We tend to think of Jesus largely as a nice guy. And I feel certain he was quite nice– he perfectly displayed all the fruit of the Spirit, including love, patience, kindness, gentleness, etc. But he also spoke very strongly at times, and reading an extended discourse in Luke 20 I was struck by how aggressive he was in his rhetoric.
- In 20:1-8 the Jewish leaders question his authority. He turns the question back on them, knowing that their desire is to accuse him, not gain information. His question stumps them.
- In response (20:9-18) he tells the parable of the tenants, a crushing indictment of unbelieving Israel, especially its leaders.
- In 20:19-26 the scribes and chief priests, knowing the parable is about them, try again to trick him with the question about paying tax to Rome. His response is simple and avoids their trap; they’re stumped again.
- In 20:27-40 the Saducees ask a question about the resurrection of the dead (which they don’t believe in). He answers their question (there’s no marriage at the resurrection), but then in verse 37 thrusts back at them, proving the resurrection of the dead from Scripture. They had granted the resurrection for the sake of argument, but he’s not willing to let that lie; he shows they are just plain wrong.
- 20:41-44 is another thrust, showing the error of the scribes in not seeing that the Christ would be superior to David (i.e. not just another good king, but something greater).
- 20:45-47 is his conclusion to the crowds, who have presumably seen the entire exchange: Don’t be like these guys. I’ve shown you that their arguments don’t hold up, but there’s more: They’re all about their outside image, but the inside is evil.
There are a few things we can learn from this.
- Debate is legitimate (with all the right caveats about Christian charity, honesty, kindness, etc).
- Crafting an argument effectively is legitimate, including parrying by setting aside false charges, thrusting by showing the other side’s errors, and continuing to thrust by going to the bigger picture.
- This must all be done in the service of God’s people. The crowds saw Jesus defeat the scribes and their colleagues; they knew he was right and they were wrong. But they also got his warning to beware seeking the praise of men.
- We have to keep the right goal in mind, which is greater conformity to the Word of God and the image of Christ. It would be very bad, in learning to “fight” like Jesus, to fall into the errors of the scribes and love our own wisdom, our reputation for being smart and right.