Engaging His Listeners
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by Todd Alexander
A question from Jesus during his earthly ministry was powerful enough to sanctify a growing faith in each of his Apostles, redirect the heart of a potential disciple, and quiet the Pharisees. During his last week, Jesus’ questions included an urgency that the Apostles would only appreciate much later.
Today, as we near the end of the Harvest of the Gospel Age, Jesus’ last questions are especially meaningful as we, too, seek to submit to the sanctifying power of God and enjoy another Memorial with our resurrected Lord Jesus.
Approaching his final week on earth, Jesus told the Apostles how he must go to Jerusalem, suffer, be killed, and then be raised on the third day (Matthew 16:21-24). Two of these ideas were so foreign to Jesus’ apostles that Peter actually rebuked Jesus for saying them! Jesus, in turn, rebuked Peter strongly and thereby introduced the course of a new life for the Apostles — denial of their flesh, bearing his cross, and following him.
Heretofore, the apostles saw Jesus as a warrior and miracle worker — two essential elements of prophetic fulfillment. When Jesus told them that he must die, they could not comprehend it. The uncertainties that followed in the hearts of the disciples during Jesus’ last week created good soil for their future faith. They would have to match what they saw happen to Jesus with what they already understood about their teacher. Their faith would grow by leaps and bounds but at great cost. Jesus would move from being their teacher to become their Savior.
Questions for the Apostles
Jesus asked about 76 questions during his last week. He used questions to teach his apostles that they must change their behavior. We will draw lessons from a few of them. “Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake?” (John 13:29-38).
Jesus asked this question to Peter on the evening of the Passover and then told Peter that he would deny Jesus three times in the coming hours. Jesus knew that Peter was not ready to die for him, and Jesus used the power of an emphatic question as a latent teaching tool that Peter would activate later. Peter had to get beyond his fears, worries, and despair to see the love in Jesus’ question. It took time for Peter to get there.
Jesus was patient with Peter. Very soon, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, Peter would emerge as a pivotal leader in the Church. Peter did eventually lay down his life for Jesus’ sake. Peter answered this question of Jesus through both his life and in his death. Jesus will be patient with us too. Like Peter, we need to answer “yes,” and just like Peter, the Holy Spirit will activate our mind and give us the needed strength.
“The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11).
The disciples were still thinking of Jesus as a warrior, and Peter was determined to show Jesus that he could be a good warrior too! Jesus taught Peter how not to fight, but rather how to be a Christian soldier.
Jesus told his apostles to take a sword, but then he taught them how not to use it. For us, the sword became an eternal metaphor for taking the “easy way” out. By submitting to the sanctifying power of the will of God, Jesus taught them how to drink all of the “cup” which the Father had poured for him.
Jesus looked weak to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, but in Jesus’ weakness, they eventually saw the strength of God. We look weak to the world, but in our weakness, we see the strength of God at work in us. Our flesh tells us that there are two ways to act in the face of violence: to fight back or to run away. Jesus showed us a third way, to submit to the will of God. But how did the Apostles answer this question that night? By running away!
In the time leading up to our Lord’s Memorial, we will have many opportunities to reach for our sword. Instead, we must see these as opportunities to submit to God’s will, suffer for him, and thereby follow Jesus.
We cannot use violence to defend ourselves. Violence leads to bitterness in survivors and brutality in attackers. We must drink the cup of suffering if we would follow Jesus. Although we may look weak to the world, we will be strong in the hand of God. This will be unfamiliar to the needs of our flesh and require great trust in God.
The Apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy may have been inspired by this moment; “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:1-8). Jesus taught suffering to Stephen, who demonstrated it to Saul of Tarsus, who then taught it to Timothy. This question from Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane surely became powerful far beyond the lives of the Apostles and created many soldiers for Christ throughout the Gospel Age.
“Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (Matthew 26:53).
Peter witnessed Jesus calm a storm, walk on water, and raise the dead. He was likely surprised that Jesus did not fight back. When Jesus did not fight, Peter’s instincts prompted him to run away. Perhaps these two questions from Jesus stuck in Peter’s mind and encouraged him to look deeper into the prophecies about Messiah. The fervent study of these things would have given Peter the rich content he would need for his own powerful speech to the multitude of Jewish believers in Jerusalem (Acts 2).
The grace and mercy that Jesus extended to Peter should reassure us that if we do not answer Jesus’ questions right the first time, we may have the opportunity to recover … to answer them again!
What did Peter finally learn from these questions? Perhaps his beautiful soliloquy provides the answer:
“For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live
unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:19-25).
“Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip?” (John 14:7-10).
Philip had just witnessed Jesus turn over the tables of the money changers in the temple, raise Lazarus from the dead, and reassure him that there were many dwelling places prepared in heaven. But Philip wanted more. Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father. Do we ever want more than what Jesus gives us?
A short time later, Jesus would be led away, interrogated, tortured, and executed. Philip was blind to these things. Perhaps we are sometimes like Philip. Although we have read and heard about Jesus all our lives, we still do not know him. We tell him that we want more and we even state that this “more” will be enough, but just like Philip, we do not believe and we do not understand what we have already. We can be ensnared in this trap when we “learn” all about Jesus but do not really come to “know” him. Jesus’ answer to Philip follows with a sublime truth, “Whomever has seen me has seen the Father.” If we see God through our relationship with Jesus, we will be satisfied.
“Do ye now believe? Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own” (John 16:29-33).
Jesus asked this question in response to John’s declaration that they believe in him now.
Perhaps this is a warning to us that as soon as we make bold declarations that we have arrived at some level of understanding, Jesus takes us to the next crisis in our life
in order to pull us toward a higher level of faith and understanding.
Like the Apostle John, we do not always realize the true cost of our faith. Perhaps John looked at his faith like a bed in which he could find comfort. But Jesus showed him that his faith needed to be like a cross to carry. Are we resting in our bed, or are we carrying Jesus’ cross and working in the field?
As with the Apostle John, Jesus sees our doubts and fears, our weaknesses and shortcomings, and he uses them to develop our faith. Jesus’ desire is that we believe him and grow in our faith. This will result in intellectual and emotional soul-satisfaction.
“For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth” (Luke 22:25-27).
On that Passover evening, Jesus shared the bread and cup with his Apostles. He informed them that one of them would betray him. Their response? To argue among themselves about who would be the greatest in his kingdom (Luke 22:24). Jesus’ response? He laid aside his garments and washed their feet.
By washing their feet, Jesus taught them that greatness is achieved through selflessness, and humility through perfect love demonstrated through acts of servitude. Jesus did not chastise
the disciples for their petty argument. Instead, he simply asked them a question and provided an experience of a lifetime that would lead them to the truth.
Similarly, Jesus calls us to a new way of life by showing us how to take attention away from ourselves and to focus on others. Jesus pricked their conscience by washing their feet. He was shaping their minds and their future ministries with a selfless, humble act. He gave them an unforgettable experience that they would understand much later and apply effectively in their own ministries.
Jesus shows us how to give of ourselves in selfless service — an upside-down ambition. By humbling himself unto death on the cross, Jesus was elevated by God and given a name above all others (Philippians 2:8-11). Through his Ransom sacrifice and his work as the great high priest in his kingdom, Jesus will help each member of the human family wash the dirt of sin from their feet.
“And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing” (Luke 22:35).
This question and the disciples’ affirmative response came just after Jesus told Peter that the cock would not crow three times until Peter had denied him thrice. In this question, Jesus reminded them of the power that they felt in their earlier (two by two) ministries and God’s faithfulness in meeting all of their needs. Soon, they would again have “nothing,” and would need to rely totally on God for their strength. With this question, Jesus sounded their hearts for their faith and propelled their hearts to do the difficult work of their upcoming ministries.
Jesus was reinforcing an important pillar of the Kingdom of heaven that he had taught in the Sermon on the Mount. “But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness;
and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). Jesus reminded them that if they go into his service with nothing, all of their needs will be met by God.
For the Apostles, seeing the Gospel change their own lives and the lives of others would be the new “currency” that would sustain them. With their individual sacrifices, they would “buy the truth and sell it not” (Proverbs 23:23), and thereby receive wisdom, instruction, and understanding (Proverbs 1:2). The Truth would inspire additional ministries in the ones they were sent to and in those who would read about their failures and victories.
Surely, Jesus used the power of questions during his final week as a latent tool that he would activate later in the holy Spirit-enabled minds of the Apostles. There is a special opportunity for us to travel back in time through the scriptures, to put ourselves in the disciples’ shoes, and to hear Jesus ask these questions to us, for we are also his disciples!
Jesus clarified his mission for his disciples through his questions and answers. With the power of Jesus’ questions, his mission took on a clearer meaning in the mind of each of his precious disciples. Let these important lessons not be lost on us.
Let us answer these questions honestly with a pure conscience. Then, like his Apostles, let us allow Jesus to take us to the next level of our faith.