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The Jesus You Should Get to Know

Several years ago, Philip Yancy spoke at one of our national conferences. Philip is a prolific speaker and author. One of the many books he has authored was,The Jesus I Never Knew. In this book, Yancey presents a complex character who generates questions as well as answers – a disturbing and exhilarating Jesus who wants to radically transform people’s lives and stretch their faith.

In an excerpt from his book, Yancey said this about Jesus:

Jesus never met a disease he could not cure, a birth defect he could not reverse, a demon he could not exorcise. But he did meet skeptics he could not convince and sinners he could not convert. Forgiveness of sins requires an act of will on the receiver's part, and some who heard Jesus' strongest words about grace and forgiveness turned away unrepentant.[1]

Unfortunately, a lot of people still turn away from the real Jesus and their need for repentance. They have a caricature of Jesus, but their obdurate attitudes keep them from seeing and following the real Jesus.

I have met many people over the course of my ministry, and I have gotten to the point when I know it’s coming; I can hear it in the tone of people’s voices and in their suggestions on how I can be a better Christian/pastor. Generally, they all make the same points. Let me summarize them for you:

1. Jesus didn’t criticize people; therefore, I shouldn’t be critical of those who are responsible for wickedness, pornography, hypocrisy, etc. Except it was Jesus who said, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee![2] That sounds pretty much like criticism to me.

On another occasion he said to the Pharisees, “Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell? [3] When was the last time someone called you a snake? And if they did, would that sound critical to you?

In Matthew 11:20 we read, “Then Jesus criticized the cities where he did most of his miracles, because the people did not change their lives and stop sinning.[4]

It's impossible to have an understanding of Jesus that makes no allowance for him to be critical of these cities. He had every right to call them out.

2. Jesus didn’t condemn anyone; He loved them. They usually point to the woman caught in the act of adultery in John 8. They even quote the Scripture: “Neither do I condemn thee.” (John 8:11).

Essentially these people are of the understanding that we shouldn’t call out sin, just love the sinner. Except they conveniently forget that Jesus told the woman, “To go and sin no more.” To not be condemned by Jesus is one thing, but to leave her thinking that all is well without a change in her behaviour is quite another. That's why Jesus called the woman to repentance. Was it an act of condemnation to tell her not to sin anymore? Was he now condemning her by telling her she cannot continue to live like this? Of course not. Telling her to leave her sinful lifestyle was for her benefit. No doubt, if there were people around in Jesus' time like there are today, maybe he would have been called an "adultery-phobe."

To the person that Jesus healed, he said, “Now you are well; so, stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.”[5] Was it condemnation to tell him something worse may happen to him if he kept on sinning? Again, of course not.

Obviously, neither the women caught in adultery, nor the person Jesus healed were given a free pass to live in whatever way they wanted. The call for repentance was not condemnation – but life altering. Had Jesus chose to leave her in her sinful lifestyle that would not have been an act of love. Instead, that would have condemned her to a life of further hardship. The Bible declares that there can be pleasure in sin. We know this from our own experience. But the Bible also says that sin’s pleasure is only for a season (Hebrews 11:25). Then it’s over, leaving us bitter, and finally destroying us. As such, Jesus ' call for people to leave their sin was so they would avoid sin's bitter outcomes.

3. Jesus lived His life so that people respected Him and sought to follow Him. As Christians, we need to live our lives in a similar manner. That means that we don’t disagree with anyone; rather, we try to convince him or her by our actions and not our words.

Except Jesus not only convinced people to believe in him by living a perfect life, but he taught the crowds of people extensively for three years. He even told people things they didn’t like to hear – things very disagreeable to them. To the rich young man who had great morals and followed all the commandments, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when the man heard this, he became very sad, for he was very rich.”[6]

Why did Jesus offend him? Why didn’t Jesus say something softer and gentler? Why didn’t he apologize to the young man for what he said? Or better yet, why say anything to him at all? Why not just be an example to him and hope the young man figured out how he could obtain eternal life?

Paul gave us direction for how we should relate to people, and it wasn’t to be just by our actions: “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? [7]

Someone had to tell them the good news about Jesus! Words matter! And in a generation screaming for answers, Christians shouldn't be found stuttering. We need to tell people about Jesus; and as his followers, what we tell people about Jesus should align with our actions.

4. Jesus made friends with everyone. He accepted everyone. He was even a friend to those with whom He disagreed. He didn’t turn them off simply because they disagreed with Him. He was all about inclusiveness.

