Christianity 201

February 26, 2011

Selwyn Hughes on the Hard Sayings of Jesus

” ‘Where then did this man get all these things?’ And they took offence at him.”  ~ Matthew 13: 56-67 

So many churches proclaim only half the gospel — the attractive half. It is true that our Lord is risen from the dead and offers peace, joy, and the promise of heaven to those who believe, but there is another side to the gospel — a side which regrettably in some sections of the Church is being played down.

I refer to some of our Lord’s sayings which seem to turn general ideas about life on their head, like dying in order to live, losing in order to find, going down in order go up, freedom in the midst of slavery, success through failure, and so on. Many Christians sidestep these issues and focus instead on more appealing ideas, like the prosperity gospel, healing for all, obtaining heaven now, etc.  When we ignore what have been called “the hard sayings of Jesus,” we end up with a form of Christianity that has little cutting edge and is devoid of power. Focusing only only on the attractive part of the gospel may fill the pews, but it leaves the heart half empty.

Now, as the more appealing truths of the gospel — comfort, rest, peace, joy, etc. — are so widely known and so well expounded, we need not make them our focus.  …Meditate with me on the less appealing but equally important truths, the knowledge of which will add depth and meaning to our discipleship. Someone has said that “it is only as we grapple that we grow.”

I think one reason the less attractive things are ignored or overlooked is because the hard sayings of Jesus contain thoughts and ideas that challenge our self-centeredness and cut deep into our carnal nature. Indeed, so contrary are our Lord’s principles to fallen human nature that at times they appear downright offensive. Take this for example: “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matt 8:22). Or this statement made to the Syro-phoenician woman: “Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27 RSV). These hard sayings of Jesus (and there are many more) present us with tough issues that we have to wrestle with in order to fully comprehend them.

Those who prefer to settle for a comfortable kind of religion prefer what theologians call “the comfortable words of the gospel,” such as “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). What we must learn however is that in grappling with the seemingly hard and offensive sayings of Christ, we come up against important issues which strike at those things which encumber our lives and prevents us from being the kind of disciples Christ wants us to be. If we refuse to face these issues then, although we may call ourselves Christians, we cannot really call ourselves disciples.

~Selwyn Hughes, Every Day With Jesus (Sept 1/2 readings, 1992)