Webster’s Dictionary defines the word extreme as, “exceeding the ordinary, usual, or expected.” An extremist would be someone who exceeds what is thought of as the ordinary, the usual, or the expected. We might say that an extremist is someone who pushes things far beyond what is normally accepted and acceptable. (Like the nice little fruitcake to the left did.)
When I think of Jesus, I think of him as being an extremist.
In our time, an extremist is often thought of as someone who has extreme views or actions. A good synonym would be the word radical. Unfortunately, with the proliferation of terrorists, calling someone an extremist is almost an insult. But, the more I look at the life and teachings of Jesus, I can think of no better word to describe him and what hew as about other than he was an extremist!
I’m not alone.
It seems everyone who came into contact with Jesus recognized him as someone who was most definitely out of the ordinary. He was, to say the least, unusual. He rarely did the expected. He was an extremist. Everything Jesus did ran counter to the accepted norm, and the world has been forever changed because of it.
I think of the Sermon On the Mount (Matthew 5) when Jesus reinterpreted and redefined the very Ten Commandments. Beforehand, the command “You shall not murder” was simply understood by all that murder constituted a killing of the body. But Jesus came on the scene and declared that by even hating someone else, or being angry with them, these were equal with the act of murder. He said the same thing for adultery, and for dealing with those who are enemies.
Likewise, when Jesus interacted with women, he treated them with dignity, respect, and mercy. In speaking with the woman of Samaria at an old, dusty, middle-of-nowhere well (John 4), Jesus obliterated cultural, racial, religious, and social barriers. So much so that even his disciples were stunned.
Similarly, when a local woman had been caught in an adulterous affair, she was dragged to the feet of Jesus to be judged (John 8:1-12). But, instead of having her stoned, Jesus first asked that any of the men who brought her was without sin in his own life, and if so, feel free to stone her to death. Not one of them was able to carry our her punishment. She met Jesus and she walked away a new person.
When Nicodemus, a religious leader of the Jews, came to Jesus affirming the Lord’s claim to have been sent from God, pointedly took him on a theological tour of the Bible. He announced to Nicodemus that being born once couldn’t get a man to God, but being born twice could. When the religious leader was confused at his words, Jesus explained that HE was necessary for salvation and that this was his life’s mission. He wasn’t simply “a teacher come from God” (John 3:1-21). How extreme were the words from Jesus to Nicodemus? Nicodemus was a Jew who, like others of that time, was trusting in his nationality, ethnicity, and religion to bring him to God.
Then, there was the time when another religious ruler came to kneel before Jesus and proclaimed his goodness and fitness for the kingdom of Heaven (10:1-31). Jesus immediately told him that, while he was a fine upstanding young man, his heart still loved money more than he loved God. If he really wanted a relationship with God, he needed to let go of the thing that was keeping him from knowing true salvation, true morality, and true joy.
There are so many other examples of the extreme nature of Jesus: The giving up in order to gain, the poverty that brought riches, the the firstness in being last, the exaltation in being humble, and the true religion in no religion.
Jesus was an extremist.
More than anything, Jesus was extreme in his love towards others. Whereas his countrymen routinely and regularly considered certain people to be unloveable, these are the very ones Jesus went to. The very first group Jesus called to follow him were made up of fishermen, tax collectors, and thieves — all unsavory types. While the religioinists of the day were avoiding all contact with “sinners,” Jesus was there hanging out with them, telling them about God’s redemption. The Bible says his love for others moved him to extreme compassion, seeing the sick, demon-possessed and outcasts as “sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Eventually, he signified his extreme love by dying on a cross for those who hated him.
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
The idea of dying in someone’s place in the most wretched and cruel manner imaginable was offensive to most. But Jesus did it out of his love for mankind (John 3:16).
Jesus is the Extremist in every sense of the word. Let’s not allow him to ever become common in our walk, our prayer life, our sacrifice, church life, or our worship. Let’s be extreme alongside The Extremist.