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  • Writer's pictureNathan Freeman

The Vulgarity of Jesus: How the King of Preachers Communicated



"With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable." (Mark 4:33-34a ESV)


There was once a small village just off the coast of a beautiful sea. The population consisted of farmers who worked the fertile soil; others made a living raising sheep that grazed on the lush grasslands, while most of them carved out a living fishing from the nearby sea. The villagers lived a quiet life amongst themselves; they toiled hard at their jobs and lived off the sweat of their brows. One evening, as the workers were coming in from their various labors, there was a chariot parked right in the middle of their humble little village. Against the backdrop of thatch roofs, mud, and brick walls, the gleaming chariot stood out rather starkly in its bright red color and gilded sides.


A noble-looking man was drinking deeply from the village well, clearly the owner of the fine-

looking chariot. Unsure of what this abrupt encounter could mean, the villagers drew cautiously near the man in purple robes. The man was important as there was a small crowd of servants nearby, many of them with swords, waiting to serve the man if needed. When the people had gathered, the man began to address the villagers – he spoke like a lord, a little stiff but elegant. He began to explain to them the excellencies of the new king, Caesar Augustus. They were to worship him as Lord, as well as whatever other gods they chose. The man continued to pour forth the praise of Caesar in speech too lofty for these simple Galilean farmers to follow; he told of heroic deeds and exploits, nearly all lost on them as the man spoke in refined Greek while the commoners here spoke a plain Galilean dialect. The man regaled them with stories of victorious wars and the expansion of culture.

They listened patiently, waited for him to leave, and shrugged their shoulders before returning home to rest.


Fast forward about 90 years. Same village, the grandsons and granddaughters of the same

villagers, and the same simple life of agriculture and fishing. The workers, as they have done for the same six days every week, come home at twilight to gather around the well as the sun is setting over the Galilean Sea. There waits another stranger, resting on the edge of the village well, which the workers come to that they may quench their thirst and wash away the day’s grime. This man looks as if he knows hard labor and hard travel. With him is a small group of men and women resting in the dirt, exhausted looks on their faces and tiredness in their eyes.


Yet, as the villagers draw near, the countenance on the faces of those sitting in the dirt changes. Joy replaces tiredness. Warm smiles replace grimaces. The man these tired travelers call ‘Lord’ asks permission to share a drink with the tired workers. He then begins to speak to them about the Kingdom of God using farming and shepherding stories. He speaks with warmth, with simple language, and with authority. The villagers call forth their families, though tired as well, to come and draw near to this man who speaks with such tenderness about the Lord God.


He plucked a grain of wheat off the sleeve of a tired farmer and used it to illustrate truths about the Kingdom of Heaven they had never considered. His calloused hands borrowed a fish from the stringer of a young boy, and he used it to explain his purpose for souls. The dirt on his cheeks was tear-streaked as he lovingly grasped one of the shepherds' crooks. He spoke to them in their native tongue of Galilee and yet appeared far more noble than Roman officials who occasionally passed their way. They had never heard such speech before.


This was the way of our Master. He was considered vulgar by the ruling religious party of his day. Let me explain what I mean by ‘vulgar.’ I met a wise old preacher at a conference just a couple of weeks ago, and he asked me, “What is the focus of your ministry?” I didn’t even have to give it much thought. I am a preacher, so of course, it is preaching, but I shared with him my main goal in preaching. “I desire to make biblical spirituality and theology accessible to everyone.” The preacher smiled and, in his British accent, said, “Ah, another vulgar preacher!” Seeing my look of puzzlement, he explained to me that in his country, to be vulgar was not to be crass and crude but rather to speak commonly and plainly. Without sophistication and lacking in refinement.


Paul, though a towering intellect, was a vulgar preacher as well. “And I, when I came to you,

brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:1-2 ESV) Paul could debate with the greatest philosophers of his day, yet he toiled alongside everyday workers, sharing the gospel with them while he lived it out.

Jesus and all his followers, except Judas Iscariot, were all from Galilee, far north of Jerusalem.


Most of us do not know much about the geopolitical landscape of first-century Judea, but I can sum it up briefly and succinctly. Galilee was full of rich farming land comprising about twenty towns and villages. This is where Nazareth was, where Jesus spent his life growing up. It was the place where Jesus performed most of his ministry and miracles, even using Capernaum (Peter’s hometown) as a place from which to base his missions.

Galileans, who spoke a distinct dialect, were sub-par Israelites who lived far from the religious epicenter, the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus, being raised in Nazareth (and what good could come from there!), would have spoken with a distinctly Galilean accent.

If you remember, Peter was betrayed by his accent the night our Lord was betrayed. “Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl approached him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” (Matt 26:69-70 ESV) Peter may have even changed clothes to blend in, but he couldn’t change his accent. Imagine someone with a Cajun dialect trying to blend into a crowd of people with a Boston accent. It didn’t work so well for Peter; someone comes up to Peter and says, “Certainly you are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” (Matt 26:73 ESV)


When you begin to read through the gospels and take notice of the deep disdain the Jews of Jerusalem had for this carpenter from Nazareth and his rag-tag band of Galileans, you will begin to develop a better appreciation for the condescension of the Son of God. The very way that Jesus spoke to sinners enraged the self-righteous religious parties.


The Simplicity of the King of Preachers


The old reformer Martin Luther would instruct would-be preachers of the gospel in his day too “Put eyes into the ears of your listeners.” If you consider the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth, Wisdom in the flesh, the only human ever to have perfect doctrine, the best preacher that has or will ever live, you will find that all his sermons were full of illustrations to put “eyes onto ears.” He spoke to farmers about seeds and crops, and he spoke to fishermen using fishing illustrations. When he preached in the presence of Pharisees (the elder brother), he told a story of the Father’s forgiveness to the dirty sinner that was scandalous to them.


May we all follow the way of the simplicity of our Lord while we walk this earth. We are to meet people where they are. Yes, preachers of the gospel, please make your people strain and stretch so they grow and mature. But we forget that most people sitting in the pews beside us have not read, nor will ever read ‘Calvin’s Institutes.’ If you know much about proper doctrine, make those doctrines lovely by way of illustration, and what better way of illustration than having the tenderness of Christ upon us?


I remember asking an elder I admire from a church I admire, “How did you come to be at this church?” His response was lovely. He said, “You know, I was going to a very superficial church. I had a great life and family and led a group of young adults. But a friend approached me and said, ‘I have someone you need to meet.’ It was my friend Mack Tomlinson. So, I began to eat lunches with Mack, and I came to know him more and more. Mack never once spoke ill of the church I was attending, but there was something about him that drew me in. The way that Mack spoke of the Lord with such familiarity was refreshing. Mack spoke of the Lord and his church in a way I knew I was missing.” He eventually joined the same church as Mack and now faithfully serves as an elder there.


I have used that illustration repeatedly to illustrate a point: people need to see us speaking with a familiarity about our Lord. Doctrine is essential; we cannot worship a God we do not know (Acts 17). But doctrine that is not made alive so that it leads to spiritual understanding profits nothing.


May we all, like our Lord, become vulgar in our speech and pure in our conduct.

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