Jesus’ Harsh Words: The Grace of Rebuke

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In Luke 11, Jesus offers a series of rebukes to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. These leaders not only had the Word of God but held authority for the Word of God in the lives of others. This should stop us in our tracks as pastors, ministry leaders, elders, or anyone who has some role of authority in the lives of others.

There are certain things about us—things we do and things inside of us—that are distasteful to Jesus. We must hear this side of Jesus’ teaching. We must reconsider whether we only take in Jesus’ loving, gentle words or whether we hear the comprehensive breadth of Jesus’ words. We must open our ears and hear even the words of rebuke as if they were spoken to us.

If our first response to Jesus’ rebuke is to think of how they apply to someone else, then we are likely avoiding the word that Christ is speaking directly to us. We must receive the hard words of Christ with radical humility and openness to correction for our thorough transformation. The spotlight is upon us and we should not be quick to divert it toward another.

The piercing sword of rebuke is a grace and it is vital that we remember that fact. The first step toward healing is an accurate diagnosis. Jesus’ rebuke is the difficult diagnosis that leads to the Soul-physician’s surgical grace in removing sickness from us in order to make our souls whole.

Jesus rebukes the Pharisees first of all because there is a different and better type of cleanness than what they are concerned about. They are concerned about external and superficial cleanliness but not the internal and deeper cleanliness. They are concealing deeper uncleanness of soul under the cover of superficial cleanness. They are like whitewashed graves that are clean and beautiful on the outside but hold death and decay inside.

The cure is found through Jesus the Life-giver who points the way through generosity to the poor (Luke 11:41), attention to justice, and practicing the love of God (11:42). Is this a salvation by works? No, it is the fruit of repentance as we turn toward God from self-seeking religion and hypocrisy. As we repent, Jesus leads us beyond ourselves into something stronger and more alive. It is the healing pathway out of soul-sickness.

Jesus secondly rebukes the experts in the Law because they have kept life from others. They weigh people down with religious burdens, locking the door to life by their mishandling of God’s Law. God’s Word intends to bring life but they wield it in such a way that life is snuffed out through incorrect usage.

The anger of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law reflects the reality that Jesus has touched upon a nerve with His rebuke. Do we feel angry or uncomfortable with the words of Jesus? Do we attempt to turn the attention of the difficult diagnosis toward someone else? Is it too painful to hear?

Linger in it. Do not flinch. Open your heart and mind to the rebuke of Jesus. Inside the rebuke is the grace of a loving and healing God.

Opening the Book on Prayer: Learning to Pray with the Psalms

This past Monday night for our quarterly Leadership Community gathering at Eastbrook Church, I led us in an interactive seminar on learning to pray with the psalms. A few people asked if I could upload the slide deck from the night, so I’m including that as a PDF here.

I led us in three songs, which were:

I also shared a bibliography of additional resources on the psalms, which I’m including below.


Further Reading on the Psalms

Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Life Together and The Prayerbook of the Bible. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Volume 5. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1996.

Nancy deClaisse-Walford, Rolf A. Jacobson, and Beth LaNeel Tanner. The Book of Psalms. NICOT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014.

Timothy and Kathy Keller. The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms. New York: Viking, 2015.

Derek Kidner. Psalms 1-72. Kidner Classic Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

________. Psalms 73-150. Kidner Classic Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

C. S. Lewis. Reflections on the Psalms. New York: Harper, 1958.

Eugene H. Peterson. Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer. New York: Harper Collins, 1989.

W. David O. Taylor. Open and Unafraid: The Psalms as a Guide to Life. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2020. 

N. T. Wright. The Case for the Psalms. New York: HarperCollins, 2013.

Two resources from the Bible Project (https://bibleproject.com/explore/video/psalms/) are: 

How to See Again for the First Time: Vicarious construal effect and the journey of Lent

When Professor Clayton Critcher moved to teach at a college in the San Francisco area he figured the up-side of his long, daily commute would be driving across the Bay Bridge every morning and enjoying the scenery. “Unfortunately,” he said later, “I appreciated what I saw for about three days and then started growing blind to it.”

