5.3 The Sensitivity Of Jesus
The Lord's parables were not just made up by Him off the cuff.
They are evidently the outcome of much prior thought and reflection,
perhaps during the carpenter years (and hours). They reflect the
sensitivity of Jesus. The basis of their message was doubtless part
of the private revelation which the Father made to the Son, which
He faithfully spoke forth to us. And yet one guesses that the formulation
of the parables was the work of the Lord's own mind, rather than
speaking them forth directly from the Father as a kind of fax transmission.
We therefore see in them much indirect revelation of the Lord's
character. On one level, it is possible to see the story-line of
the parables as just the necessary machinery in order to deliver
the basic message. But let's remember that the Father and Son are
of much higher intellect to ourselves. The way the Lord Jesus used
the parables as He did, comprehensively answering every point of
His detractors, revealing their weakness, and displaying the character
of God all in a few brief, simple words, is proof enough of the
intellectual and spiritual genius of Jesus of Nazareth. We use so
much language and packaging that is redundant. Yet it seems hard
to believe that the Father and Son would do the same. Some of the
parables are given a very detailed interpretation by the Lord Jesus;
clearly He saw every detail as significant. Again, it seems unlikely
that other parables were not intended to be read in the same way,
but rather on a more superficial level. The fact that some of their
details seem so obviously redundant to us, without meaning, is to
be expected seeing that we lack the mind , intellectually or spiritually,
of the Son of God. We would be better to just accept that we fail
to apprehend their meaning (at the moment), rather than come to
the conclusion that sometimes the Lord's parables are intended to
be interpreted very closely, whilst others are just stories giving
a basic message. This is effectively limiting God's word in accordance
with the limits of our own spiritual apprehension; we would be implying
that the meaning of God's word is bounded by our own interpretational
The Lord Jesus " knew what was in man" , not only by
direct revelation from the Father and the Old Testament word, but
also from His own observation of our own nature, both in Himself
and the surrounding world. The sensitivity of Jesus is reflected
in this realization which He reflects. As the Samaritan came near
to the wounded man (the ecclesia), realized the extent of his problem
(the ravages of sinful nature) and was thereby moved with compassion,
so Christ was motivated by His consideration of our position (Lk.
10:33,34); the Lord realized His humanity more and more, and progressively
humbled Himself, achieving a progressively fuller identity with
us by so doing, until He crowned it all by His death (Phil. 2:6-8).
The main lying helpless on the Jerusalem - Jericho road was surely
modelled on Zedekiah being overtaken there by his enemies (Jer.
39:5). That weak, vacillating man basically loved God's word, he
wanted to be obedient, but just couldn't bring himself to do it.
And so he was, quite justly, condemned. It's as if the Lord saw
in that wretched, pathetic man a type of all those He came to save.
And even in this wretched position, the Lord will pick us up and
carry us home. This gives a fine, fine insight into His sensitivity
to us. Indeed, several times the Spirit in the NT uses OT pictures
of unworthy believers as the basis of a description of the faithful.
We are of (Christ's) bones and flesh (Eph. 5:32) is a direct allusion
back to the way David called the men of Judah who were not enthusiastic
for his return in glory " my bones and my flesh"
(2 Sam. 19:11,12).
The Lord Jesus also looked forward to the development of His future
body as the ecclesia (e.g. Ps. 22:25; Mt. 18:17). He must have seen
the problems we would face, He knew our weakness; as Moses, superb
type of Christ that he was, looked ahead to the future weakness
of Israel, so did the Lord Jesus (1).
Even in practical issues, He may have foreseen our state in the
twenty first century far more than we realize; and again, in this
we see the sensitivity of Jesus. Thus He speaks of the believer
praying in his bedroom (Mt. 6:6)- at a time when private rooms were
almost unheard of amongst ordinary folk. The degree to which the
Lord foresaw our struggles even in His humanity should provide great
stimulus in the difficult business of building up a personal relationship
with Him now. For in His heavenly glory, His empathy with us is
even greater than in His mortal life. He endured our nature
and temptations so that He might be an empathetic High
Priest (consider the implications of Heb. 2:10,17; 4:14,15; 5:1,2);
Christ was fully consecrated as High Priest after His death, and
it was then that He began to be the sympathetic, understanding High
Priest which the Hebrew letter speaks of. The fact that Christ knows
so thoroughly our feelings here and now, especially our struggles
for personal righteousness, should of itself encourage
our awareness of and relationship with Him.
The Problem Of Defending The Faith
The parables are full of almost incidental indications of how well
the Lord knew our nature and how accurately He foresaw the future
struggles of His body. He foresaw that the elder brothers would
be self-righteous and unwilling to accept back into fellowship the
repentant. Yet instead of making the father address the older boy
with words like " You hypocrite! You yourself are disobedient!
