Generally, we like Jesus. Even people who don’t like Christians agree that Jesus was a pretty agreeable guy. A good teacher. A caring man. We like to put Him in a box or press Him flat against a felt board while we talk about Him feeding 5,000 people from a few fish and loaves; or healing the blind; or telling His followers to turn the other cheek. We like Sunday School Jesus. Milquetoast Jesus. Beta male Jesus. A Jesus who stays over there. A Jesus we can control.
But Jesus was never someone who could be controlled – even while hanging on a cross.
We are much more comfortable talking about the unifying Jesus or Jesus as the Prince of Peace. However, those are not the only facets of who He is – He showed us so much more of Himself. If we only hold up Kumbaya Jesus, we leave out important parts of the man He was and is (and is to come). Somewhere in the story of Jesus, we have allowed some of His words to stick, and tried to forget others. We bristle when we have to reckon with passages where He clearly states that He came to divide.
In Luke 12:51 Jesus said, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three.” In Matthew 10:34 Jesus states, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Jesus is not talking about division for sport or for the sake of being disagreeable. On the contrary. The division Jesus talks about is between those who love Him and those who do not. He is being clear with His followers what is at stake: Allegiance to Him will mean alienation from those who rebel against Him – even among family members. He’s telling His followers that every other relationship will have to be sifted through His nail-pierced hands.
The Most Loved Man to have ever Lived
There is no competition. No person who has walked this earth is as beloved as Jesus. He has been worshipped by billions for the past 2,000 years. He is the hero in the best-selling book of all time. More books have been written about Him, more art created of Him and in His honor, more songs sung in worship to Him, more buildings erected to Him, more monuments set in His honor, and more meetings have been held in His name than any single person to have ever lived. For two thousand years, His followers all over the world have celebrated His birth, His life and His resurrection.
His life was the great reset that is reflected on our calendars with each passing day. From His earliest followers through today, His disciples have spent their lives not only worshipping Him but telling others about Him. No celebrity, sports team or artist has had the following of Jesus – nor will there ever be one with a following like Jesus (can Generation Z even name the four Beatles who claimed to be more popular than Jesus?).
The Most Hated Man to have ever Lived
At Christmastime we love to reflect on the birth of Jesus, the gifts of the wisemen and the weary world rejoicing. However, in our celebration, we often gloss over the fact that at His birth, Jesus was hunted. Herod wanted Him dead and killed thousands of baby boys in hopes of killing the long-awaited Messiah.
During His life, He had at least six credible attempts on His life before He was found innocent and crucified anyway.
In the first two centuries after Christ, Christians had to hide their affiliation with Jesus or face persecution, torture and/or death. They used a non-verbal communication of drawing the symbol of the Ichthus (“Christian fish”) in the sand, mud or on cave or jail walls to let other Christians know they weren’t alone.
Since Jesus walked the earth, it is estimated that more than 70 million Christians have been martyred, more than half of those in the 20th century under fascist and communist regimes. It is also estimated that 1 million Christians were killed between 2001 and 2010 and about 900,000 were killed from 2011 to 2020.
More than 2,200 Christians were killed in Nigeria in 2020. Just a few weeks ago, 33 Christians were killed in Nigeria in one week.
Embrace the Divide
Being hated was something Jesus not only took on Himself, but it was something He knew His followers would inherit. “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).
Jesus is a divider. He is oil to the world’s vinegar. For most of our country’s history, Christians have enjoyed a level of comfort like nowhere else in the world. Judeo-Christian morals were agreed upon and the guiding law of the land. However, those days are behind us. Living in a post-Christian culture, the divide between Christians and the world will become more pronounced – allegiances will not be hidden.
The Bible is playing out right before our eyes. This is not the time to go limp, live in fear or believe this shiny world offers anything but destruction. It’s time to graduate from Sunday School Jesus and know every facet of Him — and love Him. Jesus isn’t a beta male, He’s the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He looks at the boxes we try to put Him in and answers resolutely, “I AM.” He will not be mocked, manipulated or controlled. He offers all of Himself but accepts none of the world’s foolery.
Even if you have never considered the offer to follow Jesus as an offer to be divided from the world, it has become apparent that playing both sides is no longer an option. Our headlines are full of outrageous proposed laws, twisted school curriculum, and hatred and violence that are evil personified. There is no middle ground, and it will only get worse. Where will you stand?
“He who is not with me is against me” (Luke 11:23).
Jesus, please forgive us for creating You in the image we want of You. Forgive us for not standing firm with the whole of Who You are. We will be hated for loving You. Please give us strength to endure the hate of the world that hated You first. Any hardship here will fade at the first glimpse when we’re face-to-face with You. Maranatha! Amen.