Every year at this time I seem to write a number of articles about Jesus. Why is that? you ask. Good question. It is because each year I have an effective Bible reading plan which takes me through the entire Bible in one year. Simply read around three chapters a day and you will complete it.
Thus begin in Genesis 1 on January 1, and by now you will have just gotten into the gospels. So I am now back in Matthew, having read the first 12 chapters or so. And every time I get back to the gospels, I am amazed at what I find there. I find a Jesus so unlike the Jesus I so often hear about and read about.
There are in fact plenty of Jesuses out there. Most are the creation of men’s minds, instead of the Jesus of Scripture. Thus we have the hippy Jesus, the lefty Jesus, the social reformer Jesus, the good example Jesus, the social justice Jesus, the greenie Jesus, the socialist Jesus, the pacifist Jesus, the anti-capitalist Jesus, the homosexualist Jesus, the universalist Jesus, and so on.
We have every sort of Jesus there is, but rarely the Jesus as we find in the gospels. Jesus has been hijacked for one cause after another – and not just by secularists, but by plenty of Christians as well. Thus the image we get of Jesus today – even from many pulpits – can be light-years away from the real Jesus.
So in my rereading of the gospel of Matthew, I am struck once again by how different the biblical Jesus is from so many popular images we have of Jesus today. To simply read the gospel accounts as if for the very first time presents us with a Jesus so dissimilar to what we usually hear about him, that we have to wonder how Jesus became so twisted, distorted and diluted by so many.
Overwhelmingly today we hear about a Jesus who judges no one, who accepts everyone, who loves everyone and everything indiscriminately, who would never reject anybody, and who is there to meet all our needs, fulfil all our desires, and to grant us our every wish.
Jesus is just swell; he is our pal; he is a divine butler at our beck and call; he is happy with everyone, and upset with no one. That is the image of Jesus presented in far too many churches today, by far too many televangelists, and by far too many church leaders.
We have domesticated Jesus, stripped Jesus of his attributes, denuded him of his holiness, and robbed him of his glory. He is now a mere man just like us, made in the image of jolly Santa Claus, ever ready to give us goodies, regardless if we are naughty or nice.
Now, do we find a loving, gracious and compassionate Jesus in the gospels? Of course – there is much of this to be found in the gospels. Sticking with the early chapters of Matthew, we find things like this for example:
Matthew 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
And at the end of Matthew, as in the other gospels, we find the greatest act of love of all time, the death of Jesus on a cross for our sins. But what else do we find in the opening chapters of Matthew? We find so much that we never hear about any more. Consider for example some of the hard sayings of Jesus:
Matthew 7:13-14 “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.”
Matthew 8:19-22 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.”
Matthew 10:13-15 “If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if it is not worthy, take back your blessing of peace. Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.”
Matthew 10:34-39 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
Consider also how Jesus brings division, and how the gospel message brings offense:
Matthew 2:3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.
Matthew 8:34 Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.
Matthew 10:14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.
Matthew 10:16-18 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.”
Matthew 10:22 “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
Matthew 10:34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Matthew 11:20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.
These are just some of the hardcore words of Jesus we find in the opening chapters of Matthew. Taken together, they present a wholesome corrective to the skewed pictures of Jesus we so often hear. Yes we have Jesus the compassionate and merciful one. But we also have the no-nonsense, tough-talking, resolutely serious, and tough-loving Jesus who proclaimed very hard words – words which put off many.
So let us repent of our false Jesuses, our sugar-coated Jesuses, our airy-fairy Jesuses, and our humanistic Jesuses. Give me the Jesus of the gospels. Only he will suffice. Only he can save. Only he is worth following.