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Telling Truth with Tact and Tenacity

June 18, 2023


Pastor Peder Kling


Sermon Passage: John 10:31-41

Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)

Truth-Telling in Truth-Taunting Times

One of the more difficult callings that we have as Christians is to tell the truth of Jesus—and, I mean that quite broadly. Telling the truth of Jesus is a difficult calling (indeed a privilege) which we all bear. Whether we are telling the truth to our unbelieving neighbor, to our unbelieving family members, or even to our believing friends and family who might not want to hear it at that given time—this is often a difficult thing to do. Truth cuts. Truth can be hard. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell even ourselves the truth about Jesus, even though we know we might need it at any given point. “Peder, you’re white-knuckling this and it’s tearing you and your family down. Repent of your pride. Humble yourself before Jesus! He’s the better answer!” Ever been there? It’s not always easy, is it? 


But yes, take that message to a world that isn’t loving Jesus. Take that to a world, or to a neighbor, or a coworker, who is actively opposing or hating Jesus, or would generally like to keep their life and religion to themselves. We’re called to this, folks. We’re called to be truth-telling people in truth-taunting times. Just this week, as I was walking into this church building, one of our neighbors yelled across the block to inform me “God is not real! Why do you believe in God?! He’s not real!”. We’re called to be truth-tellers about Jesus in this neighborhood, this community, this 21st century American culture. And before we get too discouraged or too full of excuses (“it’s so hard in our culture today, it’s so ugly and opposed to Jesus—it’s not like it was 50 years ago!”), we’d do well to not forget that truth-telling is always hard, to anyone. 


In our passage this morning, Jesus brings cutting truth to the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, and he does it with tact and tenacity. He does it with wisdom and persistence. There’s a lot for us to learn about truth-telling, here. There’s a lot for us to learn about telling people about Jesus—and here, we’re learning directly from Jesus himself. What are some wise principles we can go by, as we might desire to reach the lost with the truth of Jesus? What are some principles we can go by to help people who hate Jesus learn to embrace him? I think we can find some, here in John 10. 


This is a rich, rich chapter in our Bibles, is it not? In the last two weeks, we’ve been finding comfort in Jesus’s words as he is revealing himself to be our strong-armed, protective shepherd. This is an incredibly comforting chapter in our Bibles. Although, again, Jesus is not speaking directly to his sheep to comfort them, here in John 10. He’s speaking cutting, truthful words to unbelieving Jews. So that’s the angle we’re really going to focus on this morning. How does Jesus bring truth to these people—and, how might we learn from the great prophet of truth himself?


Jesus’s Truth, and Three Ways He Communicates It

This morning, we will first consider the truth Jesus is telling to these Jews, and why he’s doing it. So, that will be more of a broad look at the context, the conversation he’s having, and what he’s saying. Then, we’ll get more practical. Once we’ve considered what truths he’s actually saying, then we’ll consider three ways he tactfully communicates that truth, and how we might learn from him in that respect.


Jesus’s Truth: It Cuts Deep!

So let’s start with a broader look at what’s really happening in this passage, here in John 10. What’s going on in this conversation, here between Jesus and the Jews, and what is Jesus actually saying? 


Throughout our last few weeks here in John 10, we’ve seen Jesus tell cutting truth to a bunch of Jewish authorities who refuse to hear the truth. This is all flowing out of Jesus’s miracle in John 9 when he gave sight to a blind man, and the Pharisees excommunicated the man. They basically marginalized him and cast him out of society—this man whom Jesus healed. Why would they do that? 


The truth cuts deep, folks. This man was walking, living proof that Jesus was the Messiah from God. No one in the history of the world had received their sight. They knew it, the blind man knew it, the people in Jerusalem knew it. There’s no example of it in the Old Testament—only prophesies and promises. When the Messiah would come, God promised THAT was the miracle the Jews should look for. So, this blind man received his sight—"behold, the works of the Messiah”. Behold, the works of God. The Pharisees basically had to choose if they would accept the miracle as genuine, and therein acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, or they had to completely deny the miracle happened. What do you think they chose? Do they give up their position of power and authority and all the praise they received from man, to submit to this Galilean peasant? 


They cornered this man, and pressured him to deny that Jesus healed him. They even brought in the man’s parents. In the end, the parents kept silent about Jesus but the man spoke truth. He simply told the truth of Jesus—“he healed my eyes, he must be a prophet from God”. That’s what he said. He simply told the truth, and that cut the pharisees down. 


