I was intrigued by the title of this book when I saw it at CBD a few months ago, so I brought it home. I've had that little niggling thought in the back of my mind for a long time that Jesus is more than just Mr. Nice Guy. He was tough and stern. He got angry and yelled. But we like to focus on Nice Jesus. The first line of this book is "Jesus loves you and has a difficult plan for your life". Not exactly the kind of the thing we're used to. We like the nice things, like "Jesus loves you!", "Come to Jesus and he will fix everything", "Jesus, meek and mild". That's too often the message we send. And yes, Jesus does love us and he is kind, but he's more than that. If we bother to read the New Testament at all we see him angry, rebuking, commanding.
We try to romanticize Jesus and the Christian walk making everything seem bright and rosy. We seem to think that once we decide to follow Jesus that everything becomes perfect and we never suffer again. Where in the world did we get that idea?!? Not once does the Bible ever say that! It says the complete opposite many times over! That in order to follow Jesus we will suffer and we will have to deny ourselves.
This book starts with two familiar stories about Jesus that we seldom put together. In the first chapter of Mark we read about Jesus being baptized. You know the scene, he goes in the water and comes up to the heavens opening, the Spirit settling on him like a dove and the words of God saying "This is my Son, whom I love, in whom I am well pleased". Then there is the story of Jesus being tempted in the desert for 40 days and nights. What we (or at least I) miss is the fact that it says "immediately" in between these two accounts. Jesus is baptized, hears the words from heaven, and is immediately driven to the desert to be tempted! This is Jesus. The Son of God. The one that God is well-pleased with. If he is sent through such suffering right after being baptized, why do we expect less?
And why do we only see God as a softy waiting for us to need coddling? "He is instead a God who is in control of history and is in control of our lives...he is gentle and merciful and kind. But he is also strong to save. And he loves us so much he refuses to pamper us" (p28). We can't pick and choose what features of God or Jesus we like and which we don't. "Once you domesticate Jesus, he isn't there anymore. The domestic Jesus may be an interesting fellow, a good friend, a loyal companion, a helpful business associate, a guarantor of the justice of your wars. But one thing he is not: the Jesus of the New Testament. Once Jesus comforts your agenda, he's not Jesus anymore" (p19).
I'm only in chapter four, but I have so many things I could write/talk about! This would be a great book to study with a group! Since I don't have one, maybe I'll write a blog for each chapter.....hmmmm......for now, let me leave you with a few quotes I really like.
"This is not a world for shallow people with soft character. It needs tested, toughened disciples who are prepared, like their Lord, to descend into hell to redeem the lost...God's got the whole world in his mind, and he's looking for people who are keeping that world foremost in their minds as well." (p31)
"Repentance is...deciding that you have been told a pack of lies about yourself and your neighbor and your world. And it is deciding that God in Jesus Christ is telling you the truth. Repentance is a realization that what God wants from you and what you want from God are not going to be achieved by doing the same old things, thinking the same old thoughts." (p38)
"We must stop thinking of God as infinitely indulgent. We must begin to grapple with the scary and exhilarating truth that he is infinitely holy, and that he wants the same for us." (p 39)
"This aspect of holiness has two dimensions: the shaping of our character to be set apart in godliness and the shaping of our calling so that our lives will be set apart for God;s purposes. In short, to be holy is to dedicate all that we are and all that we do to God." (p44)
"This is one reason a life of holiness frightens us, why an encounter with the real Jesus can be so unnerving. When he comes into our presence, we sense the chasm between his holiness and our uncleanness...the one who loves us is the Holy One who wishes to make all unclean things holy. That means the one whom we cannot stay away from is the same one who is out to destroy those very habits, sins, notions, addictions and self-justifications that we think we can't live without. And there are times when we feel as if Jesus is out to destroy us. It is a wonderful and fearful thing to fall into the hands of the real Jesus." (p46)