Jesus, Mr. Nice God

Was Jesus always nice?

OK, so it’s not the deepest theological question we’ve ever tackled here at The Two Cities. But it’s an important one. Because, above all, the world expects Christians to be nice. Forget about holiness, evangelism and social justice. Just be nice.

But if Christians bear any resemblance to Christ (and we should), we won’t always be nice—at least not by man’s standard. Spend a little time with your Bible and you’ll see that Jesus wasn’t always Mr. Nice God.

Think about those poor merchants and moneychangers. “Nice” was the last word on their mind when Jesus stormed into the temple with a whip he’d handcrafted just for them (John 2:15). The house of God never saw such a mess! Tables overturned, coins scattered, pigeon feathers flying. Maybe even a few bruises and black eyes. Jesus was on a mission to glorify God and (unfortunately for the temple janitors) nice had nothing to do with it.

Think about the scribes and Pharisees. They got an earful of those classic Jesus insults: brood of vipers, whitewashed tombs, hypocrites, children of hell. Even Peter, one of the Lord’s closest friends, got slammed with that infamous rebuke “Get behind me, Satan.” Throw out any of these terms today and the world will call you unchristian. Would they have said the same about Jesus?

Think about the churches in the Book of Revelation. You think being spit out of someone’s mouth is a “nice” metaphor? That’s what Jesus said he’d do to the lukewarm church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:16). Or how about the churchgoers in Sardis? He told them they were as good as dead (3:1). And these are the “good” guys! Can’t imagine all the “nice” things he’ll have to say when he throws Satan and his minions into the lake of fire.

Of course, Jesus didn’t get a kick out of being mean, and neither should we. After all, kindness is a fruit of the Spirit. But being nice certainly wasn’t his highest goal. He wasn’t opposed to a redemptive beat down or some sanctified name-calling, especially when God’s glory was at stake. His outbursts and insults and rebukes always had a purpose. These accounts tell us something about God and about ourselves. Like the father who chastises his children, it’s for our good—even if it leaves us a little red in the face.

So no, Jesus wasn’t always nice. Yet the world still expects “nice” to be the distinguishing feature of those who follow Christ. And because we’re people-pleasers, we oblige. Turns out some Christians are even nicer than Jesus. They don’t confront sin, they don’t take a stand on moral issues, they don’t talk about the cross or repentance or atonement. It’s easier to be quiet, to be liked, to be nice.

Not that we should seek to be mean. Paul tells us to speak the truth in love. But what does love sound like? Is it the syrupy Southern drawl of Joel Osteen, or the fiery tenor of Jonathan Edwards? Is it telling unbelievers they’re OK as long as they’re happy, or telling them they’re sinners who need a Savior?

To the world’s ears, love will always sound a little mean. Sharing the gospel requires telling people the bad news first, and that’s never nice. I’m sure the woman at the well wasn’t thrilled when Jesus called her out on her sexual immorality. But it was the truth shared in love that changed her heart, and the hearts of “many Samaritans” (John 4:39).

Like Jesus, we need to risk people thinking we’re mean for the sake of the gospel. Maybe then we’ll start seeing people repent and believe and rejoice and worship—a lot like those Samaritans.

Wouldn’t that be nice!