So, they cast him out of the religious and civil life of Israel. They didn’t want to hear the truth. They wanted to bury the truth, suppress the truth, as they cast this man out of Israel. 


How do you think Jesus responded to all this? He marks his territory and claims God’s sheep as his sheep. He’s the shepherd, and they’re the oppressive thieves and robbers. That’s truth, folks. It’s deeply comforting to us, his sheep. It’s deeply provoking to these religious authorities. 


So a few weeks pass and, as we saw last week in verse 24 and they come back to press him with another question: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” That’s what’s setting all of this up. They ask him to tell the truth plainly—and, of course, we can assume they were genuinely intrigued (right?). “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly!” (Wink, wink). They were full of insincerity, to say the least.


A few months ago I had someone call our church, asking our views on homosexuality and transgenderism. “Can you tell me plainly what you believe?”—there was giggling in the background. They just wanted to hear it from the horses’ mouth, so they could use my words against us or make me ashamed of the truth. It’s the insincerity of hard, cold, malicious unbelief which we all need to be saved from. That’s the situation Jesus is finding himself in, here in Jerusalem—and we need to be real with ourselves. That’s the situation we’re in, here in our nation and our neighborhood. Are you ready for it? Are the social pressures tampering you down from telling truth as you should? 


Keep learning from the master, from Jesus. How does Jesus handle all this? His first response to these insincere, prideful Jews (from last week’s passage)—“I told you, and you do not believe… [and] you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.” That’s straight talk, folks. It’s also crazy talk—no one except Jesus could ever say such a thing. He’s not merely saying “I already told you”—he’s saying “and now I’m going to tell you why you won’t believe me. Quite simply: you’re not among my sheep. If I called you and claimed you as my sheep, you’d believe and you’d follow me. But as it is, you’re not among my sheep. You’re enemies of my sheep, you’re thieves—and you won’t succeed in stealing my sheep. You won’t succeed in your wicked plans.” He says in verse 29, “My Father, who has given [the sheep] to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one”. 


Do you hear how plain and unadulterated Jesus speaks truth, here? He’s not afraid. He’s not backing down. He’s telling the truth as it is, knowing very well what will happen. “I and the Father are one”—he claims to be equal with the Father. It’s a recipe for disaster.


Summing It Up: The Jews’ Pride Versus Jesus’s Truth

So, that’s the situation and the truth he’s declaring. To put it all quite simply—there’s lots of tension in the air, and Jesus has proclaimed that he’s the shepherd, they’re wolves and thieves of the sheep, he’s doing miracles that only could come from God and the Messiah, and he’s even claiming to be one with the Father. He’s truth-telling, folks, and it’s put him into a corner.


Truth-Telling with Tact and Tenacity 

Let’s continue with verse 31, there, where our passage picks up, “The Jews picked up stones again to stone him”. 


What’s he going to do now? He’s facing death, right there, folks. This is a tense, passionate, dramatic moment—and, notice he does not walk away this time. Verse 31 says they “picked up stones again to stone him”—this isn’t the first time. They’ve already done this, back in John 8:59 when he said “before Abraham was, I AM”. That statement didn’t go over well either, and that time we read “they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple”. So Jesus got away, somehow (probably miraculously) in chapter 8. Does he do it again? He certainly could have, but he didn’t.


This time, as the stones are being picked up, Jesus sticks around. He continues to talk with them. He doesn’t walk himself out of the situation. He reasons himself out, and it worked. Notice what happened at the end of our passage, in verse 39 there. Verse 39, “Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.” That’s a very different tone, isn’t it? It’s not “again they sought to stone him, but he escaped from their stones”. It’s “they sought to seize him and arrest him with their hands, but he escaped from their hands”. That’s Jesus’s truth-telling in action, there, folks. He can speak truth, and prevail every time. He can speak truth, and either his sheep will answer his call or his enemies will submit to his purposes. It wasn’t time for him to die yet—his time had not yet come. So Jesus speaks, and this time, his enemies are stayed off. Their murderous cries are silenced—and, the only reason is because Jesus must have struck some kind of reservation into them. He must have struck some kind of fear into their souls, so they wouldn’t strike him dead right then. Later in John, Jesus will be silent, and his enemies will yell to crucify him—but only when he says it’s time. He’s in control, folks, and he’s wielding truth. 


Three Ways Jesus Speaks Truth with Tact and Tenacity 

So, we considered the actual situation and the truths which Jesus is claiming in all of this. And, we considered the general fact that Jesus isn’t hopscotching his way out of this one. He’s sticking around, and he’s going to talk them down. He needs to get their attention and strike a certain fear into them so they don’t stone him. How does he do it? Let’s walk through this and consider three ways he does it. 


