Jesus was known for speaking proverbial and parabolic language. A proverbis a short, pithy saying in frequent and widespread use, expressing a well-known truth or fact. A parable is a simple story illustrating a moral or religious lesson. The discourses and the sermons of the Lord Jesus as found in the Gospels abound with proverbs and parables. Eventhough the proverbs quoted by Him were not uncommon, the choice of them was unique. The number of proverbs He used seems to be more towards the end of His earthly life. With very little time left before He would leave for Heaven, He used more and more proverbs and parables to drive home hard lessons and rich truths into the hearts of His listeners. Here is a meditation of 10 proverbs He used during the Passion Week, Palm Sunday to Good Friday. These last week proverbs teach intensely practical lessons to us who are living in the last days.
"He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean" (Jn 13:10).
Footwashing is literally practiced in certain Christian assemblies. Without the footwashing ceremony they will not have the breadbreaking service. They would even insist that breaking of bread should be done only in the evening because it is the Lordís "supper" ó not breakfast or lunch! Discussing the validity of such views is beyond the scope of this article. I would like to focus on the spiritual meaning of footwashing.
Through the use of this proverb (Jn 13:10), Jesus wanted to teach His disciples the difference between bathing and washing. He said that there was no need for them to bathe again. What was necessary was just washing of the feet. This beautifully illustrates the difference between Justification and Sanctification. Justification is comparable to bathing. Itís an instant cleansing by the blood of Jesus. Itís total. This cleansing by the Blood makes saints out of sinners instantly. "He who is bathed is completely clean!" Thereís no sin against him in Godís record. The depth of Godís love has thrown his sins into the depths of the sea; its breadth has removed them as far as the east is from the west; its length has put them behind Godís back; and its height has caused them disappear like clouds.
After we are justified or born again or regenerated, it is likely that in our daily "walk" our "feet" become dirty. Because we are sheep and no more pigs, we donít voluntarily and willingly walk into the gutter. Because the seed of God now remains in us we cannot happily and habitually commit sin (1 Jn 3:9). The only person who walked on the sin-stained earth without soiling his feet was Jesus. If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves. We need daily footwashing by the blood of Jesus.
Peter was known for extremes like some Christians. Either they would keep shouting, "Once Saved, Always Safe," and would not bother about frequent self-examination and cleansing. Or, everytime they commit sin they would go on a guilt-trip as if they had lost their salvation and pray to be born again "again." Jesus rightly said, "No bathing again; only washing!" Justification is an one-time event, a crisis experience, never to be repeated; whereas sanctification is a moment-by-moment on-going process which gets over only at the hour of final glorification.
"You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel !" (Mt 23:24).
Jesus used this proverb in His last sermon while rebuking the hypocritical religion of His day which emphasized the externals and evaded the essentials. Gnats were perhaps smallest among flies. The camel was the largest land animal in Palestine and ritually unclean.
Jesus is seen terribly angry in the entire 23rd chapter of Matthew. He pronounces "woe" atleast eight times. He addressed the religious leaders as "hypocrites, blind guides and fools." Todayís Christianity is not much different from the Jewish religion of Christís day. We can only follow what our leaders preach and not what they practise (Mt 23:3). The leaders are hard on people but soft on themselves (v 4). They wear special dresses for recognition (v 5). They are after titles and positions (vv 6-12). When the leaders stop growing in the things of God, they would block the growth of the people also (v 13). Preachers rob widows and the suffering using their prayers (v14). Pastors are more anxious about the numerical growth of their congregations than the spiritual health of the members (v15). Rituals and traditions are more important than realities and truth (vv 16-22). Pastors will be displeased with believers who donít pay tithes, but they will not motivate them for social work and charity (v23). And so on.
If Jesus were here to preach in our Churches, I imagine He would say something like this: "Woe to you hypocrites! You think that flash photography and video shooting inside the Church building will desecrate it, but seek police protection for your committee meetings! ... Woe to you hypocrites! You preach against wearing of jewels, but hoard money in banks for three generations!..."
