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When Jesus Was Offensive

by Bob Russell

Gleaned from www.bobrussell.org

     My younger brother John is a retired preacher. He now enjoys interim ministries, filling the pulpit for churches without a preacher. One recent Sunday afternoon, he sent me a text which read, “All I said was, “God’s ideal for marriage is one man committed to one woman for a lifetime. That means cohabitation, adultery, divorce, and homosexuality are outside the will of God.” But after the service, a fuming husband met me at the door and barked, “We’re not coming back. It’s just that kind of hate speech that caused our son to commit suicide. Why can’t you just love everyone the way Jesus did?”  

     Two thoughts came to my mind. The first was a disappointment that so many have invented an imaginary Jesus whose compassion would never disapprove of any behavior or offend anyone. People who have attended church for years have been so influenced by the exaggerated tolerance of this age they overlook the fact that Jesus was full of grace AND TRUTH. 

      Listen to these sayings of Jesus and note how counter-culture they sound.   

“Haven’t you read…that at the beginning, the Creator ‘made them male and female….’” (Matthew 19:4).

“For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. …Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mark 10:7-9).

“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9).

“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends;…invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind… (Luke 14:12-13). 

“Sell everything you have and give to the poor….” (Luke 18:22).

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them” (Luke 17:3). 

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell… the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Matthew 10:28 & Mark 9:48).

“I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). 

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).  

     Wow! No wonder many people found Jesus offensive. The Bible makes it clear those sayings didn’t make Him popular with everyone.  

“Then the disciples came to him and asked, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?’” (Matthew 15:12).

“When the young man heard this, he went away sad because he had great wealth” (Matthew 19:22).

“From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:66).

“From then on, Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over” (Matthew 26:16).

“Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus” (Mark 3:6).

     My brother’s text also served as a reminder of how difficult ministry has become in this age of Biblical ignorance and pseudo tolerance. Obviously, John texted me because the criticism hurt him. He’s been preaching for nearly 50 years, but personal attacks still stab his soul. Most preachers are by nature people pleasers. We want to edify and encourage, not offend and alienate. John communicated with me because he wanted encouragement and sympathy from someone who understood.  

     I understood all too well. Not long ago, an irritated woman confronted me about a Bible study video she had seen. “What you said in that lesson offended me!” she protested, obviously expecting me to apologize for upsetting her. However, what I said was Biblical truth, spoken as lovingly as I knew how. She had been offended by the Word of God. But rather than repent, she attacked the messenger. Somehow, she didn’t even entertain the idea she would sometimes be convicted when studying the Bible…to her, that wasn’t loving. 

     I’m convinced ministers today experience more criticism than previous generations. The crafty god of this age has infiltrated almost every segment of our culture and effectively bombarded us with propaganda endorsing a totally secular world-view. That includes the church where believers mimic both the values and the incivility of the world around them. So, the attacks against preachers are more frequent and more vicious. 

     I encourage young ministers to expect criticism and preach the whole counsel of God anyway. Seek to please God, not man. Like the prophets of old, don’t be intimidated into silence. Imitate Jesus, who was full of grace and truth, but remember, Jesus offended so many people He was crucified. And He cautioned us to “beware when all men speak well of you” and to “rejoice when falsely accused and persecuted.”  

     The Apostle Paul predicted this era years in advance:  “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:3-5).


              Bob Russell is retired Senior minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.


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