How to Respond to the Horrifying Sayings of Jesus

Letters from Cambridge #1

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Founder & Teacher,

One of the things I am doing at this point in my sabbatical here in Cambridge, England, is reading through the four Gospels and collecting all the explicit and implicit commands of Jesus into various categories. I am driven in this endeavor by Matthew 28:18-20. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and . . . [teach all the nations] to observe all that I have commanded you.” So it is important that we are able to do that. We should teach and obey “all that he commanded us” because he has “all authority” in the universe. No one else has the right, the wisdom, or the love to tell us how to live. Only Jesus has that authority.

But when you read through the Gospels you find some horrifying things. If you don’t feel them as horrifying, you are not awake. I think they are calculated to wake us up from our domestication of Christ and his book. This one grabbed me because it relates directly to the issue of Jesus’ authority. At the beginning of the parable of the ten minas (or ten pounds) in Luke 19:14, Jesus describes the citizens’ relationship to the nobleman like this: “His citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’” Then at the end of the parable Jesus says in Luke 19:27, “As for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me."

This is horrifying. Jesus says that people who do not want his absolute authority over them will be slaughtered before his eyes. What should our hearts and minds do with this kind of talk in the mouth and heart of our Lord?

1) First, we see what is really there: horrific language about the condition and the destiny of certain people. They are enemies. They do not want Jesus' authority over their lives. They will be slaughtered. Jesus will not have it done in a private place but before his eyes.

2) We bow before the judgment of the Lord and reckon his way to be wise and just and even loving for those who tremble at his word and repent.

3) We shudder at the terrible future that awaits so many people.

4) We are made to ponder what a moral and spiritual outrage rebellion against Jesus is—otherwise being slaughtered for it would be an unjust overreaction.

5) We feel vulnerable knowing the remnants of rebellion in our own hearts.

6) We fly from the wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:16) to the cross where he has made an escape from his own wrath (“Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come,” 1 Thessalonians 1:10).

7) We feel the stunning, humbling, incredible truth that our escape from the torture that comes from Christ into the ecstasy that we will enjoy with Christ is by grace alone and not because of our righteousness (as Jesus said, “When you have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty,’” Luke 17:10).

8) We feel pricked in conscience that there is too often a self-righteous contempt for rebellious people that rises in our hearts—and we add that sin to all the rest that make us good candidates to be slaughtered along with the rebellious.

9) We repent of our own rebellion and its many subtle forms, and find, by grace, a love for rebellious people rising in our hearts so that, unlike the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, it would really be our joy if one of these rebels against the authority of Jesus would be saved and join the celebration of grace—like Saddam Hussein, for example.

10) We are moved, in all our imperfections, as forgiven sinners, to move into the lives of rebels and warn them of their condition, and commend the work of Christ to them, and endure their derision, if by any means we might save some.
This is not simple, and it is not easy. And I don't claim to do it well. But it is how I endeavor to respond to horrific things in the Bible.

Longing to be shaped by Scripture, not the world,

Pastor John