The "touch-not," "taste-not" and "handle-not" religion is alien to New Testament Christianity (Col 2:21). Even though the Israelites had come out of Egypt, Egypt had not come out of them. So it is with us. Christ has delivered us from the law and brought us into His glorious liberty through His death (Gal 5:1). But we are still embracing legalism and living the Old Testament life in the New Testament era. Legalism blinds us so much that we cannot see even a big animal like camel! We would be living in self-deception that we are so strict even about a matter so small as a gnat!
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Mt 23:37).
Jesus concluded His last sermon with this lamentation. He used this image of hen and chicks to explain divine patience. God is never in haste. Especially in His dealings with people He is graciously patient. He is called the "God of Patience" (Rom 15:5). None of us can survive if God is impatient with us as we are with one another. At the same time we cannot take His patience for granted and go on in our own ways. The Jews were guilty of misunderstanding the patience of God. Apostle Paul warned them sternly, "Do you despise the riches of Godís goodness, tolerance and patience, not realising that the kindness of God should lead you to repentance?" (Rom 2:4).
Jerusalem was called the "perfection of beauty" and the "joy of the whole world" (Lam 2:15b). But she always had her enemies. Her safety was under the wings of Jehovah (Psa 17:8; 36:7). Her prosperity was because of the warmth of His fellowship. She despised it by rejecting Godís message that came to her through prophets and wise men. She heaped for herself false prophets and teachers who would speak to her taste. She was not willing to listen to those who preached what she needed but only what she wanted. She not only kicked away true messages from God but also killed truthful messengers. Jesus warned the Jerusalemites that Godís patience was running out as they were martyring one by one every true messenger of God, A to Z (Abel to Zechariah)! (Mt 23:35)
The hen calls the chicks at the distant sight of an eagle. Safe are the ones which run into the motherís wings. Others will be easily snatched away. Our safety is only in immediate and implicit obedience to the mildest whisper of the Spirit of God. We will face no danger in our lives which God has not warned us of. When we commit ourselves to walk in obedience to God, He will check even the slightest deviation (Isa 30:21). Keeping our ears sensitive and our hearts soft before God is the surest way to crush Satan in our lives (Rom 16:19,20). Hardening our hearts will lead to sudden self-destruction (Prov 29:1). God waits patiently till the "cup of iniquity" overflows! (Gen 15:16). Letís not mistake it.
"The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone!" (Mt 21:42).
As a building engineer I have heard this statement made in various forms and occasions by masons. Looking for an ideally shaped stone they would keep rejecting one after the other. Finally they would settle for the best among the rejected ones! Jesus saw Himself as a rejected stone. Prophet Isaiah portrayed Him as "a Man of sorrows ... despised and rejected by men" (Isa 53:3).
None of us who truly follow the crucified Saviour can escape the cross of rejection. No man is fully accepted until he is totally rejected. Joseph was rejected but finally crowned. David was despised but finally enthroned. Jesus was rejected and despised by relatives and religionists. The world still hates Him. He has forewarned us, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you" (Jn 15:18). Apostle John repeated this warning, "Do not marvel, my brothers, if the world hates you" (1 Jn 3:13). Apostle James went one step further when he wrote, "Whoever wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (Js 4:4b).
It was not an exaggeration when Paul testified, "We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. We respond gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the worldís garbage, like everybodyís trashóright up to the present moment" (1 Cor 4:12,13). At the same time it is possible we antagonize the world by unsocial gestures and lack of wisdom. This is wrong. Jesus grew in favour with men, didnít He? (Lk 2:52). The message here is that an evil world will not love a good Abel; an unrighteous world will not applaud a righteous Noah; a licentious world will not tolerate a virtuous Joseph; a corrupt religion will not accommodate a sincere Jeremiah; an immoral ruler will not garland a forthright John the Baptist; and a world sold out to sin will not embrace us if we stand against sin.
