Whether Jesus was the meek and mild infant on that silent night, we will never know, but one thing is for sure, he wasn’t when he grew up. Frankly, Jesus was a tough SOB, and he didn’t mince words:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
You have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering.
You are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.
You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.
You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?
How can you, being evil, speak what is good?
You fools and blind men!
Although Pharisees are mentioned early on, Jesus didn’t keep his insults only to the Pharisees. He also insulted scribes, lawyers, elders and priests. We know that he was actually insulting and not just using a hard form of speech, but was polite, because when he was lashing out on the scribes, a lawyer responded, “You know that when you say these things you insult us too?” Jesus then started to say even more insulting things to the lawyers.
We could gather together some rules about insulting people from Jesus’ usage:
- Jesus only spoke to people who were supposed to be speaking or living out God’s will
- Jesus spoke to their face, not behind their backs.
- Jesus’ insults were never general, but specific and he gave reasons for each word he used.
I am not writing this with the intent of us “insulting as Jesus did” although I figure that would be a pretty popular blog post. Rather, I want us to pay attention to who Jesus is insulting, and why he was doing this.
Let’s face it. Jesus was being judgmental. He was condemning these people, declaring them to be unfit for the kingdom of God. Actually, Jesus was saying something deeper than that: he was saying that these men were only fit for hell. Which is amazing, actually. Not only because Jesus told us not to judge, but he has some pretty tough things to say about judging.
Do not judge so that you will not be judged.
In the way you judge, you will be judged.
Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.
And Jesus says specifically it is not his purpose to judge:
For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world
You judge according to the flesh; I am not judging anyone.
(But then Jesus gives himself a loophole: But even if I do judge, My judgment is true... As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. Jesus can judge because the Father gives him the judgments to give, and he knows the motivations of people’s hearts.)
Even so, Jesus speaks of forgiveness as the opposite of judgment, and, if anything, his words about forgiveness are even harsher than his words on judgment:
If you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.
Okay, that’s pretty harsh.
And that’s Jesus’ point. The issue between judgment and forgiveness is very serious. God is love and his grace and mercy is over all people. And whoever is not on board with grace and forgiveness isn’t a part of him. God’s judgment will ultimately be against those who judge.
So why does Jesus say harsh, judging things to people? Isn’t he breaking his own rule?
This is where it is interesting. Who are the people Jesus are judging? What reasons does he give for these judging insults?
- He judges people who oppress the poor “You devour widows houses.”
- He judges people who condemn others
- He judges people who claim to be God’s spokesmen, but speak hatred and judgment
- He judges people who shut people out of heaven by having them think that they aren’t good enough
Yes, that’s right. Jesus only judges people who judge. He withholds forgiveness only from those who will not forgive. Jesus is giving a taste of the final judgment, when all those who reject others from God’s presence will be rejected by God.
Jesus doesn’t condemn sinners, people who have broken Jesus’ law again and again. He only condemns those who condemn.
Jesus doesn’t insult those who led a life of weakness and sin. He welcomes and encourages them. He condemns those who, in God’s name, pushed people out of God’s house, pushed people out of God’s presence, and pushed people away from God’s salvation.
Why is the church not like this? Because they are too busy being concerned to create a community, instead of inviting the unwanted back into God’s presence. The church is trying too hard to create a perfect, quiet, encouraged, enthusiastic group of Christians instead of the church that Jesus wants: a church made up of those who the church doesn’t want.
Especially as church leaders, let’s remember this:
- When we first push someone out of our church because they are disruptive or aren’t the kind of person we want;
- when we call the police on the homeless people who are sleeping on our property;
- when we reject an ethnic church from using our facility because they don’t have enough money to pay our required rent;
- the next time we condemn people as hellbound because they are attracted to the wrong sex or because they've done things we don't approve
… then Jesus is speaking to us: “Hypocrites, fools, brood of vipers.”