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Jesus is Not Your Teddy Bear

My wife Betty and I just recently added an addition to our household – a dog named Teddy. He's a Cockapoo; and he's a barrel of fun. We called him Teddy because he looks so much like the stuffed dog that our granddaughter carries around with her – also called Teddy. The grandkids all love Teddy, and we do too. He loves to cuddle and shows us lots of affection.

I see a lot of people who have carved out a perception of Jesus – one that resembles a teddy bear – a Saviour who is a barrel of fun and loves to snuggle and show affection.

Over the years, I have enjoyed reading the gospels and the teachings of Jesus continue to amaze me. So, I must say that I am baffled over the Jesus I see in the gospels and the more fictional version of Jesus that people want to embrace and believe in.

You cannot read the gospels without realizing that Jesus wasn't always "nice and cuddly". I think it could be said that Jesus was an equal-opportunity offender – someone who would offend anyone regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, political leanings, etc. The Jesus I see in the gospels was never beholden to any special interest group, political persuasion, or woke mob. In fact, he often had some stern words for people. When he talked, he was a take it or leave kind or person.

Let me shatter the "gentler" version of Jesus that you may have come to embrace. Why? Because it's important to see a truthful version of Jesus – even if that is an inconvenient version.

First, let's consider Jesus' remarks to the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-27:

As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.” “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Here was a rich young man that had lived a good moral life. He wanted to inherit eternal life – a noble quest for anyone. Did you notice, Jesus never challenged his assertions about keeping the commandments? In fact, after the young man said that he had kept the commandments since his youth, the Bible says that Jesus, "felt genuine love for him."

Could any of us make a similar claim to Jesus about keeping the ten commandments? Probably not? So, this young man's devotion to God was genuine, and yet, Jesus tells him he was lacking in one thing. One thing? Really? Most of us would be inclined to say, "Come on Jesus be a good "teddy bear" and give this good moral young man a hug and a break."

Why couldn't Jesus just have commended the young man for his devotion and let him go? Well, he couldn't do that because that wouldn't have been a display of genuine love. If one thing is standing between a person and eternal life, shouldn't Jesus tell him what it is? Wouldn't we do the same if we genuinely loved someone?

Too often we confuse acceptance, sympathy, or empathy with genuine love. Empathy might have made Jesus give this young man a pass, but genuine love wouldn't allow him to do it. The rich young man had "heart" trouble. That's why Jesus said elsewhere in the gospels, "Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be."(Luke 12:34). So, despite his good moral life, Jesus knew this man's heart was sinful because of his love for his wealth. Jesus also said on another occasion that, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.”[1]

Professing to have a genuine love for a relative or a friend but being unwilling to tell them that there is one thing that is going to keep them from eternal life, could never be called genuine love. I hear parents say all the time that they love their children, but they could never tell them that what they are doing is sinful and that it is going to keep them from eternal life. That's not love, that's indulgence.

So, while Jesus may have seemed calloused not to give the man a pass, he instead displayed a very tough and genuine love for the young man. ­He told him the truth because only the truth could set him free and lead him to eternal life. Did you notice that after Jesus told him the truth the young man's face fell, and he went away sad? Jesus didn't run after him and try to coddle him or compromise his teaching just to win him over and so he wouldn't be offended. That's tough and genuine love on full display. Jesus would never compromise the truth this young man needed to hear.

Now let's consider two other encounters Jesus had with the Pharisees. On the first occasion, some Pharisees and teachers of religious law arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him, “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.” [2]

The cancel culture of the Pharisees was after Jesus and his disciples. Now, Jesus could have taken the diplomatic opportunity to say to these religious leaders, "Oops they never should have done that, so let me apologize on their behalf." But instead, Jesus turned the tables and used this opportunity to point out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and their cancel culture. He said to them:

And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “Listen,” he said, “and try to understand. It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.” [3]

Now, after that speech, is it any wonder that the disciples moved into damage control? They said to Jesus, “Do you not realize that you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?”[4] Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, so ignore them.[5] He was saying in effect, "don't coddle them" and "don't give them a teddy bear hug either". Jesus was in effect saying, "I am not concerned that their feelings are hurt". Does this sound like the Jesus you have come to know or would even want to know?

Why didn't Jesus try to get these people on board with him? These were the religious elite of his day. Why insult them? That's not how to win friends and influence people. Why not be more charming and diplomatic? I've heard people say, "Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer". Jesus didn't follow that advice. Jesus saw them for what they truly were. They were hypocrites of the worst kind and Jesus wasn't going to play their games. He spoke the truth and it wasn't sugar coated.

On another occasion with the Pharisees Jesus says:

For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. So when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe me! Which of you can truthfully accuse me of sin? And since I am telling you the truth, why don’t you believe me? Anyone who belongs to God listens gladly to the words of God. But you don’t listen because you don’t belong to God.” [6]

Contrary to a lot of peoples' opinions, not everyone belongs to God and are destined for heaven. Some people are liars. They hate the truth. They don't care to listen to God's Word. And as a result, Jesus says they belong to their father the devil. Ouch! Once again, Jesus seems not to be willing to cut these Pharisees any slack.

What does Jesus' description of the Pharisees say about the human heart? It can be desperately deceitful and wicked (see Jeremiah 17:9). What does this encounter say about Jesus? I'd say he calls things as he sees them, whether we like it or not.

There are many other examples in the Bible of Jesus being candid with his listeners. And, in all of these examples he always valued truth over someone's feelings. Now feelings are important, but they are often in conflict with the truth of God's Word. It's too bad today, for example, that so many people are basing their identity and morality on feelings rather than the truth of God's Word. Acting on our feelings will not get us to heaven – only heeding the truth of God's Word, even if it that truth contradicts our feelings.

Let me leave you with these words from Jesus in John 3:17-18 and John 3:36:

John 3:17-18,"God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.

John 3:36, "And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.”

These verses tell us that there is eternal hope for everyone in our world if they believe in Jesus and follow him. That's the truth! That's the good news of the gospel.

There is also some bad news. There is no hope for anyone who rejects Jesus. They will never experience eternal life but only God's angry judgment. That's the truth too, even if we don't like to hear it.

Because Jesus genuinely loves everyone, he tells us the truth even if we find it inconvenient and irksome. He may not be your cuddly "teddy bearish" kind of Saviour, but he certainly loves you and will tell you the truth you need to hear. Want to see eternal life? Do what Jesus says in John 8:51, "I tell you the truth, anyone who obeys my teaching will never die!”

[1] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), Lk 16:13–15. [2] Ibid., Mt 15:1–2. [3] Ibid., Mt 15:8–11. [4] Ibid., Mt. 15:12-13 [5] Ibid., Mt 15:14. [6] Ibid., Jn 8:44–47.

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