The Jesus that confronts us in the gospels doesn’t allow us, in a nice and affirming and tolerant and mannerly sort of way, simply to “like him.” Rather he is an electrifying, divisive figure, that calls for decision, response, allegiance. Take, for example, the third chapter of the gospel of Mark. In this chapter, we see the growing popularity of the Jesus movement. Crowds surround him; the diseased and demon possessed press in around him so intensely that Jesus is forced to preach to the multitudes from the boat (3:7-12).
But Jesus is not content to be a leader of a preaching and healing movement. No, he is about something far more radical and revolutionary. Jesus takes his disciples up on a mountainside, and he designates 12 of them to apostles, calling them to be “with him” and sending them to further his preaching and healing ministry (3:18).
For those acquainted with the stories of the Old Testament, this will immediately remind them of the 12 sons of Jacob (Israel) and for forming of the nation of Israel. In short, what Christ is doing is nothing other than re-constituting the people of God around himself, his person and his mission.
It is this radical and revolutionary re-constituting of the people of God, indeed, of the forming of a whole new humanity, that explains the intense seriousness, earnestness, solemnity with which Jesus lived and, in so living, forced the response, the action, the decision of all those who met him. Some accepted Him, and swore allegiance to his Person and Mission; others rejected him and sought to undermine his authority.
Among the latter were, for a short time, his natural family, and to his very crucifixion, the teachers of the law, the religious establishment.
Mark tells us that Jesus entered a house, and a crowd gathered that was so large that his disciples were not even able to eat. When “his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’ (Mark 3:21). And, when the teachers of the law came down from Jerusalem (presumably to investigate the Jesus movement) their authoritative verdict was: “He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons” (Mark 3:22).
Again, my point is this: If neither Jesus own natural family, nor the religious establishment, was able to remain nice, affirming, tolerant, and mannerly regarding Jesus Christ, how do we think we will be able to?
Jesus forces us to make a decision about his Person and his mission. And he claims the decisions we make about him have eternal consequences for to reject the mission of the Holy Spirit through him is to be guilty of an “eternal sin” never to be forgiven (3:29).
How can you simply affirm, tolerate, and feel nice thoughts towards one who spoke in this way to his natural, biological family: “Then Jesus mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone to call him, and they told him, ‘your mother and your brothers are outside looking for you.’ ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him (his disciples) and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Mark 3:31-34)
We must be intellectually and spiritually honest with the Jesus portrayed in the New Testament. We cannot, on the one hand, affirm (as open-hearted, caring, sensitive, spiritual people) Jesus (as a great religious leader), and, on the other hand, reject the very essence of his Person and mission. What would be intellectually and spiritually honest? We should either openly and clearly reject Him and his mission or bend our knee to Him and swear our allegiance.
Impartiality is impossible. As G.K. Chesterton once put it: “It is stark hypocrisy to pretend that nine-tenth of the higher critics and scientific evolutionists and professors of comparative religion are in the least impartial. Why should they be impartial, what is being impartial, when the whole world is at war about whether one thing (that is, Christianity) is a devouring superstition or a divine hope?”