Jesus’ conversational topics

“Jesus answered and said: …”

The Synoptic Gospels

How often do we read this comment in the Gospels! Well – 34 times in the King James Version to be exact, and many more times in various combinations – but what I meant was – look how common it is! It is so common that one might overlook it as a mere introduction to the next topic. But what were these topics? How did Jesus answer questions? He did so in an extraordinary manner.

We can see from Jesus’ replies that He used enigmatic answers to provoke further enquiry about spiritual things. His answers about the spiritual world provoked further thought. There are many examples. Check any of them for yourself, but here I will give an introductory overview from the Gospel of John.

Extraordinary topics

People may try to ignore Jesus, using various excuses why they should do so, but if they would read His own words they should see what grips so many Christians.

Some people question whether Jesus existed or whether He really said what is written of Him, but this does not change the surprising nature of His words and answers. Whoever said them was quite remarkable and there is no need nor reason to attribute them to anyone else than the remarkable Person of Jesus Christ.

With complete strangers, Jesus came straight to His spiritual point and provoked enquiry on their part. Would that Christians learned and knew how to do so.

It is useful for Christians to study these answers and Jesus’ methodology to help us with our personal evangelism.

It is useful also for non-Christians to study them in order to discover that there is more where these came from and to learn why Christians follow Jesus and His teaching.

Examples from John’s Gospel

Here are some examples from the chapters of the Gospel of John, but you can check them out for yourself anywhere in the Gospels.

John: Chapter One

When Andrew and John met Jesus, He invited them to accompany Him and from this first conversation they became His steadfast disciples to the day of their death, and beyond. What grabbed their attention so quickly and with such lasting effect? How interesting it would be to know their conversation on that first day.

The next day Nathanael is introduced to Jesus and immediately asked Him a sceptical question. He was so astonished with Jesus’ answer that he confessed immediately that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Nathanael is still there as a disciple at the end of John’s Gospel three years later, among with the other disciples. He saw good reason to carry on as Jesus’ disciple from what he heard and saw about the Person, life and conversation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Chapter Two

In John 2 the Jews asked Jesus why He had cleared the businessmen out of the temple. They received a puzzling reply. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” They did not understand that He was speaking about their future crucifying His body and His rising from the dead on the third day.

Chapter Three

This chapter contains John’s first record of one of Jesus’ extended conversations. The conversation was initiated by Nicodemus, the principal teacher of the Jews. Almost immediately Jesus surprises him by introducing the important topic about the necessity of being born again.

“You must be born again.”

Jesus Christ: John 3:7

Jesus teaches that we need a radical change before we can love and serve God properly. Some people are happy with themselves the way they are, and modern secularists teach children to “trust in themselves”, but Jesus taught the opposite and He told Nicodemus not to marvel that it is necessary for people ‘to be born again’ John 3:7.

Even religious people need a change of heart, a new spirit given to them by the Holy Spirit of God, a better spirit than the one with which they were born.

This is not current doctrine in our schools nor even in the majority of the pulpits in our national churches, which are failing our nations.

We need a better spirit than the one with which we were born, and this is what Jesus offers – His Holy Spirit – which is Jesus’ topic in the next chapter, which records another significant conversation.

It is such a surprising doctrine that Jesus addressed the astonishment it creates: ‘Marvel not that I said, You must be born again.’

John 3:7

Why should human beings be surprised that we are not ‘the finished article’? Are they so self-opinionated that they think that they do not need to change? Human beings need to be born again by God’s Spirit to produce a better nature in us than the one with which we were born.

Chapter Four

Chapter 4 of John’s Gospel introduces us to another interesting and extended conversation.

In chapter 3, John gives us Jesus’ conversation with a senior teacher among the Jewish Pharisees, and in chapter 4 we have Jesus’ conversation with an abused Samaritan woman misled by a competing religion Jn 4:10,13. These two areas – misinterpreting God’s revealed religion and setting up false religion in competition – are with us still. This is why we need to listen to Jesus Christ and get into His company by reading the Gospels for ourselves.

