The Lord’s Programme

Every teacher must have a programme or syllabus containing those ideas and ideals which he purposes to communicate to his pupils. However elementary or profound the subjects taught, it is essential that the methods, materials and final goals are clearly envisaged from the commencement of his teaching.

It must be said at once that the prime object, indeed the sole mission of the Lord, as He Himself declared, was to give His life a ransom for many. Neither the cajoling of men, nor the temptations of the evil one could deflect Him from the dangerous road to the cross. However, the Saviour took great pains to explain the nature and character of God, and also to say exactly why He had come to die. In addition, He described in detail the nature, rules and aims of the new society which He had come to inaugurate.

That much is self-evident. What is not always appreciated is the manner in which the Lord spent those three and a half years of public ministry in making clear His mission and aims. Nor is it always agreed what is appropriate at different stages or to different groups of people. For instance, many who study the synoptic records are eager to point out where it is considered that some of the Lord’s teaching is specifically for the Jewish nation, for the church, or for the world in the millennium, or even merely for followers of the Lord in the first century of the Church.

Such minutiae of exposition are best left to the experts. Our aim in this brief study is to look very generally at the ways in which the Lord taught, and to suggest some basic methods which might commend themselves to His followers today, for mere academic study of the Teacher is not helpful. We learn of Him, only to practise the precepts for ourselves.

In more or less summary form, we shall consider the following features of the Lord’s teaching programme:

  1. The Lord’s Character.
  2. The Lord’s Words.
  3. The Lord’s Actions.
  4. The Lord’s Death.

(1) The Lord’s Character is of supreme importance, and it must be realized that the character and manner of any teacher is always a first consideration. Ultimately, we communicate ourselves, and what we are is more important than what we say or even do. A tiny child who slides his exercise book on to the teacher’s desk and who asks, “Teacher, will you mark me?” may grow up with his sums uncorrected but his character and soul indelibly marked by contact with his teacher.

Consider now the character of the Saviour. Here we have a unique display of God in all His love, His patience, His compassion and His glory.

“We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father”, wrote John, “full of grace and truth”, John 1. 14. Judas said, “I have betrayed the innocent blood”. Pilate declared, “I find no fault in him”. Peter recognized the spotlessness of the Saviour when he said, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord”. “Which of you convinceth me of sin?”, the Lord asked His critics, and no one accepted His challenge nor ever will.

  1. Time allows only the briefest of descriptions of the Saviour’s immense, all-embracing knowledge. He “needed not that any should testify of man, for he knew what was in man”, writes John, 2. 25. This is important. Unlike any other teacher before or since, the Lord knew all about His hearers and all about His subjects for He was the “Word” without whom nothing and no one ever came into existence, 1. 3.
  2. Allied to His infinite knowledge was the Lord’s eternal love. As He knew, so He loved. He loved “his own”; He loved “the world”; He loved individuals, and this love involved understanding, patience, compassion and forgiveness. Here, indeed, is the Teacher par excellence.

(2) The Lord’s Words merit an eternal library on their own account, and the beautiful statements recorded in the Gospels demand a more intensive study than they have hitherto received. John tells us that space on earth limited the amount of material which he was able to record, and it will be breathtaking in heaven to learn the unending disclosures of His wisdom. Present lack of space forbids but a brief mention of:

  1. The poetry of His discourses. It is beyond dispute that, in the original Aramaic, the Lord uttered the most delightful poetry. The immaculate parallelism of His sayings reflected the beauty of the Psalmist and the poets of the Old Testament; it also made the committal to memory a far easier task for even the simplest of hearers. The Saviour observed the world of nature, the bustling market, the kaleidoscope of life, and passed the most penetrating of comments. Consider the haunting beauty and message of Matthew 6. 26, “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better then they?”
  2. The parables that the Lord told were unforgettable. The story-form endeared them, the literary-form enshrined them, the situations described rendered them timeless, and we disregard them at our peril.
  3. The Lord’s word-picture are painted by a Master’s hand. The blind leading the blind and falling headlong into a ditch, a woman making bread, a farmer sowing his seed on the hillside and reaping his harvest after many days. These are scenes observed and recorded with the eyes and mind beyond the mere human level.
  4. The Lord’s teaching has a deeply personal flavour. The prodigal son was maybe a man in His audience; the selfish fool, a bystander in the jostling crowds; and on the lonely road of life today we still meet the Samaritan who is so infinitely kind and caring.
  5. Positive is a word that may be used to describe the Lord’s teachings. Prohibitions are relatively few in comparison with commands. “Enter not” is positively balanced with “Enter in” and “seeking first”, for the kingdom of God will leave little time for secondary activities or pursuits.

(3) The Lord’s Actions marked His teaching at all times, for “all His ways were gentleness and all His paths were peace”. Here again we are obliged to summarize.

  1. Humility is a most difficult subject to teach at any level. As men talk about it and are aware of it in any sense, it seems often to evaporate. In a living sermon, the Lord in John 13 divests Himself of His outer garment, takes a towel and washes the disciples’ feet. He included, we must assume, Judas Iscariot so soon to betray the innocent blood of the Saviour. “If I then, your Lord and Master”, He said, “have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet”, John 13. 14. (Alas, there is never a queue to wash the feet of fellow-believers!)
  2. Healing of mind, body and spirit should be a prime concern of followers of the Lord, but instead of a course of lectures in preventive, and therapeutic medicine and treatment, He proceeded to demonstrate, challenge and involve His followers day by day.
  3. The Lord wept over the city and temple, and He also prayed about them. There came a point, however, when action was demanded and, making a whip of small cords, He upset the tables of the extortioners and the seats of the sellers of doves, and drove out the despoilers of His Father’s house, John 2. 15, 16. Some things go not out but by prayers and fasting, but other evils demand strong actions that might render us unpopular and misunderstood.
  4. The Lord often discoursed on prayer, and He left us a pattern and a programme for prayer. It was, however, His example of constant prayer and night-long vigils which must also have greatly impressed the disciples. Gethsemane, with its prostrate Saviour, His agonising cries, His blood-like sweat and angelic visitor, is an unforgettable scene, and even now a “stone’s cast” beyond our deepest human distress, Luke 22. 41. Finally,

(4) The Lord’s Death showed that He taught us in His sufferings and pain. Here, one is deeply conscious of the atoning, vicarious nature of Calvary. Simon Peter, in his letters, is most insistent in proclaiming this truth. He writes in 1 Peter 3. 18, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God”, and in 2. 24, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed”. Peter also tells us that Christ suffered for us “leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps”.

In a day of great suffering for the cause of Christ, Peter told his fellowsufferers that by their submission, acceptance and non-complaining attitude to pain and martyrdom, they would be following the Saviour. This teaching aspect of the Lord’s suffering is both scriptural and significant to us today.

In conclusion, it must be acknowledged that the subject of the teaching of the Lord has been only lightly indicated, and most inadequately described. Too vast for eternity’s library, it defies the small compass of a four-part series of articles.

As we learn daily at His feet, let us realize that the permanence of His teaching is threefold. It is: (1) enshrined in the Holy Scriptures, “they are they which testify of me”; (2) part of the earthly commission of the church; (3) the solemn responsibility of the individual Christian who says,

Lord, speak to me, that I may speak
In living echoes of Thy tone.
As thou hast sought, so let me seek
Thine erring children, lost and lone.

O teach me, Lord, that I may teach
The precious things Thou dost impart,
And wing my words that they may reach
The hidden depths of many a heart.


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