“One of the great lies of our time is to suppose that because Jesus brings forgiveness, and urges us to be forgiving people, meek, and gentle, there is no sharp edge to his message. To hear some people, you’d think the whole of the Christian message was simply a call to accept one another, never to judge another person.”
N.T. Wright, Lent for Everyone, Matthew, Year A
Personally, if I had to pick one word to sum up Jesus Christ (and the Bible, and the Christian faith for that matter), it would be ‘veracity’—partly because Jesus called Himself “the truth” in John 14:6. We’re dealing with the truth when we’re dealing with Jesus. Really.
Certainly as much as any other Gospel writer, Matthew gives us a fully-developed, true picture of Jesus Christ and His message—and it’s not the saccharine depiction many people make it out to be (just wait until we get to chapter 23!). But Matthew is also a synoptic Gospel, ending with the Great Commission: to make disciples and baptize in the name of our triune God.
So…just how are we to present the Gospel (which is Old English for “good news”) in carrying out the Great Commission? Do we represent Jesus as loving us no matter what, forgiving all our shortcomings, and able to give us the good life we ask for—or is there more going on with Jesus?
On one hand, Jesus said in Matthew 11 that he is gentle and lowly in heart, and that he will give us rest for our souls. Sounds great, but in Matthew’s verses right before that claim, Jesus condemns an entire town to Hell. Jude, the Lord’s half-brother, wrote passionately in his New Testament letter that we are to contend earnestly for the faith, and he provided harsh warnings and condemnations for those who do not adhere to the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” So how do we contend for the faith?
If you seek to follow Jesus Christ, you will find yourself constantly in contention. But we are not called to fight with harsh words or criticism—we are called to fight with love, compassion, understanding, and gentleness and respect, just as Jesus modeled for us. If you find yourself being contentious, it might help to remember that Matthew noted that Jesus was a friend to sinners.
In many respects it’s a matter of understanding things in the proper order, and appreciating that God works through processes. He doesn’t just poof everything into place immediately. The way we understand the Gospel, is not necessarily the way we are to present the Gospel. Too many of us proceed with “ready, FIRE, aim.” Dump the whole truck, right now. However, like Matthew, we need to have some street smarts. We need situational awareness and we need to follow the model of the apostle Paul. This isn’t a sales approach. The Great Commission is not about selling—it’s about making disciples.
One of the things I really appreciate from this N.T. Wright study is discovering a new voice to add to my devotional life. New voices, the Gospel of Matthew, how to present the Gospel?—here’s a rap video to land the plane. It’s about as good a presentation of the Gospel as I have come across.