Psalm 80:4

Prayer is Not Enough

 O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? (Psalm 80:4).

 For me, and I suspect for many of us, prayer can be among the biggest battles we encounter as a Christian.  I have heard, and believe, that one can tell more from a man’s prayer life than just about anything else.  We can have all sorts of reasons why we might do this or that, but secret prayer shows us who we really are before God. 

 Which is why the question of Psalm 80 quoted above is so arresting.  Given that it is often so difficult to pray, and given how repeatedly the Lord calls His people to pray, how then might the Lord be angry with his people’s prayers? 

 Because prayer is not enough. 

 There are many reasons why this is the case.  Some pray even as they oppress their neighbors and workers (Isaiah 58).  Some pray that they might be seen and praised (Matthew 6:5-14).  Some pray without thankful hearts and don’t do what they know they should (Psalm 50:14-15).  James is very direct:

 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.  You adulterous people!  Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?  But he gives more grace.  Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  Submit yourselves therefore to God. 

 We can pray for all kinds of things, and from all kinds of motives.  But what of humility?  Of submission?

 Perhaps this is why when Jesus taught us to pray, he did not say be sincere in your prayers, or lengthy or learned or eloquent.  Rather, He gave us a specific prayer.  It begins like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.  Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:9-10).  Before Jesus calls us to pray for our daily needs, for forgiveness and deliverance from temptation and evil, he calls us to remember that God is our Father, and to pray for the glory of his name, the doing of his will, and the coming of His kingdom.  Not only do these petitions concern the glory of God, but are also the very petitions that concern our own good.  By beginning in this way, it orders the desires of our heart, and by God’s grace enables us to pray as we ought.  In effect, Jesus’ prayer reminds us that true prayer comes from a heart surrendered to God, trusting that His glory is our good, and reminds God of our need to be truly surrendered to Him.  This is the humility of which James speaks above, and the submission that he calls for.  This is the foundation for prayer in which the Lord delights. 

 Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4). 



1 Corinthians 10:23-33

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful (1 Corinthians 10:23).

As a Christian grows in Christ, he becomes less interested in what is lawful, and more interested in what is helpful.  This is not because he does not believe in the law, or considers himself above it, but rather because he understands in ever-increasing measure that the law was meant to be helpful.  Let me use Paul’s words concerning food offered to idols, from which the line quoted above was taken, to explain.

In the Old Testament, Israel was given certain dietary laws which allowed some meats and forbade others.  The OT never gives a specific reason why it was OK to eat lamb but not pork, or trout but not crab, but it does suggest that Israel was given these laws to separate her from the surrounding nations, therefore guarding her from the temptation to follow the gods and customs of those nations.  In other words, we are not told that eating certain meats was intrinsically evil, but we are told that not eating certain meats restricted the fellowship Israel might share with other nations.  That is part of what it meant for Israel to be holy—different and distinct from the nations of the world. 

In the New Testament, these dietary laws no longer apply to the people of God.  But the spirit behind those laws does.  A Christian—whether a Gentile Christian or a Jewish Christian—could eat whatever he pleased with thanks to God, for he knew that “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof” (1 Cor. 10:26; cf. Ps 24:1).  But that didn’t mean that he always ate anything he pleased.  Paul gives an example of one who is presented with  meat, having been told that it had been offered to idols.  The Christian at that point does not eat that meat, not because there is anything intrinsically wrong with it, but because he does not want in any way to participate, or appear to participate, in idolatry.  Just like Israel in the Old Testament, the Christian will have nothing to do with the gods of the nations, and he will take care to ensure others know it, lest he confuse them by implying that one can serve both Christ and idols.  Eating that meat might be lawful, but it would certainly not be helpful.  And therefore he does not do it. 

As one grows in Christ, the question becomes less “am I allowed to do this?” but rather “will this encourage my walk with and witness to Christ?”  The question is not whether I am allowed to buy a certain thing, but whether what I buy would serve the glory of God in some way.  The question is not whether I am allowed to listen to certain music or watch certain movies, but whether so doing will move me closer to Jesus and his intentions for me.  There are many ways one can spend his time without breaking any law—am I spending mine in ways that honor God and bless my neighbor? 