Get away from me, you callous hypocrite!" , the Lord puts the
words of grace themselves in the father's mouth: " Son,
thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine" (Lk. 15:30).
The Lord foresaw that the elder brethren's relationship with the
Father would be damaged by their harshness. But in the way the story
ends, I see real hope for the hard line, right wing Christian who
condemns his brother, in the light of the Lord's teaching that we
will be judged as we have judged. Wrong such brethren certainly
are; but their Lord is gracious enough, it seems, to still work
with them. In the same breath as the Lord warned that by our words
we will be justified and condemned, and that we will have to account
for them at the judgment, He also said that whoever speaks words
against Him, He will forgive. I'd like to concentrate on other examples
of where the Lord Jesus in His sensitivity foresaw this problem
of dealing with apparently weak believers.
He foresaw that the hardest working brethren would be bitter at
His acceptance of the weaker ones. His comment to them, " Is
thine eye evil, because I am good?" (Mt. 20:15) was quarried
from Jonah 4:2-4, where Jonah is also asked a similar question after
his bitterness that God had allowed Nineveh to repent. We must be
aware that such self righteousness and uncomfortableness at the
repentance of others is a feature of our very essential nature.
The Lord Jesus overcame this aspect of His nature superbly.
The parables of the two carpenters and the tares in the field show
Christ's recognition that His followers would have a keen interest
in the weaknesses of their brethren. He foresaw what has been the
consistent problem of all groups who have held His true teaching,
from the early church through the Bible-believing communities of
Central Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, and right through
our experience from the 1850s onwards: the problem of how to deal
with members of the church who appear to err from the Truth He taught.
In the primary context of sunny Galilee in the AD30s, His emphasis
on these things would have appeared irrelevant to the 12. But the
Lord's mind was far far ahead, way beyond His time, foreseeing the
schisms of 40 years' time, imagining the struggles of His body 1900
years later. Consider the story He told of the carpenter with a
beam in his own eye who is so keen to extract the splinter from
the eye of his fellow worker (note how he almost forces himself
upon his brother to do this!). There is something grotesque, absurd,
over the top in this story. Christ's parables often have an element
of unreality in them to highlight how His attitudes are unusual
(e.g. the employer who pays all his men the same wages for different
hours of work). And these unusual attitudes of His reflect the sensitivity
But in this story of the two carpenters there is something not
only unreal, but almost cartoon-like. We read it and think 'The
Lord's obviously exaggerating, nobody would really be so foolish'.
But that's exactly how He knew we would think! Our attempts to sort
out our brother really are that absurd! Christ is effectively saying:
'Now, I know you'll think I'm exaggerating- but I'm not' (Lk. 6:41,42).
Often it seems the Lord intends us to think His parables through
to their end, imagining the necessary details. A splinter will come
out of the eye naturally, it's presence will provoke tears which
ultimately will wash it out. 'The grief of life will work on your
brother to solve his problem, there are some spiritual weaknesses
which time and the experience of life will heal; but I know you
people will want to rush in and speed up the spiritual growth of
your brother. But you can't do it!'. Christ even foresaw how we
will stress the fact that our fellow believer is our " brother"
as we try to do this; as if we'll try to be so righteous in the
very moment when in God's eyes we do something grotesquely foolish.
Doubtless the Lord's carpenter years were the time when He formulated
this story. Perhaps He intends us to take it further, and pick up
the implication that these two carpenters couldn't help each other;
but there's another one who can...
The same awareness of our desire to inappropriately sort out the
problems of Christ's ecclesia is shown in the parable of the tares;
" wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?" (Mt.
13:28) shows Christ's knowledge that this would be the desire of
His servants throughout the generations. If we take His teaching
seriously, we must come to the conclusion that all of us have a
desire to " help" our brethren by 'sorting out' the weaknesses
which we see in them, but that there is the real possibility that
often this desire is spiritually grotesque in God's eyes. According
to the parable of the tares, we are very sure that we know who are
the tares and who are the wheat. But we can't be as sure as we feel,
is the Lord's message. Some we feel are obviously tares are actually
wheat. And the sensitivity of Jesus foresaw this so accurately.
There's a fascinating twist in this story that is exactly descriptive
of our experience. The servants slept first of all, after the word
was first sown, and only once the wheat and tares came to bear fruit
did they pester the Master to let them root up the tares. This reference
to bearing fruit must be read in the context of the preceding parable
of the sower, which describes how the good ground bears fruit (Mt.
