Category: Jesus


Jesus ContemplativeFerguson, Missouri. A police officer shoots and kills an unarmed man. The city erupts in protests and riots. The police respond with surprising force and cruelty. The media breathlessly reports on every little twist and turn in the case. Opinions fly back and forth in a heated discussion across America. The investigation continues for several months. The grand jury finally reaches its decision, and then comes the announcement: no charges will be brought against Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown.

Some call it justice. Some call it injustice. Often it seems that people take sides based on which eyewitnesses they choose to believe are telling the truth. The facts are difficult to discern, and this side of heaven we will never see true justice delivered.

Ferguson should serve as a reminder for us that this world is broken, that we are broken, that justice here is often elusive and fleeting, and that nothing but the parousia of Jesus can set things right. It was promised of Him: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory” (Matt. 12:20).

Justice has not yet been led to victory. We, in our brokenness, have perverted justice. Many who took sides with Officer Wilson have acted as though the death of a young man is somehow a good thing. Many who took sides with Michael Brown have acted as though wanton destruction is somehow an acceptable response to the tragedy of his death.

God sees it differently. “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (Gen. 6:5, 6). None of what happened in Ferguson makes God happy. The evil in this world, in men’s hearts, fills His heart with sorrow.

When Jesus lived on earth, He experienced the sting of death when His friend Lazarus died. He responded by weeping (John 11:35). I can’t imagine that His response is any different today when He sees the suffering and death that His children experience all around the world, every single day. How His heart must break for the horrible consequences of sin.

Jesus weeps for Ferguson. He weeps with the family of a young man whose life was cut short by needless violence. He weeps with another family whose lives have also been forever changed by the choices that were made on that fateful day in August. He weeps over the blind rage, hatred, and senseless destruction that have followed in the wake of the shooting, instigated by angry protesters, exacerbated by overzealous police officers, and fomented nationwide by ideologues on both sides looking to score political points. And he weeps over each one of us who allows this story to water the root of bitterness in our hearts till it springs up into hatred toward our fellow man.

Jesus is not celebrating the triumph of justice today, because there is no triumph of justice. There will be no triumph of justice until death itself has been defeated. Until that day let us join together and do all within our power to work for peace, justice, and mercy. Let us resist the forces of anger, hatred, and violence. And let us also mourn the pain and suffering that death causes, for as followers of Jesus we ought to weep just as He wept (1 John 2:6).

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DeceptionAheadThere seems to be a fair number of Christians who are hooked on conspiracy theories. The secret government plot behind 9/11. The Jesuit conspiracy to pervert modern Bible translations. The mass mind control techniques being used by pop stars in their concerts and music videos. A multitude of excellent blogs have already been written on this subject. Like this one, for example, that analyzes why conspiracy theories don’t hold up to careful scrutiny in the light of history (it’s actually a two-part series). Or this one, which is an impassioned appeal from a fellow young pastor to stop focusing on fearful speculation and instead focus on Jesus. Or this one, which emphasizes that our job as Christians is to shine light into the darkness, not to delve into the darkness trying to ferret out all its secrets. I highly recommend reading all of these pieces; they’re not that long. It will take less time to read these blogs than it will to research a new conspiracy theory.

This is a somewhat dangerous subject to blog on. Some people may be defensive about it. Also, I may risk repeating what someone else has already said more eloquently. But I humbly undertake this risk to highlight a very grave end-time threat that I see in conspiracy theories.

End-Time Deception

Remember the warning Jesus gave to His disciples: “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible” (Matt. 24:24). Jesus was talking about the events that led up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and also the final events that will precede the second coming. His disciples certainly saw this fulfilled in their day. Numerous false teachers and false messiahs arose and led many Jews astray. Not only that, they led people into rebellion against the Roman authorities, and thus to their deaths.

The deception in the last days will be even more deadly. Satan, the enemy of God and His people, will try to lead people astray from God’s truth and thus to their eternal destruction. In Revelation we find that Satan (the dragon) works through earthly powers (the beasts) to deceive the whole world (Rev. 13:14). Everyone who does not follow God ends up following the beast—and the beast ends up in the lake of fire (Rev. 13:8; 19:20). Clearly it is extremely important to be aware of the last-day deception and to avoid it.

