36. Master, teacher, rabbi (3)

Focus on Christ Meditations: 36.  Master, teacher, rabbi (3)

Mt 5:3  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

We move back into the Synoptic Gospels now in our search for what Jesus taught and to whom, and with what effect. In Matthew’s Gospel we find that Matthew has seven blocks of Jesus’ teaching, or Discourses as they are often called, as follows:

First, there is the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) comprising teaching on spiritual principles (5:1-12), Christian testimony (5:13-16), the place of the Law (5:17-20), examples in respect of murder and anger (v.21-26), adultery and lust (v.27-30), divorce (v.31,32), oaths (v.33-37), revenge (v.38-42), loving enemies (v.43-48), and then on Charity (6:1-4), Prayer (6:5-18), right values (6:19-21), inner righteousness (6:22,23), trusting in God and not possessions (6:24-34), self-assessment (7:1-5), giving and asking (7:6-12), wise discernment (7:13-23), and obedience to Jesus (7:24-28).

Second, there are his Instructions for Taking the Kingdom (Mt 10:5-42): directions what to do to bring the kingdom (v.5-10), search for a person of peace (v.11-16), learn how to handle opposition (v.17-31), and recognise there will be divisions (v.32-42).

Third, there are the Parables of the Kingdom (Mt 13:1-52) First, four in public: The Sower (v.1-23), the Wheat and the Tares (v.24-30), the Mustard Seed (v.31,32), the Leaven in the Meal (v.33). Second, in private: first an explanation of the Parable of the Weeds (v.34-43), then the parables: the Hidden Treasure (v.44), the Pearl of Great Price (v.45,46), the Fish Net (v.47-51), the Householders treasures (v.52).

Fourth, there is the Teaching on Greatness and Forgiveness (Mt 18): on Greatness in the Kingdom (v.1-14), and on Forgiveness (v.15-35).

Fifth, there are Further Parables of the Kingdom (21:28 ,- 22:14): The Two Sons (v.28-32), the Bad Tenants (35-41), the Wedding Banquet (22:1-14) [NB. Strictly this set does not conform to the criteria of the other ‘Discourses’ because it is in fact a mixture of teaching and discussion with the opposition, but I include it here because it does contain specific teaching.]

Sixth, there is his Denunciation of the Pharisees (Mt 23): General warning to the crowds (v.1-12), the Seven Woes (v.13-32), final denunciation (v.33-39) [For similar reasons some discount this as ‘a Discourse’ but nevertheless it does contain teaching within warnings. Those who would discount these last two, thus reduce the number of Discourses to five].

Seventh, there is Teaching on the End Times (Mt 24,25): Context (v.1-3), General Characteristics of the Church Age (v.4-14), Aside: the horrors about the happen (v.15-22), Warnings against false Christs (v.23-26), the real signs of the End (v.27-31), call to be alert (v.32-44), the implied parable of the contrasting servants (v.45-50), the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (v.1-13), the parable of the talents (v.15-30), the Sheep and the Goats (v.31-46).

Now many of these things are scattered through Mark and Luke but they are most clearly laid out here in Matthew. In the previous study in John’s Gospel we saw how Jesus brought specific teaching into specific contexts – with individuals or groups – but here we have seen a much wider spectrum of teaching as reported in the Synoptic Gospels much earlier on.

How may we summarise these things? Well, first may I suggest you scroll back up and read again the contents of those seven sections we have emphasised above, and note the real breadth and scope of the things Jesus covered. Nowhere else in the writings of the world will you find such things laid out. Here are just some tentative suggestions about the style or nature and content of the teaching of the Christ.

First, it was aimed at the open hearted. Yesterday we observed the way Jesus often said things in an enigmatic way that seemed designed to make the listener really think about it and it was only the openhearted who would understand. Jesus explained this between telling the Parable of the Sower (Mt 13) and his subsequent explanation. (See Mt 13:10-16). In the teaching above, some of it is very specific and very obvious but once Jesus starts telling parables, it is only the openhearted follower who will catch what he is teaching.

Second, there is an ‘upside down’ nature to some of Jesus’ teaching so we see, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for there is the kingdom of God”. That runs contrary to modern popular thinking that the people who think well of themselves will be successes. It is only when we really think it though that we see that Jesus is saying, ‘Understand that it is those who recognize they are poor in spirit who will turn to God for help and enter the kingdom of heaven.’ In his instructing his disciples how to go out, there is a sense that he wants them to feel weak and rely on God if they are to succeed. Very different from so much marketing today!

Third, there is a refocusing of spiritual understanding that comes through Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount where a number of times we read, “You have heard that it was said…. but I tell you….” In other words, he was saying in each case he wanted them to go further than the Law. He wanted their hearts changed and not them simply ‘performing’ outwardly for show.

