The 5 Most Challenging Teachings of Jesus
The best sports coaches know how to "push all the right buttons" with their players in order to get them to achieve their full potential. Even the greatest athletes will get in a slump or become complacent and satisfied with what they've already achieved, and that's when the coach steps in and challenges his team to work hard and get better.
Similarly, when I read the teachings of Jesus, I feel like he is reminding me of how much there is for me to achieve in my life, and that I'm capable of so much more. Christ holds us to a very high standard, and when we look into his word, it should motivate us to strive for perfection and holiness. I'd like to look at what I consider to be the five most challenging teachings of Jesus, and let these teachings motivate us to shine Christ's light on the Earth.
1. The rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-27)
This young man had obeyed the commandments of God from his childhood. Surely if anyone was fit for the kingdom of God, he was? Unfortunately, Jesus knew where his heart was, and his heart was with his great wealth and not with God.
Similarly, we might feel like we're doing "all the right things" (attending worship, contributing to the collection, participating in worship service), but if God is not first in our lives, then we're lost. This teaching is not only difficult by today's standards, but it was by ancient standards as well:
And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, "Then who can be saved?" [v26 ESV]
"With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God." [v27 ESV]
2. The parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30)
When Jesus returns, will he find us faithful over that which he has entrusted us? Not only does he want his talents back, but he wants them back with interest! Instead of doing just enough to "get by," we must be active and busy bearing fruit lest we suffer the same fate as the one-talent man. Do we feel satisfied with simply not doing the "bad things," all the while neglecting doing "good things" like spreading God's word, attending to the needs of widows and orphans, or being a friend to those who are suffering?
Also consider the fig tree that Jesus cursed for not producing any fruit (Mark 11). What good is a fig tree without figs? God expects us to use the abilities he has given us to further his kingdom.
3. The wide and the narrow gate (Matt 7:13-14)
Jesus plainly tells us that eternal life is hard to achieve. Contrary to popular belief, few will find the narrow gate that leads to life, but many will enter the wide gate that leads to destruction. Jesus doesn't want us to take the path of least resistance in life, and that means there will be many challenges and obstacles for us to overcome. If we want to be in the small minority that is saved, then we have to be doing something that's different than the world at-large. If we aren't a little "weird" by the world's standards, then maybe we're actually in the line for the wide gate after all. Many are called but few are chosen.
4. The cost of discipleship (Luke 14:26-33)
Following Jesus is not without cost. Jesus tells us that, relative to our relationship with God, we must hate our own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and even our own life. Being a disciple may hurt our closest family relationships or even worse, it could result in our death. Are we prepared to sacrifice everything to be Jesus' disciple? One day our answer to that question may be required!
5. The house built upon the rock (Matt 7:24-27)
It's not enough to just hear the words of Jesus, but we must put them into practice as well. Both the foolish man and the wise man heard the words of Jesus, but only the wise man implemented the teachings of Christ in his life. Just before reciting this parable, Jesus says that not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of God. It's not hard to sit in a pew and hear the right things and talk a good game about being a disciple of Christ, but we must follow through and prove our words by our actions.
In conclusion, Jesus' teachings are so challenging because they expose every flaw and blemish on our character, and there are two ways we can react to this revelation. We could be paralyzed by fear much like that one-talent man who buried his talent because he knew he had a demanding master. On the other hand, we could let these teachings motivate us to work even harder, constantly improving ourselves to become even more and more conformed to the image of Christ. Let us choose the latter and strive to enter into that narrow gate.