And actually, that’s the reason why some Christians are so interested in conspiracy theories. Uncovering the enemy’s schemes is a way to defend ourselves against them. It gives us confidence that we will not be deceived. If we know what the deception is, we won’t fall for it!

Truth, Deception, and the Elect of God

But notice again what Jesus warned: “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.” Jesus didn’t say that only the unenlightened “sheeple” of the world would be at risk. He specifically warned that the elect, those who know and follow the truth, would be deceived if it were possible. In other words, the deception will be so overwhelming that even godly people are at risk of falling for it.

How can this be? Deception is, by definition, tricking people into believing something is true when it really isn’t. If you knew that you were being deceived, you wouldn’t be deceived! That’s redundant, but I’m trying to make a point: In order for the elect to be at risk of being deceived, the deception must come in a form that they are likely to believe.

Let me give a couple examples of things that would not deceive the elect. If a crude and profane rapper boasts of being like God, you’re not going to think he’s spiritually uplifting and start listening to his music. If a popular movie tells a well-known Bible story, but conveys a very different version of the story than what’s actually in the Bible, you’re not going to fall for it. These are not things that seem true to the elect.

But you know what might seem true to the elect?  The idea that there is a small, secretive group of people behind popular movies and music who are trying to brainwash the general population and control their minds. The reason that seems true is because there is an element of truth to it. Ultimately Satan is working behind the scenes to deceive people, and he will use any means available to promote error, even music and movies. But is he working through a secretive cabal of world leaders who are bent on coalescing the reprogrammed masses into a New World Order? That’s what some conspiracy theorists would have you believe. Despite a lack of tangible evidence, they pull together tantalizing clues to weave a tangled web of associations to support their theory. And some Christians believe it’s all true.

The Danger of Conspiracy Theories

If the last-day deception will come in a form that the elect are likely to believe, then conspiracy theories are a good example of how that deception will work. I’m not saying that conspiracy theories are the last-day deception, only that they work on similar principles, and they could potentially lead to last-day deception.

One of the most disturbing aspects of conspiracy theories is that even when they are based on demonstrably false information, Christians will still believe the overall theory because the conclusion fits with their worldview. It seems that the specific details don’t matter if they like the big picture. It’s the opposite of missing the forest for the trees; they can’t see that the trees are fake because they’re too busy admiring the picture-perfect landscape. An example of this is the conspiracy theory that the translators of the NIV intentionally removed verses from the Bible in order to undermine vital theological truths, like the deity of Christ. Walter Veith, a prominent conspiracy theorist in the Adventist church, makes the outlandish claim that “up to 60,000” words have been removed from the NIV. The New Testament has about 180,000 words. One could easily compare the NIV with the KJV and quickly confirm that the NIV is not, in fact, missing the equivalent of one-third of the New Testament.

Another claim Veith makes is that all references to Jesus as Lord have been removed from the NIV. That’s a serious charge, and if true would be a grave threat to the very foundation of Christianity. But even a cursory examination of the New Testament will prove this to be false. There are plenty of references in the NIV to Jesus being Lord. It took me a few seconds of searching my computer Bible program to locate one of the most obvious: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

My purpose here is not to belittle Walter Veith. Many people say he is a wonderful man, and I’ve heard that his work on creation is outstanding. However, the conspiracy theories he promotes are not only fallacious, but spiritually dangerous. If a theory is based on numerous “facts” that can easily be disproved, it’s not much of a theory. And if this theory claims to give people spiritual enlightenment but is based on myths and rumors, those who believe it are at risk of actually going deeper into darkness. Why should we trust the conclusion to be true if the premise is false?

But many people do trust the conclusion, and this is why I believe that conspiracy theories are so dangerous. They seem to cause us to momentarily turn off the critical reasoning powers of our brains and believe that something is true when it isn’t. Maybe we want to believe it because it makes us feel like we’ve outwitted the devil. We know there will be deceptions in the last days. Is it that far-fetched to imagine that Satan might try to deceive people with a faulty Bible translation? No, not really. But if such a deception were a reality, we should be able to establish it by verified evidence and sound reasoning instead of demonstrably false claims and preposterous leaps of logic.