He Masters His Audience

For his first tactic (if you’d even call it a tactic), look with me at verses 31–33. 


John 10:31   The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”


So, what’s Jesus doing there? His opponents have stones in his hands, and he answers them with a question. “I have shown you many good works from the Father, for which of them are you going to stone me?”. That’s what Jesus has in this situation. Is this a delay tactic? Is he just trying to buy time, so he can think of another more effective thing to say? 


Folks, this was brilliant. In fact, Jesus really lays on the language, here. “I have shown you many good works…”. The word, there, is kalos. It could mean morally good, or aesthetically beautiful. It’s a very good, beautiful word, kalos is. Jesus has shown the world what he’s capable of—and folks, his works are undeniably good and beautiful and desirable. The Jews didn’t deny it. Did you see that, there? They actually say “It is not for your good works that we are going to stone you”. They just attributed to Jesus works that are good, beautiful, desirable. Shouldn’t that alone make anyone pause for even a second? 


Jesus, here, is really pressing into his good works as his point of argument. That’s the real foundation, or thrust, of his argument. Later in verse 37, he’ll make his point really plain and simple. 


37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.


See how he brings it full circle, there? They just said his works are kalos—good, beautiful, desirable. So, he leverages that which is undeniable and says “if you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father (i.e., that I and the Father are one)”. 


So no, his first words are not a delay tactic. He’s really setting something up, there in verse 32. He’s getting them to acknowledge that his miracles and works are desirable. 


What’s the tactic that he’s after, there, which we might learn from? There are a few of them, but I want you to simply notice that Jesus has complete mastery over his audience. He’s not getting played, here. He’s in complete control, and he’s wielding the truth with mastery. He’s wielding it confidently, because he knows that he’s dealing with truth. He’s not making something up. Even if they don’t believe it, he’s still got the upper hand because he’s got the truth. So, he approaches the conversation assuming the upper-hand, with confidence.


Do you feel and think that way when you’re telling the truth about Jesus? It’s amazing, folks, how we can take indestructible truth which the world has not been able to snuff out since the moment Jesus ascended into glory, and we can walk around with it like it’s something which disqualifies us or disarms us from cultural relevance or spiritual authority. “Oh, you better not say that. People will get mad or upset or more depressed if you bring up Jesus or their sin. Someone might commit suicide, you know, if you tell them they can’t live the way they want to.” What does the Bible say? “If you abide in my word… you will know the truth and the truth will set you free”. That’s either true or it’s not. We believe it is. It’s been a truth at work for 2000 years, saving people and families and generations from all kinds of misery. But, make sure you keep it quiet—you just might upset someone. 


Or, you could wield the truth confidently because you know it’s true, and you know it’s the only answer. You could take the truth, find power and strength and courage in the truth of Jesus (which will never fail), and you can take mastery over an audience to grab their attention and make them think. Force them to think, folks. Say something to get them to pause. This is life or death. You’ll never force anyone to think about truth if you don’t assume some sort of higher position, or mastery, over them. You have the truth—they don’t. That literally places you in the upper hand. 


Paul goes so far to say of the Christian community, “if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness”. See how Paul speaks, there? “If anyone is caught in any transgression”—so, we aren’t talking about civil or social or spiritual offices of authority. “If anyone is caught… you who are spiritual should restore him”. That means if a pastor is caught in a transgression which a congregant knows about, the congregant “who is spiritual”—that is, who is not caught in the transgression—is in the higher position. They’re in the position to wield the truth even with their higher spiritual authority. The same is true for wives unto husbands, or children unto their parents. Knowing and living in truth puts you in the higher position, over against someone who isn’t knowing or living in truth. So, take mastery and wield the truth—albeit, listen to what Paul said. “You who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness”.


What Jesus does, here, is so phenomenally thought-provoking and insightful to how we should wield the truth with people who are living in a lie. Take the upper hand with confidence, and do it in a way that knows who you’re talking about. If the person needs a hard hit in the gut with the truth, then go there. If the person needs a gentle reminder of the truth, then go there. If the person needs to be humbled by the truth, then think of how to bring the truth in a way that will expose their pride and cut them down. Whatever the case is, bring the truth to them in a way that will force them to really think about the truth, to chew on it. “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you…”, to which Jesus basically responds a little later, “ah, but my works are good, aren’t they? Think about that—at least listen to my works if you won’t listen to my words”. It literally disarmed them. It literally forced them to put their stones down.


