Monday, November 21, 2005

Was Jesus a Good Teacher

It is a common dodge. When presented with the gospel and the claims of Jesus the Messiah, many will say, “I believe that Jesus was a good teacher.” Their assumption is that this is enough to fend off the greater claims. They are, of course, thinking of things like the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, and most especially the Golden Rule.

But if Jesus were just a man, we could not actually say that he was a good teacher. To be sure, the Lord’s Prayer, Beatitudes, and Golden Rule are strokes of genius, but he said and taught many other things. Many of them would cause great concern if spoken by a pastor or Bible teacher.

A good Bible teacher will direct his hearers to God. Jesus directed attention to himself. Let’s take the Beatitudes as an example:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matthew 5:3-10, NASB 95)

So far so good—Here is teaching that anyone would strive for. But note where Jesus goes next:

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. “
(Matthew 5:11-12)

What do we make of this phrase “because of me?” By what authority does Jesus say that being persecuted because of him makes our reward in heaven great? What does it mean that being persecuted because of him is identical to the persecution suffered by the prophets of old? We get so caught up in the flow of the “normal” teaching, that we fail to take note of the diversion. I now make a habit of putting Jesus’ words in my mouth—to see if I could possibly get away with saying them. It is surprising how often I would not.

Let’s take two more quotes. The first is one that I could say as a teacher:

For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
(Matthew 5:18)

The second is one I could not.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. (Matthew 24:35)

Jesus did not teach that He was God who had taken on humanity. He did something more subtle. He lived the reality. It permeated everything that He did and said. Consequently, it is all the harder to divide the scriptures into the great teacher sections and those words that point to something grander.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>