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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « The Unity of God's Covenant People | Main | Sin & Temptation »

    Images of the Savior (42 – His Wise Answers to Questions of Trickery)

    And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” And he said unto them, “Neither do I say to you by what authority I do these things”....And when they heard, they marveled, and forsaking him they departed....And when the crowds heard, they were astonished at his teaching....And no one was able to answer him a word, neither did anyone dare to question him any longer, from that day. – Matthew 21:27; 22:22, 33, 46

    It is a fact as certain as the day that, in this world which is under the power of the devil, whenever anyone comes speaking the truth, he will be fiercely opposed, and often beset with insincere questions that arise not from a heart desiring to learn, but out of trickery, and in an attempt to lay a trap by which he might be tripped up, so that the power and truth of his message may be obscured. That this was so to an eminent degree in the life of him who did not just bring the truth, but is himself very Truth (John 14:6), is everywhere evident throughout his ministry; but the most notable example of all comes just before his final hour, when all the forces of Satan were stirred up in a tremendous rage, and casting forth every snare that subtle sophistry can devise, so as to conjure up in the unblameable One a charge that they might bring before the court of Pilate. How utterly they failed to overcome the Wisdom of God may be seen in the results of their frantic endeavors; to which end we will look, so as to rejoice in him who is made to us wisdom from God (I Corinthians 1:30), and likewise to learn how we ought to respond when we are beset with similar deceitful traps.

    First, we will examine the case of them who proudly demand that one give evidence of his authority, although it is manifest that the truth is in itself authority enough. For we see that when Jesus cleansed the Temple, he did so expressly on the basis of the written word of God, which set apart the House of God as a place of prayer, and not a marketplace for those enamored with the currency of the world (Matthew 21:12-13; see also Isaiah 56:7). Let us note: even Jesus, who had in himself all the authority of the Godhead, set apart the scriptures as holding the same level of authority as himself, in that they too are the very word of God, when he used them often to defend his actions. The one who teaches and acts always on the basis of the Word of God, has an authority which no magistrate or Church council in the world may overturn. The truth itself is his authority.

    Now, even though Jesus had vindicated his actions through the Word of God, the wicked Pharisees demanded of him a greater authority, impiously supposing that the opinion of some elder or Rabbi could validate a man when they supposed the word of God himself to be insufficient. See what blasphemies they are driven to, who demand that one's actions be submitted to some creed or confession, even when he explains them full well from the scriptures? Creeds are a valuable tool when properly used, but when it is forgotten that they too must be subjected to the authority of scriptures, they become a monstrous idol.

    Let us notice Jesus' wise response: he did not give them any other basis of authority, although he might have, being the very Son of God; because to do so would be tacitly to accept their opinion that the Word of God is not an altogether sufficient authority. Instead, trading question for question, he showed that their basis of authority rested rather in the fear of man than in the Word of God. For when he asked them the question about John, he exposed the wickedness of their hearts, making manifest that they would refuse to admit the truth, when to do so would bring to light the falsities to which they clung; and further, that they would not even dare to assert their own opinion when public consensus prevailed against them. Here then, Jesus certainly proved that their authoritative reason for what they did was first their own pride, and second their fear of man. They loved both these things more than the truth, and these were their only bases of authority. Let us note: in any argument, we must not compromise the foundational principle that the truth of the Word of God is the final authority; and our first task when dealing with such men is to expose their shameful acceptance of some other authority, and to cling fast to the foundation of scriptures.

    Second, we will examine the tactics of those who attempt to discredit a man of truth by forcing him to acknowledge a truth which he knows to be unpopular. Even as the Pharisees sought to distract Jesus from speaking of the great truths of his own person and work by side-tracking him on a volatile issue of lesser importance, namely, the paying of taxes to Caesar; so today, many who are opposed to the great gospel truths that God's servants proclaim will try to distract them by ensnaring them in the “hot-button” issues of the day. They already knew well that Jesus would respect the truth of God more than the opinions of the crowds, and so they hoped to turn the crowds against him by bringing up a matter to which the correct answer was not at all pleasing. But notice how our Champion overcame this wickedness: first, he not only proclaimed the truth, but gave the reason for it, wisely demonstrating by the superscription of the Caesar on the tax coins that there are certain dues which God has granted to men on earth, and that it is not at all righteous to deny those dues to anyone who ought to receive them. But second, he refused to let the relatively lesser matter become a distracting issue, when he showed its connection to the greater matter, namely, rendering to God all his dues. We ought to learn this lesson well: not to compromise the truth on any point is vital indeed; but it is equally vital not to let secondary matters obscure the more fundamental matters. And as many people have been guilty of the latter error, as have been of the former.

