Ten Unpopular Facts About Jesus

Let’s get right to it:

1. Jesus was a moralist!

Just read His sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7). He exalted righteousness as a primary pursuit (Matt. 6:33). He espoused bearing good fruit and warned against bearing bad fruit (Matthew 7:17-19). He saw the increase of wickedness as a threat to love (Matt. 24:12) and had little patience for religious performers who were “full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39).

2. Jesus demanded repentance!

His entire preaching career is summed up with the imperative verb: “Repent…” (Matthew 4:17). The alternative was to perish (Luke 13:3). To Jesus, “Sodom and Gomorrah” were notorious for their failure to repent. He used them as powerful illustrations of God’s just judgment to foster repentance (Matt. 10:15 & 11:20-24).

3. Jesus publicly attacked local politicians, fearlessly

(Matthew 23). In His culture, the religious leaders and the civil politicians were one and the same. Nearly all the local legal, judicial, and civic concerns were left to the chief priests, scribes, Sadducees, and Pharisees (Rome left most local political matters to the natives). Jesus pulled no punches denouncing their hypocrisy out loud.

4. Jesus got angry.

One day in a synagogue, some Pharisees were watching to see if Jesus would heal a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. Seeing their stubborn cold hearts, Jesus got angry and defiantly healed the man (Mark 3:1-6). For Him, religious rules must never obstruct kindness or morality.

5. Jesus talked about hell

more than any other Bible character. Here is just one of many references: “…it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:29).

6. Jesus used violent force with a weapon

to cleanse the temple of exploitative money-changers and merchants (John 2:13-22). Once, He told His disciples that those without a sword should “sell your cloak and buy one.” (Luke 22:36). Later, he told Peter, who was carrying a sword; “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52). Go figure.

7. Jesus fiercely criticized his entire generation.

He often described His generation as “evil and adulterous…” (Matthew 12:39); “unbelieving…” (Mark 9:19); “wicked…” (Luke 11:29), “perverse…” (Luke 9:41); and “sinful” (Mark 8:38). He sounds like a “culture warrior.” Moral, cultural and spiritual concerns filled His teaching ministry. He did not hate his generation. Rather, he wept for them. His rebukes flowed from love.

8. Jesus openly commented on laws regarding divorce and defined marriage in sacred terms.

In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus affirmed that from the beginning, marriage was one male and one female becoming one flesh. Today, he would be branded as a bigot.

9. Jesus respected rites, customs and traditions,

but never at the expense of love and morality. He observed the strict tithing practices of the Pharisees and warned them not to neglect “the weightier matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” He added, “You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23).

10. Jesus was religious.

He attended and preached regularly in synagogues throughout Judea and Galilee (Matthew 9:35 and Luke 4:16,44). He kept and led religious feasts (Luke 2:21-22 and 41-49). He was a respected Rabbi (John 3:2). He commended a poor widow who contributed money to the temple treasury (Luke 21:1-3). He prayed a lot (Matt. 6:5-13; Luke 6:12). He cared for the needy and advocated purity of heart, which is “undefiled religion” (James 1:27). He knew His Hebrew Bible backwards and forward and practiced the same religion as the Pharisees, but unlike many of them, he did so sincerely, inside and out.

This list presumes you are already aware of our Lord’s focus on love; learning it, commanding it, and living it—even dying for it. But if we fully understood the nature of His love, its affirmation here would be the most unpopular fact of all.

American Individualism
(As Portrayed by Frank Capra)

In Frank Capra’s 1939 classic film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a young senator gets his idealism tested in the face of relentless political corruption. Many of his new colleagues on Capitol Hill had long ago surrendered their dignity to the collective to ride the tide of popular power. He is overwhelmed by cynicism until he finds his spine and realizes he cannot stay free and decent without it. He rises up as a lone individual to face down the collective corruption, come what may.

America’s most treasured ideals and symbols are featured in this movie, but they take on meaning only when a senator stands up all alone as a brave individual willing to live or die for his convictions. Sentimental patriotism is fine but without the courage of one’s informed conviction, it’s nothing.

American movie director, Frank Capra (1897 –1991) was an American by conviction, not by blood. When he arrived here at age five and saw Lady Liberty with torch in hand, his father exclaimed, “Look at that! That’s the greatest light since the star of Bethlehem! That’s the light of freedom!” Capra believed it. He learned to understand America by her principles, which have nothing to do with one’s race, gender, class, group, or social status. He went on to win three Best Director Oscars.