Fourth, although there is a lot about how to live as a child of the kingdom, there is also a lot about looking to the future to remember that he will be returning, and we are to be ready whenever that is. Much of Jesus’ teaching was about having a right relationship with him – for them then, for us now and for whatever is to come in the future.

In these many and various ways, I suggest that the teaching of the Messiah, backed up as we saw yesterday by miracles, was radically different from anything any other world leader or leader within a world religion has brought. It will be to the miraculous aspect of his ministry that we will turn in the next study.

34. Master, teacher, rabbi

PART FIVE: Roles of Jesus

Focus on Christ Meditations: 34.  Master, teacher, rabbi (1)

Lk 5:5  Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

We move on now to observe the things that Jesus actually did in the three years of ministry in the land we today call Israel. We start by asking the question, if you had never picked up a Bible before and had heard nothing about Jesus, if you now picked up and started reading the Gospels, what sort of things would stand out to you that this one, who we will simply call ‘The Christ’ did? (for the moment forgetting all the things we considered in earlier studies). I am trying to recapture that sense of freshness I sought after in those earlier studies about the ‘mystery of Christ’, to break us free from the familiarity that many of us have in respect of Jesus.

The younger generation might today (not in any way being disrespectful) call him a Jedi Master. Indeed Yoda from the Star Wars films conveys this picture of a wise teacher who moves in power and that, I would like to suggest, is what might strike the careful first-time reader of the Gospels. So what do we see?

Well the first sight of this ministry is a man who goes out and about in Galilee preaching. He appears first as a preacher: Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:14,15) He has a clear message: God’s kingdom is about to appear so turn your hearts to him and believe this.

Immediately after this, Mark shows us, he becomes a mentor: “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Mk 1:16-18) Now it may not become immediately obvious from this but the role of mentor, or personal teacher, is what follows and is seen in the three years that follow. Today some might want to call him a life-coach, but unlike modern life coaches he went out and called men to follow him, and that call to “follow me” was not merely ‘follow my teaching’ but literally come with me and learn of me so that what I do, you will do. Note, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, his final instruction in the Gospel was to go and make disciples which involved, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:20) That is what a disciple does – learns from the Master, to DO the same stuff.

But actually our description so far is too limited as we have described him as a ‘personal teacher’ creating disciples, for it is clear that he brought teaching far more widely than merely to the twelve who came with him. He clearly is a general teacher for again and again we hear reference to the ‘crowds’ that followed him. Not only that, in personal discussions he sought to enlighten by teaching, whether it be with an individual such as Nicodemus (Jn 3) or with a group, such as the Pharisees, teachers of the law, or Sadducees (e.g. Mt 12:38, 16:1).

Now no doubt various names were used to address Jesus and the different Gospel writers picked up on different names. For example Matthew picks up on ‘Teacher’ (e.g. Mt 12:28, 19:16, 22:16,23,24,35) and Mark also uses this term (e.g. Mk 4:38, 9:17,38) Luke picks up on ‘Master’ (e.g. Lk 8:24,45, 9:33,49, 17:12,13) while John picks up on ‘Rabbi’, which again mostly means ‘teacher’ (e.g. Jn 1:38,49, 3:2,25,26, 4:31, 6:24,25, 9:2, 11;7,8) Having said that, those are generalities or what most commonly appears in each one, but Matthew occasionally used ‘Rabbi’  (Mt 26:25,49) and John occasionally used ‘Teacher’ (Jn 8:3,4, 13:14, 20:16) The point is that rabbi, teacher and master are all expressions of one and the same thing and apart from the prophetic titles we considered in Part 3, they are the name or title by which most people addressed Jesus. The conclusion has to be that that was how they viewed him, simply because by what he was doing much of the time he complied with the images that came from others, either then or previously.

Now I started out by using the term ‘preacher’. Now I would distinguish preacher from teacher in that a teacher imparts knowledge to inform the mind to increase knowledge and understanding that may produce change of life, whereas a preacher challenges the heart and will and looks for a specific change of life with much more limited knowledge and understanding.

In Matthew’s Gospel the term ‘preaching’ is only used twice: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom,” (Mt 4:23) and “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom.” (Mt 9:35) and the corresponding single verse in Mark is, “Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues.” (Mk 1:38,39) Both have him preaching in the countryside and one sees him preaching in synagogues and the other teaching in synagogues. We will wait to the next study to see the content of these times. Luke has him preaching in the synagogues (Lk 4:44), but then in the temple courts Jesus was teaching the crowds AND preaching the Gospel (Lk 20:1) When the disciples were sent out, they were preaching (Lk 9:6) John speaks of neither activity.

To summarise this first activity of Jesus – that we have described as preacher, mentor, personal teacher, general teacher – it is all about imparting information, information which in one degree or another was designed to bring about change of living. To the general crowds, it appears to be to add to the knowledge and understanding that they, as good Jews who went to the local synagogue, would already have, to specific groups it was to challenge preconceptions, and to the disciples it was to show how the kingdom of God worked. Each of these shed new light, or saw the older teaching from a new perspective, and we will consider each one in what follows.

