Anger is not a word we often associate with Jesus. When we think of the Prince of Peace, anger is not the emotion that comes most readily to mind. Indeed, some would say that we should never respond with anger at the evil we see; to experience anger, they say, is always inappropriate for a follower of Christ. Yet even a cursory glance at the life of Christ would suggest that anger is a fitting response to certain situations.
The Righteous Anger of Jesus
One event that quickly comes to mind is Jesus disrupting the commercial efforts of vendors who, in pursuit of profit, have desecrated the Temple. Using a whip while toppling tables covered with money and product qualifies as anger, righteous anger certainly, but anger nonetheless.
Then there were the running verbal battles with the Pharisees and Sadducees described in Matthew 21-23. If you doubt that Jesus was angry, consider the number of times he declared woe, a particularly caustic word of condemnation, on those religious leaders. The response of the Pharisees and Sadducees was equally angry: “The chief priests and elders . . . plotted to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.” Sometimes speaking truth to power comes with painful consequences.
We could explore other occasions, but I want to focus on something that directly relates to our children in todayʼs cultural environment. This event most likely takes place in Capernaum. A group of disciples gathered and posed this question to Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” In response, Jesus calls a child to His side and observes,“Whoever humbles himself like this
child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
That is an interesting but typical response from our Lord. Rather than give the expected reply, He does what He so often does and uses the moment to make an additional, related observation. Through this observation, I want you to consider my question: What made Jesus angry? Ponder what Jesus says next.
“It is better [Jesus observes] for you to have a millstone tied around your neck and be cast into the sea than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” Try using that line at the next local public-school board meeting you attend. Seriously, try using such language to criticize a decision to implement a curriculum you see as challenging the very nature of truth or what it means to be human and see what happens. I suspect you would become the next online sensation as your words are uploaded to YouTube. Yet Jesus did not hesitate. Rather, He took advantage of a critical question to clarify what He considered essential regarding how we must equip our children for life in a fallen world.
In doing so, He also did not waver in expressing how strongly He feels about those who, by word or deed, would cause “one of these little ones to stumble.”(1) Jesus is not speaking here of the periodic times when we, as adults, might inadvertently say something in error or anger. Rather, the word employed is skandalizo which means “to cause to fall, to speak with the intent of enticing, trapping, or influencing [someone] in any way that leads him into sin or in any way makes it easier for him to sin.”(2)
Paul’s Lofty Goal
The Apostle Paul makes a similar observation in his letter to the church of Ephesus. He instructs his readers that the primary responsibility given those called to lead the church is to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” That is a pretty lofty goal that is becoming increasingly difficult to accomplish, given the limited access pastors have to people.
The reason Paul gives for the task he outlines is simple. He wants the people in Ephesus to be mature, able to respond well to false teaching and the challenges of life in a fallen world. He doesnʼt want them to be like "children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes" (Ephesians 4:14). Do you see the connection with what Jesus says to the disciples in Matthew 18? Those who represent error as truth can easily deceive ill-equipped children.
Thus, I come back to my question: What makes Jesus angry? The answer is simple: Anyone who systematically engages in teaching that distorts truth, causing children to believe error and stumble, makes Jesus angry, especially when children are the deliberate targets of that distortion and deception. Sadly, this is exactly what happens in the cauldron of error that our secular public schools have become. This is the inevitable result of a people who choose to ignore truth and instead embrace the counsel of the wicked.
Children at Risk
Many in the Church, however, see public schools as mission fields. That may be the case. They have certainly become increasingly dark places. If we are serious about that, letʼs send gifted, biblically sound teachers and leaders to minister in that field. I suspect, however, that if we were to speak with those mature Christians currently in the secular system, we would find that most of them find it increasingly difficult to minister in that setting. If that is so, how much more difficult is it for an immature child who has not yet learned to be discerning about what is being taught daily? I understand the impulse to “save our schools.” This is especially understandable for those who have chosen to invest their lives as teachers, coaches, administrators, and volunteers in our public system. If that is your calling, then by all means, seek ways to do all that you can to fulfill that calling in a manner that honors our Lord and represents Him well.
To expect our children to serve in that capacity without the necessary preparation and ongoing encouragement is to put them at risk of stumbling morally, theologically, and from a worldview perspective. They simply arenʼt yet equipped to engage in that battle effectively. And the forty-seven hours a year the average kid from a typical evangelical family spends in church is nowhere close to sufficient preparation to engage the hostile world we live in. To believe otherwise is naïve and dangerous.
A Key Question
The time has come when we must rethink how best to accomplish the task of making disciples of the children entrusted to our care. And here is the key question: Is it best to place our children under the guidance of those who embrace our Lord and systematically teach truth or those who embrace a fallen view of the world and thus systematically teach error?
Given what Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 18, how do you think He would answer that question?
(1) Matthew 18:6 (English Standard Version) (2) John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Vol 3 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 104.