13: 26, 8). The implication is that the servants shouldn't have
been sleeping first of all, thinking there wasn't really much to
do in the field. And so it is a familiar pattern: conversion is
followed by a period of feeling there isn't much to do, and then
the realization dawns that due to our own negligence in those early
days there are some tares in the ecclesia. The desire to sort out
the tares therefore comes some time after conversion. And
on the overall level, there is another truism: the servants of Christ
are keener to eradicate error than stop it in the first place. It's
sad to see that there is almost a despising today of the warnings
against 'the thin end of the wedge'; awareness of the possibility
of apostasy is seen as somehow negative- exactly as the parable
predicts. The parable implies that if a greater level of
watchfulness was maintained by the servants, there wouldn't be the
tares. But, as the Lord foresaw, we seem to lack this watchfulness,
often under the guise of feeling that we must sort ourselves out
rather than guard against apostasy being introduced.
The sensitivity of Jesus constructed that parable with the aim
of showing the thoughtful how deeply inappropriate is their desire
to root up the tares. He clearly had in mind the prophecy of Himself
in 2 Sam. 23:6,7: " The sons of Belial shall be all of them
as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken by (human) hands:
but the man that shall touch them (Christ) must be fenced with iron
and the staff of a spear; and they shall be utterly burned with
fire in the same place (just outside Jerusalem) " where Christ
was " fenced with iron" . It isn't possible for us to
uproot the tares because this can only possibly be done by the one
who totally uprooted sin in Himself, dying to it on the cross.
This association between Christ's right to judge and His victorious
death is shown by the way the " tares" will be burnt in
the same area as He was crucified in. Phil. 2:9-11 reasons along
the same lines; because Christ died for us, He therefore
has the right to have every knee bowing to Him at the judgment.
On account of being " the Son of man" and yet also being
our perfect Messiah, He has the right therefore to be judge
(Jn. 5:27 cp. Dan. 7:13,14). The Lord understood all this; and to
the thoughtful, those who would grasp His allusion to 2 Sam. 23,
He was saying: 'If you think you can root up the tares, if you think
you have that wisdom to identify the tares, you are really insulting
the greatness of what I achieved on the cross. It's only on account
of that that I have the ability and right to divide wheat from tares,
sheep from goats'.
The Lord Jesus Christ's sensitivity to our thinking that we really
have borne His cross comes out in Mt. 20:22: " Are ye able
to drink of the cup that I drink of, and to be baptized with the
baptism that I am baptized with? And they said, We are able"
. Those men, with all their unspirituality, could quite coolly state
that they wanted the highest place in the Kingdom, and could say
with confidence that they could shoulder the cross of Christ. The
Lord's reply was gracious and generous spirited indeed: " Ye
shall indeed drink of my cup" - 'when you're a lot more spiritually
mature', He could have added. We sense rather than are
explicitly told His sensitivity to men thinking they can shoulder
His cross; for He alone knows what the cross of Christ entailed
and entails. And in speaking of our own sufferings, we too need
to learn these lessons, and compare our sufferings against Christ's
with the utmost caution, with the sensitivity to His feelings,
recognizing that we must act as men and women who have been counted
as if we shared His death, and not as those who have actually
" resisted unto blood (in our) striving against sin" .
To confidently identify some of our brethren as tares is only one
example of the way in which we can hurt our Lord's feelings, by
acting and thinking in ways which are only appropriate for He who
did actually carry the cross (2).
Examples Of The Sensitivity of Jesus
We have only considered one area in which our Lord foresaw so clearly
our likely weaknesses. I'd like to conclude with a few more examples
of where how we reason in our weakness was exactly foreseen
by the Lord:
- The story of the candle that was put under a bucket brings
out an issue related to that of the desire to root up the tares:
the candle was put there (presumably) on account of an almost
paranoiac fear that the wind would blow it out; but this over-protection
of the lamp in itself caused the light to go out (Mt. 5:15). Time
and again, preaching the light, holding up the beacon of the word
of Christ's cross, has been impeded or stifled in the name of
preserving the truth, strengthening what remains (words
taken out of context). And because of this lack of witness, this
lack of holding out the light to others, the fire of Christ has
waxed dim amongst us. This ties in to the theme that preaching
is not just commanded as a publicity exercise for Almighty God;
He doesn't need us to do that for Him. It is commanded for the
benefit of the preacher more than those preached to. To put a
candle under a bucket or bed seems senseless; yet this is how
senseless and inappropriate it is to hold back preaching for the
sake of defending the Faith. Indeed to put it under a bed (Mk.