In the end, the controlling questions concerning matters of law is this—does this thing (what ever this thing is) encourage me in my love of God and my neighbor?  Does it draw me closer to God?  Does it serve my neighbor well?  These questions are of a different order than “am I allowed to do this?”  In the end, one set of questions is all about me.  The other set of questions is all about God, and my neighbor.  One set of questions is legalistic, serving the letter of the law, and is primarily concerned with what I can or cannot do.  The other set of questions serves the spirit of the law, and is not primarily concerned with me, but rather with loving God and neighbor. 

Perhaps this is what was meant when the Lord promised in the Old Testament that one day he would write the law upon the hearts of his people (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).

Several years ago I read a book by John Ratey titled “Spark,” which argues that one’s physical well being is directly correlated with one’s brain function.  People who are fit, and particularly people who have just engaged in physical exercise, concentrate better and learn more effectively than those who do not.  The book begins by citing a study of a school district in Naperville, Illinois, who installed a physically demanding PE class to first period, to see their standardized test scores rise to first in the nation. 

I was reminded of Ratey’s book by Paul’s words quoted above.  Paul is talking of his calling as a minister of the Gospel—his singleminded commitment to preaching to all men, and living in such a manner that permits no one to question the integrity of himself or his message.  What I find interesting about the passage, however, isn’t Paul’s commitment to his calling, but more specifically the manner in which he must discipline his body in order to carry it out.  And even more specifically, he disciplines his body so that, in the end, he may not forsake the blessings of the gospel that he preaches to others. 

Paul’s words are a bit jarring, at least to those who have neatly separated physical well-being from spiritual well-being.  When we think of what it might mean to grow in Christ, many think firstly of such things as reading the Scriptures (with an eye to obedience), prayer, connecting with Christian community, and loving our neighbors.  Without denying the importance of any of those things, I suspect not many would say the discipline of our bodies.  That’s not to say that we don’t appreciate the importance of keeping fit—most everyone knows that being fit effects everything else, and few of us are satisfied when our bodies are unfit, when we are weaker than we might otherwise be.  But I doubt that most of us think of being fit as a matter of spiritual importance. 

And yet many of the maladies we often consider spiritual have physical components.  Depression, for instance, has been linked with excessive intake of sugar.  Lack of exercise has been linked with anxiety, and the ability to concentrate.  The links are many, and not difficult to find.  And they raise certain questions.  For those of us who have a difficult time maintaining concentration during prayer, what if part of the answer may be that we are physically unfit?  What if my irritability with my children is due in part to my lack of energy?  In other words, if physical activity helps the children in Naperville to concentrate better in science class, might physical activity help us in prayer and in reading the Scriptures?  Is is possible that the fruit of the Spirit is connected to the well-being of our bodies? 

God did not create us as spirits only.  He created us as bodies.  Not as spirits with bodies, but as people—body and soul united.  That is why we are so disturbed by both ghosts and corpses—we know the separation of spirit and body isn’t the way things should be.  Which is also why, in the end, God will resurrect us in our bodies.  Our bodies may be different, but we will be bodies nonetheless. 

None of this is to say that physical fitness alone makes people more like Christ.  Obviously, many with world class fitness want nothing to do with God.  But Paul is clearly implying, in his own experience, that the state of his body affects the state of his soul.  If you are finding that you are lacking and lifeless in the things of God, perhaps you need to tend better to your body.  It may not be the whole answer, but it might be part of it. 


Proverbs 19:17

It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice (Psalm 112:5).

God does not need us.  Theologians call this the sufficiency of God, that God is sufficient in Himself, and therefore has no need of man, or of anything else in creation.  The Scriptures attest to this very thing.  Consider the following:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).

For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine (Psalm 50:10-11). 

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).

There are others.  Which makes the proverb from this morning all the more striking:

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed (Proverbs 19:17). 

The Scriptures have a lot to say about lending and borrowing.  For instance, “The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives” (Psalm 37:21), and “the rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender” (Proverbs 22:7). 

I say this with care, and caution, because in the end, I do believe in the sufficiency of God—that He doesn’t need me, and that all His dealings with me and with the world are all of grace.  But, taken together, the implication of the Scriptures above suggest this—if you want to put God in your debt, be generous to the poor. 

Proverbs 19:16

Whoever keeps the commandment keeps his life; he who despises his ways will die (Proverbs 19:16). 

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness (Romans 4:5).

In going through the Ten Commandments, as we are this summer, with each commandment we are implicitly confronted with a question: what is the relationship between obedience and our peace with God?  If we are saved by grace, and not by our obedience, then what is the purpose of the law?  Why would we bother going through the Ten Commandments anyway?

