In his classic prophetic description of the suffering servant, Isaiah twice refers to Jesus as one who was despised and rejected (Isaiah 53:3). We despised and rejected him then, and we still despise and reject him today. How?
Jesus intent was to transform every part of our lives, not just the part that goes to heaven when we die. Every word he spoke was important. Jesus assumed that he had the best information available about life and he shared those words so we might obey him and experience the abundant life he frequently spoke of. The ways of Jesus are counter-intuitive. The ways of the Kingdom are “upside down” when compared to our culture and education. And we despise him for it. How?
We despise his death. Paul called the death of Jesus “offensive” and “scandalous.” His death was offensive and scandalous because it speaks into our lives, revealing who we really are and what we are really like. Because his death is offensive to us, we attempt to soften it. I recently visited the Nelson Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City and saw one display of religious art that was breathtaking. There was one thing missing from these expressions of art: blood. One painting of portrayed Jesus with a crown of thorns, perched atop his brow like a tiara, absent of blood. Next to it was a painting depicting the crucifixion, complete with nails in his hands and feet; spear thrust through his side. Again, no blood. We are no different. Our wooden crosses are sanded smooth and varnished. Our elements of communion are served to congregants in trays of polished brass. His death concerns us, and we soften it because we despise it.
We despise his name. Have you ever noticed how we prefer using God, Lord, and even Christ to the name of Jesus? God and Lord and Christ are appropriately safe. But when you start using the name Jesus in your speech, you show your true colors. If you don’t believe me, try this little experiment. Use the name Jesus, whenever its appropriate, instead of God, Lord, or Christ. See if it feels natural, or if it makes you uncomfortable. When we are uncomfortable using the name Jesus, we’re despising his name.
We despise his works. The Gospels report all kinds of miracle stories where Jesus exercised power over the natural realm. He calmed storms, healed diseases, cured disabilities, performed wonders with food and drink, and even raised the dead. When we look at his works, we might wonder why we haven’t seen these kinds of things happen in our lives. Why hasn’t Jesus come through for us like he did those 2,000 years ago? We wonder about this, often settling on a line of thinking that says, “Well, that was then, this is now. Jesus behaves differently today than he did then.” When we diminish the power of Jesus across some vast historical divide, we are despising his works.
Finally, we despise his words. When Jesus heard the words of his Father, he did them. He assumes his words are important and that when we hear them we will do them NOW.
Do not be angry with your brother.
Forgive your enemies.
Go and be reconciled to your brother.
Turn the other cheek.
Go the second mile.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Do not judge.
At the core of the Great Commission is the instruction to “teach them to obey every word I have commanded.” That’s not legalism. Legalism has to do with us doing things or not doing things in order to earn the favor of God. Jesus said his words are life, and he assumes our obedience.
We read the words of Jesus’ commands and respond by saying, “Well, you don’t understand…” I may be empathetic to that, but I’m not sure Jesus is. When he tells us to forgive, he assumes we will do it now.
In Matthew 11:25-26, Jesus said that in order for us to enter into true discipleship we would have to be childlike. There are two things about children that help us understand obedience. First, when children hear their parent speak, they assume the time is now. “Would you like to go to Disney World?” “Yes! I’m going to the car!” Children don’t think about someday going to Disney World. If you ask, they assume the time is now and are instantly ready to go.
The second thing children have going for them is that they assume any activity, once begun, has no end. If you’ve played with a child, you know what I mean. “Again! Again! Again!” They don’t think of activity as having an appointed stop time.
We see this modeled by the apostles. Unfortunately, we think Peter, Paul, James and John are a special breed of super disciples. But their childlike faith is really a demonstration of normative Christian behavior. They’re not religious superstars. In the estimation of Christ, they’re normal.