4 Things Jesus Taught That Are Hard to Believe
Reflections on John 12
I find it a little comical that church people are so uncomfortable with people who don't believe in Jesus. After all, Jesus' first followers argued with him when he told them what he was going to do. The crucifixion and resurrection took everyone by surprise. Why does it shock us when people don't believe it today? It's pretty radical, illogical stuff actually... but also super awesome and amazing!
The day after Jesus was anointed by Mary at Bethany, Jesus entered Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover week. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.
It is interesting to note that John was writing this account of Jesus to remind people of all the prophecy that he fulfilled. As I’ve noted in previous posts, he frequently says things like “as it is written” and refers to the Old Testament prophecy that Jesus fulfilled. In this case, he reminds his original audience that when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, that the prophet Zechariah had predicted this 100’s of years earlier.
Let that sink in for a moment. The Israelites were very familiar with the scripture. Jews even today are supposed to know the Torah by age 13. So, John was reminding them of prophecies they were all familiar with.
This seems a little crazy at first. I mean they are all sitting around longing for the Messiah to come. They are all familiar with prophecies of what the Messiah would do and then when he is right there in front of them doing those very things, they don’t recognize him.
I mean “see your king is coming seated on a donkey’s colt” and “Look, there’s Jesus on a donkey’s colt” seems a little obvious to me…
Except, what he did seemed so far from what they expected. The crowd welcomed him into Jerusalem with great praise and tremendous excitement and expectation. They were hoping for a leader to make Israel into the great nation who would show the world what God is like. This was God’s plan and promise but it didn’t happen the way they thought.
Here are a few ways that Jesus was not the Messiah they were expecting:
- He was a Messiah for ALL people:It is interesting that, in the middle of this story, John points out a seemingly random incident: some Greeks came to speak to Jesus. In order to understand this, you need to understand the Jewish culture. There were Greeks that followed the Jewish customs and celebrated the Jewish festivals, but they were not permitted in the inner court of the temple. John’s Jewish audience would have understood the significance that Greeks were following Jesus.
- Jesus was going to die. Jesus explained to his followers that he was going to die. He told them that he would be glorified through his death. He said, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” He was trying to explain what was going to happen and why.
I’ve witnessed several people brave enough to admit around Christians that the crucifixion makes no sense to them. They have all been immediately bombarded with explanations of why it was necessary. And that’s OK. But I think it is also important to note that Jesus’ plan made no sense to his followers.
He repeatedly told them that he was going to die. Here he is the week that it happened explaining to his followers that “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
They knew he meant he was going to be killed. They even argued with him because the scripture said that the Messiah would remain with them forever.
The truth is the crucifixion was hard to accept. Even the people that walked closest to Jesus weren’t expecting it and when it happened, they all scattered. Not a single follower was left standing around saying, “I knew this was going to happen. This proves everything.” They all deserted Jesus. The best we can say about any of them is that they were still hiding out together trying to figure out what to do next. They didn’t understand until the Holy Spirit made it clear to them, because IT’S HARD to UNDERSTAND!
And after Jesus rose from the dead, it was so hard for people to accept that John needed to write to them and explain stuff like, "you remember when you saw Jesus riding on a donkey, well that was to fulfill the prophesy that said he'd be riding on a donkey." And I imagine they were still saying, "You mean he's not going to fight the Romans?"
I don’t really know exactly why the crucifixion and resurrection fixed our sin problem, but I’m sure glad it did.
I feel super convicted that the most compelling proof I have that the crucifixion works was talked about in an old song that I grew up with. I can still hear elderly saints trying to hit those high notes as they belted out with everything in them, “You ask me how I know he lives…He lives within my heart.”
I’m not so sure people see anything in me that would make them say, “Obviously, the Bible is true. Look how Cindy lives.” I’d like that to be the case…
3. Following Jesus does not equal praise from religious people. Many religious leaders and others believed in Jesus but did not admit it because they feared retaliation from the Pharisees.
We like to think that we have risen above this today, but I know tons of people who will not follow what God is leading them to do because of fear of retaliation from their peer group.
For example, I have recently been super convicted by the fact that Jesus was known as a friend of sinners. It was the accusation used against him most often. For the religious elite, it was proof that he couldn’t be the Messiah. They believed in being morally superior to everyone around them and shunning those who didn’t meet their standards. (Cause nothing makes people want to follow God like a good shunning! LOL)
But Jesus loves and accepts first, then helps people get better.
So, if I want to be more like Jesus, I need to be prepared for religious people to not like me and I hope to get to the point where their biggest accusation against me is that I hang out with a lot of “sinners”!!!
4. Jesus came to save the world. Jesus said, I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.
We all say that we know this, but a whole heaping lot of what church people do seems to be more about judging than offering hope. We isolate ourselves out of fear. We certainly don’t want to be friends with drunkards, drug addicts, people who hate America and would sell us out for money, and sexually promiscuous people, but Jesus hung out with exactly those kinds of people.
These types of people welcomed Jesus in their homes. He was scandalously associated with them. He didn’t judge them, he offered them salvation.
Whenever you are reading scripture and you see the word “righteous” or “righteousness” associated with Christians, understand that this word does not mean “super holy, morally superior, perfect person” it means “right standing with God.” In other words, that woman at the well who was a complete hot mess and probably continued to struggle to get her act together, when she believed in Jesus, she had “right standing with God”. In her simple act of belief, she received what the religious leaders strove for every waking moment. It is absolutely mind-blowingly, crazy and wonderfully awesome!
I’m still wrestling with how to live this out!
(Here is an area I believe that we are especially failing when it comes to working in poor neighborhoods. If we are going to make a difference in these communities, we can't do it from a distance! I really recommend the following article. I think that in America, we have painted Christianity to be all about being middle class or rich. Often we, present an HGTV gospel that excludes people in poverty. (...putting my soapbox away!) )
I'd love to hear from you!
How are you being a "friend to sinners"? Do you struggle to believe? I'd love to chat about it!