Jesus made several statements that are hard to hear; many have been used by opponents of the gospel to undermine faith in Messiah. Possibly the one most often quoted for that purpose is,
Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
Well-known Jewish anti-missionary Gerald Segal comments on this verse, saying, “Jesus proudly avows that his is a mission which will cause discord and disturb the universal peace, and bring war to the world.”*
Segal and many others fail to understand the difference between the purpose of Jesus’ coming and the responses He quite accurately predicted. Jesus intended to bring peace and He did bring it. He told his disciples,
Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you . . .” (John 14:27).
But Jesus also wanted His followers—then and now—to understand there is a cost to identifying with Him that is inevitable, painful and likely to be experienced at the most intimate of levels in our lives.
Or how about the Lord’s statement:
Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53).
Today most of us hear these words in the context of what we know about Holy Communion, rather than actually partaking in Jesus’ sufferings as we identify with Him.
Were Jesus’ words a simple spiritual metaphor for His followers to believe and join themselves to Him? Look at how His words impacted His immediate hearers:
Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?'” (John 6:60).
Jesus knew that many were offended (John 6:61) and made it easy for those who were offended to leave: “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6:66).
Jesus had, in one fell swoop, offended a whole lot of His followers. Many left. Does anyone believe He made a mistake in telling them that “hard saying”?
These are only a couple of examples of many “harsh words” He spoke during His public ministry. And by harsh, I don’t mean Jesus intended to hurt people; I mean He expressed painful realities without hedging or smoothing them over. So what are the implications for us today?
I’m not suggesting any of us should go around spouting harsh words, thinking that to do so is the way to follow Jesus’ example. But neither should we shy away from declaring truth to people because it’s hard to hear, or they might be offended by it.
There are multiple considerations to balance. Paul instructs us:
Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:6).
Peter admonishes us to
always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).
And the Scriptures remind us that, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).
We need to weigh our words carefully yet also realize that many people will react negatively, not because of what we say or how we say it, but because the gospel itself provokes people and often results in that reaction.
The purpose of truth-telling is not to offend, but that doesn’t mean that those conditioned to disbelieve won’t be offended
This fact was writ large for Jews for Jesus in April when we promoted (through social media) a controversial short film entitled: “That Jew Died For You.” The film shows Jesus carrying His cross through the gates of Auschwitz and being sentenced to the gas chambers as “just another Jew” by the Nazis. Viewers then see the message, “That Jew died for you” as the words of Isaiah 53:4-5 scroll down the screen. This shocking yet profound juxtaposition received some 1.5 million views on the Internet.
Some were intrigued while many others were offended. We knew that this was likely to happen, yet our mission was not to offend. Most who were offended stated in some way that the Holocaust should never be a subject for a gospel communication, and that included some Christians. Very few will mention the gospel in the context of the Holocaust, believing it just too sensitive a subject. Jesus and His teachings have been blamed for the Holocaust by so many people, and especially Jewish people—in large part because of the ghastly way that Jesus’ name has been used and abused to make hateful statements about Jewish people.
The video cannot undo decades of tragic and untrue correlation between Jesus and the hatred that made the Holocaust possible, but we believe the film presents a much needed counter perspective. Not only that, but if the gospel cannot speak to this heinous human tragedy, how is that same gospel to save us from our sin and its awful power to forever separate us from God? Indeed, in view of such a horrific demonstration of what sin can do, the gospel stands out as the only hope for humanity.
Have you ever tried to share the gospel with someone who is furious with God because of a personal tragedy? I have heard these words: “How dare you speak to me of a loving God when He allowed my child to suffer and die such a cruel death before my very eyes?” For that parent, this is a personal and private holocaust. So what do we do? We weep with those who weep. We don’t force the issue. But neither do we dare to desist from offering Jesus, the only hope, to people who are in such great pain.
In the midst of the heated reactions we received to That Jew Died For You, Susan Perlman received a call from Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg, a son of Holocaust survivors and the former chairman of the New York Board of Rabbis Commission on the Holocaust. Rabbi Rosenberg was calling to thank us for producing what he called, “a film made from compassion.” (You can see the Rabbi’s full response.) Rabbi Rosenberg states unequivocally that he is not a believer in Jesus, and yet he took the risk of offending people by stating that Jesus, a Jew, was not responsible for the Holocaust. Who knows how many people will question the false linkage of Jesus to the Holocaust because of this rabbi’s courageous words?
The purpose of truth-telling is not to offend, but that doesn’t mean that those conditioned to disbelieve won’t be offended. Paul said it best when he wrote: “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16) Who indeed?
*quoted from Segal’s website
For more on this topic, read Pastor Lon Solomon’s article, “The Offense of the Cross“