by Mike Ratliff
While I was on my Christmas break, I bought and began reading John MacArthur’s 2008 book The Jesus You Can’t Ignore. As I stated in another post, I was in the process of rereading the biography of William Tyndale by David Daniell when I bought and began reading this book. It was as if God was showing me through the persecuted life of William Tyndale that he “got it” about the life of Jesus Christ and recognized that, no matter the cost, he had to obey Him in all things. He took on the entrenched religious system of the Roman Catholic Church and the state church of Henry VIII contemporaneous with the Reformation begun with Martin Luther. Then, as I began reading The Jesus You Can’t Ignore, God showed me that our example is indeed Christ and if we are ministering according to the seeker sensitive, politically correct, Church growth methods then we are actually being friends of this world and not obedient to our true calling to walk and serve according to our Lord’s perfect example.
John MacArthur states in the Prologue:
The way Jesus dealt with His adversaries is in fact a serious rebuke to the church of our generation. We need to pay more careful attention to how Jesus dealt with false teachers, what He thought of religious error, how He defended the truth, whom He commended and whom He condemned—and how little He actually fit the gentle stereotype that is so often imposed on Him today.
Furthermore, His attitude toward false doctrine should also be ours. We cannot be men-pleasers and servants of Christ at the same time.
That is the thesis of this book. We’re going to move chronologically through the gospel accounts of how Jesus handled the religious elite if Israel. We’ll look at how He spoke to individuals, how He responded to organized opposition, how He preached to multitudes, and what He taught His own disciples. The practical lesson regarding how we should conduct ourselves in the presence of false religion is consistent throughout: corruptions of vital biblical truth are not to be trifled with, and the purveyors of different gospels are not to be treated benignly by God’s people. On the contrary, we must take the same approach to false doctrine that Jesus did, by refuting the error, opposing those who spread the error, and contending earnestly for the faith.1
As I completed this book I went back and reread these words and I want to share with you that I agree completely with John MacArthur’s thesis in this book and I believe he did a fine job of giving us the truth about our Lord that is so often suppressed in our day in which He is presented as one who would never seek to offend anyone no matter the topic, et cetera. However, the Word of God clearly shows the opposite. While our Lord was always ready to receive those whose hearts were broken over their sin who saw that they desperately needed a Saviour and came to Him for that instead of seeking to be more religious, He was also very quick and succinct in His rebuke of those entrenched, religious leaders who were more in love with their position and the money it brought them than in obeying God’s truth.
The chapter titled “A Midnight Interview” dealt with our Lord’s interaction with Nicodemus found in John 3. Here is an excerpt of some of MacArthur’s commentary and analogies between the corruption in the religious system of our Lord’s day and that of our own.
Let’s face it: the idea that the entire human race is fallen and condemned is simply too harsh for most people’s tastes. They would rather believe that most people are fundamentally good. Virtually ever popular arbiter of our culture’s highest, noblest values—from Oprah Winfrey to the Hallmark Channel—tells us so constantly. All we need to do, they say, is cultivate our underlying goodness, and we can fix everything wrong with human society. That’s not terribly different from what the Pharisees believed about themselves.
But Scripture says otherwise. We are hopelessly corrupted by sin. All who do not have Christ as Lord and Savior are in bondage to evil, condemned by a just God, and bound for hell. Jesus not only strongly implied those very things in his opening words to Nicodemus; before He had finished fully explaining the gospel that evening, He made His meaning explicit: “He who does not believe is condemned already” (John 3:18).2
MacArthur shows in the chapter “Hard Preaching” that the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5,6 & 7, as well as the Bread of Life Discourse, John 6, were some very hard preaching directed precisely at the false religion of the Scribes and Pharisees and those who followed them. He closed this chapter with a subchapter titled “Not A Tame Preacher.” Here is an excerpt:
Before we wrap up this chapter, it’s worth pausing to consider how Jesus’ preaching might come across if He spoke that way in a stadium filled with typical twenty-first-century evangelicals. Because let’s be candid: Jesus’ style of preaching was nothing at all like most of the popular preaching we hear today—and His style of preaching isn’t likely to generate the kind of enthusiastic arm waving and feel-good atmosphere today’s Christians typically like to see at their mass meetings and outdoor music festivals.3
MacArthur does a fine job of moving through the Gospels and chronologically shows how the hostility towards our Lord, which began quietly and covertly, increased continually until the Jewish religious leaders, even though they knew our Lord spoke the truth, looked for a way to kill Him so they would not lose their own place. Our Lord knew all this, but it did not cause Him to back away, to seek common ground, to have peace with His enemies, the enemies of the truth, no matter the cost. Of course, this is exactly the model of so many of the false teachers and preachers of our day. However, the model for how we are to minister and walk before the face of God in this life is our Lord Himself.
But as we have seen consistently from the very start, the truth mattered more to Jesus than how people felt about it. He wasn’t looking for ways just to make people “like” Him; he was calling people who were willing to bow to Him unconditionally as their Lord. He wasn’t interested in reinforcing the “common-ground” beliefs where His message overlapped with the Pharisee’s worldview. On the contrary, He stressed (almost exclusively) the points on which He disagreed with them. He never acted as if the best way to turn people away from damnable heresies of Pharisee-religion was to make His message sound as much as possible like the popular beliefs of the day. Instead, He stressed (and reiterated again and again) the points of doctrine that were most at odds with the conventional wisdom of Pharisaism.
His strategy frankly would not have been any more welcome in the typical twenty-first-century evangelical gathering than it was right there in the Sanhedrin’s backyard.4
My brethren, I was able to read this book in a couple of weeks, but did most of it over the last 5 or 6 days. I highly recommend this book to you. It is well written and the flow follows precisely the ministry of our Lord and shows how He was “in the face” of the religious hypocrites of His day continually. He would not back down. He would never back away from the truth no matter how offended some became because of it. He was not in a popularity contest.
I was blessed in reading this book because, as I read it, God confirmed in my heart that the Jesus I know and love, my Lord and Saviour, was not a people pleaser. He was not a compromiser about anything. He was God in person. He came as a Man on a specific mission and accomplished it precisely. His enemies killed Him, but even in this, God used this to lay on Him the sins of all for whom He died. He paid the price for their sins. He is their propitiation. All who, therefore, believe the Gospel and receive Him as Lord and Saviour, because they are regenerate, are forgiven of their sins. They have saving faith and their new nature enables them to walk in repentance for the rest of their lives.
Soli Deo Gloria!
1John MacArthur, The Jesus You Can’t Ignore (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2008), xv-xvi.