She was in high school, the same age as my daughter when I became her pastor. She went out of her way to welcome my daughter to her new environment. Years later, when we left the church, I continued to keep in touch. She is now married with three beautiful girls. Her husband was a wonderful husband and father.

I am telling you this because her husband died of cancer and I was the pastor for his funeral. I cannot think of anything sadder than being with a young family under these trying circumstances.

But in many ways, what happened to them helped me better appreciate my role as minister. Why? Because I could not be a pastor if I did not believe with all my heart that her husband is in a better place thanks to Jesus’ ministry and mission.

Jesus paid a painful price, so we can be assured of God’s continuing love and grace. But to fully understand what that means, we must learn more about Jesus and his ministry and mission.

Years ago, I visited several Sunday school classes and asked them to give me one-word descriptions of Jesus. The words came easily: love, goodness, humble, divine, pious, thoughtful, caring, kind, devout, meek, gentle.

Then I asked: “If these one-word descriptions were all they knew about Jesus, what would they think of our Lord and Savior?” There was a long silence. Finally, one youth spoke up and said, “He must be a really nice person.”

Yes, Jesus was really nice but why would religious leaders of that day be so mad at such a nice man. So mad, they wanted to kill him in the most gruesome way possible. Movies about Jesus don’t help because they often portray him as short and thin with long hair, almost like a flower child from the hippie era. Why would anyone get so mad at someone who is so nice?

Jesus was no flower child hippie, and he was so much more than just a really nice person! From the beginning Jesus displayed inner strength and purpose that led many people to love him as their Savior and others to hate him as a blasphemer and rabble rouser. You could love him or hate him, but you could not ignore Jesus Christ.

After being baptized by John, Jesus went into the wilderness to fast and pray in preparation for His mission. Forty days, he prayed for God’s strength and direction. Satan repeatedly offered short-cuts for his ministry, but Jesus resisted each one.

Jesus reached out to the poor and disadvantaged. But his words for the religious leaders were harsh because of their failure to help the needy. In chapter 23 of Matthew, he called the religious leaders, hypocrites, and snakes… not once but several times. Jesus warns them against disobeying God’s will.

It takes a lot of guts to stand up to leaders and point out their flaws. In another scene, Jesus single-handedly cleaned out the temple market area. “He overturned the tables of the money changers and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.” Whatever words you use to describe Jesus, really nice doesn’t fit.

Why was Jesus rejected by the leaders of that day? He demanded they clean up their act and practice what they preached. This man of strength bravely stood up to the most prominent people of the area and told them to change or else. Did they listen? Yes, but instead of changing they got rid of the messenger. They crucified the Son of God.

Jesus stood up for what was right at the cost of his life.

And then, this man of immense strength, says to people who rejected him, who shouted “crucify him,” who watched as he was lashed and beaten, nailed to a cross and left to die. He said: “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” When the God who loved us enough to became human and endure a cruel agonizing death on the cross, I must listen with respect and devotion.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “A man who said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. He’d be a lunatic. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.”

This strong and loving man, Jesus Christ showed us how to live. His example of love took genuine courage and fearless commitment. Jesus came to earth to offer the religious community a warning and a blessing. The warning was to shape up and act right. The blessing was that Christ would show us the way to do just that.

That is why I follow Jesus today and why I can also say with confidence to all of us when we suffer, you are going to be okay. Jesus is still expecting a response from us. This Lenten season is an opportunity to dig into your Bible and learn what Jesus is saying to you.