The proverb above is helpful in this regard, as is today’s reading from Romans 4 for those of you who are going through the One Year Bible.  Whoever keeps, or guards, the commandments guards his life.  The image is one of watchful care on the part of the one who would tend well to his life.  The association between the commandments and life is close indeed.  The proverb does not say that the commandment is his life, but it comes awfully close.  In the words of Psalm 119, “give me life in your ways” (119:37).

The law of God is life-giving because God created the heavens and the earth, and us.  From the beginning he established the world with an order that served life, and abundant life at that.  Each day God creates He orders—separating and gathering, ordering the world so that it is good, and in the end “very good.”  In other words, the boundaries are good.  For instance, the boundary between the land and the sea is good, and if that boundary is transgressed, destruction follows, as anyone who has experienced (or even seen a video of) a tsunami can testify.  Just as the boundary between the land and the sea sustains life, so does the boundary around a marriage.  “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is a guardrail, so that we can have life abundantly, in this case that a man may rejoice in the wife of his youth.  Just as a tsunami brings destruction and death, so likewise does adultery.  And the same is true of breaking any of God’s commandments.  The wages of sin really is death (Romans 3:23).

So what then is our relation to the law?  Perhaps it can be said this way—we are not saved by obedience, but we are saved for obedience.  Our peace with God is not through our obedience (which of us is obedient enough to merit peace with God?).  Rather, our obedience is the fruit of our peace with God.  Why would peace with God lead to our obedience?  Because when we believe that God has justified the ungodly in Christ, we learn to trust Him.  Love begets love.  Dying love begets dying love.  Believing that Christ laid down His life for me begets the desire to lay down my life for Him.  Yes, this desire can wax and wane.  Our growth in Christ is often uneven, and often far too sluggish.  But a Christian who believes that God has loved him with an everlasting love in Christ will desire to follow Christ.  He will want to love the Lord with all his heart.  He will want to keep the commandments.  He believes that God’s commandments really are for our good.  Paul’s logic becomes inescapable: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).  And while his obedience is sometimes halting and imperfect, he is never satisfied for it to be so.  Those satisfied to continue in sin, in hopes that grace may abound (Romans 6:1), simply show their lack of faith in the goodness of God.  In other words, they lack faith in God Himself.   

Why is our faith counted as righteousness?  Is it perhaps because that in the end faith all that God wants from us—to trust Him?  To love Him with all our heart, and therefore to love His image in others as well?  To trust that His love for us in Christ is an everlasting love, and that it is available to us apart from our deserving?  In the end, it’s not quite right to say we are saved for obedience, as if what God wants from us is simply compliance with His law.  Rather, God wants us.  We are saved for fellowship with and in Christ.  Which means we increasingly share His own heart, as we grow in Christ learning to love what He loves and hate what He hates.  We learn to delight in His ways (Psalm 1).

Those saved by Christ will obey.  Not because they believe that their obedience can win them salvation, but because they have come to believe that God’s ways are good because God is good.  Obedience is the fruit of faith.  



Proverbs 17:27-28

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.  Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent (Proverbs 17:27-28).

The Scriptures are full of warnings about our speech.  James spoke of the power of the tongue, writing that “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).  The proverbs speak of impending judgment coming upon the evil tongue: “The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off” (Prov 10:31).  Jesus taught that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34; Luke 6:45), and that whatever we say in secret will ultimately be made public (Luke 12:3).  Trifling with the tongue is a serious matter indeed.

And therefore we don’t.  The proverb quoted above is full of practical wisdom: Keep your mouth shut.  Of course, this does not mean never to speak, for there are times when the Scriptures call us to speak, times when silence is sinful and destructive.  But there are also times to remain silent.  In fact, the proverb suggests that the time to be silent is probably most of the time. 

The call to remain silent is, of course, no small matter, precisely for the reason Jesus gave us—out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  Or, in the words of the proverb, “whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”  Our spirits—our tempers—are connected to our lips.   In other words, our lips willingly betray the content of our hearts.  Have you ever noticed how eager a hot-tempered person is to speak?  The cool in spirit, on the other hand, is content to be silent. 

