The “Jesus” I read about in books by many popular writers (i.e. Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Rob Bell, etc.), seems rather timid—more like a version of Mr. Rogers. Ironically, they describe a Jesus that looks very much like our own postmodern, consumer-driven culture: a “domesticated messiah.” Yet, the Jesus I read about in the Gospels is anything but domestic. He is extreme, untamed, and even insensitive at times. He is a lover of sinners, a friend of prostitutes, and a prophet of uncompromising convictions. He claimed to speak for God. He was an apocalyptic preacher — a prophet and a passionate follower of God. He identified with the poor and marginalized but then told his followers to expect to suffer and to hate their families in order to follow him. Jesus was demanding and severe in every sense of the terms. He could even be harsh in his methods. Mark Galli points out in his book, Jesus Mean and Wild, that if Jesus were on earth today, he would quite possibly be arrested for assault and battery due to some of his techniques. Put simply, the Jesus of the Bible is a jolt to Western culture and to Western churches. Too often we tame him by our liturgies and traditions.

The bottom line for me is this: the biblical portrait of Jesus puts a strong emphasis on truth claims because Jesus did. The Gospels also show him to be a man of radical compassion and care for the poor and needy. Any attempt to present a flattened picture of Jesus that reduces him to a one-dimensional person is destined to be off base. It is destined to present a Jesus that is weak and diluted. This kind of Jesus will not impact the world and will certainly not draw the worship of modern day men and women. The real Jesus of the Bible is actually a bit of a shock to the contemporary Western reader. He is quite different than the soft-spoken teacher that often shows up on Sunday school flannel boards and in vacation Bible schools all over America.

The real Jesus of the Bible is a bit — well, terrifying. Others have noted this. The British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, wrote a book entitled, Why I Am Not a Christian. In the book, Russell argued that Jesus is mean because he threatened people with hell if they rejected his authority. The atheist, Christopher Hitchings, said that after reading the book of Revelation, he is convinced that Jesus is “mean.” Admittedly, the Jesus of the final book of the Bible is a bit frightening.

All of this is a good reminder to make sure we are worshipping the real Jesus of the Gospels and not an air-brushed, insipid version so common in Western culture today. After all, Jesus said that if we fail to believe that he is “I AM,” we will perish in our sins. That is why a correct belief in Jesus is so essential for salvation.

by Jay Childs, Senior Pastor