The message of the gospel is at its core offensive. Jesus did not die on a cross because He loved people and taught wisdom to the world. He died on the cross because His message – the gospel – cuts to the center of human achievement, pride, and self-gratification. The gospel leaves room for only a single Hero, and we are not that hero.
In responding to John the Baptist’s disciples about who He was, Jesus remarked: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Luke 17:23 ESV). Throughout the gospels, we see the results of the offensiveness of Jesus. The great crowds walk away. The religious leaders seethe in anger. The good performers return to doing it on their own. Those with political agendas look for another patriot.
The Offense of Religion
In Jesus’ day, like so often in our own, the religious leaders are not the faithful followers that their holy books called them to be. The scribes and Pharisees had become so lost in religious dogma, debates of theology, and rules for religious performance that they had embraced the outward action of religion while killing its heart.
Jesus lamented of the Pharisees that they “honored him with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). God made us for a relationship with Him, yet when the religious leaders denied the relational, they became principals of practice rather than persons of peace. Instead of pointing people to God as their Savior, the religious leaders sought to deem others as not worthy of salvation.
The gospel is offensive to the religious leaders because Jesus doesn’t judge people based on their performance but His. Even in our most religious moments, we are utterly broken and lost in our sin. We cannot clean up the outside enough to get by. We are, as Jesus said, “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanliness” (Matthew 23:27).
Our religious practice at its best is like putting lipstick on a corpse. We cannot clean up our lives by our outward action. We need a heart transformation from a Savior who perfectly performed in our place.
The Offense of Performance
Performance also becomes a life metric for those outside of faith. We try to be the best, and we often believe the lie that we can do it on own own. Throughout the gospels, we see crowds walking away from Jesus. Like us, they often want the benefits that Jesus can offer them rather than the cost of following Him.
The gospel cuts to the core of our own performance. In order to realize our need for Jesus, we must admit that we do not have it all together. We have all sinned and missed the mark of God’s perfect standard. The Bible defines us as “lost.” In order to comprehend the blessing of being found, we must realize what it means to be lost.
Like the beautiful story of the Prodigal Son that Jesus tells in the gospels, Jesus by His grace wants to welcome us into a relationship with Him, yet so many people must realize the brokenness of their world in contrast to the beauty of home that Jesus welcomes them into.
Our performance may be enough for our standards or the world’s standards, but Jesus calls us to lay down our performance and experience His grace. He was the perfect One. He made the way. We are simply invited to come home into His grace and experience the life we were made for.
The Offense of Political Power
After Jesus performed a miracle and fed 5,000 men plus countless women and children, the crowd erupted and the moment changed. John’s gospel recounts: “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6:15). The crowds wanted Jesus to be a political patriot, yet He ran away because He knew that His mission was much greater than mere politics.
Throughout history, people have wanted to make Jesus into a political patriot. Whether it is the crusades or the open Bible on the political commercial, faith is often used to justify our own agendas for our nation. In the moment where Jesus had a shot to become the political King of the Jews, He leaves the scene. He does not meet with the leaders of the political party. He does not become a lobbyist. He doesn’t pick a candidate to endorse. He simply moves on.
The gospel is offensive to our political agenda because Jesus cannot be contained by a party, side, or political persuasion. The priorities of Jesus are seen in a heart for humanity and a love for neighbor that raises hard questions that no single political system can adequately answer.
As we approach politics, we must remember that Jesus refuses to take sides, that faith must impact our decisions, and that the gospel that unites us is much more important than the aisle that divides us. The gospel is offensive to political power because Jesus points to something eternal that has a much greater weight than who sits in an Oval Office.
The gospel is offensive. People will walk away. When they do, Jesus doesn’t chase after them. He waits patiently like a Father on the porch of the house for the moment when a person comes to the end of their religion, performance, and political allegiance to run to Him as the Hero. The gospel is a much-rejected invitation, yet it is an invitation that is greater than any other that transforms every part of who we are.