Jesus was debating with the Pharisees. As often happens in debate, since they were losing badly, they resorted to insult. Maybe you’ve noticed it, but it’s somewhat subtle, and perhaps doesn’t jump off the page today, like it certainly must have then. The Pharisees threw out the demon-possessed dishonor card, which may have been one of the strongest insults they could muster against a Rabbi. I’m sure that on-lookers were shocked. Probably someone standing by said, “Well, THAT escalated quickly.” Here’s what they heard:
“The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” (John 8:48-52, NIV)
The Strategy Almost Every Loser Resorts To
Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees took place in the open courtyard of the temple, surrounded by observers and passers-by. Jesus’ opponents had already called him an illegitimate child in verse 41, so it is no longer “just” a theological discussion or discourse. (Hmm, still happens in “debates” today, doesn’t it? People often resort to name-calling when their viewpoint has obvious flaws…)
Since they could not overpower his claims or his civility, they made it personal and attempted to dishonor him. It probably doesn’t translate to us as well as it should have, but by calling him a Samaritan, they were throwing out something more inflammatory than the N word at a civil rights demonstration. Then they piled on with demon possession. Suffice it to say that they insulted his family, his momma, his legitimacy, his teaching credentials, and his mental health right there in public, in front of God and everybody.
The Answer Only a Man of Integrity Could Give
Jesus kept as cool as ice in a Yeti, and reminded them that:
1) He honored God with his words and behavior, even while they dishonored him;
2) His Father would ultimately judge their actions and their words (as He will for all of us); and
3) whoever obeyed his word would never see death.
I wonder, do we ever dishonor Jesus with our words or actions? Are there times when our language or attitude disregards him, and is more like the Pharisees’ than the Father’s?
The Real Question
The apoplectic scribes and lawyers, having unloaded all of their insulting vitriol against him, finished with a question, “Who do you think you are?” Given their frustration and their inability to debate, diminish or dismiss Jesus, it probably seemed like a logical question, the capstone on their attempt to dishonor him. Instead, it became a question for the ages: Who was Jesus claiming to be? Why did he make such incredible claims? What proof did he offer, and could he really grant eternal life to those who would follow him?
I’m sure that they felt smug and self-assured by asking that question, assuming Jesus was wrong and they were right… And that question is still being asked today by those who would seek to diminish his claims or deny his place in history. But what if Jesus was right, and his statements about himself were true? The dialog then forced the scribes and lawyers to consider whether their question had relevance or not.
While you consider their question, here’s a better one: “Who do YOU think he is?”
The Pharisees believed that as a group they were the best,
And said that Jesus was impure, and probably possessed.
They threw dishonor at his mom, and called him a Samaritan,
But Jesus didn’t bat an eye. I don’t think he was scared of them.
They asked, “Who do you think you are?” although they made it plain
To anyone who listened that they thought he was insane.
After two millennia, that question still remains,
And I think it is worth consideration, just because:
Who did Jesus think he is, and who do you think he was?
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