What Would Jesus Say? (And How Would He Say It?)

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Christians today sometimes seem more concerned about the tone of what they say than the truth of it. Many a twenty-first-century church leader apparently thinks he is obliged to yield quietly to majority opinion on moral issues—while carefully observing all the rules of postmodern propriety.

Jesus was not like that. He was no domesticated clergyman with a starched collar and genteel manners; He was a bold prophet who regularly challenged the canons of political correctness.

The first word of Jesus’ first sermon was repent—a term that was no more welcome then than it is today. Those without any sense of personal guilt—including the vast majority of religious leaders—were of course immediately offended. They were convinced that they were good enough to merit God’s favor. Who was this man to summon them to repentance? They turned away from Jesus in angry unbelief.

The first act of Jesus’ public ministry touched off a small riot. He made a whip of cords and chased money-changers and merchants out of the temple. That initiated a three-year-long conflict with the religious leaders. They ultimately handed Him over for crucifixion while crowds of laypeople cheered them on.

Would He receive a warmer welcome today from religious leaders, the media elite, or the political gentry? Anyone who has seriously considered the New Testament knows the answer. Postmodern culture is devoted to relativism. The average person is contemptuous of all absolute or exclusive truth-claims; convinced that self-love is the greatest love of all; satisfied that people are fundamentally good; and desperately wanting to believe that each of us is endowed with a spark of divinity.

To such people’s ears, Jesus’ message strikes a discordant note. He said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23–25) and, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (14:26).

How would Jesus contextualize that message for a pluralistic, tolerant, self-indulgent society like ours? I’m convinced His approach today would be the very same that we see in the Bible. To smug, self-satisfied, arrogant sinners (including multitudes on church rolls), His words would sound harsh, shocking, provocative. But to “the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3)—those who are exhausted and spent by the ravages of sin, desperate for forgiveness, and without any hope of atoning for their own sin—Jesus’ call to repentant faith remains the very gateway to eternal life. 

Christians today sometimes seem more concerned about the tone of what they say than the truth of it. Many a twenty-first-century church leader apparently thinks he is obliged to yield quietly to majority opinion on moral issues—while carefully observing all the rules of postmodern propriety.

Jesus was not like that. He was no domesticated clergyman with a starched collar and genteel manners; He was a bold prophet who regularly challenged the canons of political correctness.

The first word of Jesus’ first sermon was repent—a term that was no more welcome then than it is today. Those without any sense of personal guilt—including the vast majority of religious leaders—were of course immediately offended. They were convinced that they were good enough to merit God’s favor. Who was this man to summon them to repentance? They turned away from Jesus in angry unbelief.

The first act of Jesus’ public ministry touched off a small riot. He made a whip of cords and chased money-changers and merchants out of the temple. That initiated a three-year-long conflict with the religious leaders. They ultimately handed Him over for crucifixion while crowds of laypeople cheered them on.

Would He receive a warmer welcome today from religious leaders, the media elite, or the political gentry? Anyone who has seriously considered the New Testament knows the answer. Postmodern culture is devoted to relativism. The average person is contemptuous of all absolute or exclusive truth-claims; convinced that self-love is the greatest love of all; satisfied that people are fundamentally good; and desperately wanting to believe that each of us is endowed with a spark of divinity.

To such people’s ears, Jesus’ message strikes a discordant note. He said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23–25) and, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (14:26).

How would Jesus contextualize that message for a pluralistic, tolerant, self-indulgent society like ours? I’m convinced His approach today would be the very same that we see in the Bible. To smug, self-satisfied, arrogant sinners (including multitudes on church rolls), His words would sound harsh, shocking, provocative. But to “the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3)—those who are exhausted and spent by the ravages of sin, desperate for forgiveness, and without any hope of atoning for their own sin—Jesus’ call to repentant faith remains the very gateway to eternal life. 

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.