“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” Jesus, Jn. 15:18
In the previous installment, I made the case that Jesus rejected materialism.
Jesus defended the poor and preached a word of warning to the rich. In his words and actions, Jesus rejected the idol of consumerism. Contrary to the economy of empire, King Jesus seeks to establish a Kingdom on the earth that is about giving and sharing, not taking and accumulating.
In God’s economy, the poor are blessed (Lk 6:20). This aspect of Jesus and his ministry especially threatens those in powerful positions of affluence and privilege. The gospel of Jesus undermines their way of life, and denounces their way of carving up the world for their own personal pleasure.
As I said in the introduction to this blog series, I’m using seven provocative statements as a way of summarizing the radical life and teachings of Jesus as recorded in the NT. It is my deepest desire that the Christian and skeptic alike will come to embrace the true beauty of Christ’s Kingdom, while being ever-mindful of the real cost of discipleship. We must count the cost.
For this is why the world hates Jesus and his good news. And why those who belong to the world system will hate those who choose to follow him.
5. Jesus Challenged Worldly Wisdom
The apostle John writes in his Gospel that Jesus is the logos (Word) of God.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:1-5 NIV
John has in mind two big ideas by referring to Jesus as the logos of God.
In Jewish perspective, Jesus is the Word of God (spoken & written) in human form. No doubt an idea that was (and is) unthinkable to Jews. From a Hellenistic Greek perspective, Jesus is the Wisdom of God—the perfect mind behind the universe. He is transcendent above the material world.
Jesus is also the Wisdom of Proverbs personified (Prov 1:20-33). He is Wisdom in the flesh! The apostle Paul testifies that in Jesus is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:2-3). He is the divine mind.
“Wisdom, God’s blueprint for humans, at last herself becomes human.” N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, pg. 120
The Gospel of John would have us know, from the very beginning, that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Creator of all that is seen and unseen. He came from God, and is God in human form—the invisible made visible.
“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father [God].” Jesus, Jn 14:9b
This is just the evidence you would think all religious people and skeptics would need to repent and believe in the One that God sent in order to make himself known. However, John tells us that Jesus “came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him” (Jn 1:10 NLT).
Why did the world not recognize him? Because God’s wisdom is foolishness to those who refuse to repent of worldly wisdom (1 Cor 1:18).
“Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” Paul, 1 Cor 1:20-21 NIV
The life and ministry of Jesus can certainly be viewed as foolishness.
- Jesus was born of a virgin (Lk 1:26-38),
- Lived in obscurity for most of his life (Lk 2-3),
- He was single with no interest in marriage (Matt 19:29),
- Took up the role of rabbi with no formal education (Jn 1:49; 7:15),
- Rejected by his family and friends (Mk 3:20; Lk 4:14-30),
- He was a wandering homeless man for three years (Lk 9:58),
- Performed miracles and casted out evil spirits (Mk 5:9; Jn 2),
- Forgave sins with the authority of God (Mk 2:5-7),
- Proclaimed that he and God were one and the same (Jn 10:30),
- Emphatically claimed to be the only way to God (Jn 14:6),
- He raised Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11),
- Crucified as a condemned criminal (Lk 23:33; Jn 18:30),
- Followers said he was resurrected in a radical new body (Lk 24),
- Believed he would return to consummate the Kingdom (Matt 24).
“Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Jesus, Matt 11:6
First and foremost, Jesus challenges worldly wisdom with his self-proclaimed divine identity, and heaven-born mission. Jesus’ self-awareness is most clearly expressed in The Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46).
It can’t be denied that Jesus sees himself as the son of the vineyard owner. The son (Jesus) is sent to the tenants (religious leaders) of the vineyard (Israel), after the tenants had already killed others (prophets) the vineyard owner (God) had sent to collect the harvest. The son will also be killed (crucifixion). Jesus then tells his audience that the Kingdom of God will be taken from the religious and given to others that will receive it (v.43).
Jesus not only claimed to be the only begotten (i.e. one of a kind) Son of God that comes to take away the sins of the world (Jn 3:16), he proved that his wisdom was from another place. This wisdom incited hatred.
The leaders of Israel believed Jesus and his followers were dangerous. They made repeated attempts to trap Jesus with their wisdom, but he always confounded them with his wisdom from above (Matt 22:20-22; Jn 8:6).
“Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God.” Paul, 1 Cor 3:18-19 NLT
It wasn’t just his “new teaching” that intimidated the religious leaders (Mk 1:27), it was something more—something they couldn’t quite put their finger on. He seemed to have someone helping him. It appeared to be the power of God, but still they stumbled over their own wisdom and rejected him.
Even the folks back in Nazareth were mystified at his great wisdom and miracle-working. Nevertheless, they hated him for his claims to be the eternal, omniscient Son of God (Matt 13:54; Lk 4:28-30).
And that’s the thing about Jesus, isn’t it? He does not allow anyone to separate his “wise” teachings from his self-identifying claim to be the Lord of the universe. C.S. Lewis said it best in Mere Christianity, pgs 40-41:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Worldly wisdom scoffs at the idea that Jesus is the Messiah—the savior of the world. Those who embrace the wisdom of the world have constructed a system that doesn’t allow for the Creator of the cosmos to make himself known in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
The world today sees faith in Christ as a threat to human progress. The wisdom of God, as expressed in Jesus, and now through his followers, can’t simply be left alone. Jesus challenges the “wisdom of the wise”—religious pluralism, scientific naturalism, and political imperialism.
And he calls for a Kingdom revolution of the heart and mind.
Therefore, God’s wisdom may have it that many of his peaceful followers walk a road of suffering, even death (Lk. 11:49; Rev. 5:10-11).
If they crucified the Son of God for challenging conventional wisdom and cultural expectations, what will they to do those who follow him?
D.D. Flowers, 2013.
Read the next post: 6. Jesus Was Loving and Intolerant.