The first surprise for this Samaritan woman is that a Jew should not only speak to her but that He should ask a favour from her “because the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans”. This is only the beginning because Jesus goes on to shock her with His knowledge not only about religious things but about herself. Many Christians can bear testimony to similar events in their own providence, convincing them that God is on their case. John tells us in this chapter that Jesus needed to go through Samaria, because of this divine appointment with this abused woman. Like the Canadian Mountie motto, “The Mountie always gets his man”, so Jesus had a mission to fulfil from His Father, explained in John 6.

Coincidental providences

There are many coincidences in the lives of people that they ignore, but they will prove at the Day of Judgment to be testimony from God that they are accountable to Him. I have heard people describe these coincidences as ‘spooky’, but this is not only a testimony to God’s providence knocking on the door of their heart for attention, but it also demeans God their Creator Who is speaking to them in His providence.

The most surprising and exciting thing to the woman of Samaria and to John’s readers is that Jesus declared His identity to her in the plainest terms. He told her plainly that He was the promised Messiah, the Christ. Scripture gives us no other example of this during Jesus’ time on Earth. It is a touching and wonderful scene – the Son of God in human nature revealing His identity to this abused woman, a scene so charged with meaning and emotion that it merits study. It shows us that God accommodates Himself to the conditions and capacities of different people in order to bring them to the knowledge of the truth.

The intellectually proud remain unconvinced because they will not humble themselves to ask God in prayer to reveal Himself to them. Jesus will deal with this in Jn 6, where He tells the sceptical Jews not to consult each other Jn 6:43 but to ask Him. It is wise to ask for answers from those who can give us the answers. The woman of Samaria did so and received answers beyond her imagination.

It is a precious moment, to greatly savour, when any sinner learns that Jesus is the Christ, God’s anointed Saviour of sinners.

In her religious debate with Jesus, as He held a mirror up to her soul, she tried to deflect attention from herself and said, “I know that Christ comes … and when He has come, He will tell us all things.”

Jesus replied, “I Who speak to you am He!” What a revelation! The emotion of the moment is interrupted by the arrival of Jesus’ disciples. She went off immediately to tell the good news to her townsfolk: “Come, see a man Who told me everything I did. Is not this the Christ?”

Her testimony was effective and they came to hear Jesus for themselves. How good if others would do so, and read for themselves the gracious words that proceed out of Jesus’ mouth.

When they came and listened for themselves they also could confess, “We have heard Him ourselves and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.”

The relevance of this subject is the role of testimony, evidence and truth as the basis of faith, which I cannot delay here to expand. This merits a blogpost of its own.

The chapter finishes with Jesus developing a nobleman’s faith in Himself and in His Word.

Chapter Five

In this chapter John continues the aim of his Gospel, which is to demonstrate that Jesus is the Christ Jn 20:30-31.

John gives details of a remarkable miracle that provoked the enmity of Jewish officialdom because Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath day. John tells us that it is one of the incidents that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus’ miracles are intimately interwoven with the narrative of His life so that it is not possible to extract the miracles without damaging the remaining narrative and rendering it inexplicable. Jesus and His miracles stand together.

This chapter contains a long narrative full of spiritual teaching about the relationship between Jesus as the Son of God and His Father. This provoked the murderous spirit in Jewish officialdom.

Chapter Six

In the long discourse in John 6, Jesus deals with the foundational role of faith prior to good works Jn 6:29 and with His being the Bread of Life. Without Him, and feeding spiritually upon this Bread, people are spiritually dead Jn 6:53. On the other hand, those who feed upon Him and His teaching have everlasting life – life that will last for ever.

Jesus’ teaching was too spiritual for some of His hearers to understand what He meant by eating His flesh and drinking His blood. It demonstrates yet again how His conversation and answers provoked thinking. This contrasts with the banal topics served up in many pulpits nowadays. How many people give serious thought and discussion to the average sermon nowadays? Jesus’ words and conversation were weighty and informative.

Jesus conversation was so interesting that John employed his good memory in meditating on and recalling Jesus’ long sermon for the benefit of his readers.