The context of this proverbial passage teaches another valuable lesson. Jesus speaks about a vineyard (Mt 21:33-41). Godís serious view of fruitlessness in the lives of His people is vividly illustrated here. Jesus concluded, "The Kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation that will produce proper fruit" (v 43). When Godís own people fail Him, He bypasses them to work with a people "who are not a nation" (Rom 10:19). In other words, the gentiles óthe non-Jewsówho are rejected by the Jews have become the living stones with which the Holy Spirit builds the temple of God (Eph 2:17-22). If we keep on disappointing God, we alone will be the losers.
"Whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder" (Mt 21:44).
After speaking about the rejected stone becoming the chief cornerstone, Jesus made the above statement. The stone obviously refers to Himself. Jesus is the "stumbling stone" and the "rock of offense" (Rom 9:33; Isa 8:14a). Hereís a lesson of immense practical value: Never work against God!
The Lord brought down Paul the religious zealot from his arrogance and pride, and blinded him to teach him the painful truth: "It is hard for you to kick against thorns" (Acts 9:5). Eventhough Paul had studied under Professor Gamaliel, he had not understood this truth properly. For Gamaliel the guiding principle in ambiguous situations was, "If this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you will not be able to stop it. You may even find yourselves fighting against God" (Acts 5:34,38,39).
God has raised so many ministries these days at the finishing stage of world evangelisation. Some are independent ministries and some institutional. In our fallen nature, each of us thinks that our ministry is better than all the rest! If we do not correct this thinking, we would go about finding fault with everyone. The "speck" in other ministries will look to us bigger than the "girder" in our own! I had the same spirit in the early years of my ministry. When the Cross of Christ worked deeply in me, I began to change. I started appreciating the good in others. I resisted the impulsive behaviour to jump to quick conclusions. I became aware of the weaknesses in my own ministry and started weeping in secret. I concluded, "There is no perfect minister or ministry in Christendom. All have pluses and minuses, strengths and weaknesses. We must build others and not break them. If I claim to be an apple of Godís eye, the preacher with whom I disagree also is an apple of Godís eyeó His other eye! I must not work against Godóeven unawares. God is a Rock. I must not dash against it and break my head; nor should I be crushed by it!"
"All who use the sword will die by the sword" (Mt 26:52).
Jesus was always a teacher. Even at the hour of horror and agony, He made it a point to teach timeless truths to His disciples. O how much the Lord was concerned about the future life and ministry of His disciples! Peter might have been wondering what the use of the sword was if it had not been used! After all it was Jesus Himself who had urged the disciples to buy swords even if they had to sell their clothes to mobilize money for it ! (Lk 22:36).
Vengeance is Godís (Rom 12:19; Dt 32:35a; Heb 10:30). Vengeance is right, but we humans are incapable of handling it (Lev 19:18). Sooner we learn this, fewer will be the casualties and less the losses in the Kingdom of God. It was perfectly natural and logical for a disciple to hit the enemy who lays hand on his master. Thatís what Peter did. But Jesus wouldnít allow even that. When Godís word does not permit us to use a sword even against an enemy, how can we ever use it against another child of God or His servant?
David did not earn the title of "Man-after-Godís-own-heart" easily. God was not playing favoritism with him. When David secretly cut off a corner of Saulís robe at the prompting of his men, "Davidís heart troubled him." He said to his men, "The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lordís anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord" (1 Sam 24:1-7).
A secret information one has about his brother is a sword. "Put it in its case!" (Mt 26:52a). Dr. Herbert Lockyer (1886-1984), one of the most voluminous Christian writers from England, in his book, The Sins of Saints, writes, "Those who are jealous of the abilities of others often settle for assassination of character." Dr. W. L. Watkinson asserts, "The lives of the most gifted and delightful of mankind have been blasted by envy. It seems to vitiate the whole creation."