Here’s a little snippet from a book I’m reading. I thought this was a good, tactful example of taking mastery over an audience in order to disarm them. I’ll read this to you at length, because I find it so compelling, even though I know this is an example from an unbeliever who I don’t necessarily agree with or condone. The way he masters and disarms his audience is stunning.


The colorful and controversial novelist Norman Mailer was once invited to speak at the University of California Berkley….


Mailer was a chauvinist sort of figure, and he was entering into a feminist-ridden university. You get the idea.


Mailer strode confidently through the crowd, stepped up to the podium and announced that he had important things to say, so those who wished to hiss and boo should get it out at once. He then threw down the gauntlet: “Everybody in this hall who regards me as a male chauvinist pig, hiss.” 


As if perfectly on cue, the feminists broke out at once in loud, derisive hissing and booing, which rose to a crescendo of long, sustained jeering and barracking, punctuated with derisive cat calls and wolf whistles from men in other parts of the lecture room. For a while there was pandemonium, but inevitably it had to die down. The feminists could not keep up the booing forever, and the hubbub subsided. Mailer stepped back to the microphone, looked over to them, paused for a second or two, and said, ‘obedient little women, aren’t you?”


The accounts of this story speak of how the whole crowd erupted in laughter and a certain level of respect for Mailer because of his “gotcha” moment, there. It was a well-received, well-planned tactic which cleared the air, and Mailer was then able to proceed and speak without any trouble for the whole lecture. 


If an unbeliever not wielding the truth of Jesus can tactfully find an “in” through some cunning device like that—we who have the truth of Jesus and know what is actually in the heart of mankind have all the more reason not to give up or regard ourselves as disqualified. That’s the point, here. They want to disqualify you. You can’t let them. You have the truth. You have the Spirit of God helping you. Jesus did not regard himself as disqualified. He knew his audience. He knew what was in his audience. He knew truth. So he walked and talked with the upper hand, and was able to literally disarm the Jews who would put their stones down and decide rather to arrest him. 


So, Jesus’s first tact in this is a tact of his positional authority. He didn’t hand his higher position over to the Jews because they were more in number or raging with mob rule. He didn’t cower. He had the truth. He had the Spirit, the authority, the upper hand. So, he wielded it confidently. He actually got them to acknowledge that his works were good. 


He Finds the Mutual Point of Contact

What else does he do in this passage, to speak truth to these people and get them to settle down? He meets them at what we might call a mutual point of contact. It’s a mutual point of agreement, if you will. “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” There’s one mutual point of contact. He knows they can’t deny that his works are good—and as we’ve seen, the Jews don’t deny it. They mutually agree on that. Instead, they tell Jesus that they want to kill him for a different reason. “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”


So, they want to kill him for making himself God. He’s claiming to be God. How is Jesus going to wiggle out of that one? He doesn’t need to wiggle out of it. He is God. Although, he does need to tactfully disarm them—and once again, he finds another mutual point of contact, or a mutual point of agreement. 


They’re Jews. They revere the Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus reveres the Old Testament Scriptures. So, what does Jesus do? He appeals to Scripture in a way that would make them think twice. Look again at verses 34–36, where Jesus responds to their charge.


34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?


How’s that for an argument for you? If you’re anything like me, you probably read that and were completely baffled at first glance. What is Jesus saying? What’s his argument? 


Ironically, folks, he’s not explicitly defending his divinity in this passage. In some ways, he is—but I don’t think that’s the thrust of his argument. Again, the Jews just said “we want to stone you because you, although a man, make yourself to be God”. So, Jesus argues from Scripture that Scripture has a category for men to be called gods. You find that situation in Psalm 82. In Psalm 82, God is referring to the leaders in Israel who had received his law and were expected to carry it out justly over Israel on God’s behalf. Their responsibility—their God-given position as judges—was so high and weighty that God actually referred to them as gods, as elohim. 


So Jesus’s argument is quite simple. “You say I’m blaspheming by calling myself God, even though I’m human. Although Scriptures itself has a category for humans who are charged with a certain task to be called elohim, to be called gods”. That was Jesus’s argument. It wasn’t deceitful. It wasn’t untrue. 


Jesus is being extremely tactful, here. He’s reaching them at a mutual point of agreement which they would be able to agree upon, and that particular area of agreement would cause for deeper thought and reflection. The human people called “gods” in Psalm 82 were people God entrusted his law and authority with. Jesus is saying, “if God called them gods, how much more would we expect this to be true of the coming Son of God, the Messiah?”. Think about that, Pharisees. 