26. Aspiring to be a Teacher

Aspiring Meditations: 26.  Aspiring to be a Teacher

Heb 5:12    In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.

1 Cor 12;28    And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers.

Most of the thoughts about teaching come from Paul to Timothy or Titus, because they, as leaders, were teachers and therefore Paul instructs them about that. But then we come across this throw away comment in Hebrews that implies that maturity will include knowing more than the basic truths of our salvation and that knowledge with understanding and wisdom should be passed on by the mature.

Our two verses above show us there is a dichotomy of thinking here: on one hand the writer to the Hebrews makes this suggestion that we all ought to be teachers, while Paul suggests that teaching is a ministry gift.

The argument for every mature believer becoming a teacher is supported by Paul’s comment to the Colossians: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” (Col 3:16) I may be slightly biased in this direction because within a year or so of becoming a Christian I found myself teaching seven different groups of Bible Studies each week. Now that suggests various things. First, that was a period when among young people (and I was just 22) there were many groups inside and outside formal church. Second it says that so often people are looking for leadership, even of a very immature kind. Third, it was for me an amazing learning curve.

Now the writer to the Hebrews also brought a quote from the Old Testament that works for and against my experience back then: “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, `Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” (Heb 8:10,11) The fact that we have the indwelling Holy Spirit, means He is a conveyor of God’s laws. But if this was automatic then one would expect every believer to speedily become filled with the knowledge of God’s laws, God’s will, but that clearly isn’t so. No, the reality is that He is there as a resource to help those who are hungry to learn, but some are hungrier than others!

The good aspect of these truths is that the Holy Spirit was available to me to enable me to learn and to pass it on. This is also suggested by the apostle John’s teaching: “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him.” (1 John 2:27) Again that ‘anointing’ is there for every believer but not all believers avail themselves of it.

When Paul taught on ‘gifts’ he said, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach.” (Rom 12:6,7) Now the clear teaching there is that we have the particular abilities we have (including teaching) according to the measure of grace that God gives us, but therein is a mystery. Does He impose that grace on us or does He feed it into those He sees are available?

In the excitement of those early years, I launched out to meet the need that was obviously there, not with any preplanning or forethought, but simply taking the opportunities that were there. Subsequent to that, my future wife and I with some friends went off to a week-long Summer School at a Bible college. I also attended various teaching days in the years and decades to come, as well as attending a number of ‘Bible Weeks’ in the Summer that are held in the UK. As I grew, opportunities grew to speak or lead. We served on and then I was asked to lead an annual two weeks of children’s beach outreach for eight years. I become a leader in my church and was invited to speak in other churches and then abroad.  The point I make in this paragraph is that a combination of availability plus hunger for God’s word plus, I assume, the blessing of God, led me more and more to teach.

However, when we return to the subject of Gifts, Paul writes, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?….But eagerly desire the greater gifts.” (1 Cor 12:29-31) and the answer has to be, no. However, he does say, “eagerly desire” (aspire to) whatever you might consider are the greater gifts. Heart desire comes into this. He also says, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts,” (1 Cor 14:1) and then later, “Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.” (1 Cor 14:12) Now all three of these last three quotes imply an element of human will, human desire.

Now if you are not a teacher at present, it may be that you shy away from the thought because you have a wrong perception of what God might want from you. You can teach without it being to large crowds. In my previous church, when a person came to Christ, we found someone who was available and willing and we got that person to disciple or teach the new believer. Yes, there were materials to help but discipling involves far more than merely going through some notes; it also includes listening, advising, imparting wisdom of experience, encouraging, all of which teach the new believer about their new life in Christ. That is teaching.

But then, do you have children? Church life in the last century has decided that “Sunday School teachers” ought to be the primary people responsible for raising our children spiritually. Wrong! They are to be the second string. The Bible clearly puts the responsibility on parents. Youth leaders, youth groups and youth camps are all, I believe, essential to the growth and well-being of our young people but if you, as a parent, opt out, you will have missed out on a great opportunity to teach.

Again personal testimony. When our three children were all small we found a book of ‘family devotions’ which we read to them all in our bed every morning and then prayed with them.  Later, as they grew, we went to a local Christian bookstore and found a set of Bible notes for children. However they seemed bored by these so I started typing, on an old portable typewriter on A5 paper, six questions on short Bible passages and then 3 questions to think about the information found, and produced a month’s worth of these ‘Bible Studies’, which we did with them. At the end of the month I suggested we go back to the professional notes (seeing hard work ahead!). “Oh no, daddy, yours are much better.” An example of family loyalty I suspect. But I carried on and the results are on my main website, daily verse by verse studies that cover nine tenths of the whole Bible.

