I have often wondered about the balance between the message of John the Baptist and the message of Jesus. I spent a few minutes this morning in my devotional time thinking about the seemingly different messages these two important individuals shared. At a surface level, it almost seems like a "good cop, bad cop" scenario. John was the messenger sent to prepare the way for Jesus. He preached a message of repentance. And then Jesus came along and preached a message of forgiveness.
Is such a distinction valid? Could we say that John demonstrated "tough love," and Jesus demonstrated "gentle love"?
Furthermore, how do these two messages relate to my own ministry? How does one keep a balance of "repent!" with a message of "God loves you"? Many people, it seems, would like to emphasize one or the other. And maybe it is appropriate to have various members of the church body emphasizing one, while another emphasizes the other. I, myself, get very uncomfortable with people who would like to preach "fire and brimstone," so to speak, and are very strong in their message about the need for repentance and change. But there's John, sitting smack dab in the middle of the Gospels, yelling at people and calling them "brood of vipers," and other such unflattering things. The picture to the right almost seems appropriate in relation to John's emphasis.
Of course, Jesus' message wasn't always one of "gentle love," either. He certainly took on the Pharisees with some strong language. And maybe that's just it. In the particular text I was looking at this morning, we seem to see that Jesus, as our High Priest, is "gentle" towards those who are "ignorant and going astray." This is found in Hebrews 5:2 and the word for "ignorant" (agnoeo) seems to have the connotation of sinning in ignorance (see Lev 4:13). And the word for "going astray" (planao) is in the passive form, thus literally meaning those who "have been mislead, or deceived."
Thus, these people that Jesus shows sympathy to, and is gentle with, are those who are not participating in deliberate, willful, premeditated sin, but, because of various circumstances in their lives, are participating in sin because they are mislead and ignorant. For such people, Jesus can demonstrate "gentle love," but for people such as the Pharisees, who sin out of the pride in their hearts, He has to be a little more "tough" with. Indeed, as Hebrews later says, "For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins" (Heb 10:26). Such language is quite strong.
Of course, this raises a whole other problem: how does one know if a person is sinning deliberately and willfully, or sinning out of ignorance?