I am listening to an earnest exchange today–not much action going on at the moment, but the air crackles with the rhythm of point, counterpoint. The buzz around the temple has the aura of an interrogation room, and I am standing as though on the dark side of a one-way mirror.
Using the tool they have at hand, the one they think they know best, the Pharisees are at it again. As tiresome as their law-flinging haranguing is, I wonder if Jesus welcomes these frequent exchanges. Perhaps it is better to exchange in the conversation of testing and doubt than to ignore the Son of God. In exchange there is a seeking, and hope of resolution, while in purposeful ignorance, a soul never stands a chance.
As I listen to the dialogue, without the pressure of participation, I learn the craft of Jesus’ conversation:
*He uses the tool that is wielded by the opposition. Rather than selecting an argument He has already used, or a one-size-fits-all, He selects that which rings true to the soul of His audience: the Law. It is so interesting to me here that he calls it ‘your’ law. They have had added so much, and at the same time, missed a great deal. At times, it is unrecognizable as God’s law. It has become something entirely different, with only a glimmer of truth. As Jesus selects the law, upon which to base His response, He redirects his opponents from the flaw in their handling of it to the purpose and Giver of it. It is all about God. He continues to emphasize the link between Himself and His Father. (v. 12-29)
We can learn from this. Sometimes, in the name of ‘spreading the gospel’, we select a tool (a stance, even a particular scripture) that does not connect to the soul of our audience. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the craftsmanship of the tool that we forget that our main purpose is to bring others to Jesus and His connection to God, and our connection to Him. Sometimes we allow, over time (and usually with good intent), God’s words to evolve into our words. And we distort or dull their purpose.
Hearts change in this moment. Jesus’ witness has its effect and many are convinced. (v. 31)
Now a new group gathers around Him. These are His fellow Jews that already believe in Him. They have followed Him here, and with them, they bring a heritage and centuries of baggage. He starts a discussion that requires a shift in their thinking. Don’t you love when that happens?
“If you continue (abide, remain, stay in) my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” v. 31, 32
He confronts them with IF statements:
If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples…
If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed…
If God were your Father, You would love Me…
Their faces register surprise. This was not what they expected to hear. They thought they had already nailed down this ‘being God’s people’ thing. They had the right lineage, a heritage of faith. They believed this man who calls Himself the Son of God. Here they are, following Him as good students do. Their expressions register the hidden rebellion in their hearts, the secret places that only God knows, the ones that stay cloaked by external actions.
Jesus speaks boldly here.
“…I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me, because my word finds no place in you.”
“I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” I don’t know these men well, but I can guess what that means. Growing up in a household with a tradition of faith, they have traded the leadership of Abraham, which led hearts to God, for following the leadership of their fathers, which led to tradition and an attitude of spiritual entitlement.
“…if God were your Father, you would love Me…” I wonder if their father, the leaders of their religious life, ever guided them to love God? How easy it is to teach only behaviors and forget to mold the heart toward God.
“…you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” OUCH! No filter here. Jesus knows He has to be specific. I trust that He knows the timing and need for such a bold statement. It comes from knowing the hearts of men. I trust that I do not have the same complete, unfaulted perspective. I know that as God’s children, we are called to share His truths—truths that bring hope and grace, and truths that make us face our sins in a way that helps us recognize the need for His hope and grace. It’s a fine balance between speaking boldly, truthfully, and assuming we know exactly what hearts need, flinging an arrow in their direction. That’s God’s job.
“…He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God!”
Well! I sure hope Jesus has scoped out all the temple exits from here. This is not a happy crowd, and they have gone to gather stones. I think I’ll move on.
*There is hope in conversation. Even if the dialogue is testy, embrace the opportunity to have the conversation about spiritual things.
*Examine my conversation to be sure that I stop short of making my words into God’s words. Deliver God’s Truth. See to understand the perspective of my audience (my children, my coworkers, my husband, my fellow Christians, strangers…) and try and match the truths I share with what is important to them.
*Live the ‘thens’. Because I want the “Ifs” to be true, I need to live the “thens”: Continue in God’s word. Don’t become stagnant. Allow the Son to make me free and God to be my Father.
*LOVE God. Truly love Him, and teach and encourage others to LOVE Him. This is more than just obeying or acknowledging His sovereignty-it’s a relationship that breathes, that lives, that responds.
*Be brave enough to hear His words for me and let them craft me into being of God.
I am moving on now, and the streets are littered with sounds and movement. There are people lining the edges of the paths, pitiful, with nothing. Unable to take care of themselves without aid, they cry out, hands outstretched.