This happens to all of us. What at first seems shocking, exciting, or beautiful over time becomes familiar and uninteresting. The first time we saw the sunrise it was great, but then we stopped looking. The first time we heard the music it stopped us in our tracks, but after awhile we stop listening. The beauty of the world and certain people arrest our attention at first, but eventually we stop seeing it. Psychologists call this habituation.  As he experienced this himself, Critcher wondered if there was a way to slow this down or reverse it altogether. With two other researchers, found a relatively small way to spark our wonder again. 

Calling it “vicarious construal effect,” the researchers discovered that by imagining an experience through somebody else’s eyes, people are themselves able to capture an appreciation that they had either lost or never possessed in the first place.

Asking participant to watch the same video clip three times in a row, researchers measured their responses to how funny, sad, or exciting the video clip was. Predictably, the interest level waned over the three viewings. But when one participant group was asked to consider what someone seeing the clip for the first time might see—by pushing people to step outside of their own experience—researchers were able to significantly reduce the experience of habituation. There was a freshness to the experience of viewing. Wonder began to return.[1]

Tracing Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem can be like that too. When we read it, watch it, see it again and again, our experience of wonder can begin to wane. Let me suggest two ways we can apply Critcher and company’s vicarious construal effect to our experience of Lent in order to regain the shock of our scandalous Jesus.

First, as we read the biblical story, we can use our imagination to consider what someone viewing this for the first time might have seen. We can do that by imagining ourselves within the gospel story, perhaps as a disciple or pilgrim who joined the journey with Jesus or a long-time Jerusalem resident. What would you see, hear, or experience? We can also that by imagining ourselves reading the story again for the very first time. What would stand out to us as interesting, exciting, or strange in Jesus’ story?

Second, as we journey together as a church, we can help regain wonder and stave off habituation of the Gospel by seeing through one another’s eyes. A couple easy ways to do this is by participating in a small group or Sunday class with others or by reading a Lenten devotional to learn from how others see and encounter Jesus. 

May we ask God this Lent to give us eyes and ears to once again see and hear the scandal of Jesus our Messiah. May we ask God this Lent to open our minds with wonder and our hearts with shock to the revelation of the very being of God we encounter in Jesus the eternal Son of God who is also the incarnate one turning Jerusalem upside down. 


[1] Dylan Walsh, “A simple trick for seeing the world through fresh eyes,” Newsroom of Berkeley Haas, May 3, 2020; https://newsroom.haas.berkeley.edu/research/a-simple-trick-for-seeing-the-world-through-fresh-eyes/.

Dealing with Sin in the Church: Notes from Matthew 18

Sin and forgiveness. We deal with these things daily. Perhaps one of the most painful and difficult times is when we deal with sin and the need for forgiveness within the church. It seems that as followers of Christ we should understand these topics and live accordingly. Christianity is known as a faith marked by deep emphasis on sin and forgiveness. And yet, we seem to struggle with these realities in one another. It seems surprising.

But it isn’t surprising to Jesus. He expected that we would struggle with sin and forgiveness as His followers. He knew that working toward whole, reconciled relationships with one another would be a challenge. Because of His knowledge of these things, Jesus taught His followers about them. In Luke 17, we find powerful words about the necessity of complete forgiveness and our response when we are sinned against. It is in Matthew 18, however, that Jesus teaches on the process for dealing with sin in the church. What follows is a series of notes on the contours of Jesus’ teaching about dealing with sin.

One to One (vs 15)
It is important to note that Jesus calls us to discreetly and privately address the wrong done to us by speaking to the person one to one. Jesus says to ‘point out the fault’ which means we do not avoid talking about it nor do we rub the other’s face in it through guilt messages. We simply point it out. Also, we are not to trumpet the wrong to others or publicly humiliate another for their sin against us. Jewish teachers around Jesus’ time said that to publicly shame someone who had sinned against us would run the risk of exclusion from paradise. We must go to the person directly and neither hold it in – which gives birth to bitterness – nor talk behind that person’s back – which gives birth to division in the church. The goal, as mentioned in Luke 17, is to win the person over, or to restore relationship.