4:21) and then go to sleep (candles are normally only lit at night)
is likely to destroy the person who does it, to burn them while
they are asleep. All who have the light but don't preach it (in
whatever form) are likely to suffer the same; notice how the Lord
(by implication) links night time and sleepiness with an apathy
in preaching. Evidently the Lord foresaw the attitude that has
surfaced amongst His people in the late twentieth century: 'We
must concentrate on keeping the Truth, new converts are often
problematic, too much energy goes to preaching rather than building
up ourselves in (" our most holy" !) faith'. Probably
the resistance to preaching to the Gentiles in the first century
used similar reasoning.
The lost sheep who leaves the fold and goes off (Mt. 18:12) is
based on Ps. 119:176: " I have gone astray like a lost sheep;
seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments" .
The lost sheep that is found therefore has the attitude of recognizing
it is lost, that it is still the servant of the shepherd although
isolated from him, and still has not forgotten the things of God's
word. The picture in Ps. 119:176 is strange indeed: a lost sheep
asking the shepherd to come and find him. It's as if the sheep
talks to himself, feeling the shepherd can't and won't hear, feeling
that he's just too far away. And this is exactly, exactly
the position of all those who leave the faith and return:
they don't forget the doctrines of the Truth, in their hearts
they feel too far away, but they wish somehow something could
happen to get them back. This explains the type of sheep one is
dealing with in the parable, and why the parable isn't true of
all who go astray.
There is an element of unreality in the story of the lost sheep.
And that unreality reflects the sensitivity of Jesus. The shepherd
doesn’t return the sheep to the fold, but takes it home and calls
his friends round to see the dumb animal and rejoice (Lk. 15:4-6).
The Lord knew we would frown a bit at this. He foresaw how hard
it would be for us to rejoice in the return of a difficult sheep
- The labourers who were chosen to work first were the spiritually
strong ones. Those still standing at the end of the day were probably
weak or old; nobody wanted to hire them. The Lord foresaw
how the apparently 'strong' in the ecclesia would struggle (and
may still struggle at the judgment) with the fact that the weaker
ones get, essentially, the same salvation as them.
- The parable of the prodigal ends on a negative note. The older
brother's bitterness doesn't heal, he won't join the family, and
his bitterness at his brother's repentance not only damages his
own relationship with the Father, but also casts a shadow over
the rejoicing. This is so realistic; the sad truth of this has
been worked out hundreds of times in the history of His body.
The gain of one brother so often means the loss of another.
- The parable of the wine exactly predicted the attitude of people
to Christ's work in taking the Old Covenant out of the way. The
Lord is surely saying: 'I know you won't immediately want the
blood of my new covenant. I understand your nature, by nature
you'll prefer what you are familiar with, the Old Covenant,; you
won't " straightway" desire the new wine, but (by implication)
you will, after a while' (Lk. 5:39). He foresaw how the implication
of the blood of His sacrifice wouldn't be accepted by His people
first of all. It would be a process, of coming to accept how radical
the gift of His blood is. As we weekly take the cup of His covenant,
we come to see more and more the excellency of that blood, and
its supremacy over all else. Christ recognized that conservatism
in human nature which will naturally shy away from the marvellous
implications of what He achieved for us. And true enough, whenever
we talk about the present aspect of the Kingdom of God, our present
blessings of redemption in Christ, the sense in which we have
already been saved...there is a desire to shy away from it all.
And true enough, the early Christian believers desperately clung
on to the Mosaic food laws, circumcision and synagogue attendance
as far as they could; the command to witness to the Gentiles was
likewise not taken seriously for some time. It must have been
painful for the Lord to know this and to see it, recognizing in
it a lack of appreciation of His life and final sacrifice, a desire
to reconcile with God without totally committing oneself to His
work. He saw the possibility of His blood being wasted if men
didn't change from old to new wineskins. The slowness of the changeover
in attitudes amongst the early believers must have been a great
pain to Him; as if His blood was being poured out again. The implication
is that we shed His blood afresh if we won't change, if we allow
the conservatism of our natures to have an iron grip upon us we
not only destroy ourselves, but waste the blood of the Son of
God. The picture of the new wine being " spilled" uses
the same word as in Mt. 26:28 concerning the 'shedding' of Christ's
blood. Again, how utterly, painfully accurate. This is the danger
of the conservatism that is in our natures; it was this which
led men to shed the Lord's blood, and it is this same element
within us which He foresaw would lead us to crucify Him afresh.
How many times has this conservatism been mistaken as true spirituality!
How careful we must be, therefore, not to adopt any attitude which
glorifies that conservatism and masks it as the hallmark of a
stable believer. The sensitivity of Jesus to the value of the
human person was the very opposite of this.
(1) See Moses:
(2) Against the teaching
of this parable must be balanced our duty to separate from that
and those which are false. This must be done, but without the implication
that our act of separation is the uprooting of the tares.