John put into practice Jesus’ spiritual teaching to gather up the remaining fragments from the food after their open-air discourse. He meditated on Jesus’ sermon, but now many disciples simply gave up?

Jesus noted this and plainly told His hearers that they were not interested in spiritual things Jn 6:26. Even His own disciples did not give adequate thought to this miracle Mat 16:9.

The Lord had given John such a good memory that he could recall Jesus’ long sermon, bringing it to his memory by the power of the Holy Spirit Jn 14:26 and Jn 16:13.

At the end of this long sermon we are introduced to yet another surprise. Many of Jesus’ disciples gave up following Him. So what did Jesus say that made them leave Him? Did Jesus soften His doctrine and chase after them?

Yet again Jesus surprises us and His disciples. Instead of anxiously chasing after these departing disciples to reclaim them, He turns to His intimate disciples and challenges them if they also will go away Jn 6:67. This is not typical human behaviour.

Peter responds as usual, often acting as the spokesman for the twelve disciples, with the memorable words:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life, and we believe and are sure that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. “

Simon Peter, John 6:68-69.

As usual, Jesus continues to surprise them: “Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? He spoke of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon, for he it was that should betray Him, being one of the twelve disciples” John 6:70-71.

Summary of doctrine in John’s first six chapters.

I planned to stop this blogpost with the opening chapters of John’s Gospel, then I thought I would summarise the remaining chapters briefly for completeness. However, this has made the blogpost very long, and I am “in a strait betwixt two” Php 1:23. I have decided to push on, trying to be short and possibly I can add to it later as time permits.

In the meanwhile, for those who need to pause at this point, consider this. The next time you read “Jesus answered and said” take time to pause and ask yourself what impact Jesus’ words would have had on His original hearers. You will discover that Jesus’ answers are extraordinary comment on spiritual things. We should learn to make our conversation as interesting and as profitable.

Further, it is for lack of Christian conversation that secularism is gaining the upper hand in former Christian lands. Christianity is being driven off the field, out of public life, out of schools, and even out of social conversation. Soon it will be driven out of the home by such people as Richard Dawkins who thinks that teaching children Christianity is child abuse. It is already banned in China, so we can already see its baneful effects. Already it is confined to Christian congregations, and there are attempts to stop its publication and distribution on the public street. In such circumstances, Christians need to learn how to speak about Christ in their conversation. In the early Christian period, workers conversed together at their work, but nowadays conversation during work breaks is more likely to be about football, alcohol, the latest scandal or sexual exploits or whatever over the past weekend. Christians are to be salt and light in such situations, and this needs to be learned and practised.

Chapter Seven

We learn in this chapter that Jesus’ brothers did not believe in His claims. This shows that they were not gullible believers, and that ‘a prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house’. Some people think that they can judge a person’s credentials simply from their origins.

This is the arrogance of intellect and many people will be lost eternally for being guided by their prejudices and failing to make use of the available evidence. In this context Jesus told His brothers: “The world cannot hate you; but it hates Me, because I testify about it, that the works thereof are evil.”

So it is notable that some of these sceptical brothers became believers after Christ’s resurrection, adding testimony to the reality of His resurrection.

Yet again Jesus surprises the people. There was a buzz in Jerusalem whether He would obey the law of Moses and come to the Jewish religious feast of tabernacles in Jerusalem, because there was a warrant for Jesus’ arrest.

Suddenly Jesus is among them! teaching openly in the temple precincts where the public gathered.

The people discuss Jesus’credentials wondering who had taught Him His doctrine. Similarly nowadays, people follow authority figures and if one is not mainstream they judge them not worth hearing. Such people need to be told that Jesus and His teaching are counter cultural and true Christianity will not be taught often in university departments prior to the biblical millennium. Indeed many scientists are worried about the quality of the work in university departments that are now being funded by groups with vested interest. It may be that you have read here about the Replication Crisis in science for the first time.

When Jewish officialdom sent officers to arrest Jesus, they came back empty-handed saying: “No-one ever spoke like this Man” Jn 7:46. Can you afford not to listen more attentively to such a Speaker?

