Grace and Truth: How Jesus Dealt with Confrontations and Questions

Have you ever met someone who purposely asks tricky questions in order to trip you up or trap you? Whether it’s a disgruntled coworker or a random skeptic you meet on the street, there will always be these kinds of people.

Most people agree we must be intentional about engaging these people with love. When we look at Jesus’ interactions with these kinds of people, most of whom were Jewish scholars, leaders, and political figures, we see Him speak truth to them in very forthright ways. This may cause us to question, “How can we balance being truthful and honest with being loving and gentle?” By looking at Jesus’ interactions in such situations, we can develop a biblical basis for how we interact as well.

Discerning Intention

Discernment and judgement are not the same. Discernment essentially is the ability to know or perceive one’s character or motivation correctly. This differs from mere judgement, which the Bible discourage us from, because judgement involves ignorance and self-righteousness while discernment involves wisdom and the Holy Spirit. With this in mind, we can see how Jesus often used discernment when speaking with those who questioned Him.

In Mark 12, a group of Pharisees and Herodians conspired together to ask Jesus some tricky questions that could get Him in trouble with both the audience and the government. When they asked Him about whether or not they should pay taxes to Caesar, the Scriptures tell us, “Jesus knew their hypocrisy” (Mark 12:15 NIV). In Matthew’s account, we read, “But Jesus, knowing their evil intent” (Matthew 22:18 NIV).

Before we can analyze how Jesus responded to such mischievous people and their crafty questions, we must first recognize He discerned their deceitful intent and insincere hearts. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can also pray and ask that He make it known to us what the intentions are of such questioning people. Though this “evil intent” did not cause Christ to love them any less, it did change the way He loved them.

Addressing the Real Issue

In these situations, Jesus loved them best by listening and being a source of honesty and conviction. He knew their frustration and dissatisfaction was a result of their unrepentant hearts; therefore, He answered their questions in such a way as to reveal their brokenness to them and redirect their minds to the greater issue at hand: their own misunderstanding and waywardness.

In the same account mentioned earlier, Jesus answered by saying, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17 NIV), essentially exposing their focus on the temporary over the eternal. After this, a group of Sadducees came and asked Him another hypothetical question about marriage in heaven to which Jesus responded along the same lines asking them, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? . . . He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” (Mark 12:24, 27 NIV). Once again, their focus was on the temporary and not the eternal.

After Jesus answers this series of questions in Mark 12, it all culminates with this scribe’s question: “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” (Mark 12:28 NIV). Finally, Jesus can answer a question that more directly deals with the real question burning in their hearts: What does it mean to follow and obey God?

What was Jesus’ response? He referred to what is known as the shema from Deuteronomy 6:4–5 saying, “‘The most important one . . . is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:29-30 NIV). He then explained, “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31 NIV).

Loving in Grace and Truth

And this brings us back to the concept of love—loving God and loving others. If you continue reading through the gospels, you will probably see Jesus speak and interact with these Pharisees and Sadducees in a seemingly “unloving” manner. Nonetheless, John writes that Jesus—the incarnate Word of God—came “from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 NIV).

Over the years, we have mistaken His grace and love for tolerance or silence, yet those are not the same. God gave us grace to be saved by believing in the truth, Jesus the Messiah (John 14:6), and as a result of that grace and truth, we reform our lives. The Pharisees did not do this nor were they truly loving God and others, and their intentions did not reflect this either. As a result, the most loving way Jesus could respond to them was by being honest.

When it comes to our own lives, this may be harder than it seems. Not only is telling the truth oftentimes difficult, but our human emotions and imperfections can often get in the way of the grace and love with which we must speak truth. Jesus did not struggle with this because He is perfect, but we must still look to Him as an example.

Here are three practical steps we can take to respond and love with both grace and truth:

  1. Pray. Ask God to give you a discerning spirit, a gentle mouth, listening ears, and a humble heart to truly view such people as God views them.
  2. Listen. Before speaking or arguing, train yourself to truly listen. Jesus never cut off or ignored what the Pharisees had to say. He listened in order to give them respect, but He also listened in order to give His best answer.
  3. Speak. Once you pray and listen, speak truth in love. Preface your words with honest statements about your desire for the conversation’s outcome and your reasoning for your answer. Try to address the real issue instead of trivialities.

The Lord’s Servant

Ultimately, we will never be able to fully understand why Jesus responded in certain ways to certain situations or people; neither will we ever be able to perfectly shape our actions around what we think Jesus would do. Instead of being discouraged by these truths though, we must return to the most important truth regarding our behavior: that we are now new creations, raised to life from sin and death, committed to loving and serving Him (2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 Peter 2:16). When we focus on this, we can engage argumentative and ill-intentioned people like Christ did, and in the same way Paul encouraged Timothy to, by “not be[ing] quarrelsome but . . . kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful . . . gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil” (2 Timothy 2:24-26 NIV).

About the Author

Samantha Rodriguez

Samy Rodriguez has been serving with the Calvary writing team since 2020 as a senior at Calvary Christian Academy. Before going to study communications, biblical studies, and intercultural studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University, she interned with the Calvary Communications Team and was a student leader in HSM (High School Ministry). She is passionate about communicating God’s Word and looks forward to continuing to serve in ministry after college.