American individualism has fallen in popularity in recent times. It is often the scorn of preachers and professors alike. If I have heard American individualism demonized once, I have heard it a thousand times. In context, sometimes I agree with the criticism. But for the most part, the virtue of American individualism is being misrepresented.

Of course, every virtue has a dark side. Tolerance is poisonous in response to evil deeds. Patience is lethal when practiced by terrorists. Many Nazis were highly intelligent and brave, making their hatred even more harmful. Pride in one’s family, community or nation can be healthy but when it turns to arrogance, the virtue becomes a vice. When patriotism morphs from informed gratitude into mindless idolatry, it loses its virtue.

Rugged American individualism is a tremendous force for good when it takes shape in you as a confident unselfish advance toward the acceptance of personal responsibility. Virtuous individualism calls up the courage to emerge from the crowd, not to isolate yourself or feed your ego but to play a self-reliant productive role in in the world. You can take it to a dark side, but that is your problem.

In another Capra classic, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), George Bailey watches his good life fall apart. He is tempted to sell his entrepreneurial aspirations short and take a cushy job working for a heartless rich competitor. He resists this easy option, affirming his character as a self-reliant risk-taking American individual. George had always used his independently owned business to enable others to fulfill their dreams, while his dream remained on hold. He would not cave. Things get worse before they get better and he considers suicide, losing sight of his worth as an individual. An angel comes along, not to change his circumstances but to enlighten his perspective. He is shown a bigger picture of the good he had done for his community and his worth as an individual is reaffirmed.

Capra’s films embody the plight of the individual against power politics, mass production, mass media, collective greed, lazy dependency, and mass conformity. Exalting the worth and dignity of the individual was a theme Capra relished. It is also featured in the following Capra classics:

We need each other. An English cleric named John Donne (1572 –1631) wrote: “No man is an island.” I get that. I love it. But too many Americans today want cradle-to-grave care from our government. Self-reliance is belittled as coldly unrealistic. The desire for dependency is swallowing up nearly every virtue upon which the American character was built. The clamor for politicians to provide for our health and happiness at all levels has yielded astronomical debt and unprecedented corruption. This is no fiction. There will be no way out of America’s debt-ridden state of dependency without some real rugged individualism, leaving all the selfish and arrogant stereotypes behind.

Politicians profess great love for the common man while spinning out promises to use government wealth and power to take care of commoners. Sadly, this works like a charm in the new America that sees rugged individualism as a vice, not a virtue.

In a speech delivered at Hillsdale College on March 3, 2015, John Marini wrote: “For Capra, the real America was to be understood in terms of its virtues, which are derived from its principles.” Capra’s art as a director was dedicated to keeping those virtues alive in the common man, the rugged individual. Ivory tower cynics and socialists scoff at his virtue-centered worldview, but in the spirit of authentic American individualism, go find an old Frank Capra classic—and decide for yourself.


From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 4:17).

Okay, what is repentance? Let’s start with a Greek lesson: “Metanoia” (repentance) literally means: to change your thinking. “Meta,” in this case, means after, connoting a change or reversal. “Noia” comes from “nous” and refers to the mind. As metamorphosis means to change one’s form, metanoia means to change one’s thinking, which in turn shapes a new way of living.

When Jesus told a story about a prodigal son who turned his life around, He described the son’s repentance by saying, “He came to his senses.” (Luke 15:17).

  • So, if anorexia has made you thin as a rail and yet you still “think” you are fat (a common self-delusion), then among other things you need metanoia.
  • If you are a heavy drinker or smoker and you “think” you are unalterably programmed as such (impossible to stop), Jesus’ solution is to repent.
  • If you were born a male with male body parts but “think” you are a woman, repent! Seeking help is crucial but worthless if you bypass metanoia.
  • If you “think” you are in love with someone else’s spouse, repent.
  • If you “think” you are homosexual, repent!

Do you roll your eyes at such “simplistic” thinking? Well, they rolled their eyes at Jesus too, and worse. But He understood the meaning of metanoia and the transforming power from God that comes with it, regardless of how long it takes. Jesus’ challenge to repent is a call to come to the end of yourself and turn yourself (head, heart, body and soul) over to God.