Loving the Truth

The apostle Paul wrote: “Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2, emphasis supplied). The way to promote the truth is—are you ready for this—to simply tell the truth. I know, what a novel concept! But sadly it has become a novel concept for many people. They have become so caught up in the twisted world of conspiracy theories that they can no longer discern truth from fiction. Some of these people could have been described as the elect at one time. They are deeply religious people who love God’s truth and are zealous to defend it. But somehow they got off track. They followed the siren song of conspiracy theories, and little by little it has led them away from the safety and security found in God’s Word toward a dangerous combination of speculation, deceit, and rumor-mongering.

If we can’t tell truth from fiction when it comes to conspiracy theories, how will we be able to discern the last great deception that will threaten even the elect? Will we actually be among the elect if we don’t cultivate a love for the truth? Paul warns that the last-day deception ends in destruction specifically because those who are deceived refuse to love the truth and so be saved (1 Thess. 2:9-12). In other words, they become deceived through their own choice; they choose error instead of truth. It’s especially important to cultivate a love for the truth now, while it is relatively easy to distinguish truth from error. If instead we are cultivating a love of conspiracy theories that are based even partially on error, we are placing ourselves in serious jeopardy of falling for the last-day deception.

Truth is not merely a set of facts. It is not a collection of special, secret knowledge that only those with insight into the inner workings of the devil’s schemes are privileged to understand. Such a view is actually unbiblical. It is a new form of an ancient heresy called gnosticism (my friend David Hamstra calls it “occult epistemology”). The Bible teaches that truth is a Person. Jesus declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). If we want to be a part of God’s elect people who avoid the end-time deception, then we need to stay close to Jesus. Spend more time getting to know Him, and less time researching conspiracy theories. I promise you there is infinitely more value in being with Jesus than in trying to discern the next great deception. If you know the Truth, then you won’t fall for the deception.

So here’s my challenge to you. The next time you encounter a conspiracy theory and are tempted to follow it down the rabbit hole, stop and pray. Then pick up your Bible and read the promises of Jesus: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27, 28). No one can deceive you if  you are following Jesus. Listen to His voice, not to speculative and untrustworthy conspiracy theories. Let Jesus worry about thwarting the devil’s deceptions. Make sure you know and are following the truth, and you will be eternally safe.

 

 

Matthew With Kieran

Matthew Shallenberger pastors in the Georgia-Cumberland Conference. He and his wife have two little boys and two hyper dogs. Matthew believes that tin foil is best used for cooking purposes, not hat-making.




The views expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the Georgia-Cumberland Conference or the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Christ Is Risen!

Image credit: FreeBibleImages.org

Image credit: FreeBibleImages.org

This past weekend we celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the most important event in earth’s history. Jesus made it possible for us to be saved from sin and death through His own sacrificial death. Often when we talk about salvation, we focus on the cross. That is a very important part of the plan of salvation. But the resurrection is equally important. Without it the entire Christian religion is meaningless. Check out what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:13-19:

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

Some people like to say that if there was no resurrection, no heaven, no eternal reward for following Jesus, they would still be Christians because it’s still worth it. Christianity has made their lives better, so even if it all turns out to be a fairy tale, they wouldn’t change a thing. The temporary benefits of Christianity are enough.

Nonsense. If there is no resurrection, no heaven, no eternity with Jesus, then Christianity is worthless. Actually, it’s worse than worthless, because it gives us a false hope for a better future that will never come. It tells us to believe in a God who is powerless to defeat sin and death. What kind of faith is that? How does false hope make life better? It’s a pitiful way to live. We might as well pursue what little enjoyment we can get out of this life, because this is it. Later in the chapter Paul says, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’” (1 Cor. 15:32).

The only reason that Christianity has any meaning or power to make our lives better is because Jesus is alive! “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:20-22).

Christ is risen! He has defeated sin and death! And the same power that brought Him forth from the grave is the same power that works in our lives to break the chains of sin and to give us hope for a better future when death will finally be destroyed forever.

Jesus’ power is still the same today; it has not diminished in the slightest. We can claim His promise and receive that power in our lives. This isn’t just a once-a-year commitment that we make after we’ve experienced a stirring Easter church service or witnessed a powerful Passion Play. The real challenge is to live every day in the resurrection power of Jesus. Jesus really is alive. Are you?

Before you read Part 4 of this series, it’s really important to understand the context for what I’m about to say. If you haven’t read the entire series, at least read Part 3 first (I promise it’s short).

