By Wayne Jackson
Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, conceded that Jesus of Nazareth was “a teacher” from God, as documented by the “signs” which he did (John 3:2). A wealthy young ruler approached the Lord asking, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). Even Jesus’ enemies addressed him as “Teacher” (Matthew 22:16, 24), though their use of the expression was not always genuine. The Lord is addressed as “Teacher” twenty-nine times in the Gospels. The noun (teacher) and verb (teach) combined are used of Jesus some ninety times.
Christ’s teaching was informative, logical, buttressed by Old Testament evidence, well-illustrated, documented by divine power, original, and uniquely authoritative (Matthew 7:28). When officers once were sent to arrest him, they returned to their superiors empty-handed, exclaiming: “Never man so spoke” (John 7:46). The Lord’s various methods of teaching beg for careful study.
Formal sermons were rare in the Savior’s repertoire of teaching tools. There is, of course, the renowned Sermon on the Mount, in which Christ set forth principles for discipleship, dealing with such issues as:
- the blessedness (bliss, happiness) of holy living (Matthew 5:1-12);
- godly influence (vv. 13-16);
- the nature of the Mosaic law (vv. 17-20);
- moral issues (vv. 21-48);
- proper demeanor in worship (6:1-18);
- the dangers of materialism (vv. 19-24);
- the stress-free life (vv. 25-34);
- proper attitudes toward others and God (7:1-12);
- the consequences of wrongdoing (vv. 13-29).
The Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25), delivered shortly before his death, dealt with:
- the impending destruction of Jerusalem (24:1-34);
- the second coming of Christ and the judgment (vv. 35-51);
- some parables and instruction concerning preparedness (25:1-46).
Jesus was more of a conversationalist than an orator. He walked with people and talked with them. He sat and spoke of soul matters. He was interested in individuals, recognizing the value of each soul. G. Campbell Morgan (1863-1945) was a noted British writer. One of his superb volumes was The Great Physician – The Method of Jesus with Individuals. In this book Morgan discussed the methodology of Jesus’ teaching to forty different persons—from John the Baptist to “doubting” Thomas.
The Lord’s nighttime conversation with Nicodemus allowed the teacher to introduce this Jewish ruler, a member of the Sanhedrin (cf. John 7:50), to the kingdom of God and the conditions of the born-anew process by which one enters that regime (John 3:3-5). And rich dividends it paid. The ruler defended the Lord before his peers (John 7:46-52) and assisted Joseph of Arimathea in the preparation of Christ’s body for burial (John 19:38-42). Faith—from the bud to the flower!
Consider the Lord’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:1-42). All alone at the well (his disciples gone into a nearby village to purchase food), Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman who had come for water. Christ overcame two cultural barriers—one gender, the other racial—by speaking in public to a non-Jewish female (vv. 9, 27). He led her gently into a conversation, intriguing her with the promise of some sort of water that could quench one’s thirst eternally. He established his prophetic authority by revealing details of her past that no ordinary person could possibly have known. The lady hastily returned to her village and spread the news of this remarkable man. An envoy came out to see Christ; they invited the Lord to their village. He stayed with them two days, and many believed in him. The impact of this event cannot be fully seen until one considers Philip’s evangelistic success after the establishment of the church (Acts 8:2ff). It all started with a seemingly casual conversation.
Christ was not a rabble-rouser. He was not, like far too many today, always spoiling for a fight. He was the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Nonetheless, the nature of his mission and message was such that it was bound to ignite controversy—and certainly it did. Great truths come to light in these engagements between God’s Son and those who adopted the position of adversaries.
A demoniac was brought to Jesus; the poor man was both mute and blind (Matthew 12:22ff). Christ cast out the evil spirit. The crowds were amazed and audibly wondered whether this might be “the son of David” (an expression for the Messiah). The Pharisees promptly charged him with operating by the power of Satan. Knowing their thoughts (a power only deity could possess), Jesus brilliantly refuted their allegation. With devastating deductive logic, proceeding from a well-known general truth to a specific point, Christ argued:
- Every kingdom divided against itself will come to ruin.
- Demons are servants of Satan.
- If, therefore, Christ (by Satan’s power) is casting out demons, then “the prince of demons” (v. 24) is undermining his own diabolic efforts! Not even he is that obtuse! By default, therefore, the Lord’s power over demons was shown to be divine—not satanic.
The eighth chapter of John is “hot” with conflict. The Lord had identified himself as “the light of the world” (v. 12), which implied those who refused his teaching were in darkness. The Jewish leaders disputed him. He informed them if they did not believe in him they would die in their sins (v. 24); he foretold they would kill him (v. 28). But he would maintain his integrity, “always” doing “the things pleasing” to his Father (v. 29). Christ’s attention was then directed toward those who had “believed” him, but with a superficial faith (vv. 31ff; especially v. 44). The interaction became intense. The careful student may note how often the debate went back and forth, “Jesus said . . . . They answered . . . .” (vv. 31, 33, etc.). The Jews claimed to be Abraham’s offspring; Christ denied they were “seed” in the loftiest sense of the expression. They slurred him, suggesting he was “born of fornication” (v. 41); he challenged them to “convict” him of sin (v. 46), but they could not. The debate concluded with the Lord’s magnificent claim that he existed eternally before Abraham was born—a claim of absolute deity (v. 58). They attempted to stone him but could not, because “his hour” had not arrived.
Pearls in Parables
During the early portion of his ministry Christ taught in open prose. As animosity against him intensified, he changed his method, employing the use of parables. Parables served a twofold function. They were delightful stories that, when explained, revealed important truths. Without explanation, however, the lessons remained obscure. Thus instruction could be conveyed to his disciples, yet concealed from his enemies.
The Savior’s parabolic instruction alone would have immortalized him as a teacher. For example:
- He issued a dozen parables regarding the coming kingdom, i.e., the church established on Pentecost (Acts 2)—for example its nature, growth, influence, diversity, blessings, etc. (Matthew 13).
- He demonstrated the preciousness of those lost, as evaluated by God (Luke 15).
- Christ emphasized the compassion of Heaven and the divine desire to bestow forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35).
- The Lord stressed the power of persistent prayer (Luke 18:1-8).
- Jesus taught the value of conscientious stewardship respecting one’s possessions, over against the curse of materialism (Luke 12:16-21).
- He urged the wise to be prepared for a day of accountability (Matthew 25:1-13).
These message-bearing stories have embalmed valuable truths across twenty centuries, blessing the lives of countless souls.
The benevolent influence of Jesus’ teaching is beyond reasonable dispute. Even the skeptical philosopher Ernest Renan (1823-92), who opposed Christian tradition on almost all points, stated: “Jesus will ever be the creator of the pure spirit of religion; the Sermon on the Mount will never be surpassed” (1991, 221).
As his critics, both ancient and modern, fade into the obscurity they so justly deserve, the Son of God, who adorned this earth with his presence two thousand years ago, will continue to exert his influence through a vast conglomerate of students around the globe, who will bless humanity because of the teacher at whose feet they have received instruction.