Jesus certainly developed the reputation of knowing how to say exactly the right thing at the right time. On many occasions the Pharisees tried to trap him with rhetoric, only to have Jesus make them look foolish instead. His words could condemn with their harshness or heal with their gentleness, depending on what the situation called for. We have all wished at one time or another that we could do that. Yet Jesus also knew when it was appropriate to say nothing at all.
In the early days of his ministry, Jesus tried to repress something of a celebrity status from forming. He would command people that were healed to tell no one what had happened, and even reprimanded the disciples to not tell anyone he was the Christ. I have always been amazed by the fact that demons and evil spirits immediately knew who Jesus was, often before he even spoke. His response was always to silence them; a command which they had to obey. Demons would ask Jesus questions like “have you come to torment us before the time?” His followers were not yet ready for that type of revelation, and the demonic voices were quickly silenced. Jesus knew the gospel story needed time to play out. God’s plan was a long slow way, not a hasty one.
When Jesus appeared before Pilate and Herod, they prodded him to reply their accusations. Fulfilling the Old Testament prophesies, “like a lamb before its shearers is silent” so was he. Think about that. Jesus had always known exactly what to say. He engaged his critics, responded to the Pharisees trials, answered questions about sin, the Sabbath, capital punishment, and even his own mercy towards sinners. He finally grew weary with the Pharisees, and turned the tables by asking them a question they could not answer. One of my favorite Bible verses explains that they dared not ask him any more questions from then on. (see footnote) But at his trial, not a word.
Jesus could have easily exposed the fault in the Sanhedrin’s claims, the fallacy of his midnight trial, or even the Roman Empire’s sinfulness. More than once Jesus simply walked away through the crowd when a mob formed to kill him. But this was God’s will. Salvation was coming into the world by way of the cross. In this case Jesus did not answer his accusers. It wasn’t that he didn’t know what to say.
Proverbs 17:28 says “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise.” James knew what a great fire a tiny member such as the tongue can kindle. Jesus not only knew exactly what to say, but also understood that sometimes it’s best not to say anything at all. That’s an example we could learn from.
footnote: These are actually two different occurances that got ran together in my mind. At the end of Mark 11, Jesus asks a question the Pharisees cannot answer, and so Jesus refuses to answer their question. In the middle of Mark 12, there is a discussion of the Greatest Commandment. Jesus answers the scribe’s question, and compliments the scribe on his understanding. Mark 12:34 ends with “… and after that no one dared to ask him anymore questions.” Matthew records these same events.