Chapter Eight

This chapter has a powerful interaction between Jesus and His hearers, demonstrating as usual that He was no soft touch, as those unfamiliar with His story think that He was.

Yet again Jesus’ conversation provokes them to think. He introduces a new spiritual topic, telling His hearers that the truth shall make them free. Immediately they challenge this: “We were never in bondage to any man.” Yet the Romans occupied the land of Israel at that very time! So they asked Jesus what He meant by “You shall be made free” Jn 8:33. Jesus answered: “anyone who commits sin is the servant of sin” and servants don’t remain long in the house. He taught them that their sense of freedom was only illusory and temporary.

A fish is free to roam around in a pond, but it is confined to the pond. Jesus tells them that He will give them eternal freedom that is worth the description of freedom – “free indeed,” He said.

What is to prevent Christians using this in their daily conversation? Could it be the use of the word and concept of ‘sin’, which is an embarrassment in any conversation? However, it would soon turn the conversation in a spiritual direction.

Chapter Nine

The relevance of this chapter to my current blogpost is its exposing the scepticism about Jesus’ miracles. The Jews would not believe that Jesus had healed a blind man. Far from these Jews being gullible, as intellectual sceptics think they were, these Jews were the intellectual sceptics of their day.

Critics who do not believe in Jesus think that people were gullible in Jesus’ day. However, even Jesus’ own disciples, such as Nathanael in Jn 1:46, were not unquestioning gullible people. John 9 is a clear challenge and examination of Christ’s miracle by officialdom. Indeed, this miracle was one of the core reasons why Jesus was crucified, and the same comes to the fore in chapter 11 with another miracle.

Chapter 10

In Jn 10 Jesus taught that He is the Good Shepherd Who will save and protect His sheep because the Good Shepherd gave His own life for the sheep.

There is a contrast in this chapter between those whom Jesus now describes as His sheep who hear, know, listen and follow His voice and those who had resisted Jesus’ teaching in the previous chapters from John 2 till John 9.

In this way Jesus distinguishes the spiritual leadership of mankind, explaining why the Jews would not believe Him.

Chapters 11-13

In Jn 11 Jesus demonstrated His power over death. As He approached Jerusalem His raising Lazarus from the dead and His surprising teaching about His power over life and death was the last straw for the waiting Jewish authorities, provoking them to act as soon as they could to silence Jesus by death.

Jn 12 tells us about Judas Iscariot’s plan to betray Jesus. However, Jesus knew what he was up to and exposes his attitude publicly. Upon His arrival in Jerusalem, His popularity inhibited opportunity to apprehend Him. Jesus used the time to teach the public in the temple and warned that His time among them was coming to an end. He told them to make use of this time lest they end up in darkness.

In Jn 13 Jesus withdraws from public in order to institute the Lord’s Supper with His disciples and give them His private teaching about the approaching events. He used the opportunity to give us His surprising teaching about forgiveness with the unexpected incident of His washing the disciples’ feet.

The Upper Room Discourse

Once Judas Iscariot left their company after Jesus identified him as His betrayer, Jesus began what has been called the Upper Room Discourse. It is not a mere discourse but a conversation and the following chapters show that Christ’s spiritual conversation did not waste words. Jn 15 and Jn 16 have the form of discourse, but it is easy to visualise that this is simply the effect of Jesus’ speech, which makes the disciples lapse into silent listening. This is broken by the disciples’ general assent to Jesus’ clear speaking which signals the end of the meal. Jesus concludes the meal by returning thanks in Jn 17.

In Jn 14 Philip draws attention to their need to understand more about the Father and this draws our attention to this discourse being about the Father and the Father’s house. Jesus framed the debate in this chapter and explained more about His Father, the Holy Spirit and the Trinity to His disciples.

There is so much to learn from Jesus that I hope you will simply read it for yourself. Jesus invites us to learn from Him.

