The offence of the Gospel
I recently took part in a simulation where I pretended to be from a closed country. Participants, mostly teenagers, came through the pretend market and were supposed to tell me about Jesus.
During the simulation I had many different encounters – some better, some worse. For some, it seemed to be difficult to explain the Gospel in a meaningful way to someone who did not know it already. Others had great approaches and told me the Good News in a way that really spoke into my life. Many were very creative. Some were very sensitive towards me as a person, towards my background, thoughts and beliefs, while others didn’t consider any of that and it felt like they were smashing ‘the truth’ into my face. Yup, that’s really how it felt, I actually felt quite offended at times.
In postmodern Europe, talking about our faith and beliefs in Jesus can be offensive too. Talking about He who is the way, the truth, and the life, John 14:6, is offensive to a society that believes nothing and no one is, or knows, the ultimate truth. When I speak with a friend who has been taught to let everyone believe whatever they want, it is difficult to say that Jesus is the one way to an everlasting life. If you say that to someone from a different religion, it is equally difficult, because everything she knows and believes tells her something different. Difficult, and maybe offensive.
The message of Gospel can be offensive. Of course, to Christians, it doesn’t sound offensive because we believe in it. But depending on the other person, the message can come across as offensive.
In fact, that was already the case in Jesus’ day. He didn’t fit into what the Jews believed as truth. Jesus rebelled against their beliefs, their system, their social order and their culture.
He talked to a Samaritan woman. He ate with tax collectors, let Himself be touched by unclean women and had His feet washed by a sinner.
Not only did He mingle with those who were considered the scum of society, He also went against their traditions and beliefs. He healed on the Sabbath and challenged cultural views of the Holy day. He threatened systems, religion and politics.
Just as those teenagers sometimes blindly challenged what I ‘believed’ and boldly proclaimed Jesus as Saviour, did Jesus stand for what was true and right. But Jesus did not act blindly. He revealed Himself to people who could see and understand. Before crowds, He often spoke in parables. With people, He spoke into their situation, with analogies that they would understand. Sometimes, He simply lived it. And through it all, He revolutionized the world. He lived a story that is known by billions of people all over the world, all these years later.
That story, the Gospel, might still be offensive to many people today. It might be against what they know as truth. It might be against their culture, their systems or their beliefs. As Christians, we sometimes need to be offensive, too. But like Jesus, we need to be smart and sensitive about it. We need to speak in a way others will understand, need to approach people in a context they know. If they are not ready to listen, we should simply live it, and through that, we will revolutionize the world.