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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.

Brandon Kelley serves at a fast-growing church plant in Batavia, Ohio (east side of Cincinnati) called The Crossing in the role of Outreach & Communications Pastor. He loves to learn and write about preaching and leadership. Connect with him on Twitter.

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Doug Huchteman

commented on Jun 24, 2015

Saying we shouldn't do as Jesus did is the ultimate of arrogance and a fast track to hell.

Terry A Christian

commented on Jun 24, 2015

I AGREE WITH YOU- DOUG, 100. We would violate the instructions of our LORD in Matthew 28:18-20. many walked away from Jesus, Peter and Paul- JESUS SAID- many are called but FEW are chosen- thats good enough for me- however IF JESUS SAID it THEN I'M GOING TO REPEAT IT- If JESUS said to do it- then I'm going to do it -amen

Johnny Lee

commented on Jun 24, 2015

the fellow is not saying what you said in your comment. he's saying that we don't need to speak in parables and with visualizations that might only be understood within that period. perhaps if you fully read the entire article you'd see that. to be fair though I too was about to give him an earful until I did read it fully. but thanx for you zeal brother.

Byron Jackson

commented on Jun 24, 2015

Great article and I get it!

Jeremy Broach

commented on Jun 24, 2015

Thank you Mr. kelley for your article. I appreciate the spirit behind your article, and agree that clarity is important and our clever attempts to be ambiguous can confuse listeners. I know our Lord could afford such a teaching style because he knew clearly the hearts of His listeners and understood the culture He was addressing. But, if I may, I respectfully disagree with your statement about Jesus not being a master teacher by today's standards. I would say his teaching continues to far exceed the greatest of teachers today. In fact, being that He is the Word (John 1:1), His teaching still penetrates deep into the hearts of men (Hebrews 4:12). Like you mentioned, we should not try and mimic Jesus and His style (to avoid being "cute" and may I add pompous), but we should rightfully handle His teaching (2 Tim. 2:15). Maybe what disappoints me the most is this sounding irreverent, like Jesus was not intending His teaching to transcend time. Thanks again for the article, it has helped me to think about how I preach and the my attitude behind the pulpit.

Paul J. Sofranko

commented on Jun 24, 2015

1 Corth 11:1 Imitate me, Just as I also imitate Christ. I do take my responsibility to be discerning and faithful to God's word very seriously and I understand that God will hold me accountable for every word I speak/teach. The eternity of so many depend on God's word being preached without error ( either intentionally or out of ignorance).

Todd Craig

commented on Jun 24, 2015

Christ is a Master Teacher. He perfectly knew His audience. Those with an ear to hear God's word understood Him perfectly. Same goes in this day. Those that have an ear, hear the Master's voice. Saying we shouldn't do things like our risen Savior is misguided. Slippery slope. ~In His Love

Nicolae Butoiu

commented on Jun 24, 2015

Dear Brandon thank God and Thank you for this great insight. I believe and I practice in being ambiguous just after the method and example of Jesus depending of the situation. I pray that the Holy Spirit will illuminate me to understand the truth that is beyond the superficial meaning of a situation and answer adequately. Jesus didn't speak always unambiguous or always transparent. He was always adequate and we as ministers of the Word must pray for this virtue of the Spirit. But your insight brought me on another realm: I must never speak like I am Jesus. I am not Him I am only His messenger and a fellow traveler with my audience. To rebuke , teach or act differently , I mean like being Jesus, is to follow the one who said: You will be like God... I am not the Word , I am only a minister of the Word. Never a person or a church should act like being Jesus or instead of Jesus. Jesus is alive and well and He will do His work mightily. we were given the authority to appeal to His authority. It is not in our name but in His. We must never follow or support a man who thinks and act as being Jesus. He or she is just a phony clown.

Steve Sam

commented on Jun 24, 2015

I appreciated the article Brother, I know I can't be Jesus but can strive to be more like Him everyday. If the gospel is displayed in all we say behind the pulpit I feel we meet what God has called us to. There will always be those who will not understand even with it being made clear, yet alone a Jesus parable. I feel the truth should always be clear and that is that what Gospel is all about. Thanks for making me think.

Rev. Osbourn Ross

commented on Jun 24, 2015

I believe we should emulate Jesus in every possible way. The life he lived and his method of getting the message across. I also believe that his teaching method was for the benefit of the disciples as opposed to the crowd. As a comparative, how many people got saved under the ministry of Jesus in his three years of teaching? How many people got saved in Acts chapter 2 after Peter's first sermon? The clarity of Peter's sermon, the eloquence of his speech, and the mastery of the subject, left absolutely no doubt in the minds and hearts of the listeners that "he must have been with Jesus." Did Jesus spoke over the heads of his audience? He probably did; but Peter's sermon is a clear indication that the message of Jesus got to the ones who need to hear and understand it.

Ronald E. Vanauken

commented on Jun 24, 2015

Off the top, it is less important that we agree or disagree with Brandon than that we take time to reflect and grow in the process. That said, if one is at all familiar with Judaism, then you know that truth more often than not comes through stories, through parables. The fact that people may respond with confusion can actually be beneficial as it engages them in discussion in a way that a more didactic message. The very fact that someone states that they are confused, unsure of what was being said or meant, etc. is proof positive that they were actually listening and actually wanted to grasp the message and, so far as we can tell, our Lord never hesitated to explain if an explanation was asked for. Sometimes I think we have lost something in adopting a more "Greek" way of speaking and doing theology, and neglecting the Jewish roots of our faith.

Danilo R.agpoon

commented on Jun 24, 2015

Not that some unbelieving listeners can't understand the teachings of the Master disqualifies Him as the Master Teacher. Actually we were commanded by Him not to call anybody our Master. (Matthew 23:10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.) If we try to understand what Christ was doing when He was teaching them in parables we would be able to learn something out of it. We preachers use illustrations when we are trying to drive something that unbelievers can't comprehend and yet we have to leave the results to God who gives them understanding through the Holy Spirit.(1 Corinthians 2:13-15 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.)

Harold Goff

commented on Jun 24, 2015

I wonder if most don't understand for the same reason a thief can't find a policeman??

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