Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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The Tough Side of Jesus

Jesus drives out moneychangers

by Dennis Pollock

The love of Jesus has been preached and proclaimed throughout the earth ever since the days of the apostles. This is as it should be. The story of Jesus is a story of love. His eyes of compassion, His tender concern for the children, His willingness to heal and comfort, and greatest of all, His death on the cross in our place all give ample support for the song we learned as children, “Jesus loves me, this I know.”

 There is, however, another side of Jesus which is not nearly so well advertised. I call it the tough side of Jesus. This same Jesus who was so tender and compassionate could also be stern and even severe when the situation warranted. Jesus would never make it as a seeker-sensitive pastor in today’s church. He was blunt and uncompromising in dealing with sin and hypocrisy among those who pretended an experience with God.

 One of the greatest errors in the modern church is the assumption that you cannot draw a crowd without being sickeningly positive. The two greatest crowd-gatherers in all the Scriptures, John the Baptist and Jesus, were both able and willing to thunder forth holy denunciations at those who defied God’s commandments. While great numbers of pastors today preach a white bread with jelly message, Jesus was strictly whole wheat and tuna. 

Hellfire and Damnation 

We sometimes hear references to “hellfire and brimstone” preachers, but in truth there are almost none around these days. Jesus was such a preacher. In fact He spoke more about hell than any other person in the Bible – more than Isaiah or Moses or Paul or Peter. He not only spoke about hell; He used incredibly graphic language to demonstrate the desirability of avoiding it:

And if your eye makes you sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire where `their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.' (Mark 9:47-48). 

Jesus could hardly have used more dramatic language to impress upon us the awfulness of hell. What a far cry from our usual, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Of course God does love us all and does have a wonderful plan for the lives of those who will repent and trust in Christ. But He has a terrible plan for those who refuse to repent (terrible, that is, from their perspective – it is perfectly good and proper from the perspective of divine justice).

 Warning has its place. I once was in Galveston sharing Christ with some of the thousands that attend the Mardis Gras held there. I was walking along talking to someone and not paying much attention to the streets I was crossing. I started to cross one small street where I assumed cars were required to stop at that particular intersection. I assumed incorrectly. Just before I walked in front of an oncoming car a woman behind me saw what was about to happen and shouted at me. I turned around quickly just as the car barely missed me. Had she not shouted I would probably have had a quick and premature trip to heaven.

 Her shout was forceful. She did not use a melodious voice or couch her warning in pretty language. Her voice was loud, not particularly pleasant, but quite effective. Such is the nature of warnings. This is the tone Jesus took as He spoke vividly and plainly about the destiny that awaits those who refuse to heed God’s counsel.  

Cost of Discipleship 

Jesus carrying cross

We see another aspect of the toughness of Jesus in the radical demands He made on His followers. Jesus made it clear that to follow Him would require a total and drastic commitment:

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:26).

While we often try to make things as easy as possible in speaking to those without Christ, in order to attract as many as possible, Jesus took a different tact. He seemed more interested in quality than quantity and was even willing to deny the privilege of discipleship where there was no willingness to sacrifice all for His sake. He declared that the man who would put self or others ahead of Him, “cannot be My disciple.” 

In another place Jesus said of any who would desire discipleship, “Let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” The Christian life is a life of self-denial. There has been a strange doctrine that rears its head in the church from time to time, which says that we make Jesus our Savior at one point and then make Him our Lord at some later date, according to our convenience. According to this view you can be born again, forgiven, and given the gift of the Holy Spirit without ever making Jesus the Lord of your life. You have been made a child of God while you still cling to your selfish, ungodly ways, and then later on you may or may not decide to start obeying Him and become His disciple. 

