Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Jesus' Teaching Methods

This is part 1 of a series that examines the methods Jesus used to teach His disciples and the multitudes. The intent of this series is not to improve our teaching methods, but to show how His methods revealed His nature. The series will work its way through these topics:

  1. Teaching as One with Authority
  2. Offending the Mind to Reveal the Heart
  3. A Cloaking Device
  4. One Story That Tells It All

Teaching as One with Authority

I am a layman, not a pastor, priest, or reverend. Occasionally, I teach during the main service on my home church here in Kennesaw, GA. More often, I teach at a church in Richardson, TX. As some might say, a prophet has no honor in his home town. I am considered a good teacher. But here is an interesting fact: If I taught like Jesus taught, neither of these churches would ask me back. Jesus had a dimension to His teaching that goes beyond conventional. you can get a hint of what I mean with Matthew's record of the crowd's reaction to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount:

When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed by his teaching, because he taught them like one who had authority, not like their experts in the law. (Matthew 7:28-29, The Net Bible)

Matthew notes that  Jesus spoke "like one who had authority." This is different from speaking authoritatively or teaching from an authoritative source. He spoke from and for Himself. Looking back on the Sermon on the Mount, it is easy to see what the crowd saw and heard:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way. (Matthew 5:10-12)

Note this little prepositional phrase Jesus used "on account of me." Leave this phrase out, and it is a teaching that anybody can give. Leave it in, and you have a choice to make about the teacher. It forces you to come to terms with who He claims to be. Jesus equated being persecuted for righteousness with being persecuted on account of Himself. He said that to be persecuted on account of Him would mean having a great reward in heaven--which implies that it was His to give. This is bold! What if a teacher in your church said this? How would you react? Now think about this, the crowds did not yet really know who Jesus was! Do not think that it was easier for them because they lived in such times.

Let's look at another:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)

Would you accept a teacher who quoted Scripture and then put his own words on equal footing. Jesus implicitly claimed to have the authority to do so. Besides putting His own words on equal footing with Scripture, Jesus claimed prophetic fulfillment in real time. In other words, he claimed that many Scriptures talked about Him:

Now Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lords favor. Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to tell them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read. (Luke 4:16-21)

Even that was tame compared to the next two quotes:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Matthew 24:35)

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!” (John 8:58)

Many would like to tell us that Jesus was a "great teacher." Such a sentiment is nonsense. His teachings are full of Himself. A good teacher in a church has these characteristics:

  • The Scriptures, not the teacher, are the authority.
  • He may use secondary authorities to communicate generally accepted doctrines.
  • Research and reflection seek to present truth with little injection of error.
  • There are often legitimate different points of view that he should acknowledge.

Jesus on the other hand spoke like this:

  • It says 'this' in the Bible, but I have some extra things to say about it, and they are just as important.
  • Whole sections of the Old Testament were written about me. Don't forget that the holidays you've been celebrating all these centuries are all about me too.
  • My teachings are going to be around long after the universe ends.
  • I exist at all moments of time.
  • I am the most important person that you will ever meet.

Because we know the end of the story, it is easy to miss how hard it might have been, for those first hearers, to discern whether Jesus was for real or dangerous. What criteria could you use? Remember that the leading authorities accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub. In the light of Jesus teaching about Himself, how sure could one be back then that the leaders did not have Him pegged? Who would I be to say otherwise?

Many are familiar with C. S. Lewis' apologetic that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord.

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (Mere Christianity)

You have been able to see first-hand what C. S. Lewis meant by "sort of things Jesus said." They were outlandish for a mere mortal to speak, much less get away with. He had followers because He backed up with what He said by character and by power. Without those things, there would be no story today.

Thursday: Offending the Mind to Reveal the Heart


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