Listen to the first word Jesus spoke as He started His ministry: “Repent.” That won’t get you votes. It means, “Change.” Jesus was not inviting people to get comfortable; He was commanding them to put their life in reverse, to correct their bad habits, to get out of debt, to quit abusing others. He followed in the stream of His austere cousin. Instead of a declaration or a promise, a call for an internal make-over.
It gets harder. A chapter later people with a wandering eye are told to take a knife to it. Not a word about forgiveness. He regards sin with chilling seriousness. Instead of easing the burden of the law, He moves it to the level of impossible, branding the second look as adultery. Then He calls people who divorce illegitimately as guilty of the crime that could bring stoning.
He names the persecuted as the truly blessed. He tells His listeners to love their enemies. It sounds saintly until it is attempted by people who are hated. Then He says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Who’s He speaking to?
He continues in the beloved Sermon on the Mount, saying, “If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” No trailers like, “Heaven understands if you’ve been abused and need some time to heal.” Where’s the Good Shepherd?
Then He says, “When you fast…” Are they saying, “Right on? My next time is Wednesday.” He calls us hypocrites if we see our brother’s faults as bigger than our own. When He finishes with the message, the crowds are “amazed at his teaching.” Call it an understatement; they were shocked. When we sing, “Make me more like you, Jesus,” are we prepared for what that means? The one who came full of grace and truth was extravagantly gracious—and astonishingly truthful.
He doesn’t tell would-be followers who struggle with priorities to take a week and think about it. He says bluntly, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” He tells bold fishermen, scared by a killer storm, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” On another occasion He asks Peter why he doubted, not even complimenting him when he walked on water.
He says that if we disown Him, we will be disowned in heaven. He announces to those who thought He was coming to bring peace: “Wrong. I am bringing a sword.” Then He says that in order to be His followers, we need to hate our fathers and mothers. He denounces the cities where He spent most of His ministry, saying that Sodom would come off better in the final judgment. He reminds us that careless words will be accounted for at the judgment.
He doesn’t run after a prospective convert with a money problem when he turns away at the thought of liquidating everything. No talk of perks, no promise of peace, no ongoing dialog. At least get his address in case he changes his mind.
We honor judges when they enter the courtroom. Jesus said, “The Father…has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that al may honor the Son just as they honor the Father” (Jn. 5:22,23).
A Friend—yes; but much more—God Incarnate! He is surprisingly intrusive and unavoidably confrontational. His opinions about my behavior are much more than ideas—they are laws. What He commands is absolute. He isn’t looking for a discussion; He is calling for an obedient response—now! Then He dies, backing up every word with blood. His Passion gives Him the eternal right to say anything and expect a response.
I know Jesus less than I thought I did. I know one side of Him better than the other. He is more than a Mentor; He is Lord of all the earth. I have found it easier to offer comfort rather than challenge. Paul testified that he preached the whole counsel of God. I cannot say that. Could this be one reason for the Church’s weakness? Jesus asked, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). Has preaching in the twenty-first century helped to establish the unconditional Lordship of Jesus Christ?
Perhaps you wish to join me in repenting, in doing what Jesus announced at the commencement of His ministry: “Jesus, Son of David and Son of God. My insecurity has caused me to back off from challenging people. I have given people options when You might have given them a final call. I have tampered with the truth, adulterating it to ease the sting. I am sorry for silence when I should speak, especially to confront the darkness. I am sorry where I have poorly represented you. Forgive me, Lamb of God, and fill me with Your Spirit, Lion of Judah. Amen.”