Throughout His ministry, Jesus was rejected again and again for many different reasons by people from many different backgrounds (see Matthew 8:28-34; Luke 9:51-56; John 12:42; Luke 18:18-30), but every rejection boiled down to one objection: Jesus was not the Messiah for them. They had expectations, traditions, and interpretations that they held onto so tightly that when the Savior of all mankind appeared and offered them riches beyond measure they could not take hold of Him. Jesus was not the messiah they had pictured.
He is not the messiah that most of us picture today. He is no “Baby Jesus,” “Christmas Jesus,” or “Good-moral-teacher Jesus.” He is not a pliable, complacent, tolerant, passive, weak, interpretable messiah. He is the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, the Name above all names, the Chief Shepherd, the Righteous Judge, the Creator and Sustainer of our universe. “Baby Jesus” is cute and cuddly, and does not make many demands. But, Risen Jesus demands everything, and He is calling us to a life of devotion that many of us are unwilling to bear. Jesus is serious about our righteousness. Are we ready to take Him seriously?
There are many pictures of Jesus that can get in the way of taking Him seriously, and one of the most common is “Vigilante Jesus.” People are rebellious by nature. Adam and Eve proved that. The history of the nations of the world proves that. The story of mankind, with all of its injustice, violence, and hatred proves that. So, people rebel when they have a picture of Jesus as a law-giver making arbitrary rules just to test people. Many reject Christ because they see the demands that He makes as restrictions and stumbling blocks, and they see Him as a vengeful judge just waiting for the next poor sucker to mess up.
Certainly Jesus is pictured as Judge in the New Testament (e.g., John 5:22), but He is certainly not a vigilante out for revenge, and His commands are not arbitrary rules designed to entrap us or trip us up. On the contrary, His laws are some of the most incredible blessings He could give us. As Jesus Himself says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” [Matthew 11:30, ESV] Following this idea, Paul tells Titus that it is God’s grace that teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly and righteously. [Titus 2:11-12] God’s laws are God’s gracious gifts to us—which leads us to the inevitable conclusion that God’s laws are part of God’s grace.
Does that sound contradictory? Does it seem wrong to say that laws are a blessing, and that God’s laws are part of God’s grace? Perhaps our definition of grace has become too narrow.
I once witnessed a spectacular accomplishment. While traveling down the highway I saw the head of an animal hanging out the passenger-side window of an extended-cab pick-up. The first glance gave me enough vague information to assume that it was a dog, but with a second glance I quickly determined that I was entirely wrong. The animal riding in the cab of this truck was not a dog, but a horse. And by “horse,” I do not mean “pony.” This was a horse, in every sense of the word, sitting with its haunches on the back seat and the remainder of its body placed precisely where the front passenger seat, which had been removed, should have been. The head of the horse sticking out the window topped off the whole scene nicely.
Although some people do attempt to transport livestock in the cabs of their vehicles, we would all agree that that is not what the vehicle was designed for. One horse with a gastro-intestinal problem would be enough to prove the point.
We make things with specific purposes in mind. Hammers are for driving nails. Bowls are for serving soup. You cannot effectively drive nails with a bowl or serve soup with a hammer, and serious difficulties arise if you try.
Similarly, God created us for a purpose. He had specific guidelines and applications in mind for us, and He made us to fulfill those. God intended for us to live a certain way. When we do not fulfill our purpose serious difficulties arise: sorrow, confusion, and discontent, just to name a few. The blessing of Jesus’ commands is that they are intended to bring us back to God’s purpose. The grace and mercy of God’s laws is that they lead to a purposeful, fulfilled, fruitful life, the kind of life God wanted us to live all along. May we, like David, be able to say, “Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.” [Psalm 119:77, ESV] May we learn, for our sakes, to take Jesus seriously.