them the face of God’s just wrath on unrepentant sinners. There is so much of this in the gospels that if I tried to share it all, this article would easily become a 10,000-word treatise. So to narrow things down a bit, let me just use the Gospel of Luke.
It is incredible that dozens and dozens of such passages can be found in just this one gospel. In fact, I can only mention some of them; otherwise I will still have an overly lengthy article here. So this is just a selection of passages I have been jotting down as I have been reading through Luke.
I have divided them into four different but closely related categories: 1) those which speak about Jesus bringing division and causing offense; 2) those which present the hard sayings of Jesus (in terms of becoming his disciple); 3) those featuring his rather harsh, strong and unflattering language; and 4) those texts which show that Jesus and his followers would be hated and rejected.
As to the first category, consider just a few examples (of many) of how Jesus constantly alienated people, caused divisions, and offended folks. Even before he was old enough to cause any trouble, it was foretold that he would be a divisive figure.
Simeon for example predicted the division Jesus would bring to Israel: “Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too’.” (Luke 2:34-35).
John also prophesied about the division Jesus would bring about: “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17).
And early on we see this happening just as predicted. In Luke 4:28-29 we read this: “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.”
Luke 6:11 tells us: “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.” And consider this amazing episode: “Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left” (Luke 8:37).
Jesus himself told his disciples that such divisions would take place as they took his message to others: “Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them” (Luke 9:4-5).
And we see this in action with Jesus being rejected, as Luke 9:53 records: “but the people there did not welcome him”. So Jesus warns his disciples again that not all would receive them: “But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say…” (Luke 10:10-16).
It does not get any clearer than this when Jesus said (in Luke 12:51-53): “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
And so divisive was he at times that some were even publicly humiliated by him: “When [Jesus] said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing” (Luke 13:17).
What about making things tough on would be disciples? Plenty of examples can be provided here. There was no easy discipleship here or cheap grace:
-Luke 9:56-62 And they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” To another he said, “Come, follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But he said, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God”. Another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me first say farewell to those at home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who sets his hand to the plough and then looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
-Luke 14:25-27 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
-Luke 18:22-25 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
As to some of the rather rough and harsh speech of Jesus, there are plenty of examples to choose from:
-Luke 3:7 “you brood of vipers” (Jesus’ forerunner John the Baptist said to the crowd).
-Luke 9:41 “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.”
-Luke 11:29 As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation.
-Luke 12:20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.
-Luke 13:15 “You hypocrites.”
-Luke 13:32 He replied, “Go tell that fox [Herod]…”
-Luke 24:24-27 And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not. Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
Finally, Jesus often said that just as people hated and rejected him, they would do the same to his followers:
-Luke 6:22-23 Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.
-Luke 10:3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
-Luke 21:17 Everyone will hate you because of me.
Many more such passages could be offered here. So when was the last time you heard a sermon on any of these texts? When was the last time people emphasised how Jesus actually called people fools and ridiculed people and even publicly humiliated his opponents? Plenty of Christians today would actually claim it is not very Christlike to do and say what Jesus in fact did and said.
OK, so just what am I saying here? Am I saying that we should be harsh, severe, confrontational, and confronting because Jesus was? No, at least not always. Am I saying that Jesus was basically a pretty mean dude who did not suffer fools gladly and went around picking fights all the time? No, although that is in part a fair description of him.
Am I saying Jesus was never loving, kind, compassionate and gracious? No, not at all. All I am saying is this: we really should get our understanding of who Jesus is from the Bible itself, especially the gospels. All the sermons we hear, the books we read, and even all the blog articles we peruse, should be secondary to what Scripture itself tells us about Jesus.
Moreover, if we belong to a church that only tells us part of what Jesus is like (the loving and kind Jesus), but never tells us what the rest of Jesus was like (the stern and holy Jesus), then we are not getting the whole counsel of God. Jesus must be proclaimed in his fullness.
We dare not seek to domesticate Jesus, tame Jesus, and re-package him for popular consumption. We must present him as he is. That is the job of the Christian disciple: to accurately reflect and represent who Christ is. Our job is not to make him palatable, or acceptable, or sellable, or marketable.
Our job is to proclaim an undomesticated and real Jesus, pure and simple.