Lessons Learned from Jesus’ Enemies
by Paul Yeulett
At the very center of our Christian faith is the amazing reality that God the Son entered the world He had created and became a human being like you and me. Jesus of Nazareth was a man from a particular family, home and nation, a man who lived, walked, ate, drank, slept, wept and died. What also follows from this is that He was a man who experienced human relationships and conversations. In Jesus Christ, God speaks to us ‘man-to-man’, and we are able to respond.
A very high proportion of the Gospels is taken up with these conversations and exchanges which Jesus had with a wide variety of people. Of these, a significant number involve people who were Jesus’ enemies, or who became Jesus’ enemies—or indeed, in some cases, those who were enemies at first before they became friends. What is especially interesting is that it was their dialogues with Jesus Himself, and Jesus’ words in particular, which shaped the future course of their lives. From the very beginning of creation, God has been a speaking God, His words having the power to create and to destroy, to judge and to redeem. It is no accident that every culture across the world has been shaped, in one way or another, by the power of compelling narrative. In recent times philosophers and linguists have increasingly regarded speeches as a subset of actions; the words of Jesus, more than any other words, are properly understood as ‘speech-acts’.
But the ‘speech-acts’ of Jesus had very different effects upon the individuals and groups with whom he spoke. Now of course the content of Jesus’ message varied considerably depending upon His audience: there could be no greater contrast than that between His gracious words of invitation to those who ‘labor and are heavy laden’ (Matt. 11:28-30) and the sevenfold woe delivered with such withering force to the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 23). However, the real point of interest comes when we consider different responses to the same message delivered by Jesus.
In Luke 19:45-48, for example, we have the cleansing of the temple during the last week of Jesus’ public ministry. What is especially intriguing is the way in which ‘all the people were hanging on his words’. But this ‘all’ is not an absolute universal, because the chief priests and scribes are challenging Jesus, demanding to know by what authority He was doing all these things. The two groups of people: the ‘common people’ on the one hand, and the religious authorities on the other, could not have responded in more diametrically opposite ways to Jesus, though they had seen the same actions and heard the same words.
So what is the crucial factor which will determine whether you will be a friend of Jesus or an enemy? It is how you respond to His words. That is why He tells us ‘Take care how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks he has will be taken away’ (Luke 8:18). The way in which we listen to Jesus and respond to His words in the course of our lives governs our eternal destiny.
Paul Yeulett is a pastor in England and the author of Jesus and His Enemies.