ABC Extra – Jesus Isn’t Gentle (At Least Not All The Time)

March 14, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


Even if you’ve never specifically articulated it, you have at least a general impression of Jesus. “Jesus is loving.” “Jesus was a good man.” “Jesus accepts all people no matter where they’re from or what they’ve done.” These are but a few of the most common impressions of Jesus. Even our hymnody seems to endorse these types of impressions. As a child, I learned to sing: “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon a little child. Pity my simplicity, suffer me to come to Thee.” Yep, this is Jesus: He’s meek and mild.

As I’ve grown older and have spent more time reading the Scriptures, the impression of Jesus as meek and mild that I had as a child has been challenged. More often than not, in the Scriptures, Jesus doesn’t seem all that meek and mild. In fact, in some instances, Jesus doesn’t even seem nice! Indeed, we encountered one of these instances in this past weekend’s ABC.

In Mark 4:1-20, Jesus shares with His disciples what I like to call “The Parable of the Parable.” He tells His disciples a parable which describes what happens when He tells a parable! “A farmer goes out to sow some seed,” Jesus begins. “Some falls on a hard path, some falls on rocky soil, and some lands in the nearby thorn bushes. And none of these seeds last. They either do not sprout at all or they sprout and quickly wither. But there is some seed that falls on soft soil. And this seed germinates and grows up to be healthy, full, and whole.” As I mentioned, this parable describes what happens when Jesus tells a parable! There are some people who out and out reject His teaching while others get carried away by the rocks and thorny trials of this world. Some, however, not only hear and understand Jesus’ parables, but believe them. They are the soft soiled ones who take Jesus’ parables to heart.

Sadly, Jesus warns that many will not take His parables to heart: “To those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven’” (Mark 4:11-12). These are some biting words! Jesus says that to those on the outside, He intentionally speaks in coded parables, lest these outsiders actually understand Jesus’ message and believe in His mission! This certainly doesn’t sound nice. This doesn’t sound like a gentle Jesus, meek and mild!

In His words, Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10, where God gives the prophet a similar mission of veiling God’s Word and message, lest people understand and believe: “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” There is no ambiguity in God’s commission to Isaiah. Isaiah is to specifically and deliberately “make the heart of the people calloused.” That is, he is to turn people away from God. What a strange – and harsh – mission for a prophet!

The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament from the third century BC, translates Isaiah 6:9-10 like this: “You will be ever hearing, but never understanding; you will be ever seeing, but never perceiving. This people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.” Take careful note of the difference between the two versions. In the Hebrew text of Isaiah 6, Isaiah is specifically charged with hardening the hearts of the people. But in the Greek translation of this text, the hearts of the people are already calloused long before Isaiah begins his ministry. So which one is it? Is it Isaiah who callousing the hearts of the people? Or do the people who hear Isaiah come with already calloused hearts, ready to reject his message?

Actually, it’s both. Long before Isaiah arrives on the scene, the people of Israel have been busy callousing their hearts through their rebellion and carousing. Isaiah paints a bleak picture of Israel’s spiritual condition in his opening chapter: “Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on Him” (Isaiah 1:4). Israel is already calloused. Thus, Isaiah is called only to callous hearts through his preaching which are have already been calloused by sin. This, then, is God’s warning to sinners: “If you callous your hearts by sin, I will callous your hearts in judgment of that sin.”

This, therefore, is finally what Jesus is doing in His parables. He speaks of hiding the meaning of His parables from “those on the outside” not because He hates these people or wants to see them consigned to damnation, but because they have already chosen to be on the outside, apart from Jesus. And so now, Jesus is simply giving these sinners what they want – what they demand. He is callousing their hearts through His parables.

The portrait of Jesus as purely meek and mild is surely inaccurate. In Jesus’ “Parable of the Parable,” we learn that Jesus most certainly allows people to fall under the judgment they deserve and desire. And yet, this is not Jesus’ final will. His will is that these people would indeed “turn and be forgiven,” even though He knows that some will not.

This, then, is Jesus’ invitation to you: Do not be calloused! By the Spirit’s strength, instead, be soft soil. Have a tender heart! Receive and believe God’s Word…and watch it grow in you – even unto salvation.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

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