The Great Teacher
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We know that thou art a teacher come from God.—John 3:2
Jesus splendidly coalesced extremes in his earthly ministry by bringing balance and detail to truth. He mesmerized the lawyers, doctors and religious teachers of the day with His authority and unassailable arguments. It was said of him that he left the scholars of the day amazed, but what was more, “the common people heard him gladly.” Paul the rabbi, Luke the doctor, and Peter the fisherman all grasped reality as they had never grasped it before when he opened the doors of their minds and hearts to the truth. … He demonstrated the value of every individual. He did not miss the cry of the beggar, the halting plea of the lame person, and the emptiness of the rich man or the educated Pharisee.—Ravi Zacharias1
The teaching of Jesus, even though great multitudes throughout the world are still outside its sphere, even though many of His own followers have never cared or never dared to put it fully into practice, has had a power and an effect with which the influence of no other teacher can even for a moment be compared. He stands alone, the Great Teacher. Readers of the Gospels cannot but be impressed by the large proportion of His time and strength which Jesus deliberately dedicated to the ministry of teaching. … The leading feature of all Jesus’ teaching was its spontaneity and freedom. …
And let us never forget that while Jesus was a teacher, a born teacher, and a Prince of Teachers, He was also far more than a teacher. … For He Himself is far more than His teaching; and it is not the teaching of Christ which saves, but the Christ who teaches. … Jesus came not so much to preach the Gospel as rather that there might be a Gospel to preach.—James Stewart2
We may observe that the teaching of our Lord Himself, in which there is no imperfection, is not given us in that cut-and-dried, fool-proof, systematic fashion we might have expected or desired. He wrote no book. We have only reported sayings, most of them uttered in answer to questions, shaped in some degree by their content. And when we have collected them all we cannot reduce them to a system. He preaches but He does not lecture. He uses paradox, proverb, exaggeration, parable, irony; even (I mean no irreverence) the “wisecrack”. He utters maxims which, like popular proverbs, if rigorously taken, may seem to contradict one another. His teaching therefore cannot be grasped by the intellect alone, cannot be “got up” as if it were a “subject”. If we try to do that with it, we shall find Him the most elusive of teachers. He hardly ever gave a straight answer to a straight question. He will not be, in the way we want, “pinned down”. The attempt is (again, I mean no irreverence) like trying to bottle a sunbeam.—C. S. Lewis3
And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.—Luke 2:47
It came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.—Matthew 7:28–29
Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures.—Luke 24:45
And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way and while he opened to us the scriptures?—Luke 24:32
[Jesus’] special genius as a teacher and communicator lay in [His] parables, which were vivid little stories, each one complete in itself. Being in the idiom and imagery of everyday life, they were easily and immediately comprehensible, and held the attention of simple, unlettered people as mystical or intellectual themes never would have done. … They give one the feel, as nothing else does, of what life was like for Jesus two thousand years ago; how he reacted to things and people, what caught his eye and interested him. No one can fail to be aware of the teller; behind the parables one senses a perceptive, often ironic, brilliantly creative mind. …
Jesus himself was insistent that what he had to say would be more comprehensible to the simple than to the sophisticated, and that to understand him it was necessary to become like a little child.—Malcolm Muggeridge4
Although Jesus’ teaching was authoritative, it was never in any overbearing sense didactic or dogmatic or forcing assent. Continually, as you turn the pages of the Gospels, one fact stares out at you—the quite amazing patience with the men He had to teach, His steadfast refusal to compel them or dictate to them or bend them to His will, His overwhelming respect for their personalities. …
The keynote of all Jesus’ teaching of His disciples was “I call you not servants … but I have called you friends.”5 … Not “There is the truth: accept it or perish!” but “I am the truth: live with Me and you will find it.” …
The great principle of Jesus’ teaching is His intimacy with and love for those He taught. “One loving spirit,” said Augustine, “sets another on fire,” and that was and is the ultimate secret of Christ’s divine success as a teacher. From His loving spirit the spirits of His pupils were continually catching fire, so that the lesson in that flame of mutual love was no dreary discipline, but joy and romance and glory. …
He puts Himself alongside His brethren. … He takes them on with the faith that they can offer Him. He is content with that as a beginning; and from that He leads His friends on, as He led the first group on, step by step, to the inmost secret of who He is, and to the full glory of discipleship.—James Stewart6
Compiled by William B. McGrath. Published on Anchor June 2020.
Read by John Laurence.
1 Ravi Zacharias, The Real Face of Atheism (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009), 113, 136, 142–143.
2 James Stewart, The Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ (New York: Abingdon Press, 195?), chapter 8.
3 C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (San Diego: Harcourt, 1958), 113.
4 Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus, the Man Who Lives, Part 3.
5 John 15:15.
6 Stewart, The Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ, chapter 8.