Whatever this argument did to these Jewish authorities, it certainly gave them reason to pause, and put down their stones.


So first, Jesus kept the higher ground and showed mastery over his audience because he knew he was wielding the truth, not them. Second, he found the point of mutual agreement, or the mutual point of contact. They both agreed Jesus’s works were good, and they both agreed the Bible has a category for men to be called gods (Psalm 82). Those are two mutual points of agreement, there.


What’s it look like to find the mutual point of contact in our world today? We aren’t in a Jewish society that accepts the Old Testament. We aren’t even in a Judeo-Christian society anymore. Most people reject the Bible altogether. What can we mutually agree on?


First, actually ask your coworkers or your neighbors or family members what they think of the Bible and go from there. They might surprise you. Although, more importantly, know that the Bible speaks of a deeper point of mutual agreement you can always appeal to with every person you’d ever meet. 


God has “put eternity into the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). That’s a human intuition, a human instinct, a human knowledge that we intuitively know because God made us with that understanding. It’s in our hearts. We know—everyone of us, deep down—this temporary world isn’t it. We have eternity to deal with, and you can bet everyone knows that’s true even if they deny it. 


More than this, Paul tells us that God has put even more into our hearts. Paul tells us in Romans 1 that God’s glory and wrath and power and divine nature are all clearly perceived and known by all. We’re made in his image. We’re created with an intuitive understanding of God and his authority over us—but we suppress that. We don’t like it. We cover it up, and we convince ourselves that we are in control. Although, the intuitive knowledge of God and the understanding of eternity is always there. That’s literally why Paul says every unbeliever who denied God will be without excuse. They decided to suppress the truth within them, rather than acknowledge it and give glory to God. 


Folks, that’s your point of contact. That’s your point of mutual agreement. You don’t need to be in a Jewish or Christian culture that generally reveres the Bible or the Old Testament. You need to be a human. God put an awareness of his glory and power into the heart of every human. So, with a certain tact and tenacity, be a trouble to the conscience of unbelievers. Remind them God is there. Remind them you’re praying for them. Remind them the truth will set them free, and Jesus is the truth. They know it. These Jews knew it. They simply didn’t want to give up their control. 


So again (1) tell the truth of Jesus with mastery and confidence, assuming the higher ground, because you have the truth. Then (2) appeal to the point of mutual agreement, or the point of contact. Be a trouble to their already troubled conscience, and pray the Lord moves them to his grace. 


He Gives Them God’s Word and Works

Now, there’s one more—a third—tact that Jesus uses to disarm his audience. He gives them God’s word, and God’s works, to think about. In many ways, this is reiterating what I’ve already said, but I want it to be explicit. When Jesus proclaims the truth in a sensitive situation, he proclaims the Bible. He proclaims Psalm 82—and, not simply because it’s a mutual point of agreement between him and these Jews. It’s the Bible, folks. It will not return void. He appeals to God’s word, and we should do likewise in our witness. Do not neglect speaking God’s word in your witnessing. 


But also, don’t neglect God’s works. “even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (verse 38). That’s really what Jesus was burrowing into, in this argument. “I know you don’t like my words. But if you get tripped up on those, at least consider my works. At least acknowledge—as you have—that my works are good and beautiful, and are the kinds of works we’d expect from God and his Messiah. Put your stones down and consider this before you stone God’s promised Messiah”. It certainly gave them pause. 


Appeal to the works of God, folks. Appeal to Jesus and what he did on the cross, and how his cross and resurrection changed the history of the world. Appeal to how his work on the cross changed your life. Couple all of that with God’s word, and I trust you’ll be a deeply troubling thought in the conscience of an unbeliever. 



So yes, telling the truth of Jesus is hard, folks. It cuts deep. It demands that we acknowledge we’re sinners in need of grace. It demands we acknowledge our only answer to our sin and our miseries is Jesus Christ and him crucified and risen for our sins. That’s the truth of Jesus—he’s the Son of God, come to take away our sin and God’s wrath, so we might live forever in him. Tell that boldly. Tell it confidently, with the upper hand of truth. Find the mutual point of agreement, even as you would appeal to God’s image bearers who know there’s a god and there’s eternity to deal with. Prick their conscience, and give them God’s word and God’s works to reckon with. 

May God add to his flock mightily every day. Let’s pray. 

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