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Opposition to Jesus began not long after his birth. We read in Matthew that in order to try to ensure the death of Jesus, Herod the Great ordered the murder of all of the newborn boys in Bethlehem up to two years of age (Matthew 2). Opposition from religious leaders began early in Jesus’ ministry, and eventually brought about His death. Today there seems to be no shortage of people who want to erase Jesus’ Name from the earth. Yet, never was such opposition less deserved.
Jesus did not present a military threat to the Herods, nor did He to the Roman rulers of His time. Jesus never opposed the use of force to maintain order in society; never opposed the right to self-defense. At the same time, Jesus never took up a sword against anyone, and He never encouraged His followers to engage in warfare to build the Kingdom of God (John 18:36). The most common activity of Jesus, other than teaching, was healing the sick. He did not incite His followers to cruelty against their enemies or against those who disagreed with them, but taught His followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44, cf. Luke 9:51-56). Peter summarized Jesus’ ministry by saying “He went about doing good and healing” (Acts 10:38). When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, it was not because it was compelled to make it so by armed force.
Opposition to Jesus is great today, even two thousand years after His death. In many places around the world, Christians are persecuted, imprisoned, and put to death. Churches are burned and Christians are attacked. In many places teaching or praying in His Name is considered a crime. Even in the United States, the effort to remove His Name from public life is intense, and even, at times, extreme. There is an effort by some to remove any vestige of Christanity from public life. Recently a Christian chaplain was forced to leave the United States Navy because he prayed, according to his Christian faith, in the Name of Jesus.
False charges were brought against Jesus and His followers in the 1st century A.D., and there is no shortage of them today. Many people who oppose Jesus seem determined to make their voices heard louder and longer than faithful Christians; even though people who love and serve Jesus come from every walk of life — including many with advanced academic degrees. Many people consider it essential to distribute a message against Jesus before those who follow Him have a chance to explain who He is and what He taught. Eccentric and misguided individuals are held up as representative of all Christians, and Christians are made scapegoats for the problems of the past.
Certainly Jesus’ followers have not always acted perfectly, and they have not always represented Him wisely or well. But Christians, on the whole, have served society well, doing much more good than harm. Respect for people of all races and genders, the abolition of slavery, democratic government, and great educational and humanitarian efforts have arisen due to the efforts of Christians. Devout Christians bring honesty, industry, integrity, love of neighbor, and love of family to society. Given this, what accounts for the strong opposition to Jesus and His followers?
It seems that may people today oppose Jesus for the same reason Herod did: out of fear — fear of the loss of control. That may be a legitimate concern at times. But in Herod’s case, and for so many today, the control they are worried about losing is the illegitimate control of other people’s lives. Jesus spoke out against that which is demeaning to people. He came to bring all people a certain kind of life — the kind of life that is fulfilling in the fullest sense — life lived as God intended it to be lived. Jesus said “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Many of the people who oppose Jesus are “thieves;” they want to take away from people the right to understand and know who Jesus is and what He has to offer them. And they often do this by piling up false and misleading charges against Jesus and His followers just as they did two thousand years ago. Their purpose is to make it unacceptable to listen to Jesus.
The question needs be asked, if Jesus is not worth listening to, how has He gathered such a large and diverse following over the past two-thousand years? And while the fact that something or someone is opposed doesn’t in any way prove that what is opposed is good, the strength of the opposition to Jesus — and the fact that it is so often a hysterical, paranoid opposition — begs the question of why Jesus is opposed so strongly. When Herod tried to kill Jesus, he admitted by his actions that there was something important about Jesus. It is worth considering that the “overkill” of those who oppose Him in our time may also indicate that there is something about Jesus worth looking at after all. In too many cases, opposition to the teachings of Jesus is a matter of personal opinion and bias by people who accuse Christians of “railroading” people while they, themselves, work hard to “railroad” people past Jesus and His teachings. But, the wisest know that in the greater issues in life ignorance can be costly. Today, as two thousand years ago, it is worth judging Jesus for Himself, and not for the reputation His enemies try to pin on Him. And, Jesus does have some important things to say to everyone who takes the time to consider and understand what He really taught.
The teachings of Jesus offer a perspective on life that is unique among the religions and belief systems of the world. Seldom, it seems, is the energy placed upon criticizing Christianity leveled against other religions and philosophies. If that were done, Christianity would look far different from when it is singled out for disparagement. For example, people who take the point of view called "naturalism" say that all there is to the universe — and, therefore, all there is to you — is the material of the universe: matter and energy. But, Jesus teaches that there is more (Matthew 10:29, 30; Luke 12:6, 7). Jesus teaches that what you are is something valuable, and that you, as a person, have a future that begins here and stretches into eternity. There is a sense of mystery about the universe that suggests that it is more than dust and moisture. And you almost certainly believe that you are more important than a sophisticated collection of chemicals. In that context, the words of Jesus carry the promise of an answer to the sense of worth that everyone seeks for themselves and their loved ones (Romans 5:8). And it is an offer to everyone, not just a few — an offer that comes to you.
Having said this, Jesus did not offer an easy way. Those who follow Jesus will share the opposition of the world. And Jesus challenges every person on the earth to face up to their weaknesses and to admit that there is something broken about human beings that only their Creator can fix (2 Corinthians 5:14-21). He encourages everyone to accept the work of God in their lives; to humbly accept the fellowship, instruction, and aid of God today; and to live by the promise that as we follow Him He will make us into what God meant each of us to be (Matthew 7:24-29; Titus 2:11-14).
Herod the Great acted as if he was about to be victimized by Jesus when, in reality, it was he who planned to make Jesus the victim. In this respect, as it was then, so it is today. We hear the voices of so many claiming to be “damaged” by the Gospel of Jesus Christ when, in reality, it is they who would cast Jesus from the public square, from the minds of those who have learned so much from Him, and from the hearts of those who love Him. It will not work. For, as it was with Herod, so it is now: Jesus came to stay, He is still with us, and He will continue to be with us. He is the one Person that, ultimately, no one can avoid, because He is the chosen One of God, the “Christ” or “Anointed One” of God, who represents God in the world (John 1:14-18). Thus, while always opposed, Jesus is always worth listening to. Looking past the opposition to the Jesus who was born into a hostile world, lived for others, died for you, and lives today will reveal the Person who deserves your love even as He has shown His love for you (1 John 4:9, 10). -SMD
The American Night Watch Mid-Watch Report is an occasional publication of The American Night Watch Christian ministry in support of Scriptural Christianity and Scriptural holiness.
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This page was last updated December 20, 2007.