He sure did offend a lot of people!
Anyone who claims that Jesus was a meek and mild religious teacher who simply told everyone to be nice and just get along with one another has obviously never read a word of the gospel accounts. Yes, he was a teacher, and yes, he could be gentle and lowly. But he was also a bold truth teller who confronted and challenged people, and routinely offended people.
Indeed, it was exactly because he spoke truth unflinchingly that he offended so many people, enraged so many people, and constantly divided the crowds. Some loved him and some hated him. But it seems no one could just remain indifferent or neutral in regard to Jesus. He was a polarising figure.
In my own personal concordance I have gathered at least 75 passages from the four gospels that speak about how Jesus caused division, upset people, stirred things up, and brought offense. So any views that we have of Jesus as a kind, loving person (which he was) must be balanced with this aspect of his character.
Because he was holy and righteous, because he was God incarnate, he hated sin and wickedness and always proclaimed truth. That will always get folks bent out of shape. So let me offer just a very small sampling of some of these passages:
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 10:34 Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
Matthew 11:4 “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
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.”
Matthew 15:12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”
Mark 3:21 ” When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
Mark 6:3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
Luke 2:34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel.”
Luke 4:28-29 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 7:23 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.
Luke 8:37 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 9:53a but the people there did not welcome him
Luke 12:51 “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”
John 1:11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
John 7:5-7 For even his own brothers did not believe in him. Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil.
John 7:12 Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.” Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.”
John 7:20 “You are demon-possessed,” the crowd answered.
John 8:40 “but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God.”
John 9:16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” So they were divided.
John 10:19 The Jews who heard these words were again divided.
John 11:53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.
John 19:15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
And of course Jesus repeatedly told his disciples that just as the world hated him and took offence at him, the world would have the same reaction to them. So we must expect the very same treatment that Jesus got. If we are not causing offence, we may need to ask if we are truly following and representing Jesus.
I could offer plenty of commentary here, but let me stick with just one well-known commentator. R. C. Sproul. Commenting on John 11:45-12:8, he puts it this way:
We American Christians have become very artful in conflict avoidance. In the pages of the New Testament, we see the passion of the apostle Paul as he went on his missionary journeys and proclaimed the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. In the midst of paganism, he unashamedly declared monotheism. The response of people in some places was to throw Paul and his compatriots into jail, to beat them, or even to stone them. But we have learned to avoid that sort of thing; we say that it just isn’t practical to be too bold in the proclamation of the gospel today. In other words, we have embraced expediency.
It has been said that the church in the United States of America has been placed on a reservation. We’re still allowed to exist; we’re still allowed to practice our faith; we’re still allowed to pray in our churches. But we are tacitly forbidden from moving off the reservation and into the public square to make public proclamations of faith.
He goes on to speak about how both Pilate and Caiaphas put pragmatism and expediency ahead of all else, resulting in the crucifixion of Jesus. Sproul continues:
Do you realize how much like Caiaphas we are? We often make decisions out of fear. We don’t want to be nonconformists; we don’t want to have people think that we’re marching to a different drumbeat; we don’t want to provoke the hostility of the world. So we remain silent….
Every time the gospel has been proclaimed boldly and accurately in church history, there has been persecution. Every time the church speaks out to confront ungodliness in the culture, there is a backlash. I have no desire to go looking for persecution and conflict, but the fact that I live so free of persecution makes me question my commitment to the things of God. I don’t like conflict, but I hate to stand among people like Caiaphas.
As I say, what is true of the master is true of the disciple. Jesus boldly and lovingly spoke truth, and for that he caused offense, he divided the crowds, and he aroused fierce enmity and animosity. If we proclaim biblical truth to a dark and needy world, we will get the very same reaction.
Sure, we are not to go out of our way looking for trouble. We are not to be unwise, ungracious and unloving as we share truth. But as I keep having to remind folks, Jesus was the wisest, most gracious, and most loving person to walk the earth. Yet in spite of this, he still received plenty of hatred, opposition and rejection.
In fact, they hated him so much they sent him to the cross. We will not escape similar reactions if we fully and fearlessly proclaim Christ and the biblical gospel. Let me offer one closing quote from Owen Strachan:
Stop twisting yourself in knots to make Christianity inoffensive. Christianity IS offensive. It comes from heaven and it rebukes our sinful world. Christ was not celebrated. He did not go out to white-glove banquets and listen to elegant dinner speeches. He preached the truth in love, he obeyed the Father, and then he was brutally crucified, hung naked as a public spectacle and a Roman warning to any dumb enough to follow him. I am so very tired of evangelicals who try to make the Christian faith palatable to the natural man. Should we be offensive and mean and obnoxiously weird as believers? No. Be a normal, well-functioning Christian human being. But please, for the love of all that is good in the world, stop presenting the Christian faith like a QVC commercial. The Christian faith is not of this world; it is divine. As such it is an offense to human pride and a stench to human self-reliance. People naturally hate it. Stop pretending otherwise. Be who you are. And let Christianity be Christian.