The Expository Files


Subservient Truth?

Matthew 16:1-11

The scribes and Pharisees were apparently often scandalized by the behavior of Jesus and His disciples. On one occasion, the scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus, criticizing His disciples for not washing their hands according to the tradition of the elders (Matthew 15:1-11). Jesus responded to their criticism by asking them why they transgressed the commandment of God by their tradition. The scribes and Pharisees taught that a person need not “honor his father or mother” as long as he devoted his possessions to God. In that way, he could set aside the commandment to honor his parents, thus making the commandment of no effect.

Jesus described the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites for such behavior and told them that their worship of God was “in vain” as long as they continued to teach the doctrines of men as though they were the commandments of God (vs. 8-9).

The disciples came to Jesus later and said to him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” (vs. 12). Jesus, however, was apparently not interested in modifying His teaching to mollify the Pharisees. He responded, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch” (vs. 13-14).

Contrary to the attitude of our present “pc” culture, truth doesn’t bend to avoid offending anyone. Those who preach the divine truth are obligated to present it in its purity and entirety regardless of who likes it or doesn’t like it.

The pages of Scripture contain many examples of individuals who presented God’s truth to others even in the face of disapproval or possible persecution. Moses rebuked the people of God for their unbelief and idolatry (Exodus 16-17; 32). On more than one occasion the people complained against Moses as though he was responsible for their circumstances and even threatened to stone him and Aaron (e.g., Numbers 14:10). The courage of Moses is seen in his determination to speak to the people according the word of the Lord.

The prophet Jeremiah lived to see the end of the southern kingdom of Judah. In fact, after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the subsequent assassination of the governor appointed by the Babylonian king, those Jews left in the land came to Jeremiah and asked him to inquire of the Lord regarding the decision to flee to Egypt or remain in the land (Jeremiah 42). They claimed to be willing to allow the Lord to make the decision for them. They told Jeremiah, “Let the Lord be a true and faithful witness between us, if we do not do according to everything which the Lord your God sends us by you. Whether it is pleasing or displeasing, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God to whom we send you…” (42:5-6).

When Jeremiah brought back the word of the Lord (“stay in the land – don’t go to Egypt”), it didn’t fit the decision they desired and so they refused to follow the Lord’s word (42:20-43:4).

One example of the integrity of Jesus in confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees has already been cited in this article. Space will not permit a recitation of all the occasions on which Jesus spoke uncomfortable truth to His detractors, the very ones in Israel who claimed to have such a love for God’s truth. Even among the multitudes who followed Jesus, there were many who complained about His teaching (John 6:60-61). Their displeasure with some of the things that Jesus said was such that they “went back and walked with Him no more” (vs. 66). There is no indication that Jesus changed His message to make sure that such an “exodus” never occurred again!

The apostle Paul wrote some blunt things to the Galatians who were turning away from the gospel of Christ to another gospel (1:6-7). Paul asked his Galatian readers, “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (1:10). As he wrote to them about the foolishness of turning back to the Mosaic Law, he asked them, “Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” (4:16).

Unfortunately, there apparently have always been those who will preach whatever others want to hear. The story of Micaiah is quite interesting. Ahab, king of Israel, was planning to go into battle with Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, against the Syrians. Four hundred prophets were consulted regarding the success of their joint venture and, to a man, they predicted victory (1 Kings 22:5-6, 12). One of the prophets, Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah, even emphasized the message with a “powerpoint” presentation; he made horns of iron and said, “With these you shall gore the Syrians until they are destroyed” (vs. 11). Jehoshaphat, however, wanted to hear from a prophet of the Lord and Micaiah, son of Imlah, was summoned. As he made his way to the kings, he was encouraged by the kings’ messenger to say what all of the other prophets had said. Micaiah’s response was that he would speak whatever the Lord spoke to him (vs. 14). At first, Micaiah said the same thing as the other prophets – “Go and prosper, for the Lord will deliver it [Ramoth-Gilead – asd] into the hand of the king” (vs. 15b). Ahab wasn’t accustomed to hearing anything good about himself from Micaiah and so he demanded “nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord” (vs. 16). Micaiah then told the two kings the truth - they were headed for defeat; Ahab would be killed in battle. Ahab asked for the truth, but didn’t like it much when it was presented to him. He made arrangements for Micaiah to be put into prison with a bread and water diet until he (Ahab) returned from battle (vs. 26-28). Presumably, Micaiah remained in prison…because Ahab died in battle even as the prophet had predicted. Micaiah must have known that the truth would not be appreciated by Ahab, but he was determined to “speak whatever the Lord says to me.”

In our day, the pressure for churches to grow in number is intense. Expanding the membership is seen as so important that many preachers will craft their messages in such a way as to avoid offending anyone, particularly prospective members. Don’t talk about divorce. Make discipleship sound like a casual weekend hobby. Be careful about being explicit concerning the sanctity of human life. Vagueness regarding individual responsibility for sin helps membership drives. Emphasize faith and say as little as possible about water baptism for the remission of sins. We need numbers!

The truth must be presented in love, but it must be presented in its purity. God uses His truth to weed out those who are not willing to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Genuine disciples love His truth and are determined to apply it to their lives regardless of the changes it demands.

By Allen Dvorak
From Expository Files 16.7; July 2009