Un-Domesticating Jesus

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.

[2102 words]

6 Replies to “Un-Domesticating Jesus”

  1. Good on you Bill, keep up the truth. You may wake up some of those who are mistreating Jesus. Wake up the church, wake up the sleeping Christians who think Jesus is going to put up with half truths and unsound doctrines. Even the man-made doctrines are not sound. I come from a church where Synod driven doctrines stood before the Bible. We have to take the Bible at face value and only then will it prove to be true to us.Every word is given for our instruction and should be interpreted by the Holy Spirit, not by human spirit, not for our comfort, but for God’s glory.

    Gerredina Kovac

  2. Well said, Bill.

    I’ve always been impressed how Jesus got so angry with the money changers in the temple that he kicked over their tables and started laying into them. That’s pretty aggro.

    And I’ve always despised lukewarm Christians (and sanctimonious atheists) who are so quick to quote, “let him who is without sin cast the first stone” to justify being ‘non-judgemental’ in the face of immorality.

    Interestingly they NEVER add the last paragraph in which Jesus added: “… neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.”

    Jesus did not exonerate the woman’s adultery – which is what the deceitful quoters of that story always imply -quite the reverse. He called her to repent.

    Antonia Feitz

  3. Preach it brother Bill. I`m reading Andrew Strom “The Sinners Prayer, Fact or Fiction?” You both point out correctly that we preach half the Gospel and ignore the full preaching of the New Testament, that is; Hear/Read the Gospel, Repent, be Baptised AND receive The Holy Spirit.

    Johannes Archer

  4. Yes, there is no substitute for reading a whole book and getting to know the context. Would you pick up a crime novel, turn to page 67 read a few paragraphs and think you understood what it was all about? And yet we pick up the Bible, read a few paragraphs, all too often ignoring the context and reading things into the passage.

    The chapter and verse numbers were written centuries after all the Bible had been written and chapter headings have been added too (these varying from translation to translation).

    A likely translation “let him who is without THIS sin cast the first stone” indicates Jesus accused the women’s accusers of hypocrisy. Not one of them were valid witnesses under the Law of Moses as they had all committed adultery themselves. Case dismissed.

    Then “go and do THIS sin no more” is telling the woman look, the case is dismissed but you know you did sin by committing adultery. Don’t do this again. Repent.

    It’s interesting that the accusers were trying to trap Jesus:
    A: If he let her go, they would accuse him of not upholding the Law of Moses
    B: If she was stoned he would be breaking the Roman law and likely get in trouble with the Roman authorities.

    Yet Jesus found an option C: You think you’re clever and can trap me. Think again. You can’t even bring a valid case against someone you caught in the act of adultery.

    Jesus used this as an opportunity to point out to the accusers that they were sinners just as much in need of forgiveness as the woman they had brought before Jesus, if not more so. Was not their wish to see her stoned for a crime they had committed themselves a greater crime than hers? One wonders how many of them realised this is what he was telling them when he said “Let him who is without THIS…” After all in God’s eyes is men who are primarily to blame for immorality. If the men had been loyal to their wives they would have denied women such as the one brought before Jesus the opportunity to commit adultery in the first place.

    If you look back to Genesis, Adam should have protected Eve back in the Garden of Eden. Yet when God questioned Adam he tried to shift the blame for what he had done, for his share of the responsibility for what he and Eve had done on to Eve and men have been doing this ever since.

    Matt Vinay

  5. Antonia, the verse you quoted is probably the best example straight from Jesus’ mouth that demonstrates how much love he has for our souls, for she wasn’t condemned because he was just about to lay down his life for her, but also of the utter hatred that He has for sin and the strict command not to sin again. Another scripture earlier in John, where Jesus spoke to the man again whom he had earlier commanded “to take up your mat and walk” gives a bit more explanation. “Go, sin no more, lest something worse befalls you”. Jesus’ focus is always on the glory of the father and our welfare. How much He does love us! Bill, you sometimes go the other way a bit, leaving out some important balancing portions of the verses you quote. After the rich man walked away, one of the gospels says “and he loved him” while he let him walk away, because the decision always has to be ours without coercion. He also said that “this is impossible with man, but nothing is impossible with God”. ?here again is our hope I have often wondered if the rich young ruler ever came back to Jesus. We get so many opportunities in life, it is sometimes scary.
    As to Jesus being domesticated and made in our image. I love what C.S. Lewis said in the Lion the witch and the wardrobe. When one of the children asks the badger whether Aslan is tame, the badger answers in astonishment . “No, he is wild, but He is good”. That is a pretty apt description of Jesus and I wouldn’t want Him any other way.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  6. Amen! I am so sick of “mambi pambi” Jesus. We had to change churches because sin was never preached because the Preacher was too concerned about “offending any one.” They were his words when we asked him why. Sigh!

    Sharon Stay

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