What nonsense! As Paul would say, “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer coined the term “cheap grace,” and defined it thus: “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline… Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate…” 

While salvation is free, it always produces discipleship which is very costly. Jesus stated:

And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, `This man began to build and was not able to finish.' (Luke 14:27-30)

When America’s Civil War began, young men from both sides rushed to join the army. There was almost a hysteria among them as they signed up in droves, eager to share in the glories of a war they were certain would be one-sided (their side, of course) and quickly over. One of their great fears was that the enemy would be so thoroughly and rapidly defeated the war would be over before they had a chance to participate in a single battle. 

They needn’t have worried. That terrible war drug on for five long years and shed more American blood than any of our other wars. Conditions for the soldiers were horrific and they found to their dismay that the “glories” of war were vastly overrated. Quite a number deserted in disillusionment. Jesus wants His followers to know that discipleship is costly, self-denial is the norm, and total allegiance to Him is the only acceptable posture. 

Jesus & His Church 

Church

We have a remarkable portion of Scripture found in the second and third chapters of Revelation. Jesus here speaks to seven churches of that time and gives His assessment of their progress (or lack thereof). There are commendations to be found, but there are criticisms and rebukes as well. Our young people often like to use that cliché, “It’s all good.” Certainly in Jesus’ mind, the condition of these churches was not all good. 

The first church He addresses, the church at Ephesus, is commended for their labors and their patience. But Jesus is never satisfied with the externals; He looks at the heart. In their case they have lost their first love. Jesus warns them: 

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent (Revelation 2:5). 

A lampstand is that which makes the lamp effective. Without the stand, the lamp sits on the floor unable to shine its light across the room. Jesus seems to be telling this church, “If you don’t get your act together, I’m going to shut you down.” 

To Smyrna He is upset over their putting up with a group of people involved with false doctrine and sexual immorality, and threatens to come suddenly and fight against them with the sword of His mouth. The church at Thyatira is also allowing sexual immorality to go on, and Jesus declares that He will kill those who are involved so that “all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts.” The Laodicean church is lukewarm and Jesus promises to spit them out of His mouth. 

This is not exactly the Jesus we imagine from the pictures we see of Him carrying the little lamb around His shoulders. Some might say, “Jesus sounds kind of angry in these verses. I thought that after the cross, God doesn’t get angry anymore.” 

The cross has made our forgiveness and reconciliation possible, but it has not changed God’s basic personality. God hated adultery under the old covenant and He’s not too thrilled about it in the new. He was against stealing and lying in Moses’ day and He was just as much opposed to them in Paul’s. And He can still get plenty angry! 

Righteous Anger 

While anger is usually a manifestation of our sin nature, in appropriate circumstances it can be a virtue. Here is a man who is upset with his wife and starts toward her in a menacing fashion. She runs out into the yard where he follows her, knocks her down, and begins to violently beat and kick her. One of his neighbors walks by, sees the situation, and says to himself as he continues his walk, “That man really ought to treat his wife better than that.” Another neighbor also sees what is going on. But this man is furious at the sight of such cruelty. He rushes upon his neighbor and punches him in the face, knocking him down and breaking out two of his teeth. He glares at the man and threatens him, “If I ever see you treating your wife like this again, you’ll get a lot worse!” 

Which neighbor acted more honorably and virtuously? I would vote for the second guy. Our problem is that we usually manifest anger at all the wrong times and in totally inappropriate ways. God’s anger is always appropriate and always right. But make no mistake about it – God can still get angry. Thus we read in Revelation of that terrible time of Tribulation where people hide themselves in caves, and cry out to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” 

It is imperative that we see all aspects of Jesus’ nature, not just certain handpicked ones. To miss Jesus’ tenderness makes us nervous and legalistic; to miss His toughness makes us sloppy and careless in our spiritual walk. It is His love and compassion that capture our hearts, but it is His toughness that stops us cold in our tracks when we start to stray and play near the boundaries of sin. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad He’s this way. I wouldn’t want my Lord to be a wimp. His majestic holiness makes His love and forgiveness all the more wonderful. One of these days our world will see Jesus once again, but He will be not be carrying a lamb around His shoulders: 

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns… (Revelation 19:11-12)

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