I had a friend many years ago when I lived in another city who used a word that almost never came out of my mouth. He would very frequently describe something he was talking about as “TREMENDOUS!”
I have also known many people who could be counted on to use a phrase such as, “I’m afraid that…” or “I have real concerns ….”
Still others of my acquaintance have been characterized by statements such as, “I doubt that…” or “I’m not convinced that…” or “You’ll have to prove that to me.”
A young scholar from one of my early ministries would say (almost daily!), “Impressive!” or “I’m impressed!!”
Now we all use phrases of these types from time to time, but I am not talking about that. I am referring to something that someone says SO FREQUENTLY that it is predictable: they become known for it.
You can probably think of things that the people nearest you are most likely to say. (And they could tell me, even if you couldn’t tell me yourself, what your most common phrases are.)
This all got me to thinking of the statement that Jesus made, “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”
I began to realize something very noteworthy.
For each of us, the things that are repetitively spoken reveal a lot about us. Our worldviews have worn ruts in our language!!
It’s obvious to anyone that the foul-mouthed man is a foul-hearted man, but other verbal cues can be missed or dismissed.
- The worrier voices his or her “concerns.”
- The bitter heart pours out bitter complaints.
- And the woman with a thankful heart expresses her gratitude to everyone around her in her daily language!
Our internal thought life wears ruts in our language that can be noticed by others, even if we don’t notice it ourselves!!
That observation led me to do two things:
First, I asked those closest to me what phrases I am known for, the things that they identify with me. This is a humbling experience, and I recommend it — if you can take it! To reinforce what I had learned, I also watched several of my sermons and interviews that were preserved online, and what I saw (once I was looking for it) taught me some new things about myself — not all of them were pleasant.
The second thing I did was to ask myself what phrases Jesus used a lot. It occurred to me that if it is true that our worldview is tipped off by our use of language, and our verbal habits are the ruts that point out where our internal thought life runs, then looking at Jesus through those eyes might be fascinating!
I am sure that I have just scratched the surface, but following are five clues to the internal thought life of Jesus that jumped out at me when I thought about the phrases that He used the most while here on earth. You will be able to add to the list through your own study of the Gospels.
- “Don’t let your hearts be troubled!”
Jesus said this phrase (or “Don’t be afraid!” or very close variations) on many occasions. In John 14, for example, He said it twice. This command to get a handle on our fears also showed up in statements He made like, “Don’t worry about what you will eat or drink” or “Don’t be afraid, Peter. Follow me, and you will become a fisher of men!”
THIS FIRST VERBAL PATHWAY THROUGH THE LANGUAGE OF JESUS TEACHES ME THAT HE SAW FEAR AS A DECISION AND THAT IT WAS INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT TO GET A HANDLE ON OUR NATURAL FEARS SO THAT THEY DIDN’T TAKE OVER OUR LIVES.
DON’T LET FEARS TAKE YOU OVER.
- “You have heard it said … but I say to you …”
All first-year Greek students learn the phrase “but I say to you” very early in their language study because it rhymes so smoothly in Greek. We would transliterate it as, “Ego me lego.”
(It always reminded me of the old waffle commercial where they would say, “Leggo my Eggo.”)
Jesus was virtually famous for using this phrase in His teaching. The Sermon on the Mount is packed full of examples. But Jesus would say virtually the same thing in other ways, too. He would say, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of Moses. He said do this … but you say that it is permissible to do that. You are wrong!”
He would say, “The Pharisees are so proud that they tithe even down to the fine detail of tithing the spices in their cupboards, but they have totally neglected the weightier things of the law!”
In these and many other ways, Jesus would speak to the people and contrast what they had been told with what HE said was the actual truth.
“No, this man wasn’t born blind because he somehow sinned before birth.”
“No, those guys who had the tower fall on them at Siloam did not have it happen to them because they were greater sinners than everyone else.”
THIS SECOND VERBAL PATTERN OF JESUS TIPS US OFF TO WHAT HE FREQUENTLY THOUGHT. IT COULD BE SUMMARIZED LIKE THIS: “You’ve been getting some bad information, and I want you to stop believing it.”
DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU’VE BEEN TAUGHT.
- “Surely, Surely, I tell you…”
Your Bible may translate this as “Verily, verily …” or “Truly, truly I tell you ….” The word that Jesus actually used may surprise you. He literally said, “Amen, amen, I tell you ….” The word “Amen” was a Hebrew word that meant, “Solid.”
Jesus was saying, “What I am about to tell you is rock-solid.” And He said it a lot!
Again, Jesus would also say this same thing in other words. He told the disciples in John, “I AM going away to prepare a place for you. If that were not so, I would have told you!”
