By today’s standards, Jesus wasn’t a Master Teacher. When he taught, many people walked away dazed and confused. They walked away wondering what the heck that Rabbi was talking about.
For us to look back at the words of Jesus, knowing the whole story, it isn’t a stretch for us to make the connections he was making in his parables. We look at parables as stories with a point. Jesus’ original hearers would have looked at parables like puzzles.
One of my favorite movies is National Treasure. In fact, I like all three of the films. Nicolas Cage’s character is a great solver of riddles. He would have been handy to have around when Jesus was teaching in the first century.
I can only imagine the exchange between people after encountering Jesus’ parable-style teaching:
"What in the world was he saying?" a man asks his wife.
"Something about some seed and different paths, I guess," replies the wife.
"Yeah," the man responds, "but what’s the point?"
"Heck if I know…"
The disciples saw the people weren’t getting it, so they asked Jesus, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” This was his response:
Matthew 13:11-13: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand…” (ESV)
Knowing these people would ultimately crucify him when confronted with the reality of his claims, Jesus taught in parables so the people wouldn't get it. At Pentecost, it is likely some of the people who heard Jesus teach in parables were confronted with the straightforward truth of Peter’s sermon. Jesus had a purpose in his ambiguity.
What Jesus Did That You Definitely Shouldn’t Do
Jesus spoke and taught with ambiguity. You absolutely shouldn’t do this! We are on the other side of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and because of this, we should be clearly teaching the Gospel. It is not profitable to be ambiguous in your preaching.
"Oh, I’m just following Jesus!" No, you’re actually not. You’re just trying to be cute.
As communicators of the greatest message of all time, we must be clear in what we are saying. Sure, be creative. Use story. Use art. But be clear.
The more and more I preach, the more I realize clarity is EXTREMELY important. In fact, you should strive to be clearer than you think you need to be.
- Don’t assume people know what you are talking about.
- Don’t assume people have any clue about that Bible passage.
- Don’t assume they have been reading their Bible.
- Don’t assume they have been praying every day.
In fact, it’s better to assume nothing.
Explain theological words if you are going to use them. Be thorough in your exegesis. If the text that you are preaching from has some ambiguity in it, be clear about that. You don’t have to have every answer for every verse in the Bible. In fact, you won’t have every answer, and that’s okay. Just be thorough in your application, and be clear in the next steps you give your congregation.
In every sermon, strive to be clear and concise with what you preach. Leave the ambiguity to Jesus.