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Popular Jesus mythology assures us that He never confronted anyone, made anyone feel uncomfortable, or judged anyone’s lifestyle. Jesus loved everyone, which for many means that He accepted people just as they are. Jesus was a champion of diversity, they imagine. Jesus came to establish an inclusive community in which all peoples of all types would be embraced and no one, whatever their proclivities, would be excluded.

Jesus did indeed establish a church devoid of the worldly categories by which peoples are separated into warring camps. He is the head of a new humanity, “one new man” with “one body,” establishing “peace” to both those “who were far off and those who were near” (Eph. 2:15–17). Does this mean that Jesus intended that religious and moral categories should disappear? Does love, by which is meant acceptance and inclusion, obliterate truth? Let’s look at some examples.

The Samaritan woman at the well is eager for access to the living water that Jesus offers. Yet when she asks for it, Jesus brings up the uncomfortable subject of her husband, of which she has had five, not counting the man with whom she is then living (John 4:15–18). Ouch. Awkward moment. One would think Jesus’ handling of the situation seems to lack nuance. Yet because her benefiting from Jesus’ saving work, her becoming a disciple, joining the church as we might say, is contingent on her abandoning her current lifestyle, the confrontation over her moral habits was necessary. Jesus prioritized truth over convenience.

Jesus prioritized truth over convenience.

Jesus spares the woman caught in adultery from the rage of a hypocritical mob. He refuses to condemn her but then tells her to “go, and from now on sin no more” (8:11). He identifies her extramarital escapade as sin and tells her to stop. He does not excuse her moral choices. He doesn’t welcome her contribution to diversity. He implicitly warns her that continuation on her current path will end in the destruction of her soul. Why? Because if she is to be saved, she must repent. Truth took priority over her feelings.

The rich young ruler wants to ensure that he inherits eternal life. He is a “good man.” By his own testimony, he has kept all the commandments. Jesus, we are told explicitly, “loved him.” Yet Jesus said, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). Tough words. Unprecedented demand. Jesus perceived that he had an idol in his heart that required exposure if he were to be saved. Did doing so hurt feelings? Yes. Was the rich young ruler “sorrowful”? Yes. Did Jesus’ demand exclude him? Yes. “He went away” (v. 22). Did Jesus soften the blow? No, He doubled down. He likened the salvation of the rich to a camel passing through the eye of a needle—impossible with man, possible only with God (vv. 23–26). Truth took priority over likely offense.

The evidence beyond these three examples suggests that Jesus didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about creating a comfortable environment for sensitive souls. He confronted sin. When one of the lawyers complained that Jesus was insulting the Pharisees, Jesus again doubled down, saying, “Woe to you lawyers also!” (Luke 11:45–52). Too much was at stake to go soft on the truth. When warned by others that His teaching was “hard,” Jesus was unapologetic. “Do you take offense at this?” He asked (John 6:61). He said matter-of-factly of those who do not believe, “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (v. 65). This is not to say that Jesus was insensitive or uninterested in the weakness of others. Quite the contrary. When Jesus looked out at the crowds of confused and untaught people, He saw them as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). He “had compassion for them” and began to teach them many things, healing the sick, and feeding the hungry (15:32–39; Mark 8:2–10). At the tomb of Lazarus, John tells us that Jesus was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled,” that “Jesus wept,” sorrowing with Lazarus’ weeping kindred (John 11:33, 35, 38).

Though Jesus was full of compassion, truth was the priority. While not indifferent to feelings, He interacted with others as one who knows that gospel truth alone is what saves. Truth, He taught, “will set you free” (John 8:32). Jesus’ mission was “to bear witness to the truth” (18:37). Sixty-six times in the New Testament the gospel is identified simply as “the truth” with the definite article, the one and only truth. However uncomfortable the truth may make others feel, however offensive the truth may sound to unbelieving ears, however untimely the truth may appear, Jesus always spoke the truth, and so also must we.

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From the November 2020 Issue
Nov 2020 Issue