A fellow minister in our Presbytery recently preached a sermon series called, “Things Jesus Should Not Have (I Wish He Hadn’t) Said!” The crux of the series was that Jesus said many hard sayings that–if we are honest–we would have to admit we find uncomfortable. The fact of the matter is that so much of what Jesus said makes people uncomfortable. In a day when the “cult of niceness” has permeated the church, and politeness and tolerance has taken a front seat to truth and the fear of God, we need to be reminded that the Savior of the world often corrected the errors of his enemies in a less than winsome manner. Many times He also corrected His disciples in shocking and uncomfortable ways. As we study the life of Jesus in the Gospels we see very clearly the way in which the Savior of the world corrected people when they said or did things that needed correction. Consider the following:
How Jesus Corrected and Confronted His Opponents and Hypocrites
1. Jesus Corrected and Confronted Publicly: Jesus corrected the false teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees by teaching His disciples to be on constant guard against it. He corrected their misinterpretations by appealing to His own authority. He repeatedly said, “You have heard it was said…but I say to you…” Jesus would often speak with His disciples, and the crowds around Him, about the dangers of false teachers’ doctrine. It is not, as many suppose, godly not to talk about the problems with false teachers and teaching.
2. Jesus Corrected and Confronted Directly: Jesus directly confronted false teachers in the church with the repetitious, “Woe to you…hypocrites.” When they came to trick Him, Jesus frequently silenced the Chief Priests, Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees but putting them in their place with Scripture. On one occasion He came right out and said, “You’re wrong, not knowing the Scriptures or the power of God.” Jesus was not afraid to tell people–in the most confrontational way–“You’re wrong.”
3. Jesus Resorted to Metaphorical “Animal” Name Calling: Jesus often exposed the true nature of the wickedness of false teachers by using animal names to metaphorically describe them. He called the Pharisees the “offspring of serpents,” Herod “a fox,” false teachers “wolves,” and unregenerate Gentiles “dogs.”
4. Jesus Corrected and Confronted by Means of Comparison: Jesus rebuked the unbelief of the covenant people by singling out the faith of a Gentile centurion who said to Jesus, “Only speak and word and my servant will be healed” (Matt. 8:5-13). Christ compared the greatness of their unbelief with the greatness of this man’s faith. He then went on to explain the eternal punishment those who did not believe would undergo.
5. Jesus Corrected and Confronted Wrong Motives and Excuses: A self-seeking man boastfully promised to follow Jesus anywhere because he thought it would mean political or financial gain for him. Jesus corrected his wrong motives by telling him that he would be following a homeless Messiah (Matt. 8:18-22). He then corrected another man who used his aging father as an excuse about why he could not follow Jesus at that time, by telling him that he was as spiritual dead as His father would soon be physically. An outstanding treatment of this passage can be found in Sinclair Ferguson’s sermon “The Cost of Discipleship.”
6. Jesus Resorted to a Physical Act of Righteous Anger: Jesus corrected the greed and corruption of the money changers in the Temple by making a whip and physically driving them out. He also threw their tables over. I’m sure that many in the church today would say that Jesus was “emotionally unstable” and “erratic.”
How Jesus Corrected His Beloved Disciples
When we see how Jesus corrected His own disciples (who gave Him plenty of opportunities to do so!) we find that there is a great deal more tenderness and patience. Jesus characterized Himself as being “gentle and lowly in heart.” While this was the characteristic mark of the Savior, it was often accompanied by strong, unexpected and confrontational rebuke of their actions. Consider the following:
1. Jesus Rebuked in Order to Correct Role Relations: Jesus corrected his mother at the wedding in Cana of Galilee by telling her “Woman, what of you and Me?” when she told Him “They have no wine.” He was rebuking he for thinking that she had authority over Him. The meaning of Jesus’ response was essentially, “This concern of yours is My work, not for you and I to take care of together. I am not under your authority in this matter.” (See George Hutcheson’s Exposition on John, p. 32 ff. for a good treatment of this text.) Jesus also confronted James and John when they tried to use Him to get to the top. Jesus responded to their request by saying, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with.” Basically, Jesus was telling them that He would pave the way to heaven for all His disciples by drinking the bitter cup of the wrath of God at the cross.
2. Jesus Rebuked Unbelief in His Disciples: Jesus corrected His disciples on a boat in a storm by showing off His power and rebuking their unbelief. He told them, “O you of little faith.” He then stilled the wind and the waves with a rebuke (Matt. 8:23-27) . He also rebuked the unbelief of the two on the road to Damascus, as well as the disciples in the house, after His resurrection.
3. Jesus Rebuked By Means of Comparison: Jesus corrected Martha’s anxious heart by pointing to her sitter sitting at His feet and listening to His word. He basically said, “You should be more like your sister.” This might strike some as being a psychologically harmful way to correct people, nevertheless, the Son of God did it! (Luke 10:41-42). Jesus also pointed to a woman putting a few pennies in the offering box to teach His disciples the value of having a generous heart, as over against the rich who putt in a little out of their abundance.
4. Jesus Used Tragic Circumstances to Call People to Repentance: Some people told Jesus that Herod had mingled the blood of some Galileans with animal sacrifices. Instead of telling them how tragic this was–and how sorry He was to hear about it–He reminded them about the tower that had tragically and unexpectedly fallen on 18 people. He then made the most unlikely application, saying, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish!” (Luke 13:1-5).
5. Jesus Corrected Bickering Men with a Child: Jesus confronted His disciples when they argued about who was greatest among them by taking a child and setting him in their midst. Correcting grown men with the mere presentation of a child was a seriously humbling rebuke.
6. Jesus Corrected Envy By Saying, “Worry About Yourself”: Jesus corrected Peter’s jealousy of John by telling him, “What if he remains until I come. You follow for Me.” (i.e. “Don’t worry your pretty little mind about what I’m doing with anyone else. Just worry about your own relationship with Me.”)
Nicholas T. Batzig is the organizing pastor/church planter of New Covenant Presbyterian Church, a PCA church in Richmond Hill, Georgia.