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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Outer Darkness, Where There is Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth | The Hard Sayings of Jesus

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.

Matthew 8:5–13

Yesterday my laptop got a bit uppity. The battery was running down, so I needed to move it and plug it into a source of power. ‘Leave me alone!’ it cried out. ‘I’m doing fine as I am!’ ‘But’, I tried to explain, ‘I need to plug you in. If I don’t, then you will die.’ ‘That’s rather exclusive of you! Why can’t you accept me as I am? I am very happy thank you! And there are many ways for laptops to work – you should broaden your outlook!’ Not long afterwards, the screen went blank.

Some of Jesus’ sayings are hard for us because we are at distance from them, or we have our own agendas, or because they are genuinely obscure. But others are difficult because we just wish Jesus hadn’t said them. They are hard truths, and life would be a lot easier if we could avoid them. Jesus’ sayings about judgement, expressed most sharply in the language about ‘outer darkness’ and ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth’, fall into this category.

‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ is not the Jesus of the gospels; he talks more about judgement than anyone in the Bible. When he asks the disciples who people say that he is, they reply ‘Some say…Jeremiah…’ (Matthew 16:14) probably because Jeremiah speaks most about judgment in the Old Testament, and Jesus often echoes his words. The Jesus of the gospels cannot simplistically be contrasted with the ‘nasty, judging’ God of the Old Testament because of the continuity between them. And the basic reason is that salvation and judgement are two sides of the same coin.

If not knowing Jesus doesn’t ultimately matter, then knowing him doesn’t ultimately matter either. But if Jesus really does offer the wonderful gift of life that only he can provide, then turning it down is going to have serious consequences. If we refuse the one true source of light, then we will sit in darkness. Life is not something we own, but a gift we receive, so if we refuse to drink from the river of the water of life (Revelation 22:17), then we will die.

Those who love us most are the ones who are willing to speak to us the hard truths we need to hear. When the right moment presents itself, we also might need to speak hard truths to those we love – but in the meantime we rejoice in the free gift of life and share it with others when we can.

Revd Dr Ian Paul


Be Perfect, Therefore, as Your Heavenly Father is Perfect | The Hard Sayings of Jesus (5/5)