“But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” (Luke 21:14-15)
I’m not a particularly quick wit. Sometimes I think of a great snappy comeback to something someone has said to me. Unfortunately I think of it hours or even days later. All I can do then is hope I get a chance to use it in the future, and that I still remember it when the chance comes.
Jesus words here are for those times when the faith of the disciple is put on trial, when we are called upon to defend his message and our convictions in front of those who just want to shut us up. The immediate context suggests a court of law or a religious tribunal of some sort. Maybe we can stretch the intent of Jesus’ promise to other times the gospel is being challenged and we are called upon to defend it, even in more intimate settings.
Jesus’ words don’t rule out preparation when our turn comes to defend the gospel. But they do point out a temptation that is all too easy for us to fall into. We put too much of the burden for the message we speak upon ourselves. We fall into the mindset that what is really important when it is our turn to speak is how clever we are, how carefully we have crafted our words, how engaging our delivery, how powerful our illustrations.
That’s not to say that the gospel doesn’t deserve our best efforts make it clear and to hold the attention of the people who might be listening. There is nothing wrong with engaging delivery or powerful illustrations. But Jesus hasn’t called us to invent a message. He has given us a message to proclaim. He has called us to tell the truth. It is also possible for too many of our words to obscure the message rather than making it more clear.
Worship guru Robert Webber tells this story of a seminary student doing some fill in preaching: “ I once heard a young guest preacher preach an exegetical sermon on the holiness of God (Isaiah 6:1-6). No illustrations, no gimmicks. Not even polished. The people rushed him. The thirst for God’s Word watered a barren land.”
The temptation to confuse our own words for the gospel is a serious one. It jeopardizes souls. But Jesus has also given us words and wisdom. We have the word which is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. We have the word that does not return to God empty, but accomplishes what he desires and achieves the purpose for which he sent it. We have Jesus, the Mediator of a new covenant, whose blood speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. That blood speaks the forgiveness of our sins. We have the word of the prophets made more certain, and like those to whom Peter once wrote, we do well to pay attention to it as to a light shining in a dark place. Jesus has given us the words of salvation by grace through faith.
August Pieper once encouraged: “Not as a salesman buys his wares in order to sell them again, but as a bee sucks honey from blossoms so as to nourish itself at the same time, so we by our studying ought to draw the gospel out of the Scriptures in order to save ourselves and those who hear us.”