The preacher at my childhood church used to yell during his sermons. I remember being scared of him. But it was a charismatic church in the 80s, and maybe that’s how God talked back then.

I’ve been nervous to hear from God most of my life, and perhaps my old pastor is to blame. I doubt it though. This irrational fear of God seems to be part of the human condition. We are afraid to talk to God because we don’t want to know what he has to say to us.

Even as Christians, the redeemed and saved ones, we’re a little unsure if Jesus’ blood really took, if our sins are really covered. And we are fairly certain God is mostly mad at us, or if we’re lucky, just annoyed.

I try to tell myself Jesus isn’t mad, that he didn’t get mad at people. But that’s a lie. Jesus was pretty angry sometimes. I mean, how many people do you know who have walked into church yelling and flipping over the welcome tables? He called people names, like “white-washed tombs”, which is like, Ouch, if you think about it.

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But not everyone was on Jesus’ bad side. Jesus hung out in circles most Christians would avoid, “a friend of sinners”, they called him. And you didn’t see Jesus lecturing those people. So what did it take to get under the skin of the Son of God?

The people who incited fury in Jesus had a few things in common. They were control freaks, clutching their know-it-all status with a death grip, while keeping a safe distance from anyone with real need. They erected hurdles to prevent all the regular people from getting too close to the God they wanted to know.

We still call people who act like this Pharisees, or hypocrites, people with double standards that give themselves the benefit of the doubt while condemning everyone else. They were so well-versed in God’s law that they had no need for him. They could save themselves just fine, thank you very much.

Jesus had no time for these arrogant haters, and his response to the money changers and people who sold overpriced animals outside the temple fills me with a strange comfort. Jesus wants me on the inside, not the outside. Jesus saw how hard these people made it for the rest of us to access God. He was irate that people were putting a price on the presence of God and profiting from his mercy.

Meanwhile, Jesus held a special affection for the sinners. You know, like me and probably you, the people who kept making a mess of things. The ones who had no idea what they were doing wrong, but things just kept getting worse when they touched them. The ones who wouldn’t blink for a second when they said they needed saving. Bad.

The terrible irony is I don’t just qualify as a sinner. Although I’m a terrific mess, I’m mostly a Pharisee, breaking out my measuring stick to compare my version of ugly to someone else’s. But in God’s economy, we all miss the mark. And the dire need for saving applies to us all.

The story of the prodigal son tells us everything we need to know about who Jesus’ mercy will stick to. The first son, the prodigal, was selfish and irresponsible. But after he wrecked his life with bad choices, the story finds him heartbroken and repentant, welcomed back into the family by a Father with wide arms.

The other brother never trashed the house with his wild parties. He was responsible and respectful. Paid his bills on time. Probably wore argyle and didn’t misplace his homework. He was The Good Son.

If you had to throw a party for someone, which brother would you pick? The deserving one, right? Well, not Jesus. The Father in his story throws an extravagant party for the irresponsible jerk of a son who crawls up the driveway, smelling like trash, everything he owned gone.

We don’t celebrate someone like that. We want to applaud the responsible behavior because that’s what we all admire in ourselves. Jesus isn’t advocating bad behavior, to be sure, but he certainly can’t celebrate the thing we don’t see: the “good” brother’s angry, resentful heart. His exemplary behavior is a mask for his seething anger, disconnectedness and pride.

He is a Pharisee. Just like me.

Only one of those brothers knew how to receive love, and it was the one who knew he needed it. We get loved when we get saved, but we have to let ourselves be saved first. We have to trade in the belief that, if I just work hard enough, I can save myself, for the truth which is, I am desperate and broken and if someone doesn’t come get me, I am screwed. That’s the heart that can be saved. That’s the heart that can absorb love.

And that’s exactly what Jesus is looking for: a heart that doesn’t turn down love because it’s so busy earning it. God is searching for people who know they need love and saving, not the ones who believe they are already perfect.

So sure, Jesus might be mad at you. He might want to come into your kitchen and throw some things around. If you’ve told yourself you’re doing just fine, you don’t need God, Jesus might be mad at you. He might want to call you “Shiny on the outside but rotting on the inside” if you find yourself comparing your good to others and deciding you are better. He may have a glare for you if you look sideways at people who bring their mess to church. If you can’t remember why the Gospel is so great, or if you think the blood of Jesus is for all those bad people who really need it, then yes, Jesus might be mad at you.

But not if you’re the one who knows you need him. Not if your addictions enslave you, if you’ve tangled yourself in a mess you can’t fix. Jesus has kind eyes and an outstretched hand for those of us who are deep, deep in the muck.

If you can ask for help, he can give it. And if you can stomach the fact that he will love you anyway, even in the garbage heap you’ve made, then no, he’s not mad. He’s got nothing but love for you.

“My friends, adoption is redemption. It’s costly, exhausting, expensive, and outrageous. Buying back lives costs so much. When God set out to redeem us, it killed Him. And when He redeems us, we can’t even really appreciate or comprehend it, just like Dimitri will never comprehend or fully appreciate what is about to happen to him … but … he will live in the fruit of it. As his Daddy, I will never expect him to understand all of this or even to thank me. I just want to watch him live in the benefits of my love and experience the joys of being an heir in my family. This is how our heavenly “Papa” feels towards us. Today, settle your busy heart down and rest in the benefits of redemption. Enjoy the fruits of His goodness, and stop trying to “pay Him back”. You’ll never get close you goofy little kid.”

– Derek Loux

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