The latest in a series of posts based on messages in Luke that we are currently preaching at the Ebenezer Regular Baptist Church.
“Man, I should have said that!”
The above words have escaped my lips on numerous occasions, as the perfect comeback to an argument arrives in my head…days, weeks, months after the conversation took place.
I suspect I’m not alone in experiencing this phenomenon. I also suspect that I’m not alone when I say that one of the things that impresses me the most about Jesus is His ability to say just the right thing, at just the right time, leaving His critics speechless.
Case in point: Luke 6:6-11.
Our story begins with Jesus teaching, in a synagogue, on the sabbath. Nothing unusual about that. Present are a group of scribes and Pharisees. We’ve met these guys before, nothing particularly unusual about their presence.
Suddenly, Christ’s teaching is interrupted by a disturbance in the crowd. It soon becomes evident that the cause of the commotion is the entrance of a man with a deformed hand. Off to the side, the scribes and Pharisees begin to whisper and exchange knowing looks among themselves.
I say “knowing looks” because some people, myself included, believe the text hints at the notion that the man was a “plant”. The whole thing was a set-up. The fix, as they say, was in. The jig, as they also say, was up.
What was the big deal about a guy with a deformed hand showing up? Wouldn’t it be a great thing if Jesus healed him? Well, of course…to normal people, it absolutely would be. But Jesus was not dealing with normal people. He was dealing with religious leaders who were consumed with envy and hate for the One who all their beloved prophets pointed to as their Messiah. They couldn’t stand the Man who God sent to save them. See? Not normal. And they had devised a way to trap Him: they would see if He would heal the guy with the withered hand on the sabbath. Healing, you see, was good, unless you did it on the sabbath. Then it was “work”, which was strictly prohibited on Saturdays.
So the triumphant scribes and Pharisees thought they had Jesus in a bind. If He refused to heal the man it would cast doubt on His powers and He could very well come off as lacking in compassion. If He did heal the man…well that was a sin (according to them), and He could not possibly be who He said he was.
The comical thing is that they thought they had Him. They really thought they could outwit the Creator of the Universe. Seriously.
Jesus’ response here is nothing short of brilliant in it’s simplicity and utter devastation. As the title of the article suggests, I have divided His technique up into three simple steps.
Step 1: Understand their motives
Verse eight tells us “But He knew their thoughts…” Jesus knew who He was dealing with. He had them pegged. He understood that they were not dealing with Him in good faith. His further actions were based on that knowledge.
At this point you, gentle reader, are protesting: “But Jesus is God! He could read their thoughts!” Congratulations, you have solved the hypostatic union. But seriously, I really don’t think Jesus needed to read their minds at this point…He had been dealing with these same characters since the beginning of His earthly ministry.
One thing I have learned in my interactions with people over the years: sooner or later a person will reveal his or her real character to you. And when they do that, by all means, believe them!
Step 2: Put them on the defensive
While I’m a fan of medieval and classical art, one of the great disservices done to us by those early painters was their portrayal of Jesus as some sort of a milquetoast, a perennial punching bag, the kind of guy who would yield at the slightest hint of opposition.
I know of a group of money-changers who would beg to differ. Jesus knew how, and when, to be devastatingly aggressive. And this was such an occasion. Rather than stay on the defensive and and try to answer his tormentors’ questions to their satisfaction, Jesus poses a question to them: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?”
Suddenly it’s the scribes and Pharisees are on the hot-seat, with the eyes of the people on them, and their hypocrisy open to all. In re-framing the question, Jesus placed the spotlight on the evil intentions of his opponents. Healing on the sabbath – that was His domain. Doing evil…well…who would that be? Perhaps the people responsible for setting this poor man up as bait in a trap?
The people connected the dots easily in their minds, as did the scribes and Pharisees.
Step 3: Watch as they reveal themselves
Finally, Jesus has the man stretch out his hand, and it is healed. His contempt for their man-made rules is evident. He has no more time for their hypocrisy, there is a man in front of Him who needs healing. So He heals him.
Incredibly, in stead of rejoicing at the end of suffering for this poor man, the scribes and Pharisees get together in a huddle to plan on how they are going to kill Jesus.
And I must have read that passage hundreds of times without understanding the pit Jesus had dug, and into which the scribes and Pharisees enthusiastically jumped.
Let me spell it out simply: The spiritual leaders (!) were upset that Jesus might consider healing a man…on the sabbath. And yet they turned around and began to plot a man’s murder…on the sabbath!
“…to save life or to destroy…” Jesus was not using hyperbole. Rather, He was making an accusation. And by their very next actions, the scribes and Pharisees confirmed their guilt. Jesus masterfully uncovered their glaring contradiction for everyone to see, and it was beautiful.
Things have not changed that much in 2000+ years. The enemies of Christ (both inside and outside the church, unfortunately) act in bad faith, seeking to keep His followers off balance and on the defensive. When we understand this, we can follow the Master’s example, refuse to play their game, and shine the glaring light of the Word on their acts of darkness. Some will be healed in the process. Others may try to figure out ways to get rid of us. But that’s only because their glaring inconsistencies have become obvious to them as well as to the world, and they just can’t deal.
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