How old were you when you realized that pretty much everything Jesus said when he was here on earth was the very definition of "in your face?" He was confrontational. He challenged everything about the way people thought and acted. He openly disparaged the religious celebrities of the day and was constantly warning people against being like them.
I was today old.
It's not like I haven't read the Bible! I promise you, I have. But mine was apparently a classic case of seeing what you expect to see and I guess I expected to see more of gentle Jesus, meek and mild. I expected Jesus, at the very least, to be, well, kind.
However, if you get out your red-letter bible and just read the red letters, as I did today, you're in for a shock. When you read just his words, Jesus seems harsh and pretty ticked off most of the time!
My five-year-old grandson's new favorite expression for anything surprising is, "What the?!" That's exactly how I felt as I read.
I mean, I knew about the time he called the Pharisees a bunch of names (Matthew 23:1-39) and that time when he flipped over the tables in the Temple (Matthew 21:12). I also knew he said that he didn't come to bring peace to the earth, but rather, a sword (Matthew 10:34), but I thought those were just exceptions.
The more I read those red letters, though, the more appropriate that color seemed to me and the more I saw they were just part of his overall pattern. Try it yourself. You'll see.
It looks like Jesus often went out of his way to be outrageous. He was not even a little politically correct. If people were appalled by what he said, he just said it again, more emphatically.
For example, in John 6, at the end of verse 51 when he said, "And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh,” the Jews immediately started muttering about what he was implying about eating his flesh; so, instead of being "nice" to them and softening his rhetoric, carefully couching it in more acceptable terms, John says, starting in verse 53:
"So Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.'” (verses 53-57)
Notice that he repeated the phrase "feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood," several times. Don't those words--"feeds on"-- conjure up images in your head of wild beasts tearing at and consuming their prey?
As a result of his graphic word pictures, verse 66 tells us that many of Jesus' groupies left him for good that day.
No, his offensive words were not the exceptions. The exceptions were mostly confined to when Jesus was healing and/or forgiving someone. His words, then, were what we might call "kind," although they were still often heavily seasoned with admonitions and cautions.
If you want to find the loving Jesus that we all know he was, you have to look specifically at what he did, not so much at what he said. He showed his mercy, love, and compassion through his actions. He gathered the children to him. He fed the hungry. He healed the sick. He forgave the guilty.
Most of all, he lived the perfect life that he knew we were utterly incapable of living and credited us with his spotless record; then he took all of our unworthiness, failure, and sin upon himself and paid the price we should have paid. His love was in his actions on our behalf.
So, then, what was the point of all of those pointed words?
I would say it was truth. He did not come to lie to anyone in order to make them feel good about themselves or their lives.
They needed to be shocked by the truth that they were a mess. They weren't doing anything right. There was nothing about them that was pleasing to God, certainly nothing that earned them merit. To him, their righteousness was like menstrual rags. Any pride they had, and it ran rampant, was delusional. His words constantly exposed the lies they believed and then pointed them to himself as their only hope.
They could not be comforted until they realized their true condition, so he relentlessly told them what that condition was. While his words were often tough, in the end, of course, they were also loving.
Few truly understood his words while he was with them.
But afterward, when he rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, he sent them a Comforter to remind them, first, of everything he had said and then, of everything he had done for them. Finally, many believed.
As we read Jesus' uncompromising words today and are thereby convicted of our inadequacy, the Holy Spirit is ever near to remind us of what Jesus did for us to demonstrate his deep and abiding kindness, mercy, and love.