Next time you are tempted to lift a sword against a brother, pause a while, look yonder! You will see "a ram caught by its horns in a bush!" (Gen 22:13). Remind yourself of Paulís challenge: "Who shall bring a charge against Godís elect? Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died and is pleading for us" (Rom 8:33,34).
"If they do these things in the green tree, what will be done in the dry wood?" (Lk 23:31).
"Jesus suffered for us so we need not suffer!"óThis is one of the most popular sayings shouted from modern pulpits. The Biblical illiterates from pews respond to this with shouts of "Hallelujah!" How much Satan has deceived us! How far he has taken us from divine predictions and revelations! Televangelism literally thrives on this stuff. By the time the listeners and viewers realize the fallacy of this teaching and that they are disillusioned, itís already too late. God, have mercy on us, this generation, as we try to find alternate routes for the way of the Cross!
All Christians are called to suffer with and for Christ (2 Tim 2:11,12; Phil 1:29). Suffering is in the eternal plan of God. In history Christ died 2000 years ago. But according to Godís calendar, Christ was slain even before the creation of the world. This event of eternity past will be the song of eternity future (Rev 13:8). According to Jesus, Christian life will be one of suffering from commencement to consummation. Thatís why He spoke about "daily cross" with reference to discipleship (Lk 9:23).
The "green tree Vs. dry wood" analogy refers to the ill-treatment we will receive from men. The Jews once said to Jesus, "You have a demon!" (Jn 8:52a). What did they mean when they told Him, "We were not born out of wedlock"? (v41). Were they indirectly hitting at how He was conceived before His mother got married? His own brothers and sisters once commented, "He is out of His mind" (Mk 3:21). If folks could say such things about the Son of God who committed no sin in thought, word or deed, why are we upset at the mildest verbal abuse? Most of Christís sayings were misunderstood, though He was wisdom personified and He spoke not a single word more or less than what was necessary. Can we then escape the cross of misunderstanding?
Nothing is more hurting than when a manís own family folks become his foes. But sometimes we cannot escape this also (Mt 10:36). "Wounds from friends" are another tragedy (Zech 13:6). How would you feel if someone like Judas whom you trusted with money betrayed you for money? How would you feel if someone like Peter whom you promoted to cabinet rank denied and cursed you? How would you feel when someone like John whom you loved most deserted you when you needed him most?
"Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you like wheat" (Lk 22:31).
Of the 12 disciples, as per the record, Simon alone was picked up to be tossed so much by Satan. The condition today seems to be different. Almost every sincere child of God, at some time or other in his life, goes through such a trying experience. There are several lessons we can learn from what happened to Peter.
Satan obtained permission from Christ to attack Peter. He did so in the case of Job also (Job 1:12; 2:6). Nothing happens to us without the knowledge and permission of the Lord Omniscient and Omnipotent. This realisation is our greatest strength and sustainer at the hour of crisis. God has taught us to call on Him in the day of trouble so He would deliver us (Psa 50:15). But He knows about our situation before our lips utter the first syllable in prayer.
Sifting of wheat is not over with a single stroke. Itís done repeatedly and that in quick succession. So also with trials. They come over us like wave after wave. We know how soon a cock crows a second time after the first. Peter was tempted atleast thrice within that short time to disown his Lord. In Jobís case even while someone would be "just reporting" a death or a loss, the next news of this sort would reach him (Job 1:16,17,18). A Tamil proverb says, Wounded leg will be wounded again!
God is not silently watching us from a distant Heaven doing nothing. Having granted permission to Satan, the Lord went on with His ministry of intercession for His friend. Our troubles may be innumerable. We will be constantly bombarded by men and our own minds with the question, "Where is your God?" (Psa 42:3,10). But those who have walked frequently through the valley of darkness and death know, "God is a very present help in trouble" (Psa 46:1b). This entire Psalm is worth memorizing.
