Thursday, February 13, 2003

Jesus' Teaching Methods

This is part 2 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

You can get to any of the available lessons by clicking on the lesson title.

Offending the Mind to Reveal the heart

Jesus spoke as one having authority. In His dealings with people, this had a curious side effect. He never allowed anyone to judge Him or His words. As you read through the gospel accounts you will find situations where someone or some group attempted to give Jesus cause to defend Himself. He never allowed it. To judge the correctness of His words or teaching was to place yourself in authority over Him. He never permitted anyone to do it. Indeed, how He received you was often determined by your attitude. Jesus was always in control of His situation, and he often deliberately created offense to achieve His purposes. That is what I will explore in this lesson. To begin, Jesus cautioned us not to take offense at Him:

Jesus answered them, “Go tell John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them. Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me. (Matthew 11:4-6, The Net Bible)

Why would Jesus caution us about taking offense, if He did not intend to stir things up?

Jesus Offended His Home Town

As you read the following account, notice how the town-folk became the judge of Jesus' teaching, although they were nice about it. Then notice how Jesus deliberately offended them:

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.” All were speaking well of him, and were amazed at the gracious words coming out of his mouth. They said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Jesus said to them, “No doubt you will quote to me the proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ and say, ‘What we have heard that you did in Capernaum, do here in your hometown too.’” And he added, “I tell you the truth, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up three and a half years, and there was a great famine over all the land. Yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to a woman who was a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, yet none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, forced him out of the town, and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But he passed through the crowd and went on his way. So he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. (Luke 4:16-31)

Jesus rarely was so direct in proclaiming Himself to be the Messiah that Israel had hoped for. The response of His hometown was that "people spoke well of him." They still remembered little "Yeshi" who grew up among them. Although they were polite, they missed the point and they missed Him. By speaking well, they spoke down. He then not only rebuked them, but stirred up latent racial hatred. He spoke of the widows in Israel, but how Elijah only gave help to a Gentile woman. He spoke of the lepers in Israel, but how Elisha only healed a Gentile man. He stripped them of their politeness and revealed how far they were from accepting Him as their Messiah. Jesus blew their cover away and they tried to kill Him. He offended their minds and revealed their hearts.

Jesus Offended His Disciples

The Jews take seriously the command of God forbidding eating the blood of an animal:

And you must not eat any blood of the birds or the domesticated land animals in any of the places where you live. Any person who eats any blood, that person will be cut off from his people.’” (Leviticus 7:26-27)

 Kosher meat is from an animal, whose throat is cut so that its blood can be completely drained. Keep this in mind as you read this from the gospel of John:

(Jesus)"I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 

Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus began to argue with one another, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so the one who consumes me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the bread your ancestors ate, but then later died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. 

Then many of his disciples, when they heard these things, said, “This is a difficult saying! Who can understand it?” 

When Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining about this, he said to them, “Does this cause you to be offended? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? The Spirit is the one who gives life; human nature is of no help! The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus had already known from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) So Jesus added, “Because of this I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has allowed him to come.” 

After this many of his disciples quit following him and did not accompany him any longer. (John 6:51-66) 

Jesus spoke these words shortly after feeding the 5000 men and their families. The people wanted to make Him king and enjoy the welfare state He could provide. They wanted another meal, but Jesus wanted them to know about Himself. Note in this passage how strongly Jesus presses His point, "my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink." Not only is this strange, and sick, but it is seemingly blasphemous. Not only did the crowd have a problem, but many of His disciples did as well. Jesus asked them, "Does this cause you to be offended?" Not once did Jesus suggest that He intended His words to be taken allegorically. So, many of them answered, "Yes it does, thank you very much!" And they left.

By creating an offense, He weeded out many disciples who were not really with Him. However, Peter, speaking for himself and the others, showed that His faith in Jesus saw through the offense:

So Jesus said to the twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” 

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God!” (John 6:67-69)

Peter, in effect, said, "Lord, I don't know why you did what you just did. But I have no where else to go, and I trust you."

Those who judged Jesus' words left, those who trusted Him stayed. By creating the offense, Jesus revealed hearts. I have some more stories to relate, but I want to state here an important lesson for us. Jesus will create offense today. When He does so, we can either submit and know Him better or reject and know Him less. The offense is a test of our hearts. We need to recognize the flaw that it reveals, trust Him, humble ourselves, and learn His ways.

The Jerusalem Delegation and Its Fallout

This is about how opportunity came knocking and Jesus slammed the door in its face. Luke records this for us:

Now on one of those days, while he was teaching, there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting nearby (who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem), and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Then some men showed up, carrying a paralyzed man on a stretcher. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus. But since they found no way to carry him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down on the stretcher through the roof tiles right in front of Jesus. 

When Jesus saw their faith he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” 

Then the experts in the law and the Pharisees began to think to themselves, “Who is this man who is uttering blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 

When Jesus perceived their hostile thoughts, he said to them, “Why are you raising objections within yourselves? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralyzed man—“I tell you, stand up, take your stretcher and go home.” Immediately he stood up before them, picked up the stretcher he had been lying on, and went home, glorifying God. Then astonishment seized them all, and they glorified God. They were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen incredible things today.” (Luke 5:17-26)

The Pharisees and teachers of the law "had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem." Word had come to them about a new Messiah candidate. From what they had heard, this one showed promise. Lepers had been coming to the temple to offer the sacrifices for their cures. They had heard reports of healing and deliverance. Among themselves, they decided to check him out. This was the team that had come together to certify Jesus as the Messiah. This was His opportunity to be proclaimed by the establishment as "The One."

Let your imagination run a little bit and think how this story would have played out if Jesus had either quietly forgiven the young man's sins or had healed him first and then forgiven him. If He had healed the man first, the attention of the acceptance committee would have been diverted from the issue of His "uttering blasphemes." By forgiving first, Jesus deliberately created offense and, in doing so, led the committee to ask the ask the critical questions, "Who is this man?" and "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" They so focused on the blasphemy that they missed the healing as evidence that would answer their questions. In the offense, Jesus invited them to acknowledge Him as their Lord and Messiah. Unfortunately, the offense won the day and they rejected Him.

Jesus Offended His Own Mother

One more incident:

Then Jesus’ mother and his brothers came. Standing outside, they sent word to him, to summon him. A crowd was sitting around him and they said to him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are outside looking for you.” He answered them and said, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who were sitting around him in a circle, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

Jesus' mother had come to fetch Him, because word had got out that He was acting crazy (Mark 3:21). Jesus countered that His family were those who know and do the will of God. He no longer belonged to Mary and her other sons. Jesus' words must have been a blow to her.

Offense as Mercy

Jesus did not offend to drive away, but to correct and bring close.

  • His neighbors said, "Our favorite son..."
  • His mother said, "My son..."
  • His brothers said, "Our brother..."
  • The rulers said, "Do you teach right doctrine?"
  • Today people say, "He is a great teacher."

Jesus says, "If you remain in that understanding, you will die in your sins. I am your Lord!"  We need to get to where Peter was and able to say, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God!”

Friday: A Cloaking Device

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