Do yourself a favor: get a red-letter Bible and read through just the words of Christ. Notice what he says about his own message. He talks about those who rejected him when he ministered and predicted that we would also be persecuted for sharing the same message. Christ said that he came to cause division, and that those who would follow him would have to give up everything.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
(Matthew 10:34-39 ESV)
In his book Hard to Believe: The High Cost and Infinite Value of Following Jesus, John MacArthur comments not only on passages where Jesus gives these warnings, but makes solid points about how if we are sharing the message that Christ proclaimed and the truth that he died to make reality, then we are guaranteed to experience rejection. If this is true, then the gospel of Jesus Christ must stand in sharp contract to the message of American churches that bring in people by the thousands in an upbeat, relevant, and relaxed atmosphere where what is taught is an “Oprah-esque” message of how to make the most of life.
In recent weeks much controversy has been raised about Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins. In the promotional video released ahead of this new volume, Bell comments about the message of Christ and it being difficult and unpalatable to people. He essentially says that because it is difficult to swallow, people reject it. In distinct echoes of Charles Finney, it would seem that Bell wants to make the message kinder, gentler, and sweeter with a dash of Mary Poppins. Oddly enough, part of being “hard to believe” is that in order to believe we must first take the painful steps of becoming aware of our need for a savior. As is often said, not until sin be better will the gospel be sweet. To make the gospel easier to digest, in Bell’s perspective, means helping people side-step their sin, their condemnation, and make it something wholely other, which also becomes something other than the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Not only is the gospel sure to cause offense, but it is also “hard to believe” because it is just that. The message of the God of the universe loving us so much that he would come to earth in the flesh to reconcile us to himself and alleviate us of the obligation to follow his law is unfathomable to even those who believe.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
(1 Corinthians 1:18-31 ESV)
Let’s be honest: rejection is no sign that the message that you proclaim is in line with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet it is very apparent that from the teaching of the New Testament, that if people all over the world, of every religion welcome you with open arms, you may want to reevaluate what you are teaching.
It is the simple fact that it is hard to believe that makes the message so believable. This is not a story that someone made up centuries ago. The witnesses gave their lives for the message that they proclaimed. They were eye-witnesses to the fulfillment of promises that God made thousands of years before, promises to send a Redeemer who would set the world right, free his people from their sin, and rebuild their broken relationship. It is a historic story grounded in a written account that is supported with archeological evidence.
And yet, even people who saw the resurrected Christ ascend into heaven doubted what they witnessed.
This is a story that is most assuredly hard to believe. Will you?