Jesus the Teacher
Matthew 5:1-12. Acts 2:38-42, Proverbs 3:1-17
If a gallop poll of ancient Palestinians were to be taken, and the question was asked, what popped into their minds when they thought of Jesus? Among their first responses might have been that Jesus was an interesting teacher. Their observations are right. Jesus came teaching. You might even say that it was his “day job.” When he turned 30 he apparently quit his job as carpenter in Nazareth and becomes a traveling teacher or itinerant Rabbi.
But if we had surveyed the same people, asking a different question, “When the Messiah comes what kind of person will he be?” They never would have said, “He will come as a teacher.” They expected the Messiah would come as a prophet, or a king, or a priest, or as an angel from heaven, but not as a traveling rabbi. They did not look for an instructor, but a world ruler or at least a liberator of Israel.
But instead of coming as a Priest or a Prophet or Potentate, Jesus came as a teacher, an itinerant wanderer, who used the landscape as his classroom, and the world of nature as his chalkboard. He surprised us all!
Each of the 4 Gospels tell the story about this teacher. Each Gospel writer, however, tells the story of this teacher somewhat differently.
- In Mark, Jesus is primarily a teller of parables and teacher to the 12 apostles
- In Matthew, Jesus is described as a New Moses who has come to teach us the Laws of a New kingdom. Matthew’s gospel includes 5 large blocks of teachings, like the Sermon on the Mount.
- In Luke, Jesus is portrayed as a story teller and his stories teach as they entertain. His parables will often be stories with a plot like the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan.
- In John. After a performing a deed of power that John called signs, Jesus teaches us what that sign signified. John also includes the lengthy teaching time of the apostles in the upper room on the night before he was killed.
But one thing is clear in all 4 gospels. Jesus came teaching.
Who did he teach?
- Jesus spent considerable time teaching the inner circle of his friends and co-workers. He is prepping them to continue the work that he has begun. For they too are to be teachers to the rest of us.
- He often found himself teaching the crowds that gathered around him wherever he went. The common people heard him gladly.
- He even tried time and again to teach those who were hostile to him.
How did he teach?
- He taught them using stories and proverbs of uncommon wisdom and in parables.
- He taught by his deeds as well as his words,
- He taught by the way he lived and in the way that he died.
But his preferred teaching method was by using parables
Parables are often misunderstood by us. We have called them “earthly stories with a heavenly meaning”. But that is not really what they are. Parables are not intended to make truths clear, but to hide the truth, in part, and at the same time to reveal something intriguing that causes people to think and question.
When Jesus began teaching he used plain words for plain people. Just like those found in the Sermon on the Mount. But as opposition & hostility began to mount against him, he switches to teaching in parables. His disciples are confused by this change. They asked him about this switch in the way he taught. It is then that Jesus speaks some very puzzling words.
Listen to Mark’s Explanation: 4:10-11
“When he was alone, those who were around him, along with the twelve, asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables.”
‘because they may indeed be looking, but do not wish to perceive,
and they may indeed be listening, but do not wish understand;
for they do not want to turn around and be forgiven.’ ”
Who are those on the outside? They are the cynics, the scoffers, the curiosity seekers. They are the disinterested, the spectator, the ones looking only for a miracle.
Emily Dickinson writes in one of her poems, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” Parables are used to conceal the truth, but at the same time to reveal it. The parables are used by Jesus to surprise us, make us curious, make us think. But why would he do that?
Parables are a gentle way to avoid increasing the condemnation of those who did not want to hear. Because:
“To him that has, will more be required”
“He that knows enough to do good, but does not do it, to him it is sin.”
“If the light that is in you becomes darkness, how great is that darkness.”
His words are an invitation to the seeker and to those hungry to know God.
But his words will prove of little interest to those wishing to avoid the truth.
Jesus has come to teach those who want to learn, and will not force us to be his students. But he is a teacher and wants to teach us. So he gives us enough to whet our appetite, and hopes we will come back for more.
I have been saying throughout these chapters that Jesus is the best photograph of what God is really like. If Jesus is this gentle teacher who has come to make us wise, is God like that too?
- God is not the coercer or enforcer, he is not the “Commander-in-chief” nor a bully that will get his way, even if it kills us, but God has always been a teacher, a guide, a counselor to his people.
- The OT is teaching from God on how to live life, and his words comes through his prophets and priests who also care deeply for their nation. The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with warnings to those who would do evil, and describes consequences, but offers an alternative even to those who have chosen to do evil.
- The Law is for Israel alone, not the other nations. His words are not a set of commands from a king or judge, so much as guidelines for his own people who have agreed to live as God’s representatives among the nations of the world.
- What we are prone to call God’s punishments, may be closer to God describing the unintended consequences that will flow from our own actions and from the community that we live in.
But I have also been suggesting that Jesus is the best photograph we will ever get of what it means to be a healthy Church.
Like Jesus we are to be compassionate. But also like Jesus our task in the world is to be the teachers of a healthy understanding of God and humanity, and live out an alternative lifestyle.
This is why the early church found itself without power to rule, but great power to serve. The church exists to teach all who wish to be taught. This means that we are not rulers of the world, creating laws that will be enforced by the government. Instead we teach people that there is an alternative to the ways of the politics of power which always corrupts!
But St. Peter also reminds us that as we should “Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” I Peter 3:15-16. No bullying, no yelling! No pushing our views when not invited.
In the conclusion of an article that was recently published that dealt with the question, “how does the church respond to the issues of immorality in our culture?” My response was:
“The overwhelming historical consensus of the Christian church has been that some behavior is immoral and un-Christian. And the church has every the right to make such affirmations. But, the church has no right to try to move such behaviors into the criminal code. We have no right to use the powers of the state to further the Christianizing of our culture. The church should not even be interested in getting its “lifestyle codes” ratified by the judicial system. She has long been aware that for anyone to fulfill the Christian ethic, it would take the empowerment of the Spirit of God, not the enactment of new and stricter laws, to bring that about.
So when the church has functioned as the church (not trying to be the handmaiden of the state), she has declared to sinners of all sorts, that we would die for you, but we will not dominate you. We will serve you, but we will not rule you. We will counsel you, but we will not coerce you. We may not consider you right, but we will defend your freedom to be wrong. We will be risk takers and love you whether you ever change or not, and whether you ever love or respect us. We will treat you, as we wish to be treated…”
We are called to be like Jesus, and be content to be teachers of all who want to be taught.
Baptism & Learning
When Jesus is about to ascend back to heaven, his final words to the apostles, known as the great commission, reads thus way –
“As you go, make disciples – that is “Make Learners” of people from all the nations, by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Then 10 days later the church is putting his last directive into practice.
“Now when the crowd heard Peter’s message, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2: 37ff)
By the way, the 3,000 people were hardly inspected before they were baptized. These newly baptized may not have known much about what they were getting into, but what they did know, was enough to get them started.
The early church understood that Baptism was enrolling people into the School of Christ. It did not guarantee that everyone would graduate, but it did say, if you are willing to become learners, then the apostles are willing to become your teachers.
And these newly baptized people devoted themselves to a program that included the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” They became part of a New Community of people learning how to live like Jesus.