Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.
— Matthew 22:15
In the early years of our ministry in the former Soviet Union, a group of local psychiatrists determined among themselves that I was using a high level of hypnosis to control the people who attended our church. They stated that my level of hypnosis was so developed that I could even manipulate and control people who read my monthly teaching letters that we sent to television viewers. They suggested that as people read my letters, an amazing hypnotic power dramatically affected the readers, causing the readers to want to do what I had encouraged them to do in my letters. Of course, we know it was the power of the Holy Spirit at work, but this was their secular interpretation of what they were observing in our church members and TV viewers.
These psychiatrists were so convinced of these hypnotic powers that they paid a visit to the Department of Religion to express how gravely concerned they were about the level of hypnosis I was using to control people. I was unaware that I was “the talk” of this group until we received a call from the Department of Religion to inform us that five unidentified psychiatrists would be covertly attending all of our church meetings for three months to study the method of hypnosis I was using to control my entire congregation. Of course, since I know nothing of hypnosis, I was amazed! All I had done was teach the Word of God verbally and in written form — under the anointing of the Holy Spirit — and it was producing results in people’s lives!
*[If you started reading this from your email, begin reading here.]
I must tell you — when you know that five psychiatrists are somewhere out in the crowd, listening carefully and trying to find something against you so they can accuse you before the government, it can try to play with your mind. It tends to make you very self-conscious about what you do or say lest it be misinterpreted.
At first, I found myself very guarded in nearly every statement I made, very aware of the psychiatrists who were somewhere in the crowd, listening to “catch” me in something that I did or said publicly. But then I remembered Jesus and the time when the Pharisees listened carefully to Him in order to try to “catch” Him in His words so they could bring an accusation against Him. Knowing that Jesus had experienced the same thing, I turned to the Master to learn how to deal with the situation.
Matthew 22:15 says, “Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him [Jesus] in his talk.” The word “council” is the Greek word sumboulion, which describes a mutual agreement to devise a course of action with harmful or evil purposes. This tells us plainly that the Pharisees were very deliberate in their actions. They met together, agreed on a mutual course of action, and then proceeded to try to catch Jesus off-guard and “entangle” Him in His talk so they could find a reason to charge Him.
Reading this story personally helped me because it sounded so much like the five psychiatrists who were scattered throughout our congregation. I knew that if Jesus could stand successfully against the Pharisees, then the Holy Spirit could empower me likewise to stand strong and stable in the face of these psychiatrists whose sole purpose was to prove that I was controlling and damaging people with hypnotism.
Matthew 22:15 plainly states that this group of Pharisees wanted to “entangle” Jesus in his talk. The word “entangle” is a form of the Greek word pagideuo, which can be translated to ensnare, to catch in a trap, or to acquire information about an error or fault with the purpose of causing harm. It carries the idea to catch off-guard or to catch in a mistake.
Other translations of the New Testament put it like this:
- “Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might ensnare him in his talk” (American Standard Version).
- “Then the Pharisees went and conspired together plotting how to trap Him by [distorting] what He said” (Amplified Bible).
- “Then went the Pharisees and held a counsel how they might ensnare him in speaking” (The Darby Bible).
The Greek wording in this verse emphatically means they purposefully tried to catch Jesus with tricky questions. But Matthew 22:18 says Jesus “perceived” what they were doing. The word “perceived” is ginosko, and it means that He knew, He surmised, and He perceived their wicked intent. Rather than be threatened by them and their presence in the crowd, Jesus boldly addressed them — so boldly that “when they had heard these words, they marveled, and left him, and went their way” (Matthew 22:22).
The word “heard” is a participle, which denotes continuous action. This means the Pharisees stayed for a considerable period of time and listened to what Jesus had to say as He poured forth the truth in utter boldness. Yet when all was said and done, they had caught Him in no trick, so in the end, they just “marveled” and went their way. The word “marveled” is the Greek word thaumadzo, which means Jesus’ detractors were so shocked at what they heard and how He delivered His message that they were rendered speechless and struck with awe. Jesus completely disarmed them.
This also revealed to me that Jesus didn’t change His behavior or His message to fit the doubters in the crowd. In fact, knowing that they were present, Jesus poured it on even more strongly — and as a result, they eventually left Him and, for that time at least, bothered Him no more.
Once I had a deeper understanding of the way Jesus handled this situation, I knew that I was expected to respond like He did. Rather than cower in fear because these five psychiatrists were there, I was to preach more boldly and more fearlessly than ever before. This wasn’t a time for me to be self-conscious.
So I decided if those doctors wanted to know what kind of power was operating through me, it was time to give them a very vivid demonstration! For three months, I poured out the Word of God in power and with the conviction and anointing of the Holy Spirit. When the three months were complete, the psychiatrists left, went their way — and filed their reports of what they had observed.
I personally saw those reports. In them, they indicated that they could not explain either the boldness or the effect of the message — and they suggested that it was something that superseded the powers of hypnotism. A few of them had been so helped during those three months that they continued to attend our church for a period of time to receive more help! Oh, what I learned from that experience!
Just like Jesus, we are not to change the way we present ourselves or our message simply because of who is in the audience or because of whom we’re talking to at the moment. We have no need to apologize for what we believe or for the power of God that works through us. If we shrink in fear, they will perceive it as weakness, but if we stand forth boldly and pour out what we really believe with the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, it will silence our critics.
Once I was seated on an airplane next to a fabulously well-known, foul-mouthed actress. I thought, “Oh, great, what will I tell her if she asks what I do?” But I decided not to retreat. I was going to be direct and honest and then leave the results with the Lord.
The woman responded to my frankness when she heard that I was a Gospel preacher — and when she heard me describe my family and how we all serve together, she began to weep over the condition of her delinquent daughter and son. For three hours I counseled her from the Word of God about steps she could take to redirect the detrimental path they were currently taking. She was not offended; she was helped. If I had squirmed and sheepishly told her what I did, I am certain she would have shunned me. But my frank, bold response threw open the door for a conversation, which I pray helped her with her children and her personal spiritual life.
Never forget that when you are true to the Word of God and your Spirit-inspired convictions of who you are, the Holy Spirit will be right there to empower you through every situation! The Spirit — working through you — will protect you and render your accusers silent and leave them better off for having been with you!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, I ask You to forgive me for the times I’ve allowed myself to be affected by people I knew were in the crowd or by whom I was talking to in a moment. Help me stand fearless and true to You, to Your Word, and to who I am. I have no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed or to squirm from fear of what man thinks of me. Just as Jesus boldly spoke to the Pharisees who tried to catch Him, help me be bold in moments when I am tempted to be weak or to draw back. Your soul takes no pleasure in those who draw back, so I refuse to be intimidated! Your righteousness makes me as bold as a lion. Therefore, since God is for me, I will not fear any mere man who may come against me!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that just like Jesus, I will not change how I present myself or what I believe when I know opponents are listening to me, looking for something negative to say about my faith. I have no need to shrink down or apologize for what I believe or for the power of God that works through me. I will stand forth boldly and pour out what I really believe with the anointing of the Holy Spirit empowering me. I will be true to the Word of God, steadfast in my convictions, and unashamed as I present the Gospel by the power of Christ in me!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Can you think of a time when you really felt put on the “spot” because of your faith? Did you stand firm in what you believe, or did you cower in fear and retreat?
- Have you ever had someone intensely question you about what you believe? How did you respond? How would you respond if it happened today?
- Has there been a moment when you were afraid to stick with who you really are, but you did it anyway and found the other person was receptive to you and to what you had to say?