the controversialist | John 8.41-47
They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” John 8.41b-47 | ESV
Bristling to the breaking point, they howled, “We’re not illegitimate children (unlike someone else we could mention); our one true father is God himself!”
“If that were so, you’d be embracing me with open arms and inviting me in because your Abba – God – is my Abba; you’d see and own that he’s the one behind my being here and we’d be on the same family page; I’m not some upstart Johnny-come-lately pretender. The God you lay claim to is the very one who sent me here to your doorstep. Why can’t you follow my drift? Simple. You don’t have the capacity to listen to what I have to say for the simple reason we don’t share the same Abba at all. We’re speaking different languages. Let me give it to you straight: Your father is the devil himself and it’s his agenda that you’re wedded to. He has been anti-life from the get-go, a real killer, with no grasp of Truth because there’s no room for truth in him. That’s not his game. Lying is his game. Whenever he opens his mouth, out pops another lie. Falsehood is his native tongue – and he’s the author of the language. Now I show up speaking the Truth, and you won’t believe or put up with it for a moment. ‘Does not compute!’ you shout. Well, show me where I’ve miscalculated! Show me where I’m wrong. And if you can’t pinpoint my error, then why can’t you embrace my answer – embrace me? God’s kids hear when God speaks. Which makes this all rather academic: you won’t have it – have me – because you don’t have God. End of story.”
MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
John Stott writes this in his book Christ and Conflict: Lessons from Jesus and His Controversies:
“The popular image of Christ as ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ simply will not do. It is a false image. Certainly, he was full of love, compassion and tenderness. But he was also uninhibited when it came to exposing error and denouncing sin, especially hypocrisy. Christ was a controversialist. The Gospel writers show him as constantly debating with the religious leaders of his day…”
Christ the controversialist.
That one probably wouldn’t make it into most of our devotional calendars.
We can be so given to extremes. Either Jesus was meek and mild, tolerant of all, embracing all, or he was constantly in other’s faces stirring the pot of conflict and controversy and itching for a fight as he takes on the bastions of error and unbelief. Both extremes are mere caricatures of our own reflections, depending on our temperament.
Perhaps is it most accurate to say that Jesus was a man of truth – that, in fact, he was truth personified.
John does us one better, telling us that he has himself seen his “glory – glory as of the One and Only from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Jesus embodied both. He was grace and truth personified. And while we might at first wonder how the embodiment of grace and truth could possibly be a controversialist attracting venomous hostility, it would perhaps be good to reflect on the fact that few things can more readily unnerve us than grace and expose us than truth. I don’t think Jesus entered the temple courts spoiling for a fight. He didn’t have to. The reality of who he is was threat enough, automatically causing them to recoil, hands raised, ready to fight. Which is probably why he spent so much of his life intentionally away from Jerusalem.
Yes these are some hard words Jesus speaks to his contemporaries. Telling anyone that “your father is the devil” in just about any setting is a hard word!
Now it just remains for us to look beyond the surface words bracketed by those quotation marks and decide if we hear bitter accusation and exposure or loving rebuke and disappointment.
And perhaps that is the key on which all of this business turns.
Love is never rude, but oh how love can and will get in the face of the beloved – and most of the time, words are not even necessary.
Under which guise to you primarily view Jesus: Jesus the meek and gentle one who would never say anything to upset anyone, or the Jesus the argumentative pot-stirrer spoiling for a fight? What is the key to finding a more balanced, dynamic view of him – and of ourselves?
Abba, lead me in the way of being a blessed peacemaker that integrates and embraces grace and truth and that, while never spoiling for a fight, won’t shy away from it lies along the path of healing and life. Through Jesus.