Sifting of wheat is just a means of purification. It is to separate the genuine wheat from the chaff and the other items that had gotten mixed in with it. We need to get rid of so much of useless stuff from our lives. The weight of habitual and chronic sins needs to be removed from us so we may run the race victoriously (Heb 12:1). If handled rightly, no trial would leave us without net profit (Heb 12:10,11). Simon Peter in the very first chapter of his first letter speaks of "various trials" as a fire which purifies our golden faith! (1 Pet 1:6,7). After Satanís sifting, Peter was promoted in ministry (Lk 22:32b).
"Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered" (Mt 26:31; Zech 13:7).
Though all Christians will have to pass through trials and tribulations, those in Christian ministry and leadership will be the primary target of the devil. We donít remove a tree by plucking off leaves or cutting off branches. The axe will be laid at the "root" of the tree! Having been in Christian leadership for over three decades, I would say that those in leadership positions must not be envied but pitied. Godly leaders never came up to their positions by their choice or grabbing of seats. More often than we think, God puts them there more or less by compulsion. He would not accept their excuses to assume such responsibilities (Ex 4:10-13; Jer 1:4-8).
Constant weight of responsibilities, sleepless nights due to pressures and problems, frequent travels, hectic schedule, pressures due to unrealistic expectations of people, non-cooperation and strife among coworkers, challenges and threats from the enemies of the gospel, financial strain, family problems, repeated temptations and scores of such things tire the leaders physically, exhaust them mentally and drain them spiritually. No wonder even champions like Prophet Elijah cried, "It is enough! Lord, take my life!" (1 Ki 19:4).
The Strike-the-Shepherd operation of Satan has gathered momentum in these last days. Every other preacher is ill with some chronic disease. Godís servants meeting with frightful accidents is no more a surprise. Family conflicts and moral failures are commonplace. Corruption is rampant. Only now the people are understanding that preachers and leaders are not angels but just human. Preachers have prayed enough for people. Itís now the peopleís turn to pray for the preachers. Give yourself to preventive praying for those in ministry and leadership. Pray that God may protect them from defilement, diseases, divisions, dangers and depression. Prevention is better than cure!
The cross of loneliness is the heaviest for leaders. The closest disciples were fighting for prominence and positions while Jesus was preparing to drink the cup of bitterness. They slept off when He was sweating blood. Even the guardian angels were absent for a while. It appeared to Jesus on the Cross that God also had forsaken Him. Paul mourned, "All forsook me" (2 Tim 4:16). Dear friends, do all thatís possible to encourage the leaders, refresh them and support them. If they do well, you only will be the beneficiary.
"Wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together" (Mt 24:28).
Jesus used this proverb in connection with His return and the gathering of His saints from all over the world. Unfortunately the Church is ignored today by the society. We Christians also suffer from a minority complex. As I write this article on 19 March 2003, the global attention is on the World Cup cricket match in South Africa and the possible Gulf War. Think of a day when Jesus Christ and His Church will be the talk of the world! That will be the headlines of newspapers and TV news!
Talking about Cricket and War, we donít know who would win. But in our case, victory is preassured. Jesus will win! His saints will receive the Kingdom! Here comes Daniel with the sure word of prophecy: "The sovereignty, power, and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be given to the holy people of the Most High. They will rule forever, and all rulers will serve and obey them" (Dan 7:27).
John the forerunner of Christ for His first coming could not have access to the pulpit of the organized religion. He did not feel bad about it. He was a man from God, and he had a message from God. That was good enough for him. He went to the banks of Jordon and started to preach. People cared the less for the High priests Annas and Caiaphas and went to listen to John (Lk 3:2,3). After sometime the Pharisees and Sadducees also went to hear him (Mt 3:7). Where the carcass is, there the eagles will fly! The world of religion, economics and politics is in utter confusion. The need of the hour is men from God with a message from God. Anything else is secondary. Only such men can take the world back to God! Will you accept this challenge?