Did Jesus Christ experience “cancel culture”? The Urban Dictionary defines the phrase as “to dismiss something or somebody” and “to reject an individual or idea.” As I have studied the various people groups that Jesus dialog with, I am increasingly intrigued with the fact that He bothered to dialog with the scribes and Pharisees at all! 1st John 3:16 states, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”(NIV) Jesus was demonstrating His love using strong rebukes in His desire to see them come to their senses. Even though these leaders were filled with religious pride, Jesus was actually trying to get them to repent! Nothing that Jesus ever did was mean-spirited.
In Matthew 12:34 for instance, Jesus begins a series of rebukes to the scribes and Pharisees by saying “Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (NKJV) In the church, our perspective has always been that Jesus was just using words that would humble the religious leaders. However, we must understand that everything Jesus did was redemptive. “For God so loved the world” communicates His concern for all of humanity. Therefore, as a rabbi who by their own admission was very knowledgeable concerning the scriptures, His motive in giving them such strong rebukes was to try to get them to turn from their religious ways. Blind to the fact that His rebuke was due to His deep concern about their spiritual blindness, they instituted the ultimate example of “cancelling” Him by using every evil deception from their tool bag to eventually cause His crucifixion and temporary death.
Jesus’ warning to us is that we as Christians should also expect to be “canceled” in our modern-day culture. He taught his followers “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you!” John 15:18(NKJV) Christ understood that His kingdom was not of this world and that unless people were truly born again, they could not perceive, see, or enter into the Kingdom of God. As the early church grew, many followers of Christ were “cancelled” by death. James was martyred by King Herod and Stephen by religious Jews, for simply continuing to preach the gospel, thus provoking both the political and the religious leaders of their day. While we do not have the record of James last words we do see powerful words uttered by Stephen as he was being stoned to death.
Following the example of his Savior the Lord Jesus Christ, Stephen continued to preach and confront the religious leaders of that day. The powerful sermon recorded in Acts 7:2-53 confirms that fact. Stephen was not afraid of being a victim of a “cancel culture”. He concluded his long list of God’s undying love and faithfulness to the Children of Israel with a stinging rebuke. “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.” Acts 7:51(NKJV). He went on to declare that they had just been the murderers of the “Just One”, the promised Messiah. As these enraged and self-righteous “cancelers” were about to stone Stephen to death, the perfect love that Jesus Himself had so demonstrated on the cross came out of Stephen’s heart as well. We read in Acts 7:60b he responded to the actions of the angry crowd, “Lord do not charge them with this sin.” (NKJV) This can only be seen as a plea for God to help them repent for what they were doing.
We see this plan clearly worked in this scenario. The previous verse tells us that a young man named Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul, was there that day and had seeds of transformation planted in his heart. Even the hardest hearts and most determined “cancelers” can be reached when we respond to hate with God’s supernatural love. According to Acts 7:55, Stephen was a man who was “full of the Holy Spirit.” Can we receive such love any other way?
Rev Nolan J Harkness is the President and CEO of Nolan Harkness Evangelistic Ministries Inc. since 1985. He spent most of his adult life working in youth ministry. He also felt the calling of Evangelist/Revivalist and traveled as the door was open holding evangelistic meetings in churches throughout the Northeast. He is currently a contributor to christianlensonline.org and christianpost.com. His website is www.verticalsound.org.