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 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.
(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:
(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.
(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.