Introduction: The debate going on in Washington right now about the debt ceiling and all the angry rhetoric reminds us of how acrimonious we can become in our conversational skills. For some people, the older they get the more argumentative they become. I can be as argumentative as the next person, given the right conditions. But I’m trying hard to improve when it comes to personal interactions. That doesn’t mean my beliefs are getting softer. If anything, I think my convictions are stronger now than they were in years past. But we can have strong beliefs without being argumentative, at least most of the time. Then when a tense exchange occurs, it’s an exception; and it’s not necessarily out of the Lord’s will. Jesus Himself had some tense exchanges, and many of them occurred in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem during the last week of His life. That’s the subject of Luke 20. This chapter lets us eavesdrop on several conversations Jesus had in and around the temple.
1. Sometimes it’s best not to give straight answers (verses 1-8). In this passage, Jesus refused to be drawn into an overt position. He had one, and He could have answered their question with theological precision. And He did answer it but not in an explicit way; He answered implicitly. He was strategically evasive because He knew they would twist His words and use them against Him. So He was cautious about giving them too many words. If someone is trying to draw you into an argument and you know they’re only going to twist your words, it’s best to be shrewd in the way you answer. The Bible says, “A fool utters his whole mind.” We don’t have to say everything we think. We don’t always have to be pinned down.
2. Sometimes a good story will help make the point (verses 9-18). Jesus was a master at teaching through story-telling. It’s harder to attack a story, so Jesus positioned Himself well in arguments. Some of our greatest leaders were good at this. Lincoln and Roosevelt and Reagan were all famous for their stories. As it relates to teaching and preaching, we call these sermon illustrations. I learned to appreciate sermon illustrations by listening to the sermons of my pastor in Columbia, South Carolina, Dr. J. Edwin Young. He had a marvelous way of weaving stories into his sermons. I can still remember some of his stories. He once told about the danger of getting even and seeking revenge. He said that a young man got into an argument with a nearby farmer. I don’t remember what the argument was about, but it resulted in the two becoming enemies and the young man felt he’d been wronged in some way. To exact revenge, one night he secretly crept into the man’s farm and sowed quack grass. It just about ruined the man’s fields and he had to work hard year after year to try to control it. But by and by the young man fell in love with the farmer’s daughter, they married, and he eventually inherited the farm. He spent the rest of his life battling the quack grass he had sowed in anger. Now, let’s say you’re talking to someone who is very angry, that’s a useful story to have up your sleeve.
3. Use a few simple, honest, wise words and leave it at that (verses 19-26). In trying to entice Jesus to say something incriminating, His enemies asked Him a leading question. Jesus’ strategy was to use a few simple, honest, wise words and to leave it at that. Notice that He again didn’t give a yes or no answer.
4. Use Scripture, and use it accurately (verses 27-44). The Sadducees (the theological liberals in the crowd) were the next ones who lined up to oppose Jesus. They asked Him a theological question to trip Him up. They didn’t realize that He had a pretty good grasp of Scripture. Notice that Jesus based His whole argument for eternal life on the tense of on one statement from the story of the burning bush in Exodus: He is (not was) the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. To us, Scripture is our highest codified authority.
5. Stay cautious and courteous (verses 45-47). Jesus had a courage given by His Father. He stayed calm, but He was as unflinching as steel. He cautioned His disciples to beware the scribes. He wasn’t warning them to beware their attacks but to beware their example (Not: “Watch out or they will kill you” but “Watch out that you don’t become like them”).
Conclusion: The Bible says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone.” We’re also told that a soft answer turns away wrath. Whenever possible, let’s avoid tense conversations. But we can’t avoid them all. Jesus certainly had His share of them. But even then, we can be like Christ.