The Gospels present a sweeping, holistic view of the lives Jesus calls us to lead as His followers. But modern-day Christianity tends to sell this message short: We go about our daily routines believing that if we live morally, respect each other, and believe in Christ, we’re all set.
When you imagine a picture of Jesus, what does He look like? Serene…loving…perhaps prayerful? Over the centuries, this is the image that artists often adopt for Jesus.
But if Jesus’ message had only been to “love one another” (John 13:34), and if Jesus’ actions had only been loving, the leaders of the time would not have had Him executed, and His message wouldn’t have lasted very long.
The Jesus that the Gospels actually portray is much more complex, nuanced, and emotional than we often give Him credit for. He got angry. He stood up to cultural and political norms and openly challenged society’s leaders. He loved and worried and wept for us. Jesus wasn’t just a nice guy; He was passionate.
Mark 6:34 tells us that when Jesus “saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Our word compassion comes directly from two Latin words that together mean to act “with passion.” Jesus commands us to love as He loved -- but if our interpretation of Jesus’ love is to be nice and avoid confrontation, then we have severely diluted the emotions conveyed in Scripture.
Jesus’ strong emotions were not only loving. In Rich's first book, The Hole in our Gospel, he discusses how “Jesus’ strongest denunciations were directed not at thieves, murderers, and adulterers, but at the faith leaders of the day.” Within Matthew 23:13-33, Jesus calls these leaders “hypocrites seven times, blind guides twice, blind fools, sons of hell, whitewashed tombs, snakes, and a brood of vipers!” (p. 65).
These are not the words of somone playing nice. Jesus may not have been the military leader the people were hoping for, but neither was He peaceful.
We all know how Jesus reacted to the people exchanging money in the temple. But really picture Him in this moment:
“So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’ His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’” (John 2:13-17, emphasis mine).
I picture Him yelling. Physically conveying His message. He isn’t just irritated; Jesus is consumed with zeal!
Fortunately for believers, Jesus’ zeal is on our side. When Lazarus died, Jesus went to Lazarus’s family, knowing that He would raise him from the dead (John 11:4). And yet “When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping…he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (v. 33); at the tomb, “Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’” (vv. 35-36).
Jesus loves us, feeling our sorrow even when He knows the final result. He knew Lazarus wasn’t dead and gone, but wept for the family’s grief anyway.
In The Hole in our Gospel, Rich writes, “as I look at the life of Jesus, I see that He was, as Isaiah described him, ‘a Man of sorrows … acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus’ heart was continually moved to compassion as He encountered the lame, the sick, the widow, and the orphan” (p. 9). We know that Jesus loves us and has compassion for us -- and this is the challenge.
How do we respond to the knowledge that God became human and laid down His life, taking all our sins past, present, and future onto Himself so that we would never have to face those consequences? Well, He told us. Jesus’ new commandments to His followers are a challenge: to live in response to His sacrifice.
Rich also writes that Jesus “linked the second greatest commandment to the first…loving our neighbor as ourselves is like loving God with all of our being. So then, Jesus equated loving our neighbors with loving God. If we truly love God…we will express it by loving our neighbors” (p. 66).
This concept is at the heart of Rich’s new book, Unfinished. The book’s message is that “believing is only the beginning” -- that God has called every one of us to a specific purpose. Once we believe, how do we respond to that faith? Unfinished makes the case that we respond by living out the role God has called us to in His plan for the world.
On the cross, Jesus spoke the words, “It is finished” (John 19:30), but He wasn’t referring to His work on earth or His plan for us. The Greek verb He used here has been found on ancient merchant invoices, and translates there as “paid in full.” On the cross, Jesus is referring to His task of atoning for our sins. This is what we now live in response to; this was only the beginning.
Stearns begins Unfinished with a quote from Matthew: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (24:14). Our faith comes to us from the Holy Spirit, but it is not something we simply receive. After believing, we’re given our own great commission, to spread God’s gospel to all nations, to love our neighbors as we love God.
“If we are not personally engaged in God’s great mission in the world,” Stearns writes, “then we have missed the very thing he created us to do.”
So what are you going to do about it?
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Matthew Brennan is the blog manager at World Vision U.S.
Learn more about Richard Stearns, president of World Vision U.S.