Some might like this to be true about Jesus. But, once again, Jesus didn’t accept everyone on their own terms. He was friendly, but he never negotiated a softer call to discipleship just to keep people as his friends. He never let on that he was okay with their lifestyles, if they were not living in accordance with God’s Word. In fact, he said in John 15:14, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” His friendship wasn’t based then upon some warm and fuzzy interaction, it was based upon a condition – that people obeyed his commands.

Do you remember when he went into the temple with a whip in his hand. He turned over tables and cleared people out because they were using the temple as a place of commerce. That’s not what you do when you are trying win friends and influence people. He clearly disagreed with what they were doing, and he wasn’t trying to be their friend that day – not even close!

And, when people weren’t taking a shining to his teaching, he didn’t reconsider a softer, more inclusive approach. Instead, we notice after a time of teaching that, “Many of his disciples turned away from him, causing Jesus to ask the disciples, “Are you also going to leave?”[8]

People have longed for a softer Jesus; and many have been happy to peddle the same to whoever would listen. Let me illustrate this by sharing with you a story by Don Wildmon, the founder of the American Family Association:

As a young minister, I read a story told by J. Wallace Hamilton, a preacher of note who died in 1968. According to the story, it seems that a not too dignified but somewhat successful preacher was preaching at a chapel service at a large, respected university.

Now this preacher was not a good public relations person. He was somewhat unreserved and preached what many would call a straightforward, perhaps even blunt, sermon. I’m sure that you have heard that kind. He called sin…sin. Then laid out the plan of salvation and the need for repentance.

He just wasn’t a very tactful preacher; his bluntness offended some who were present.

Following his sermon, he was met at the back by one of the professors. Calling the preacher aside, the professor told him that he had preached a good sermon but that if he would change it just a little, not be so straightforward, that he could do so much better.

“You know,” the professor said, “if you search the Scriptures, you will find that Jesus was the most loving, non-condemning, forgiving, helpful person who ever lived. I’m simply suggesting that you make your sermons as tactful as Jesus made his. It would really help your ministry.”

The preacher thought for a moment. “You think I need to be more tactful?” he asked. “I think it would be a big help to your ministry,” said the professor.

“Was Jesus a tactful person?” the preacher asked. “The most tactful person who ever lived,” responded the professor.

The preacher thought a little more and then he spoke: “Professor, please answer a question for me. “If Jesus was the most tactful person who ever lived, how did He manage to get Himself crucified?”

The professor did not answer the question.[9]

Many people have a sanitized version of Jesus – one that would cleanse him of his confrontational style and challenging teaching. But obviously, the kind, caring, and loving Jesus that so many people want to see in the Scriptures, ended up offending enough people that the mob cried out , “crucify him.”

Jesus called people to repent and often in a stern manner. His tone was ominous and critical too. We cannot get away from this no matter how hard we try. In one such instance, Jesus said to the people of Capernaum, “And you people of Capernaum, will you be honored in heaven? No, you will go down to hades. For if the miracles I did for you had been done in wicked Sodom, it would still be here today.[10] Talk about obstinate and unrepentant hearts in Capernaum!

Yancy observed that though it “occurred to him that Jesus spent much time on issues like hypocrisy, legalism, and pride, yet he knew of no television ministries that were devoted to healing those “spiritual” problems.”[11] Perhaps we have all been influenced by too much of a televised version of Jesus.

Maybe it’s time to reconsider our understanding of Jesus. No one who meets the real Jesus will ever want to stay the same. According to Jesus, what I think about him and how I respond to him will determine my destiny for all eternity. Yancy says, “Dependence, sorrow, repentance, a longing to change—these are the gates to God's kingdom.”[12]

John had good news and bad news for us in John 3:36, “And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. [That’s the good news]. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment [That’s the bad news].”

Choose the good news today and you’ll be on your way to experiencing and getting to know the real Jesus.


[1] Philip Yancy, The Jesus I Never Knew, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1995), 174-175. [2] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), Mt 23:25–26. [3] Ibid., Mt 23:33. [4] The Everyday Bible: New Century Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005), Mt 11:20. [5] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), Jn 5:14–15. [6] Ibid., Lk 18:22–23. [7] Ibid., Ro 10:14. [8] Ibid., Jn 6:66–67. [9] This story was written by American Family Association founder Don Wildmon and it first appeared in the AFA Journal in 1993. [10] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, Mt 11:23–13:49. [11] Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, 175 [12] Ibid.

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