Jesus has to be one of the most interesting people to have ever lived. Take away His divinity for a minute (Just a few seconds I promise) and look at his life. Whether you are a Christian or not you have to admit that his life is fascinating. The words he said, the stories he told, his polarizing effect on people… He was a fascinating person.
Today we often like to focus on the grace and the love that he showed others. We seem particularly drawn to the instances where Jesus condemned the actions of those who were ostracizing others. I get it, I’m drawn to those stories too. When Jesus turns the temple upside down and throws those taking advantage of the poor out, I get pumped. I love that Jesus makes space for women at his table. One of my favorite stories is Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well.
But that’s only one side of Jesus. He also said a lot of offensive things. So much so that by the end of one of his teachings many of his followers just left.
Let that sink in. Jesus taught a message so offensive that the majority of people listening said Nope, got up, and walked away.
By no means am I trying to downplay the inclusive, loving, grace-filled side of Jesus. But we must hold firmly to grace AND truth. Just like Jesus did. Jesus could say the most loving, accepting, and inclusive thing. But he also said some of the hardest truths that stung.
Sometimes we ignore those hard things Jesus said; at least I know I do. So I want to highlight some of the most offensive things Jesus said. I don’t want to downplay the grace, but rather encourage us to hold onto the tension between grace and truth.
Hate Your Father and Mother
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26
In the larger section of this passage Jesus is talking about the cost of following Him. While salvation is free for us to receive, there is a cost associated with following Him. In the following verse Jesus says that if we follow him we must pick up our cross, an instrument of death, and follow him. Bottom line of this passage: if we want to be a disciple of Jesus we must submit everything to him.
This message stands in stark contrast to the message our culture tells us today.
You Can’t Love God and Money
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Matthew 6:24
But we like to try, don’t we? That’s the mantra of our culture, to get more more more… Jesus gives our lives a totally different trajectory. Jesus tells his followers to die to our desires daily and to live generously. You cannot live a generous life and live to get more for yourself, it just doesn’t work.
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“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Matthew 6:25
Okay, maybe this one isn’t directly offensive. But it certainly goes against our culture’s worrying nature. We worry about EVERYTHING. Mostly things that are totally out of our control. It seems that this is totally out of our control; it’s not like you can just flip a switch and stop worrying. But Jesus tells us not to.
He Called a Woman a Dog
He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. Matthew 15:24-26
Jesus would be fired if he said this today. Dogs were not the loved family pet they are today. They were dirty, disease ridden scavengers that you kept away from you. Many scholars believe Jesus was testing his disciples to see how they would respond. The woman doesn’t seem in the least bit fazed by Jesus’ comment. Maybe Jesus winked and let her in on what was happening. Or maybe she was just used to hearing those words from the Jews. Either way this is an incredible story of the faith of a Canaanite woman.
He also called his mom “woman”… But that’s another story.
He Took Sin VERY Seriously
“And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” Matthew 18:8-9
I’ve heard of a (sane) person actually living this verse out. We could go back and forth whether this is literal or not. I would lean toward this being a figure of speech. However the point is still there: Jesus takes sin seriously. We should do everything in our power to pursue Jesus and not be a slave to sin. My guess is we don’t take sin in our lives anywhere near as serious as Jesus does.
Love Your Enemies
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” Matthew 5:44
More often than not I hear a message of condemnation towards our enemies coming from the church. And I get that, that’s the way I’m naturally wired too. When somebody does something against me I want to fight back. But Jesus points us to a different way. For his followers we should love the coworker that gossips, pray for the people that try to kill us, listen to the people that vote differently than us, and help those that stand opposed to us.
Imagine the impact the Gospel could have if it’s followers actually lived like this.
Claimed He Was THE way
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
This is the most exclusive thing Jesus ever said. Often today we breeze by this. To the first century listening ears this was an inflammatory statement. Unless of course you believed he was God. But for those that didn’t believe this was severally offensive. Jesus is claiming that every other way that claims to lead to life/eternity is false. He is the only way. This is a claim that we must still wrestle with today as we live in a culture that proclaims many ways to get to heaven. Jesus doesn’t leave room for that.
There’s a point in all of this. We like to focus on the grace-filled, loving, side of Jesus. And I’m not trying to downplay that. But we cannot ignore the high expectations Jesus has for us. We don’t have to do these things SO THAT we might be saved. No. We live this way BECAUSE Jesus saved us. It’s our response to God’s love and grace. Not to receive his favor.
Jesus was full of grace and truth. He would forgive some of the worst sins, hang out with societies worst people, and even die for every single person. Jesus did these things before they, and us today, even deserved. We didn’t have to do anything. That’s grace. But he didn’t stop there. He also called his followers to a much higher standard of living. That’s truth. We’ve got to hold these two in tension with each other.
I’d love to hear from you! Drop a comment below and let me know what you think!
Want to learn more about Jesus? I can’t recommend this book enough, Philip Yancey’s book The Jesus I Never Knew.
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