Why would this be?  Let me offer several suggestions.  The cool in spirit is one who trusts God, that “vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Rom 12:19; Heb 10:30).  He knows that what is done is secret will be made public, and therefore is free from the impulse to defend himself.  The cool in spirit is humble, realizing he partakes of the same fallen nature as the one against whom he might lash out, walking in the frame of the Publican who prayed “Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:9-14).  He realizes that there is much he doesn’t know, particularly why certain people do what they do.  He realizes in the end that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, and therefore does not seek to will himself into self-control, but rather seeks God, whose Spirit gives the power to walk in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22). 

And what of those with hot tempers?  Perhaps restraining our tongues can be a means of restraining our tempers.  That is not to say that we can simply, in our own strength, decide to walk in self-control.  Our flesh will not so willingly be tamed.  Again, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, as is the generosity of heart that seeks to see the best in people, realizing there is much we don’t know.  But a commitment to restraining our tongues is a way of drawing near to God, who has promised that when we do so, He will draw near to us (James 4:8).  In other words, restraining our tongues is also a prayer—that God will work in me the fruit of His spirit, bringing forth in me love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  It may well be a costly prayer, and hard won with much wrestling and perhaps tears.  But He will surely do it. 

1 Kings 12

I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread (Psalm 37:25). 

Wisdom is not always attached to age, for there are old men who remain foolish, and young men who are wise.  Whether one is young or old, the fear of the Lord remains the beginning of wisdom. 

Yet, for one who fears the Lord, great wisdom can be gained through years.  For instance, David in the psalm above testifies to the goodness of God toward the righteous, which he not only has expected from the word of God, but has observed in his experience with God’s people.  And that comes from years. 

In the 1 Kings 12 passage at hand, Rehoboam makes a mistake that is characteristic of our age, and apparently also of his.  Seeking counsel concerning how he should govern as a new king, he spurned the counsel of his elders, who instructed him to deal kindly with his people, and instead followed the counsel of his younger peers, who told him to rule with strict and stern discipline.  We know how it turned out.  He lost the kingdom.

Rehoboam’s loss will not surprise the wise.  One of the follies of youth is a confusion concerning where true strength lies, seeing the locus of true authority in the strength of the arm rather than in the kindness that is the fruit of love.  The elders understood this.  For my part, I am not convinced that the young men with whom Rehoboam consulted were altogether ill-intentioned.  They may well have thought that strength lies primarily in the resolution of the will, and that Rehoboam would be most effective as he brought strict discipline upon the people.    

I remember it well.  As a young father, having read several childrearing books (one in particular), I became convinced that raising children well was a matter of consistent discipline, and of establishing my authority as their father.  But it didn’t produce fruit of joy in the Lord.  I came to see that the fruit of the Spirit in the home—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, and self control (Gal 5:22)—was the foundation upon which raising children rests, and the atmosphere in which discipline and child training must take place.  I also learned that, at least for the flesh, walking in love and gentleness is far more difficult than administering strict discipline.  And far more effective.   Because true authority, and true strength, lies in love. 

Most of us, in one way or another, have arenas where we exercise authority.  Take heed to Rehoboam.  Otherwise you may well lose the kingdom. 



Psalm 137

 By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion (Psalm 137:1). 

How is Psalm 137 the word of the Lord?  After all, the psalm ends with a “blessing” that is odd, at the very least: “Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” (137:9).  How can a Christian, who likewise hears Jesus’ words to turn the other check and to love his enemies, see Psalm 137 as God’s word for him?

Let’s begin with a little context.  Psalm 137 is a psalm of the exile, the people of God having been taken away to Babylon, having been torn from home, Jerusalem now having been destroyed, including the temple which served as the place where they met with God.  Now in Babylon, they find themselves subjected to the mocking of those who uprooted their lives. “Sing us one of the songs from the old country!” their tormentors scoff. 

Psalm 137 is not a charge to kill the infants of one’s enemies.  I don’t even believe that is it a charge to hate or wish ill upon one’s enemies.  Yes, the Lord will deal with Babylon.  He does not turn a blind eye to the persecution of His people.  In what may well have been the basis for the psalmist’ words, Isaiah prophesies concerning Babylon that “their infants will be dashed in pieces before their eyes” (Isa 13:18).  But again, Jesus said to love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.  So how then do we understand the psalmist’s hard words?

