Image credit: FreeBibleImages.org

Image credit: FreeBibleImages.org

Last week we looked at a different side of Jesus than we usually consider. There were times when He was blunt and outright offensive to the religious sensibilities of the people in His day. Jesus’ bold teachings still confront us today, and it’s actually good for us that they do. Here’s the question we considered at the end of last week’s blog: What was Jesus’ purpose in coming to this earth, and how do His blunt, offensive teachings serve that purpose?

Jesus expressed His purpose in John 3:16, 17—probably the most loved and well-known of all Bible passages: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” He did this by giving “his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). He also said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). Jesus came to this earth to save sinners by sacrificing His life for them and calling them to repent of their sinful ways and to believe in Him as Savior and Lord.

So how do Jesus’ offensive teachings serve that purpose? First, consider what Jesus’ death tells us about God: He will go to any lengths to save us. He will sacrifice His very life to redeem us. Such a God will not let anything stand in the way of His rescue mission, not even the self-righteousness and pride of self-proclaimed “good” religious people.

Jesus loved the Pharisees. He wanted to save even them! If we read His blunt conversations with them and think that He’s simply giving them a slap on the wrist for their holier-than-thou attitudes, we would miss the point. This is the same Jesus who wept over the city of Jerusalem, knowing that their rejection of Him would lead to a terrible end (see Luke 19:41-44). This is the Jesus who, even after pronouncing woe upon woe against the Pharisees, cried out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matt. 23:37).

The heart of God breaks for lost sinners and yearns to save them, even those who reject Him and refuse the grace He extends to them. If He needs to bluntly offend us in order to get through to us, He will. Jesus will not let anyone slip easily into hell. He will meet our false sense of self-righteous security with a truthful smack upside the head. Apart from violating our free will and His own loving character, Jesus will do anything to wake us out of our sinful stupor.

Which brings us to a second reason why Jesus was so forceful with the Pharisees: they were actually preventing others from receiving the salvation that He came to offer. In rebuking the Pharisees, Jesus told them:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” (Matt. 23:13, 15).

The Pharisees were misleading the people, and worse, hindering them from entering the kingdom of God. Their stubborn refusal to consider the possibility that their perfectly tuned system of religion might be mistaken blinded them to the reality of God Himself present in their midst. Not only did they deny Jesus as their Messiah, they used their influence to oppose Him and to prevent people from following Him. No doubt Jesus was including the Pharisees when He said:

“But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!” (Matt. 18:6, 7)

Both of these reasons—Jesus’ desire to save even the stubbornly self-righteous, and the tendency of the self-righteous to inhibit the salvation of others—are still applicable today. The attitude of the Pharisees is alive and well, sometimes within our own hearts. Those of us who have been religious for much or all of our lives are especially susceptible to Pharisaical pride. And like the Pharisees, we do not see ourselves as prideful, but rather as good, moral, religious folks.

In next week’s blog we’ll look at some practical implications of Jesus’ offensive teachings. We’ll end this week’s blog with another question: If Jesus was gentle and compassionate with wayward sinners, but blunt and offensive with the respected religious leaders of His day, how might He relate to 21st century well-churched Christians? What would He say to us?

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