“Jesus hears and cares about the things that make your heart heavy and your cheeks wet.”

That was perhaps the most moving line in Alistair Begg’s new book The Christian Manifesto: Jesus’ Life-Changing Words from the Sermon on the Plain (The Good Book Company, 2023).

It’s a challenging book. It’s a sensible book. It’s a book about how we approach the world, how we engage the culture in truth and love. Above all, it’s a biblical book all about Jesus.  

Core to Begg’s manifesto is a contrast between the teaching of Jesus and the way of the world. The Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel of Luke isn’t the kind of speech that gets you elected to public office today. Jesus didn’t flatter. And he didn’t compromise. His ways aren’t always our ways. Begg argues,

The biggest reason for the ineffectiveness of contemporary Christianity is a failure to take seriously the radical difference that Jesus calls for as we follow him as King. The 21st-century Western evangelical church has too often given in to the temptation to soft-pedal Jesus’ words—to find caveats and loopholes in what he says—in order to offer the world something that sounds more palatable and less demanding. We have spent decades congratulating ourselves for being able to go among our non-Christian friends and say, “You know what? We’re just the same as you.” And they’ve said, “You know what? I think you’re absolutely right!” 

So what’s the alternative? The kingdom of Jesus! Followers of Jesus don’t get happy and sad about the same things as the rest of the world. Christians pursue ambition in ways the world regards as weak. Sometimes Jesus’s commands won’t make sense to others. Sometimes they don’t even make sense to his followers. And yet we trust him and obey. We’ve tried just about everything else in our changing world. Maybe we should try doing what Jesus says. Here’s Begg again:

I’ll show you how to make an impact on the culture, says Jesus. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who ill-treat you. If we chose to live this out, it would cause a revolution in our culture. It would prompt a complete change in the tone that many of us adopt on social media. It would open doors of homes and make them places of welcome and restoration. It would cause bridges to be built across political divides that have caused disagreements (or worse) in the past, and it would transform relationships in the workplace into ones of collaboration and forgiveness rather than self-promotion and grudge-holding. In other words, if we chose to live this out, it would show what our Father is like: merciful. 

Alistair Begg is senior pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher at Truth for Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world. He joined me on Gospelbound to talk about Jesus, true gospel-centered living, and more.