First, we can appreciate that raw and unvarnished pain is laid bare in the psalms.  The psalms reflect life, and even our life with God: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?” (13:1), “For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol” (88:3), “But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed” (89:38).  Have you ever taken such words upon your lips?  The Bible is not simply good principles for living, nor does it assume that life in God is free from deep struggle and pain.  Yes, the Scriptures call us to rejoice in the Lord (Phil 4:4), but that joy is a joy that must be fought for, and cannot be fought for if we deny the real pain that permeates this sinful and shattered world.  In other words, real joy is never superficial.  The psalms give us the freedom to come to God as we are.  For in the end, there is no other way to come.  There is a reason that the psalms provide great help to those who struggle mightily with doubt and despair. 

Secondly, I wonder if Psalm 137 somehow lays bare our own apathy.  For we too are exiles.  Created to walk with God and one another in unbroken fellowship in the cool of the day (Gen 3:8), having everything provided that we could need or desire (Gen 2), we believed the word of the serpent and decided that God really wasn’t good, and therefore fellowship with Him wasn’t worth it.  And so we were driven from the garden and exiled from God, now to live in a world where people mock and destroy and really do dash infants against rocks.  Yet, I wonder if one of the reasons we find this psalm confusing is that we aren’t overly bothered by the world in which we live.  Rather, we have become too friendly with the world, and don’t long for God, and the Home for which we were created.  If we never feel the kind of loss (and accompanying anger) felt by the writer of Psalm 137, perhaps it is because we are far too content in exile. 

The LORD God said to the serpent… I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring.  He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel (Gen 3:15).


Psalm 95

The Lord loves the worship of his people.  But he doesn’t need it.  We do. 

Psalm 95 gives a strong exhortation to obedience: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”  He goes back into the history of Israel to remind the people that their ancestors in the wilderness never entered the promised land because of their disobedience.  They tested the Lord, and died in the wilderness.  Of these people, the Lord said “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.”

Why did they disobey?  Let me suggest, based on Psalm 95, that their disobedience was rooted in their failure to worship.  Listen to the psalm—“Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!  Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving!”  Why?  “For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all Gods.  He made the earth, the mountains and the seas!  He is our God, our shepherd!  Let us worship Him!  (my paraphrase). 

Here is the foundation of obedience—remembering and delighting in God.  If we can remember that He made the heavens and the earth, and all who dwell therein, that He is the shepherd of His people, who cares for them—feeding them on green pastures, walking with them through the valley of the shadow of death, rescuing them from that which would cause them harm—then we will trust him.  And therefore obey.  And what is worship but remembering who the Lord is for us, and delighting in Him for that very reason. 

The reason that the people of Israel disobeyed in the wilderness was that they forgot who the Lord was, for them.  After all, could not the one who delivered them with signs and wonders from Egyptian slavery be counted upon to provide for them in the wilderness?  He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Oh, come, let us sing to the LORD. 


Ecclesiastes 3:7

A time to keep silence, and a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7). 

Standing before the high priest, false accusations being hurled at him from several directions, Mark records that Jesus “remained silent, and made no answer” (Mark 14:61).  Why?  Let me suggest two possible reasons.

Perhaps Jesus knew that speaking would make no difference.  One thing we know of Jesus is that he knew people.  In commenting on Jesus’ response to his popularity, particularly due to the signs he performed, John writes “Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25).  False charges are only trumped up by those who care nothing for the truth, only the blood of the one they accuse.  In other words, Jesus knew that if the will of a man was set, any defense of himself would fall upon deaf ears.  It was not a time to speak. 

Perhaps Jesus kept silence for another reason.  Returning to his prayer in Gethsamane, recorded just a few verses earlier, we read “And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.  And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you.  Remove this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will’” (Mark 14:35-36).  Jesus is clear that his Father is able to remove this cup, but also is prepared for his Father not to do so.  He prays through the night, apparently rising with the knowledge that he will need to go through this dreaded hour: “It is enough; the hour has come.  The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Mark 14:41).  That being the case, perhaps Jesus’ silence is simply his submission to what he understands to be the will of his Father.  If so, there is no need to defend himself. 

Perhaps Jesus was silent due to a combination of these two reasons, or perhaps for another reason entirely (e.g. to full the Scriptures, such as Isaiah 53:7).  Of course we don’t know.  What we do know, however, is that Jesus was well aware that there are certain times to speak, and certain times to be silent. 

There are, of course, also times to speak.  How then can we know the time to speak and the time to remain silent?  Jesus prayed.  He remembered that God was his Father and was in control of all things, and in that knowledge surrendered himself to his Father’s will.  Apart from knowing God’s sovereign love and control, could Jesus have discerned well?