by Paul George
Matthew 7:28-29; John 7:44-46
Today, teaching involves curriculum, class schedules, and designated meeting times. This is not necessarily bad, but it is very different from the life and ministry of Jesus. The only predictable teaching time of the Lord Jesus would be on the Sabbath at the Jewish synagogue. Beyond this, the teaching of Jesus was almost entirely spontaneous.
The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, was a spontaneous sermon. When Jesus was invited to the home of Simon the Pharisee, and His feet were washed by a woman known to be sinful, Jesus used this as an opportunity to teach on the subject of forgiveness (Luke 7:36ff.). When the disciples argued over who was the greatest, Jesus gave them a lesson in true greatness (Luke 9:46f). Repeatedly in the Gospels, our Lord taught in response to situations that arose spontaneously.
Jesus also presented the Gospel in terms that were meaningful to an individual’s background and understanding, as well as pertinent to his present conduct. Although the truths of God are eternal and unchanging, we must adapt our method of teaching to the background and understanding of the student while holding fast to God’s unchanging message. We are to communicate the Word of God as it is, without adding to it or taking away from it, to men where they are.
The problem today is the same as it was in Jesus’ day. Christians do not really have the unchanging message firmly imbedded in their hearts so they reduce God’s truth into simple every day language and indiscriminately apply it to everyone, regardless of their background or needs and interests. How desperately we need to adapt our method of teaching to Jesus’ method of teaching.
In His method of teaching, Jesus was also discriminating and discerning as to the proper time, and the proper subject matter for teaching. Jesus was in no hurry to teach everything to His followers. He taught when the need was there and when the maturity to grasp it was evident. With regard to some, Jesus chose to conceal the truth altogether, for they had already been given sufficient truth to trust in Him. Instead of repenting, they rejected Him and determined to put Him to death.
In addition, Jesus was selective in the doctrines that He taught. The disciples had an intense interest in the timing of the coming of the Kingdom; Jesus persistently refused to disclose such truth because it was not to their best interest.
Unlike the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus never allowed Himself to be involved in some intricate detail of doctrine. Here is where the scribes and Pharisees spent the bulk of their time. As our Lord said, they “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24). Sad to say, many Christians seem to have become trivia experts to the detriment of sound doctrinal instruction.
The beauty of the teaching of Jesus was simplicity. When Jesus intended men to grasp what He was saying, no one ever went away wondering what He meant. The scribes and Pharisees prided themselves in their theological presentations, for it showed them to be learned scholars. More important than the communication of the message was the exaltation of the speaker. Jesus on the other hand spoke in the simplest language, so simple that even a child could understand what He was saying.
One thing seems evident about the teaching method of the scribes and Pharisees; there was little originality and creativity. When they spoke, they merely quoted their ancient traditions. Jesus was not confined to the traditions of the Pharisees, either in methodology or in content. He taught by His deeds; He underscored every major claim by miraculous signs. He not only claimed to be the “resurrection and the life,” He raised the dead (John 11). When Jesus taught, things happened. A well-told story, a life-like illustration, or a sign punctuated his points. In His method of teaching, Jesus was original.
In the content of His messages, Jesus was original. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus frequently used the contrast: “You have heard it said … but I say.” However, Jesus did not reject the teachings of the Old Testament; He merely differentiated them from that of the scribes and Pharisees. His teaching was not original in the sense of overturning all previous revelation. His teaching was original in the sense that it went back to the original words of Scripture, rather than relying on the traditional interpretations of the fathers.
There is a great deal of difference between the originality and creativity of our Lord and the novelty of some today. Originality does not give a man license to engage in all kinds of bizarre and unorthodox gimmickry in order to get people’s attention.
The Authority of Jesus’ Teaching
If there is one word that sums up Jesus’ teaching, it is the word “authority.” The result was, When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at his teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29).
The authority of the scribes was the authority of tradition and position. Jesus was the mere son of a carpenter, in their eyes (Matthew 13:54ff.). The scribes derived their authority from Jewish tradition and from the fact that they reiterated the teachings of the fathers. Jesus’ authority came from the Scriptures. Someone has wisely said that the Scriptures can speak for themselves and do not need our defense. In this, they are like a lion; all we need to do is to turn it loose. Jesus expounded the Scriptures in the light of their original meaning and intent, and when properly expounded they virtually rang out with authority.
There was a significant difference in the way the scribes, Pharisees, and Jesus taught the Scriptures. They focused upon the precepts of the Old Testament, He upon the principles. They focused on the letter of the Law; He focused on the spirit of the Law. Jesus went to the heart of the matter, the thought life of the individual. Sinful actions result from immoral thoughts. While legalism draws the lines and lingers as close to them as possible, Christian liberty gives the principle and flees from sin as far as possible (Matthew 5:29-30).
You and I know that the favorite question of a child is ‘Why?’ God does not ignore this question. In fact, Jesus concentrated upon it. The reason why so many young people in legalistic churches leave the churches is because they were given rules without reasons. When the principles are taught, the practice is the result of conviction and not compulsion or religious conformity.
Our young people quickly catch our tendency toward legalism. They want to know the lines of what is forbidden so that they can get as close to the fence as possible. The question should not be, “How far can I go,” but rather, “What really pleases God, and how far from sin should I stay?
Legalism never sanctifies. Principles give the broad guidelines, leaving the sincere Christian the decision-making process, led by the Spirit in accordance with the principles, and motivated by a desire to please Him.
Jesus’ was an exposition of the Old Testament revelation. His teaching did not conflict with the Law and the Prophets, but only with the traditional teaching of the scribes, and Pharisees. His exposition was in plain and simple terms, illustrated by real life-like stories and examples. His teaching was underscored throughout by His own life and example. What He taught, He lived. His teaching was always brought down to the level of experience. It was often motivated by situations that arose naturally and spontaneously. It was illustrated by life-like stories and real-life events. However, in the last analysis, it was concluded in the experience of those who learned at His feet. The principles He taught were brought home in the experience of His followers by practice.
What makes a good teacher is good material. No better material, no greater message is there in the world than that of the Gospel. Every man is a sinner, against God. Our waywardness has brought upon us the righteous wrath and condemnation of God. We stand condemned to an eternity from God’s power and presence. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ has died in the place of the sinner. All who trust in Him have forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life with God. That is the message we must communicate. That is the message men must believe to be saved.