The Offensive God

Offend: to cause (a person or group) to feel hurt, angry, or upset by something said or done

Jesus Christ was not the sweet Sunday school teacher we would have rather him to have been. His messages were just as often offensive to listeners as they were comforting. We tend to gravitate towards the words of grace that our souls long for, and well we should because without grace we are doomed. We shouldn’t be shocked by his offensive words though, because Peter describes Jesus as, “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

Jesus was clear in so many verses that we need to “put up or shut up.” These words sting because they convict us and make us aware of how far we fall short. Jesus used strong words often, both with the crowds and his own disciples. Sometimes, he was even angry. Even when ticked off, Jesus acted solely out of love. He fulfilled and lived Hebrew 12:6, “The Lord disciplines those he loves.” Rather than correcting people to lord his power over them, Jesus’ rebukes or commands always had purpose to benefit his followers.

Jesus refused to compromise his message and mission. His cousin John was the same way and was relentless in challenging society. He had to express the truth of the Kingdom of God regardless of the consequences. Of course he offended to the point of losing his own life. Kind of like Jesus did. Both of them had a mission worth dying for and the blood of their martyrdom serves as the foundation of our faith.

Let me give you a specific example of one potentially offensive verse that we need to think about:

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

…The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (Luke 3:7-11 NIV)

If John was a pastor and that was a Sunday morning message, he might have been voted out and fired by the elders after service. He threatened the crowd to start acting like God the father or they were going to burn. His words were prickly, barbed and blunt. No softness, no consolation and no coddling. Rather than getting offended this time, the crowd responded with a plea for direction. “How do we embrace Heaven and escape Hell?”

John could have said anything, but he pointed them towards the poor. Basically he told them that if they wanted to act like God, they should give clothing and food to the needy. He could have pointed them to more worship, tithing, Bible study or spiritual disciplines, but he challenged them to embrace the poor and by doing so they would be embracing God.

This isn’t a nice little Bible story. John says that unless you and I have good fruit, the ax is coming. What is good fruit? Not attending more church services, avoiding profanity, longer morning devotionals or more anointed prayers. Nice things and good things, but John says that isn’t it.

Good fruit is washing the feet of the weak, generously giving to the hurting, being a brother to the stranger. Good fruit is putting clothes on someone’s back and food in their belly. The good news is that if this fruit isn’t a part of our lives, we can repent and let God change us to make us truly fruitful. Yes, Christians still need to repent. At least I do -over and over.

At New York City Relief, we exist to give people a place to bear this kind of fruit. The Relief Bus outreach is a great way to lavish God’s best on those who have the least. The homeless are so touched that volunteers would come bearing gifts of new socks and fresh soup.

Let’s cultivate a lifestyle of growing delicious spiritual fruit that allows others to taste God’s goodness in us. Here is the benefit on our end: REFRESHING

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,” Acts 3:19

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