THIS THIRD VERBAL PATHWAY THROUGH THE LANGUAGE HABITS OF JESUS TEACHES ME THAT HE WANTED US TO KNOW WITHOUT THE SLIGHTEST SHADOW OF A DOUBT THAT WHEN HE TAUGHT US SOMETHING, IT WAS THE TRUTH, SOLID AND UNSHAKEABLE.
YOU’LL GET THE TRUTH FROM ME.
- “The Kingdom of heaven is closer than you think.”
Jesus talked almost incessantly about the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven). He wanted people to snap out of the illusion that God’s Kingdom was far, far away and wouldn’t be experienced in any of our lifetimes. Sometimes Jesus said, “The Kingdom is NEAR.” Sometimes He said it was “AT HAND.”
Once He said that if He was casting out demons by the Spirit of God (and He was!) then the Kingdom of God HAS COME UPON YOU” (Matthew 12:28).
Sometimes He said that God’s Kingdom is “AMONG US,” and other times He said it is “WITHIN US.” But however He phrased it in this or that conversation …
THIS FOURTH VERBAL PATHWAY OF JESUS TOLD US A LOT ABOUT WHAT HE WAS THINKING, NAMELY …
The Kingdom of Heaven is CLOSER than you think!
- “Blessed are you” (and also “Woe to you”)
When Jesus would say these two contrasting phrases over and over or throw one or the other into a conversation, He was saying something very serious. He was saying, “You know what? Your behavior is going to either result in you receiving BLESSING from my Father or TROUBLE from my Father!”
The BLESSING STATEMENTS were not offhand comments about who God liked. They were tied firmly to behaviors that God wanted to reward, behaviors that Jesus was saying that we should do!!
Neither were the CURSING STATEMENTS arbitrary comments about who God disliked. They also were tied firmly to behaviors, but in this case they were tied to behaviors that Jesus was warning displeased His Father; therefore, they were behaviors that we should avoid at all costs!
THIS IMPLIES, OF COURSE, THAT GOD IS NOTICING WHAT YOU DO.
THIS FIFTH VERBAL MANNERISM THAT WAS SO UNIQUE TO JESUS LETS US KNOW THAT HE HELD AS A FIRM TRUTH IN HIS INNER THOUGHT LIFE THAT IT MATTERS WHICH ACTIONS WE CHOOSE TO TAKE IN THIS LIFE AND THAT THOSE ACTIONS WILL HAVE REAL-WORLD CONSEQUENCES IN THIS WORLD AND IN THE NEXT ONE.
OUR ACTIONS HAVE GOD-CONSEQUENCES.
Based on the phrases that He tended to use over and over in conversations and in teaching times, let’s combine and apply these insights about how Jesus thought.
People have a real tendency to get swallowed up by their emotions — feeling and reacting to fears and worries and concerns. But we don’t have to live that way! We CAN set aside those fears and no longer be bound by them.
Part of the problem is that we have been fed bad information about how life works, either accidentally or purposefully, information that has placed us in mental prisons of helplessness and confusion. But Jesus wants us to shake off those bad sources of information about how life works and what is true and instead listen to Him.
Whenever we need to rebuild a section of our lives that has been damaged by that misinformation and those lies, we can listen to what Jesus tells us and build on those truths with confidence, because He would NEVER mislead us and He is NEVER mistaken. Every word from His mouth is flawless, and He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.
All of this is incredibly important, because we don’t have all the time and space we want to ignore God’s truth. His Kingdom could break in on us at any moment. In many ways, it already has! And it is urgent that we turn from our old ways and embrace the new life that He is describing and modeling.
This could not be more important, because the things we decide to do or not do are ALL noticed by our God, and they ALL have consequences as to how He responds and treats us. God-pleasing behavior ALWAYS brings blessing, in this life and in the next one. God-insulting behavior ALWAYS brings curses into our lives, both here and in eternity.
Brothers and sisters, we live in turbulent times in which all sorts of fears are rising in the hearts of people everywhere. Tensions are at the breaking point in our society, but it doesn’t have to be that way with us. Jesus has commanded us to not fear or worry, and He has never given us a command that He couldn’t help us to obey. So it is POSSIBLE for us to live strikingly different lives of peace in the midst of chaos and uncertainty.
We will dismiss the “wisdom” of this world and the “advice” of the pundits and the perspectives of the talk show hosts. We have heard all those things that have been said, but Christ says something different to us, and what He says is ROCK-SOLID. We will build our lives on that. It never changes. His words are always the truth and, therefore, completely reliable.
We will live like this because Jesus really IS standing right at the door. At any moment the Father could say to Him, “Son, go get my children!” and our lives here, on this side of the door, will be over forever.
With our eyes on that day, we will live for the blessings He has promised us in this life and the rewards that He has promised us in the next life.
His promises are SOLID, SOLID. AMEN and AMEN.