Jesus was the most complex man who ever lived; and he was FAR MORE confrontational than most people realize. At times he was very tender, like when he forgave the woman caught in adultery (John 8). At other times he was very combative, like when he turned over the tables in the temple (Matt. 21; John 2). He spoke with perfect grace, and he spoke with perfect judgment. None of us could ever live in the perfect way that Jesus did. Of course, during his earthly life, he was nothing less than “God in the flesh.” His divine nature obviously set him apart from the rest of humanity. He was not a “created” man, but rather “all things were created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16) Jesus is eternal. He has always been. We are created. We are mortal. Which is why we need a relationship with him to be forgiven and saved. And it is why we examine his earthly life and character to see how we should live.
In one regard, we are called to imitate Christ. In another regard, we should never try. We SHOULD imitate his character. We CANNOT imitate his divine authority. Yet we do try to live under his divine authority and emulate his love, mercy, grace, and truth to the world around us.
Perhaps the most neglected, ignored, and unknown aspect of Jesus's character was his confrontational style. While he was very tender and gracious to some, he was also very critical of others. Modern people love the “gentle as a lamb” Jesus. But most don't even know the “fierce as a lion” Jesus. Yet both analogies aptly describe him. Jesus was not afraid to speak the truth. And to do so, “to your face.” This is most clearly seen in his numerous confrontations with the Jewish Pharisees.
The Pharisees were a Jewish sect that was widely considered to be the most “holy” of all Jews. Fiercely legalistic, they openly paraded their so-called righteousness in front of crowds, so as to be bragged upon. They legitimately thought themselves to be better than others, and their arrogance was breath-taking at times. You might think that the “average” Jews would be able to see through this hypocrisy; but most could not. They revered the Pharisees and they were intimidated by them. Jesus was not.
Jesus taught in parables for many different reasons. Sometimes he specifically taught in mysterious parables so that people WOULD NOT understand. Jesus told the disciples this himself, saying that his cryptic teachings were only understood by those to whom understanding has been “given to.” When he gives the interpretation to the parable of the sower, he tells the disciples that they are “blessed” in being told this mystery. In other words, it's not that they are more intelligent than others; but that God has chosen to “reveal” truth to them that he doesn't give to others. (Matt. 13:10-16)
Jesus sometimes taught in parables to teach his disciples a spiritual truth. In Matthew 22, he gives the parable of the wedding feast and opens the story by saying, “The kingdom of Heaven can be compared to...” He is teaching the disciples a spiritual truth through the analogous story. Yet sometimes when Jesus spoke in parables, his enemies knew full well what he was saying. The gospel of Matthew records: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet.” (Matthew 21:45-46)
In his parables against the Pharisees, Jesus compared them to wicked workers who killed their boss's son (Matt. 21:33-44). He compared them to arrogant wedding invitees, who refused to come to the King's banquet (Matt. 22:1-14). And he repeatedly compared them to disobedient sons who treated their father with contempt (Matt. 21:28-32; Luke 15:11-32). When he spoke against the Jews, he also spoke in favor of gentiles who possessed faith. Jesus made it abundantly clear, that all were sinners by nature; that no one deserved salvation, regardless of their bloodline; and that only believers would enter the kingdom. Sinners are saved by grace, through faith; and legalistic, self-righteousness was a broad road that led to Hell. And Jesus did not shy away from telling the Pharisees this in very descriptive ways.
Jesus not only confronted the Jews with parables, he also confronted them with direct arguments. When we read through the gospels, we find Jesus calling them “hypocrites, blind guides, white-washed tombs, Sons of the Devil, evil, stumbling blocks, brood of vipers, and wicked.” Many today would accuse him of being too confrontational, combative, and insulting. Some would say he was engaging in petulant “name-calling.” Yet the Bible presents Jesus as the sinless Son of God. He wasn't petulant, he was brutally honest. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a person is to take off the “kid gloves” and tell them the plain truth. Jesus did this to perfection. But even in his own day, he was accused of being too harsh. After giving some of his famous “Woe unto you Pharisees” statements, the gospel of Luke records:“One of the lawyers said to Him in reply, 'Teacher, when You say this, You insult us too.' But He said, 'Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them.'” (Luke 11:45-47)
Amazingly, rather than recant and apologize, Jesus speaks even MORE forcefully and pointedly. When the “lawyer” (an expert in the Mosaic Law), tries to get Jesus to “tone it down” – Jesus moves from a general criticism of “Pharisees” to a specific criticism of the very lawyer who is confronting him. In other words, he points out the man's faults, to his face. Say what you will about Jesus, he was certainly not a coward.
On yet another occasion, Jesus's disciples tell him that he is insulting the Pharisees. They seem to think that Jesus is oblivious to how harsh his language is. And they say to him: “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matt. 15:12-14) Jesus knew full well that he offended the Pharisees. In fact, that was his intent. And when his opponents, or the crowds, or even his own disciples were aghast at his words, Jesus merely spoke more loudly and more direct. He didn't water down the confrontation, he fanned the flames of confrontation. Truth doesn't need to apologize. And Jesus never apologized for speaking the truth. Yet truth, often offends people in a world where they are accustomed to dishonest “niceties.” Those who speak the truth and are shouted down usually cower and submit. Even when people know they're right, they often resort to “group-think” and allow themselves to be intimidated and silenced by the ignorant and evil masses. But sometimes rare individuals come along who refuse to be silenced. This is true in a Biblical sense (e.g., Jesus). It is true in a historical sense (e.g., Martin Luther). And it is even true in a political sense (e.g., Donald Trump). Luther was correct far less than Jesus; and Trump is correct far less than both. But the common thread in such people is that they refuse to shut up, when they believe they are in the right. Though mortals like Luther and Trump may at times be wrong; their courage in the midst of opposition is both rare and commendable. When Luther refused to recant of his Biblical beliefs at the Diet of Worms, Christians should have taken notice. Likewise when Trump confronted Hillary Clinton in a debate over the evils of partial-birth abortion. Instead, such brave acts are often decried, even by Christians, as being too brash and confrontational. Still, someone must stand up to the bullies of the world; and often times the one who does this will be accused of being a bully himself. But bullying a bully is righteous. Jesus and the Pharisees teach us this quite clearly. When someone refuses to back down and actually speaks LOUDER rather than shutting up --- many will despise him, and seek his destruction. The world hates the truth, in all forms. And relishes dishonesty, and sometimes Christians get sucked into this thinking as well. But we should not encourage the world's lying tongues or be brow-beaten by their threats. Jesus certainly wasn't.
Which leads me to one final thought. Though we should seek to emulate Jesus's character, we must also realize that we never will perfectly be able to do this. Jesus had the ability to know exactly when to speak, what to say, and how to say it. But we are prone to sin with our words. We should not shy away from “calling a spade, a spade” but we must also seek to “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15) Admittedly, this is not easy to do at times; so we must daily rely upon the Lord and try to be discerning in what we say. We must not let our emotions govern us; and we must not lose control. Yet, at the same time; we must not be muzzled and shy away from honesty. Hypocrites should be called hypocrites. Blind guides should be called blind guides. Jesus once called King Herod a fox (Luke 13:32). There's no reason why we shouldn't do likewise when our “governing authorizes” warrant it. Speaking the truth is not a sin. Jesus did it better than anyone. Let us therefore, “go and do likewise.”