Author Mark Galli has written a book titled, “Jesus Mean and Wild”; the secondary title piquing my interest no less than the first – “The Unexpected Love of an Untamable God.”1The reason being that I have felt for some time that Jesus’ story has suffered from some serious editing; many making of him an always understanding, forever patient, never demanding fairy tale character. When in fact, the hero of scripture is understanding, patient, kind and forgiving but almost as often angry, demanding, and at times somewhat confusing; a dynamo who repeatedly enters a scene and upsets the status quo – intentionally challenging people’s beliefs, denouncing their lifestyles and demanding they do and be things they’re uncomfortable with or never considered before. In omitting these aspects of Jesus’ personality, whether as an enlightened marketing strategy, or because we ourselves are uncomfortable with these demanding aspects of his character, we reduce who he was – and is. A commanding heavenly being; ready and willing to save but on His terms.2
In the not so distant past, Christians showed concern for “getting it right” when it came to their faith; they were concerned about missing something in the gospels, about not understanding – and doing – all they could. And while some aspects of that attitude can be troubling, today we’ve gone to the other extreme; few acknowledging that their faithfulness in response to Christ’s call on their lives is a life-and-death matter that requires a profound change in the way they think and act. No one seems to grasp the idea anymore that you don’t mess with divinity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer emphasizing in his book, “Cost of Discipleship”, and throughout his life, that grace is costly while still being grace.3 The truth being Jesus came demanding we take note of the kingdom he vigorously proclaimed, explaining that the key to opening it’s door was repentance, not just in theory but in practical ways that prove our change of heart and mind. (See Mark 1:15; Luke 3:8; Matthew 7:16; & Acts 26:20 – obviously a recurring theme throughout N. T. scripture.)
Jesus never sugar-coated his call of, “Come, follow me.” (Matthew 4:19 & 16:24) Even as he assured those who chose to do so that, “…no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – and with them persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.” Mark 10:29,30 (See also Matthew 10:37-38) He acknowledged, warned and assured any who would listen that his ministry would at times be painfully divisive (Matthew 10:34,35); His response to difficult situations at times were decidedly not meek and mild. (Matthew 23:13-33; Mark 11:12-17) The parables of the Lost Coin in Luke 15:8-10, the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price found in Matthew 13:44-46 emphasizing the over-riding value we must place in discerning and then attaining God’s gift; which is eternal life. (See also Romans 6:23 & Matthew 16:25-27) His exclusive ability to save boldly stated in John 14:7,8 and reiterated by Paul in Acts 4:12. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to man by which we must be saved.”
As John Ortberg says in a review of Galli’s book, “I want to know this Jesus, though he scares me a little.”4 He is God incarnate, and God is love (1 John 4:16), but that doesn’t mean he can’t be dynamic, bold and demanding – with high expectations of us – or that he must be forgiving to the extent that he loses the essence of who he is – perfection (Matthew 5:48) – and what he justly expects of us – holiness. (1 Peter 1:15,16) He does realize we can’t accomplish either one fully this side of heaven, but the real Jesus isn’t a one-dimensional character exuding a sentimental love that knows no bounds, a love that merely makes us feel good in whatever condition we’re in or excuses good and bad behavior alike. The genuine Jesus has a love capable of saving a desperate world, interceding on our behalf in a powerful way to accomplish our salvation, making that power available to us as we sometimes struggle to answer his call to follow him to a new life lived in obedience to his will. He is gentle, merciful and kind. But at times; his desire and power to save is displayed in ways that don’t include pampering. Our salvation is too urgent, our need too great. We must, “Repent, (NOW!) for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Matthew 4:17 (see also 2 Corinthians 6:2) If not, we will perish in ways and to a degree we can’t even imagine.
Life is not a game, church is not a social affair, salvation is not a hopeful fairy tale, following him is not about debatable ethics. Life, church, salvation, obedience is serious business! And if it takes some strong words and unanticipated “persuasions” on Jesus’ part – even to the point of driving us to our knees – to get our attention; he loves us enough to do just that. In fact, Jesus is a classic example of the lengths God is willing to go to secure our salvation and the completion of his will. God loved Jesus dearly (Mark 1:11), His Spirit none-the-less drove Jesus to the wilderness to begin preparation for his destiny. (Mark 1:12) Jesus’ responses there being a key component of his later ministry on our behalf (Hebrews 2:18); with the expectation that we will do the same. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) As, “This is not a world for shallow people with soft character. It needs tested, toughened disciples who are prepared, like their Lord, to descend into hell to redeem the lost.”5 (See Philippians 3:10)
The God of the Old and New Testament is many-faceted and complex. He can be accommodating in his love and patiently long-suffering even as he is jealous and fiercely protective of his person, his power, his right to be who he is. He destroyed the Egyptian army in delivering his beloved Israel from bondage and then severely chastised that beloved – repeatedly – for failing to keep their part of the bargain securing their deliverance and salvation. Incarnate in Jesus, he rebuked hypocrisy harshly, challenged self-justifying inquiries, cleansed the temple violently, confronted the Gerasene demoniac and calmed the waves of Lake Galilee and the hearts of his disciples even as he scolded them for their lack of faith. All in the name of love.
How is a God like that to be understood? As one who will do whatever it takes to get our attention, who has already done everything necessary to see us saved. As a God who expects us to respond to salvation in an obedience that comes from faith. (Romans 1:5) One who loves us so much that he’s willing to be thought of as mean in his discipline and wildly unpredictable if it will, “…produce a harvest of righteousness and peace… in the hearts and minds of… those who have been trained by it.” (See Hebrews 12:5-11)
2Eugene Peterson, professor emeritus of spiritual theology at Regent College, Vancouver B.C.
4Teaching Pastor, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church
5 Galli – Jesus Mean and Wild
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