Two or Three to One (vs 16)
If the person does not respond to the individual conversation about the wrong, then we are to take one or two people with us to point it out. The intent here is not to gang up on the wrongdoer but actually to safeguard them from any false accusations. As in 1 Timothy 5:19-20, the extra witnesses come along in order to corroborate the facts; that is, to insure that a wrong actually has been committed. If you have been sinned against, you should not bring others with you in order to intimidate a wrongdoer. Bringing one or two others safeguards the conversation and helps to keep it firmly grounded in truth, without false accusations flying back and forth. The witnesses should be neutral. And in case we had forgotten, the goal is to win the person over, or to restore relationships within the people of God.

To the Church (vs 17a)
If the wrongdoer will not listen even with a couple of others in the room, then the situation has become very serious and must be addressed within the broader, local church community. Still, Jesus is clear that the utmost energy and care should be exerted to deal with this privately at first. It is only after this that Jesus says, “we should tell it to the church.” Why does He say this? Jesus is helping us to see that, if the relational tensions haven’t already become an issue that is noticeable to the whole church, this issue should come to the attention of all so that bitter divisions do not take root in the church. The focus is on pastoral concern for the entire body of Christ. The aim is still that the wrongdoer would listen, and the ultimate goal is still to win the person over, or to restore relationship between the wronged and the wrongdoer. In our day, some might wonder what the appropriate way to bring this to the church would be? Clearly not to start a rumor mill or to stand up in the services to yell out an accusation. Those two responses lack the pastoral concern that pervades Jesus’ teaching. I would propose that the appropriate route is to bring it to the pastoral staff, elders, or other church leadership for guidance and help. These leaders stand, as it were, with responsibility for the entire church and should be the easiest point of access within the church.

Treat Them Like an Outsider (v 17b)
If there is still no repentance, then we are to treat the wrongdoer like an outsider to the faith, “as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” While the goal has always been to restore and reconcile relationship, this is the end of the road. Some scholars debate whether Jesus is referring to a formal excommunication from the church resulting in spiritual death (as in 1 Corinthians 5:5 or 1 Timothy 1:20) or simply the manner in which we treat someone relationally. Regardless of which direction you take this, three things are clear: 1) the wrongdoer is apparently unwilling to listen to anything anyone has to say; 2) there is little option available other than treating them like an outsider; and 3) this is NOT the place we want to arrive at within the family of God called the church. Hope does linger in the background that, as with the Corinthian case, the cold shoulder of treating them like an outsider may help them come back around, but we never can tell. In a sense, we have come to a point where we finally admit that our best efforts to win them over and reconcile have failed, and only God can win them over and change the heart of another person.

All along, the goal has been to point out sin so that wrongs can be made right through forgiveness. The prayer of Jesus before the Cross was that the community of His followers would walk in unity so the world around us would know the love of the Father:

…that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me. (John 17:23)

May that be our aim in our relationships with other believers.

For further resources on dealing with conflict, I strongly recommend Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker, as well as the web-site for Peacemaker Ministries.

Keep Watch: the call to attentiveness in Advent

“Day after day, my Lord, I stand on the watchtower; every night I stay at my post.” (Isaiah 21:8)

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (Matthew 24:42)

To keep watch is a gospel command. We watch because we must look for our Lord.

To watch means we are attentive. We have learned to see, notice, and understand meaning. We have trained our senses and our spirits to attend to the Lord.

We have become aware of His character, discerning what is Him and not Him. We have learned to look in the right places for where He chooses to dwell and what He chooses to do.

We have attuned our awareness to find unexpected signs of His presence, not missing Him anywhere. We have turned away from what is not Him, letting go of false signs, false ways, and false Messiahs with their misdirected promises.

We keep watch day and night, like a night watchman looking for any sign of anyone or anything. Because we know our limitations, we are constantly vigilant for Him.

Lord, give us grace to look for You.
Keep us watchful and attentive to You.