    Third, let us see how Jesus responded to those who were not seeking the truth, but attempting to discredit the truth through word games, logical conundrums, and cunningly devised sophistries. Ah, how many insincere “seekers” play the same game today, spending their time in nothing other than to devise wicked philosophies that will paint the truth in a false light, and so trip up many who desire the truth indeed. Must we even mention such absurdly twisted and deceptive lies and half-truths as the Da-Vinci Code, or the Jehovah's Witnesses' bizarre exegeses, wrapped all around a foregone conclusion, and spewed out to trap souls in the lies of Satan? Such false cavils are all around us today, and if we would rise above them, we must look to the example of our Savior.

    We see that, in responding to these false teachers of the Sadducees, Jesus first showed how their doctrines arose from a false premise; and second, he showed how the correct conclusion, built upon the truth of the scriptures, utterly negated their false doctrine. For first, their subtle questioning was based on the false premise that God was not powerful enough to bring to pass his Word, even when it demanded an element which is higher than the nature of this world. Did not Abraham believe in God against nature, confessing him to be powerful to overcome all human obstacles? But these Sadducees, in presuming that God would not be able to accomplish the resurrection because they supposed that the resurrection life would be altogether the same as this life, erred by virtue of their false premise, that God cannot at all transcend and change human nature. Oh, how different these false children of Abraham were from their “father,” who “hoped against hope,” and so received the righteousness of God (Romans 4)! So we see that Jesus first destroyed the Sadducees' false premise, that arose from their inadequate view of God.

    But Jesus was not content with having destroyed their argument; for ultimately, he was not arguing for their own sake, but so that those who were truly his might be strengthened against their lies; and hence, after having learned not to be deceived by cunning snares, they needed to understand what solid truth they might rely upon instead. This Jesus provides for them, proving from scriptures that God was the God of Abraham many years after he had died; and since he is manifestly the God of life, it stands to reason that Abraham, having died, was still alive before God. Let us observe here the wise deductions and inferences that Jesus makes use of, and be instructed by them; for there are some who refuse to believe a truth unless it is explicitly stated in a particular verse of scripture, and hence they cut themselves off from much deep and wholesome doctrine. The whole witness of scripture is true, and must be compared and examined diligently, according to the rational processes with which God has endowed us. They who claim to be more scriptural because they refuse to engage in serious exegesis are not spiritual at all, but rather lazy, considering their own shameful ease to be more valuable than the rich truths of God that must be dug up with great labor, as gems from the deep places of the earth. And furthermore, anyone who refuses to be instructed in the whole counsel of scriptures, and the doctrines to which a reasonable conflation of them gives rise, will be utterly unstable, ready to be blown about by the merest wind of doctrine that false sophists devise, for they will not be able to uncover the false premises that drive their follies, nor to construct a true doctrine from the scriptures, which will show their contrary doctrine to be false.

    Fourth, we see that, after Jesus had roundly defeated all the wicked snares of those who opposed him, he then took the offensive, as it were, and showed the inadequacies of the Pharisee's false doctrine. We see that he did this by asking a question to which the only possible answer was the truth of the gospel. Let us learn well to ask of our opponents questions from the scripture, so that in answering they must either blatantly deny the Word of God, and in this way make themselves manifest, so that the artless sheep might not be led astray by them any longer; or admit the truth, which is what we would desire; or else do as these Jews did, and silence themselves in shame, as having been defeated by the truth of God's word. Notice how beautifully crafted Jesus' question was! In answering this question, the Jews could not deny that the Messiah was the Son of David – for this was everywhere made clear in the Old Testament, and confessed by all; but neither could they deny that he was prior to and greater than David – for he had called him his Lord, speaking of him as engaging in the eternal counsel of the Godhead. Now, it is manifest that one's son is not naturally his lord. So in order to answer this question correctly, the Jews must admit that the Messiah is David's son, born of a woman's seed, according to the prophecies; but also, that he is the eternal and divine Lord, who existed for all eternity before he became the Son of David. That is the heart of the gospel, and the scriptures demanded no other answer than that. So we see that Jesus allowed the scriptures to speak for themselves most eloquently; and moreover, he directed their attention to the central point of all the bible, the nature of Jesus the Messiah. We would do well to learn from these examples.

    As we leave our text for the day, let us rejoice in the matchless Wisdom from God, against whom all that oppose must crush themselves to dust! The tiny gnats that swarm around the massive cornerstone may never move it an inch, no matter how they fling their little bodies against it; and neither can all the lies of Satan budge the Truth, our precious Cornerstone, Jesus Christ. Let us be emboldened by his example to overthrow every false doctrine of Satan, adamantly refusing to be bound by any other authority than the Word of God; for in so doing, we will conquer in the steps of our mighty Savior.

    Posted by Nathan on October 20, 2007 06:37 PM

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