Hard Sayings of Jesus by FF Bruce


  • Many of those who listened to Jesus during His public ministry found some of His sayings ‘hard’, and said so.
  • Many of those who read His sayings today, or hear them read in church, also find them hard, but do not always think it fitting to say so.
  • It is all too easy to believe in a Jesus who is largely a construction of our own imagination—an inoffensive person whom no one would really trouble to crucify.
  • But the Jesus whom we meet in the Gospels, far from being an inoffensive person, gave offense right and left.
  • For to us there are two kinds of hard saying: there are some which are hard to understand and there are some which are only too easy to understand.
  • Mark Twain spoke for many when he said that the things in the Bible that bothered him were not those that he did not understand but those that he did understand.
  • The better we understand them, the harder they are to take.
  • Perhaps, similarly, this is why some religious people show such hostility to modern versions of the Bible: these versions make the meaning plain, and the plain meaning is unacceptable.
  • Jesus did not go about mouthing pious platitudes; had He done so, He would not have made as many enemies as He did.
Mark 10:21—“You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
·         The man to whom these words were spoken certainly found them hard.  He was the rich man who came to Jesus and asked what he should do to inherit eternal life.
·         The man plainly expected Jesus to say something more than He did (Lev. 18:5).  
·         Yet his question to Jesus suggests that behind a façade of security there was a heart which had lost much of its security.  Concerned with the dimensions of his own piety, he had lost his delight in God with the result that he lacked the approval of God.
·         And something more that the rich man waited for came quickly: “There is one thing you have not done, and you can do it now: sell your property, give the poor the money you get for it, and come and join my disciples.  You will get rid of the burden of material goods, and you will be laying up treasure in heaven.”
·         The one thing he lacks is the self-sacrificing devotion which characterizes every true follower of Jesus.
·         Jesus summons in this context means that true obedience to the Law is rendered ultimately in discipleship.
·         But the man found this too hard to accept.
·         His tragic decision to turn away reflects a greater love for his possessions than for life.
·         But this does not mean that keeping the commandment is the duty of all, whereas giving all their goods to feed the poor is the privilege of those who would attain a higher level of devotion.
·         Matthew’s wording might be rendered: “If you want to go the whole way in fulfilling the will of God, this is what you must do.”
·         Paul reminds us that even giving all our goods to feed the poor is worthless without love in the heart (1 Cor. 13:3).
·         It is true that those who joined Jesus’ company and went around with Him as His disciples appear to have left all to follow Him.  
·         But what of those friends by whose generosity maintained—those well-to-do women who, as they Luke tells us, “provided for them out of their means” (Luke 8:3).  They were not asked to make the sacrifice that our rich man was asked to make; it might be said, of course that they were doing something of the same kind by supplying Jesus and the twelve out of their resources.
·         No pressure was put on Zacchaeus to make his spontaneous announcement: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor” (Luke 19:8).  Jesus recognized him as a “son of Abraham” in the true sense, a man of faith.  But Jesus did not tell him to get rid of the other half of his goods as well, nor did He suggest that he should quit his tax-collecting and join His company, as Matthew had done.  
·         Even so, Jesus’ advice to the rich man is by no means isolated; it is a regular feature of His teachings.  The same note is struck in words appearing without a narrative context in Luke 12:33-34.  
·         Matthew also includes the same message in his version of the Sermon of the Mount (Matthew 6:19-21), in a rhythmical form which may have been designed for easy memorizing.  If an attempt is made to turn these words from the Greek into the Aramaic in which they were spoken, they display not only poetical rhythm but even rhyme.  
·         Experience shows that some wealthy men and women have promoted the Kingdom of God above their worldly concerns—that they have, indeed, used their worldly concerns for the promotion of His Kingdom.  But experience also shows that their number is very small.
·         There is something about concentration on material gain which not only encroaches on the time and energy that might otherwise be devoted to the interests of the Kingdom of God; it makes one less concerned about those interests, less disposed to pay attention to them.
·         Jesus was stating a law of life when He said that where one’s treasure is, there the heart will be also.
Luke 14:26—If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”
·         This is a hard saying in more senses than one: it is hard to accept and it is hard to reconcile it with the general teaching of Jesus.
·         What does it mean?  It means that, just as property can come between us and the Kingdom of God, so can family ties.  The interests of God’s kingdom must be paramount with the followers of Jesus, and everything else must take second place to them, even family ties.
·         A man or woman might be so bound up by family ties as to have no time or interest for matters of even greater moment, and there could be no matter of greater moment than the kingdom of God.
·         If hating one’s relatives is felt to be a shocking idea, it was meant to be shocking, to shock the hearers into a sense of the imperious demands of the Kingdom of God. 
·         That hating in this saying of Jesus means loving less is shown by the parallel saying in Matthew 10:37—“He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”  
·         The implication of this sequence is that giving one’s family second place to the kingdom of God is one way of taking up the cross.
·         The context of this saying is when Jesus is on His journey to Jerusalem to be crucified.  Jesus is just letting them know the prerequisites to following Christ.
·         It is natural for men and women to make what provision they can for their nearest and dearest.  Jesus’ emphasis lay rather on the necessity of treating the kingdom of God as nearer and dearer still.  Paul emphasizes that one who does not take care of his family, he is worse than an infidel.
·         Jesus is calling for the reconstruction of one’s identity, not along ancestral lines or on the basis of one’s social status, but within the new community oriented toward God’s purpose and characterized by faithfulness to the message of Jesus.
·         A disciple of Christ is characterized by their distancing themselves from the high cultural value place on their family network, otherwise paramount in the world of Luke.  “Hate” is a disavowal of primary allegiance to one’s kin.

Luke 9:62— Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

  • This is different than what happened with Elijah and Elisha. The prophet Elijah was divinely commanded to enlist Elisha to be his colleague and successor.
  • Elijah called Elisha to come follow him but Elisha had to go back and said, “Let me kiss my parents goodbye; then I will come with you.” Elijah said, “Go back.”
  • So Elisha went back and not only said goodbye to his father and mother, but made a sumptuous farewell feat for all who lived or worked on their family farm.
  • Elijah was a very important person, outstandingly engaged in the service of the God of Israel but the business of Christ is far more important.
  • Once again it is evident that, in Jesus’ reckoning, family ties must take second place to the kingdom which He proclaimed.
  • Jesus ties this in with farming. The ploughman who looks back will not drive a straight farrow.
  • Jesus may well have adapted such a saying: the ploughman who looks back is unfit for the kingdom of God.
  • Here the ploughman who looks back is the would-be disciple whose mind is still partly on the life he left to follow Jesus. The work of the kingdom of God requires singleness of purpose.
  • This is not just a calling to pastors—it applies to all Christians. How sad the smallest distraction or obstacle will keep people from church and/or doing God’s work in our community.
  • The kingdom of God is too often people’s last priority. They are loosing out on a blessing and will one day greatly regret choosing the world’s way.