Jesus Cleansing the Temple 4

Image credit: FreeBibleImages.org

There’s another application of these ideas that might hit a little closer to home for some of us. Please understand that I don’t write this in a critical or condemnatory spirit. Rather, I write from a pastor’s heart. I long to see Jesus’ church reclaim His mission—seeking and saving the lost.

But I worry that the modern church has reversed Jesus’ methodology. We are gentle and accommodating to well-churched people, and we worry tremendously about offending them. (If you’ve ever been on a church board or nominating committee you know what I’m talking about.) But we seem to give little thought to how we might be offending those who are not so firmly established in the church. When new people come to our churches, many of them feel immediately that they are not good enough to meet our standards. They don’t look like us, smell like us, talk like us, and they certainly don’t live like us. And sadly our attitude toward them communicates that until they do become like us, they won’t be accepted.

One especially egregious example is our treatment of young people, even young people already in the church, unfortunately. They come to church dressed “inappropriately,” and some self-appointed church guardian scolds them (anonymous letters seem to be a popular tactic). They sing special music and the beat is a little too strong, so they’re reminded to be more “reverent” next time (as if they’re going to want to sing again after being shamed the first time). When they speak up and share their ideas, we often ignore them. If we bother to listen at all we may tell them that they lack the wisdom and experience to comment intelligently on the important matters of the church—not necessarily in those words, but the message is clear: “leave it to the adults, kids.”

The well-churched folks who do this kind of thing may be well-meaning, but good intentions are not enough. Sadly they are misrepresenting the gospel. No one is good enough for God’s grace, not even church folks. You may be a tithe-paying, Sabbath-keeping, vegan-eating Seventh-day Adventist, but none of that qualifies you to receive God’s grace. But like the Pharisees, when spiritual pride creeps in we imagine ourselves better than others. We may not say it openly, but our self-righteousness is obvious to others.

Please don’t think I’m being judgmental of judgmental people. I’m not any better than they are. I’m just as bad as they are, and I need Jesus just as much as they do. But part of being the body of Christ means that we hold each other accountable. There are times when we must take a stand and say enough is enough. We need to stop letting spiritual pride hinder others from coming to Jesus.

Now, I know someone may be thinking: “But what about our standards? Who will uphold them? Who will guard the church from creeping compromise?” The answer is simple—Jesus. He’s the one who protects His bride, the church. What are we so afraid of? Are we worried that if we let our guard down, we’ll come to church some morning to find that the sinners outnumber the saints? If that happens, praise the Lord! Our mission on this earth is not to preserve a holy country club where only platinum-level church members are allowed. Our mission is to join with Jesus in seeking and saving the lost. It’s messy business that requires a lot of patience and gentleness in dealing with very imperfect people. Remember how Jesus showed you gentleness, then go and do thou likewise.

It takes a lot of wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit to know when to be gentle, and when to firmly rebuke. The example Jesus gave us is a great place to start. Be gentle with the wandering soul looking for hope, love, and salvation. Be firm with the self-righteous saint hindering others from finding those things. This blog series is not intended to be a manual on who to offend and who not to offend. I don’t pretend to know the answer for every situation. But I think it’s high time the church had a conversation about all of this. Share your thoughts in the comments.

When Jesus Offends Us, Part 3

Image credit: FreeBibleImages.org

Image credit: FreeBibleImages.org

In this blog series we’ve looked at Jesus’ interactions with people and saw that when dealing with wayward sinners He was gentle and patient, but when dealing with self-righteous religious people He was blunt and even offensive. We observed that the reason He was so straightforward with the Pharisees is that He wanted to break through the fog of pride that kept them from seeing their need of repentance. Jesus’ first and foremost desire is to save lost sinners, whoever they are. Last week we ended 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?

The answer to that question depends on how we respond to Jesus. Do we come to Him with broken hearts seeking forgiveness for our sin? Do we fully acknowledge our need of Him and put our confidence in none of our righteousness, but in His alone? Then Jesus rejoices over us and welcomes us into His kingdom with open arms (see Luke 15). The humble, repentant sinner will always find a gentle and forgiving Savior.

