Most people I encounter have a tame view of Jesus. They picture him as a likable Mr. Rogers type character who has good intentions while he was friendly to everyone and overflowed with happiness. He didn’t judge people. He turned the other cheek. He healed everyone and left a wake of smiley happy people.
Unfortunately, that is not the Jesus of the Bible. The real Jesus as recorded in the gospel accounts was not always so nice. I am not going to reference every scripture, because you can do that, but let me share a few stories.
Jesus frequently opposed a group of individuals called Pharisees. He calls these guys hypocrites and whitewashed tombs. Neither of these names is a compliment. He made these guys so mad that they plotted to kill him. Once he confronted the money changers who worked with these people in the temple, he overturned their tables, and one account says he used a whip while driving them out.
We like and agree with many of these stories in principle. All of us hate religious charlatans who prey on the weak and emotionally vulnerable. If you want to write a best seller, then publish a book about the evils of Church leadership and how you hate them too.
This leaves us convinced that Jesus was only upset with the Pharisees but was kind to spiritual seekers. He was gentle with those who wished to follow him in an effort to have a more significant impact. Once again, the Bible does not paint us that picture of him. One woman comes to him and wants to be healed, and he calls her a dog. Another time a rich young ruler comes, and he tells him to sell everything he has and give it to the poor. Still yet, the crowds begin to swell and he proceeds to instruct them to take up their cross and follow him. In John, after he feeds a large group of people, he then preaches the sermon on the bread of life and everyone, but his twelve followers seem to leave. He continually calls out people for their weak commitment and his desire for fully devoted followers.
Well, okay a few times he comes off a little unhappy, but his teaching was full of love and grace. Not so fast. He told people that there is only one way to heaven. He frequently spoke in his parables about the coming judgment of God. Jesus actually said people that there was a real place called hell and some people would spend their eternity there.
Occasionally when I tell people about all of this, they tell me that this was just the way he appears in the gospels. After his death, burial and resurrection everything changes. If someone suggests that idea to me, then I encourage them to read the letters to the seven Church in the book of Revelation. Jesus tells the Churches that there is a group of people he hates. He actually seems more frustrated and demanding in these letters.
Here is my point: a nice friendly Jesus is easy to shape and mold. He likes the same things we do, and he doesn’t approve of the characteristics of which we do not agree. He does not require us or anyone we know to change. He affirms our self-righteous behavior and sin without question. Unfortunately, he is not the Jesus of the Bible.
Jesus desire is for all of us to live in a right relationship with God. Sometimes that means we have to hear the hard truth. Sometimes that means we need to change. Sometimes it feels like the surgeon is cutting us just to hurt us and not to heal.
Please don’t mishear me. I am not suggesting that Jesus followers need to be a group of mean, judgmental people. Christians are not to be angry all the time as we live with a continual sense of moral outrage. We do however need to be serious about what it means to follow Jesus. We need to be honest about what Jesus said. We are required to lead people into the change that the gospel demands. And sometimes this doesn’t come off as nice. I really wish it did.
Jesus desire for righteousness superseded his need to be nice all the time. Perhaps his followers need a different set of criteria to evaluate his work … and ours.