If what is playing out around us is an epic battle between good and evil, and God is a warrior playing out his part in this war, what then are we to make of Jesus? Who is he, really? What is he up to? Most importantly, can he be trusted?
Most of how we see Jesus is shaped by the artwork that depicts him. In those representations, he is seen as very kind, gentle, loving, and warm. He's usually surrounded by men and women of various ages hanging onto his every word while he sits and teaches them. They are soft images of a man with a groomed beard, long flowing locks of hair, and clean robes. He seems to be very nice.
I am not saying that Jesus isn't kind, loving, or gentle. I am saying that is not all he is. The scriptures depict for us a side of Jesus less talked about in the church, especially among the religious. If we are to really know who Jesus is we must shine some light on those passages to see that he is a warrior. He is dangerous. He is a man on a mission.
And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee. (Mark 1:21-28, ESV)
Jesus has just launched his ministry in the region of Galilee. He proclaims the message of the kingdom of God, and gathers a humble "following". He rolls into town, enters a synagogue, and is met with a demon. He has not healed the first patient, opened the first blind eye, nor resurrected the first corpse. The demon asks, "Have you come to destroy us?" (They know who they are dealing with.) This is warfare, and its happening in "church" of all places. It is the first of many victories. The kingdom of God has come and declared war against darkness.
Okay, I know that one was easy. Jesus was kind and compassionate and set that poor man free. We can even recall from childhood Sunday School the pictures of Jesus carrying a little lamb over his shoulders, or allowing little children to sit on his lap while he teaches them. Yes, he is kind, compassionate, and loving, yet he is fierce to those who oppose him. Another story perhaps.
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. (Luke 13:10-17, ESV)
Are these the actions and words of a nice man? Depends on which character you are. If you are the woman with the disability, his actions were extremely nice. On the other hand, what if you are the ruler of the synagogue? Do you think he came away from this exchange saying, "You know, that Jesus, he's a nice guy!" Not only this, but it says, "all his adversaries were put to shame." Jesus knows this is a hot button topic seeing how he's already faced criticism for healing on the Sabbath, a no-fly-zone for the religious. He picks a fight and he is fierce, bold, and confident even in the face of knowing opposition.
We can't leave out the cleansing of the Temple.
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:13-17, ESV)
Catch the line, "and making a whip of cords". There is a lot going on in this phrase. Jesus walks into the Temple, looks around, and takes note of what is going on. He takes the time to find the materials for a whip, weaves them together, and unleashes the holy fury he's been stewing in for the length of time it took him to fashion the whip. It was all premeditated. Jesus knew what he was doing and he had plenty of time to cool down. This was a planned, ferocious unleash of righteous anger with the scars to prove it.
One last image to brand the mind:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:11-16, ESV)
I don't have much commentary to say about this, but is this the picture of the kind of man that gives us warm fuzzies and makes us feel good about ourselves? Does this describe the nice Jesus we like to talk about in church? Would you elect him to serve on your church's board of directors? Probably not.
Jesus, like his Father, is a warrior. In his coming, he declared war on the demonic. He shamed the religious leaders of the day. He even resorted to more aggressive means against those who would abuse the house of God, the means by which people met God for personal gain. In his second coming, he will come with such might and power that even his appearance will strike fear into the hearts of those that oppose him. Is he not, after all, described as "The Lion of Judah"?! (Revelation 5:5)
Even so, there is still more to Jesus that has yet to be said. How can we trust someone so fierce, wild, and free? To what lengths will Jesus go to gain our trust and win our hearts? Can we be expected to love him--with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? (Mark 12:30) Next time in Part 2!
--"After all, he's not a tame lion." "But he is good." (Mr. Tumnus and Lucy in Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)