Difficult Teachings of Jesus
By Ryan Welsh
Some of the things that Jesus said are hard. How many of us have come across some chunk of red letters in the gospels and discovered something that we either didn’t understand, or didn’t want to understand? We have company. Even a cursory reading of the gospels will show that Jesus’ original audience felt the same way. I think we can sympathize. Imagine having no New Testament and eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Messiah that the Old Testament had so frequently promised. Imagine that when He does come, He doesn’t look like you thought. He doesn’t say the things you thought He would. He even associates with people that you wouldn’t associate with. It’s understandable that first century Israel would struggle to understand the newly come Messiah in the flesh. What about us? The church today has the full and complete Word of God. The church can even read of the original audience’s confusion and learn from it. Frequently we read of their bewilderment and secretly demean them for being simple-minded and hard-headed. Our thoughts might even fit into C.S. Lewis’ category of “Chronological Snobbery.”
Why Are They So Difficult?
So, why do we still find many of Jesus’ teachings difficult? There are at least three reasons (probably many more). First, we often fail to do the hard work of understanding the original audience and the culture they lived in. Jesus was a real human, living in a real time period, and a real culture. Everything He taught was for the purpose of His disciples to understand the gospel and the Kingdom of God, and He therefore used chronologically and culturally fitting methods and illustrations. To state it directly, we don’t do our homework in studying the cultural context of Jesus’ day and therefore read His teachings through our 2017 lenses. This leads to confusion, as well as misinterpretation.
The second reason we find many of Jesus’ teachings difficult is that we have the propensity to build our own Jesus. Most large malls across America include a store that offers the chance for a child to build their own teddy bear. The options are seemingly endless. The child truly gets to build the teddy bear they desire, from which type of animal, to what clothes or costume it wears, to how much stuffing is inside their new friend. Although a great idea for kids and teddy bears, it’s a dangerous and debilitating idea for Christians and Jesus. However, it’s all to ordinary for Christians to build their own Jesus—a version of Jesus that fits their wants, desires, and needs—and synthetically read that Jesus into the text of Scripture. This causes confusion when trying to understand the teachings of Jesus. If the Jesus one has built is a Jesus that is always joyful, gentle, and non-confrontational, then when Jesus is firm in rebuke, even at times angry, it becomes hard to fit His words into their understanding. Whatever Jesus we might build, it will always cause us trouble when seeking to understand the full scope of His teaching, unless the Jesus we build in our hearts and minds is the Jesus that Scripture has already built for us. It is then, and only then, that one can begin to understand that Jesus is kind, gentle, gracious, merciful, and compassionate, yet is also a justice-seeker, at times angry, one who rebukes those who mislead, and a communicator of absolute and unconditional truth.
Thirdly, we simply don’t like what He said. We know what He means, we understand what He said, but we don’t like it. We wish we didn’t understand so we could claim ignorance. We are sinners and therefore at times still insist on our own ways over God’s ways. Often this involves culturally sensitive subjects. When we become so culturally-saturated that we can’t take the counter-cultural teachings of Jesus at face value—even though we know exactly what He is teaching—we have begun to engage in an extremely dangerous practice. Much of our culture’s confusion of Jesus’ teaching is actually a willful confusion. We don’t want to understand. It’s too hard. It opposes our worldview and our desires, so we conveniently thrust it aside into the bin of confusing things that Jesus said that we just can’t fully understand and therefore shouldn’t worry too much about.
Our Upcoming Sermon Series
We will be starting a five-week sermon series this Sunday at Redeemer on the “Difficult Teachings of Jesus.” Our goal will be to understand these five selected teachings by doing the hard work of studying the culture of His original listeners, by tearing down our man-made, inaccurate, and preconceived understandings of who Jesus is, and also by identifying how our culturally-soaked worldview does not determine what Jesus meant or didn’t mean, but to the contrary, letting Jesus’ teaching form our worldview.
I’m excited to start this study! I invite you to join us and to invite some friends and family who might be interested in learning about some of the difficult teachings of Jesus. Here’s the breakdown of our series:
3.5.17- Week One: “Losing Saltiness?”- Matthew 5:13
3.12.17- Week Two: “Not A Jot or A Tittle?”- Matthew 5:17-20
3.19.17- Week Three: “Hate Family?”- Luke 14:26
3.26.17- Week Four: “Who’s The Older Brother?”-Luke 15:25-32
4.2.17- Week Five: “Turn The Other Cheek?” Matthew 5:39