Popular psychology often does an end run around repentance and collects its fees by convincing people that self-delusion is “honest.” When Bruce Jenner declared he has always been a woman, he was widely described by our culture’s sheep-herders as finally being “honest about who he is.” Yet few say he should give his gold metal back because the gender requirement in 1976 now disqualifies him. Sadly, self-delusion is popular.

Our culture believes in a popular god who is powerless to transform sinners who get stuck in the sort of “complex” thinking that keeps them stuck in their sin. I call it “stinkin’ thinkin’. The heart that refuses to repent always dominates the mind to harness it for making high-minded excuses for that refusal. Jesus knew better. He calls us to repent and trust God for forgiveness and transformation. This is the only way to unshackle the mind for free thinking and godly living.

Listen to the prophet Isaiah:

    Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. (Isaiah 5:20).

It takes a lot of neck-stiffening mental energy to learn how to call evil good and good evil. That sort of unspiritual mental activity is what Jesus wants 100% repudiated and reversed, which explains His unrelenting focus on metanoia.

“But One Life to Lose”
~ Nathan Hale (1755-1776) ~

Nathan Hale never owned property, never fought in a battle, wrote nothing that lasted, invented nothing of note, did not marry or have children, and he failed as a spy. Nevertheless, Connecticut’s state hero commands my enduring admiration.

Today, a captivating bronze statue of Hale stands on the old campus of Yale University. The artist, Bela Lyon Pratt (1867-1917) used a handsome young Yale student, born about 135 years after Hale, as his model. He stands defiant and resolved to his fate with his hands and feet bound and his head held high. The statue was given to Yale College by graduates and friends in 1914 and it stands near where Hale (Yale class of 1773) was housed as a student.

One day in the late 1990s, I toured the Yale campus with a student guide who scoffed at Pratt’s statue, dismissing Hale as a “lousy spy.” As a respectable tourist, I wanted to hear Hale regaled as a gallant American hero, like my school teachers did back in the 1960s. Alas, not that day. Not that student. Not that tour. The group shuffled on, but I lingered at the statue to savor the famous last words attributed to Hale engraved at the base. Still captivated, I returned later one cold winter day to sketch this sculpture. Here is the result:

The real Nathan Hale was not made of bronze. He was born in Coventry, Connecticut on June 6, 1755, of strong Puritan stock. As the sixth of ten Hale children who survived, he was raised to fear God and focus in earnest on matters of right and wrong.

In 1769, Nathan and his brother Enoch (ages 14 and 16) entered Yale College, armed with a working knowledge of classical Latin authors like Cicero and Virgil. They had read the Greek New Testament as well as biographies of Cyrus the Great and Philip of Macedon. Both teenagers engaged their studies and “secret prayers” carefully and participated in debates over all the great issues of the day.

According to Elisha Bostwick, a friend, Nathan had blue eyes, flaxen blond hair, dark eyebrows, fair-skin, and his agility was “remarkable.” He excelled as a scholar athlete in wrestling, football (such as it was) and the long jump. Another friend, Eneas Munson, observed: “Why all the girls in New Haven were in love with him.”

Bostwick also described Hale as “pious,” a core component of the American spirit back then. After his death at age 21, countless friends testified to Hale’s earnest faith, gentle dignity and visible integrity. Elizabeth Poole, described her friend as “free from the shadow of guile,” a quality that did not help him later as a spy.

Nathan graduated with honors at 18 and took a position as a schoolmaster in East Haddam, Connecticut, and later in New London. One of Hale’s students, Samuel Green, recalled his teacher as having “fine moral character.” There is no greater compliment for a teacher.

In 1774, Nathan joined a Connecticut militia and later became one of six Hale brothers who served in the Revolutionary War. He rose to the rank of captain and was cited again by Bostwick for visiting sick soldiers and praying with them.

In the fall of 1776, General Washington’s forces were driven out of Long Island and he suspected the British would soon invade Manhattan. He needed a volunteer to infiltrate enemy territory to collect intelligence. Hale stepped up. He was caught out of uniform and with an incriminating map with Latin notes in his shoe. Without a trial, British General Howe ordered Hale to be hung the next morning, September 22, 1776. He was denied his request for a Bible and clergy to be with him but was allowed some last words. He reportedly uttered an epic line from a play titled “Cato” by Joseph Addison that ushered him into the annals of American history:

    I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.

A voracious reader, Nathan was inspired by great words. The words above may or may not have been his last. Who knows? What I admire most about Hale is not so much his alleged famous last words, impressive as they are, but what all those friends who knew Nathan thought of him.