“Two men went up into the Temple to pray” (Luke 18:10).
There are so many layers to Jesus’ teachings; it makes the study of his word, and all of Scripture, a profound experience.
Take, for example, the passage above. Jesus taught a parable concerning self-righteousness. Two men, a Pharisee (who considered himself righteous) and a tax-collector (who considered himself a sinner), went to the Temple in Jerusalem, which was tantamount to approaching God himself.
The Pharisee declared his own holiness and flippantly thanked God for it. The tax-collector declared his un-holiness, and begged God for mercy.
Jesus’ lesson was very simple, not hard to understand: the tax collector was justified, and Pharisee was not. In just a few compact words, Jesus taught a masterpiece that pierces the depths of man’s soul (Luke 18:10-14).
But there’s so much more to see. Notice the list below. Notice the assumed truths – truths for which Jesus offers no particular evidence other than his word.
There is (1) the assumed truth that some men are blindly self-righteous and others are aware of their sinfulness. Jesus offers no argument into the nature of man on this point. He is assuming what everybody already knows. Nobody faults Jesus’ parable on the grounds that it depicts man other than he is. Some are prideful, some are humble.
Following that, there is (2) the assumed truth that humility is preferred to self-righteousness. Most people agree that humility is a much more desirable trait that conceit.
There is (3) the assumed truth that men, whether humble or smug, pray. Again, this is a reflection of man’s nature. No one says, “What on earth is prayer?”
We know exactly what prayer is because of another assumed truth, that (4) man is naturally spiritual, or religious. Jesus said all these things? No, of course not. He didn’t explicitly affirm or argue for any of these truths, but all of them must be assumed and accepted in order to make the parable function.
By the way, this leads us to another assumed truth, that (5) we have needs that can only be met by communion with God. Sure, there are some people who argue that humans do not need religion. However, the majority of the world, and the majority of human behavior in history defies this argument. Human beings are spiritual, and therefore have certain needs that must be fulfilled, and can only be filled, by communion with God.
We could truly go on and on (and, maybe you can think of more assumed truths and add them in the comments below). But suffice it to say that, by the mere introduction of these words, “Two men went up to the Temple to pray,” Jesus assumed a number of things to be true about God, about man, and about the nature and condition of both. These are axiomatic realities. The very fact that he said them authenticates them to be true.
And so it is with every teaching of Jesus, and every teaching of the God-breathed Scripture, the depth of which is unfathomable (Psalm 92:5).
(We could expand on this list to include: explicit truths, implied truths, and enduring principles, and these lists could go on as well).
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