But if we allow ourselves to become prideful and confident in our status as “good Christians,” and if we imagine ourselves to be better than the people around us, we may find that Jesus, determined to break our self-induced spell of spiritual arrogance, becomes just as blunt with us as He was with the Pharisees. God’s Word still convicts today, and whenever we allow pride to creep into our hearts, Scripture stings like a slap in the face. No one likes to be rebuked. But since the convicting rebukes of Scripture are for our own good, we should rejoice that God does not let us drown in self-delusion.

There are times when I am the whitewashed tomb. I look the part, talk the part, and act the part of a “holy saint,” but in my heart I harbor bitterness, criticism, or pride. I am a hypocrite. I judge others for their failures and wonder how they can call themselves Christians when they say and do that, but I excuse my own sins and ignore the times I’ve failed in the exact same way for which I’m condemning others. I’m thankful that Jesus bluntly spoke these words, and through the Holy Spirit still speaks them to me today: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:1, 2).

Of course, it’s our choice how we respond to Jesus’ rebuke. Like the Pharisees, we can harden our hearts against Him. We can delude ourselves further by thinking that Jesus is talking about others, but surely not about me. I’m certainly not prideful or spiritually arrogant—though I can think of a few people who are. (I’m saying this ironically, of course.)

Or we can take His rebuke to heart and repent of our Pharisaical attitude. I’d like to suggest that all of us, after we’ve been Christians for a time, are tempted to think better of ourselves than we ought. Let’s own up to it, repent of our pride, and ask Jesus to help us see others through His eyes. And let’s learn to treat them with the gentleness He shows them. And maybe we can even learn how to firmly hold each other accountable for pride, judgmentalism, and hypocrisy. More on that to come…

When Jesus Offends Us, Part 2

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?

When Jesus Offends Us, Part 1

Image credit: FreeBiblePictures.org

Image credit: FreeBibleImages.org

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee.

– Charles Welsey

 

So goes the first verse of the old hymn. It reminds us of the little children who Jesus welcomed with open arms (Luke 18:16). The Gospels are filled with stories of Jesus’ kindness and gentleness. Jesus showed the woman caught in adultery forgiveness instead of condemnation (John 8). He treated the Samaritan woman at the well with dignity, even though He knew about her sordid personal life (John 4). When He saw the multitudes He had compassion on them because He realized “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).

But there are also stories that reveal a different aspect of His character. While interacting with faltering, failing sinners He was tender and compassionate. But when dealing with the religious leaders of His day, the “good” people, the “moral” people, He could be quite blunt. In fact, if we really took His words to heart we would probably find them offensive, as did the religious, “churchy” people of His day.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, could also be righteously angry Jesus, upending the tables of the moneychangers and driving those shameless swindlers out of the temple with a whip (John 2). He could also be sharply rebuking Jesus, who called the religious leaders of His day hypocrites, whitewashed tombs, blind guides, snakes, and sons of hell (Matt. 23).

To deepen the impact of some of Jesus’ offensive statements, let’s bring them into the 21st century. Imagine that Jesus walked into your church one day and declared, “The homosexuals and the Muslims are getting into heaven ahead of you Christians” (see Matt. 21:28-32). Or imagine that He told a story about two men who came to prayer meeting one night: one a good, upstanding church elder and the other a divorced, jobless, hopeless alcoholic (see Luke 18:9-14). The twist in His story is that the alcoholic, rather than the church elder, went home forgiven and accepted by God.

How would you respond? How do you think most Christians would respond? I live in the Bible Belt, not far from Chattanooga, which was recently named the most Bible-minded city in America. I can tell you how most people here would take it: not well. But that’s very similar to how offensive Jesus’ actual words were when He told the Pharisees that the worst sinners of all, the tax collectors and the prostitutes, were entering the kingdom of God ahead of them, and were justified by God instead of them. It’s no wonder why they plotted to kill Him. He called them out publicly and deeply offended their religious sensibilities—and their pride.

I believe Jesus’ offensive teachings still confront us today. Like a thorn stuck in our shoe, they make us uncomfortably aware of our true condition and they refuse to let us ignore it. That’s actually a good thing. We’ll discuss why next week in Part 2 of this blog. For now, reflect on this: What was Jesus’ purpose in coming to this earth, and how do His blunt, offensive teachings serve that purpose? I believe the answer to that question tells us something wonderful about the love of Jesus. Stay tuned…