Chapter 18

In this chapter Jesus is betrayed by Judas Iscariot and arrested. Again, Jesus shows that He is in charge of events. He challenges those putting Him on trial about their beliefs and the truth. In His trumped up trial, the chief priest accused Him of blasphemy as a reason for killing Him, but before Pontius Pilate he accused Him of sedition. Pilate asked Jesus the famous question “What is truth?” but he did not wait for an answer from Him Who was best able to tell him.

Chapter 19

In His trial before Pontius Pilate, as usual Jesus takes command of His interrogation and gives Pilate food for thought, but Pilate failed to make use of his extraordinary opportunity. Similarly, many people continue to bypass their opportunities.

Even during His crucifixion, Jesus continues to educate His hearers and John explains the significance of these as fulfilling prophesies from the Old Testament, demonstrating that He is the promised Messiah.

Chapter 20

John tells us about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and as one might expect from such an extraordinary Person and events, Jesus’ conversation after His resurrection carries even more information to explain these astonishing events.

John records Jesus’ teaching about Doubting Thomas playing the scientist to ‘prove’ whether Jesus had risen from the dead. Again scepticism came to the fore but Jesus silenced it and taught us the role of apostolic testimony in creating faith in the hearts of those who would hear the Gospel.

Nearing the end for his narrative, John tells us his purpose in writing this Gospel.

“Many other signs did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life through His name.”

John 20:30-31

John’s writing supported faith in various ways. 1. The most obvious is the fulfilment of biblical prophecy, to which he frequently alludes throughout his Gospel. 2. Another is the extraordinary nature and quality of Jesus’ conversation. “No man ever spoke like this Man” Jn 7:46. There are others, but I encourage you to read the Gospel for yourself.

Chapter 21

In this addendum to his Gospel, John tells us about Peter’s forgiveness and restoration to his work after denying his Lord. Christians are such slow learners that this message still needs to be learned. The inability of Christians to forgive is a serious matter, so serious that Christ has serious things to say about it. Those who have not learned to forgive need to examine themselves. It demonstrates yet again the extraordinary nature of Jesus’ teaching that so many Christians and Christian churches think that they are wiser than their Lord and refuse to forgive those whom they think are impenitent.

The only question Jesus answered in this chapter is Peter’s enquiry about what will happen to the apostle John. Jesus tells him to mind his own business, another good lesson for Christians to learn. We have enough work of our own to do, including helping one another rather than prying into each other’s affairs.

Some people’s lives are so boring that they need to create excitement by gossiping about their neighbour or watching soap operas on television, or follow their chosen celebrity on film, the football field, or royal circles. Rather, we have enough to do ourselves to make our own life interesting in the service of Christ in His kingdom. What an honour to be engaged in the Lord’s service day by day!

In the same incident, John teaches Christians to be careful how they interpret the words of Christ Jn 21:23.

Jesus said: “Learn of Me” Mat 11:28

Welcome to Jesus Christ and His conversation. Will you learn from Him, both as to what He has to say and how He said it?

No doubt it takes some thought and practice, but “practice makes perfect”.

If you want to be a more effective witness for Jesus Christ, you could follow in His steps as His apostles did, and learn from Him as they did.

Creating rapport instead of ‘in your face’ conversation

However, these examples of Jesus’ conversation are not a recipe for your turning the conversation immediately to spiritual things, or you will find that the very people you want to help will not want your conversation and they will avoid you.

This may not be an issue with people whom you expect to meet only once. However, in all cases, it is important to establish rapport, which can be done quite quickly.

The Christian evangelist must learn to talk in an interesting way. Spiritual conversation should not be an awkward ‘in your face’ conversation, but occurring naturally as a legitimate adjunct to your conversation.

There was no banality in Jesus’ conversation

It must have been interesting to be in Jesus’ company. You can continue to do so by reading about Him in the Bible. It is easily available online.

Is your conversation interesting and spiritually profitable? You can learn from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Update:

23 May 2019: personal evangelism and evangelistic one-liners.

4 Aug 2019: confidence to converse.

3 Jan 2020: the Replication Crisis catches up on a Nobel Prize winner. It has been around for a while; most scientists ‘can’t replicate studies by their peers’.