Start off small and you never know where it will lead you. Don’t think about your capabilities, think about His. Availability, willingness and a hungry heart. And do I aspire to teaching and do I want you to aspire to be a teacher? Silly questions!

27. Conflicting Lives

Meditations in Romans : 27:  Conflicting Lives

Rom 7:15     I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

Paul is a thorough teacher. He has been driving home this point that we cannot be saved by keeping the Law  and so now he gives what are almost personal examples of the struggles that he finds going on in himself. There are those who consider these verses describe Paul’s past life, what went on before he was saved, but I suggest that he is dealing with the whole of life – before and after salvation. We still, as Christians, have these struggles and it is still Jesus and his Holy Spirit who helps us overcome – and that is a daily battle. Yes, it does become less when we have surrendered to God but the old nature is still lurking there in the background and so dying to sin and dying to the law and being alive to God is both something that happens at a one off crisis point of life AND an ongoing process.  Do you remember when Paul said to Timothy, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” (1 Tim 1:15)?  Note the tense – I AM the worst. Yes, he is redeemed but he knows what he is and he knows that on a daily basis he needs the saving work of Jesus Christ.

So let’s see what he now says. He starts this new paragraph concluding what he has just been saying: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” (v.14) It’s not that the Law is wrong because it originates with God and it is God’s design for human beings – Israel. No, the Law is spiritual; the problem is in me, because it makes me realise that I am unspiritual and I am a salve to sin. There is no way I can get free from this slavery. Wherever I turn I am made aware of it! Indeed, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (v.15) I don’t know about this life of mine.

On one hand I want to be good but all the time I realise I fall short and even the best of my intentions are self-centred. I want to do good, but I can’t. But it gets worse for I know things about myself that I hate. I can be utterly selfish and utterly unconcerned for God and for others. It’s not what I want to be, but I realise that’s what I am like. I desperately need help because I can’t change this on my own.

I don’t know if you have ever come to this point of realization about yourself; it’s a humbling thing and it’s the one thing that drives us into the arms of Jesus. If you think you are a good person at heart, you really don’t know yourself. If you really want to risk your peace of mind, ask the Lord to show you yourself as you really are. It’s not a pretty sight!  But it does make us realise why we need Jesus.

He goes on, And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.” (v.16). It’s like he says, there is this conflict within me, for I know I do things I don’t want to do but at the same time I’ve been brought up to know that the Law from God is good –yet I still can’t keep it perfectly and nothing less than perfection in keeping it makes me a righteous rule-keeper (implied).  He realises the truth of his state: “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” (v.17) If my mind says this is how you ought to behave, but I find myself acting contrary to that, I realise that it is this predisposition within me, this thing called Sin, this commitment to self that I have been born with, that makes me act as I do. The truth is that, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.” (v.18a) There is this inner me that is in conflict with the rational me, an inner me that wants to do its own thing, the inner me that is godless and self-centred, the inner me that leads me to think, say and do wrong things.

You want to know the reality of these things – even in you as a Christian today? So somebody in church starts malicious rumours about you and everyone in the church believes them. How do you react? Yes, it is unjust and unfair. Do you approach the elders calmly or do you find a defensive hostility rising within you against that person? Have you labelled them as your enemy and, if so, have you failed to pray for them? (Mt 5:44) Less than a perfect Christ-like response indicates the presence of ‘the old nature’, and we need the grace of Christ to overcome.  Yes, Paul speaks for us when he says, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” (v.18b) I would love to always be loving, caring, accepting, compassionate and full of grace, but there are times when I feel far from that.

He reiterates what he has already said, to drive home the point: “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” (v.19) If I could live by pure will power it might be all right, yet my will says one thing but my actions are something else. This is the dilemma of the human race. We struggle with it and we try to reject it by one means or another, but this IS the truth about us – every one of us – and so every one of us need Christ’s deliverance.

His conclusion? “Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” (v.20)  There is a power within me that needs breaking, that needs overcoming by a greater power. This ‘Sin’ within me seems so powerful there seems no way that I can overcome it because as much as I would like to be different, I cannot be that. He keeps on reiterating this in the next few verses: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.” (v.21-23) His mind, his reason, his logic, his desired will, says one thing but it is like there is another him at odds with all that, that does its own thing, so although in his mind he delights in God’s law, when it comes to obeying it, that’s something completely different.

He feels in desperation: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (v.24) He can’t do it; he needs outside help. Who is there? Of course the Gospel answer comes back: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v.25) God has done through Jesus what I can’t do. Hallelujah!

You may think that these meditations – and indeed Paul in chapter 7 – have laboured these things but until we see the reality of them. We will never fully appreciate our need and the work of Christ on our behalf. If you still don’t fully see it, pray and ask the Lord to open the eyes of your heart and understanding.