Christ The Incomparable Teacher

by Tom Wacaster
(excerpt from my upcoming commentary on Matthew)

It has been pointed out by many that Jesus was “the Master Teacher.” Of all the professions in Greek society, teaching was held in high esteem. It was His role as teacher that seemed to capture the imagination and respect of those who knew our Lord. Even his enemies recognized Jesus as an unusually gifted teacher. When they came to Him to test him, they often address Jesus using the title of “teacher.” “Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully” (Matt. 22:16; Mark 12:14; Luke 20:21). The Greek text refers to Jesus as “teacher” more than three dozen times in the Gospel accounts. In addition, our English word “Master,” when applied to Jesus, frequently viewed Jesus as a “school master.” Much of the teaching of Jesus was in the open air. It was what William Barclay referred to as “field preaching.” It seems to me that much, if not all of the teaching of Jesus was spontaneous. It was the natural outpouring of the depth of knowledge and love of the truth that made Him what He was. Let me suggest some things that made Jesus the incomparable teacher.

First, His teaching captured the attention of those who heard Him. Unlike a professor in a classroom, where the teacher speaks to a captive audience, much of the teaching of Jesus was out in the open, and because it was thus, His audience could come and go at their leisure without fearing embarrassment. I have had occasion to speak “on the street” in India. On those occasions, while most of those who had gathered to listen were polite to stay seated, there were always those curious individuals who might wander up, listen for a moment or two, and then drift off into the night, indicating little or no interest in the message. I did not “capture” their attention, and if I did, I did not keep it. Jesus was not like that. “Never a man spake” (John 7:46) was probably spoken by more than those officers who had been sent by the religious authorities to arrest Jesus.

Second, Jesus was the incomparable teacher because He spoke plainly. Do you remember when the Jews came to Jesus and inquired, “How long dost thou hold us in suspense? If thou art the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24). Jesus replied, “I told you, and ye believe not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, these bear witness of me” (John 10:25). Jesus did speak to them plainly; they refused to listen. What message of our Lord could be more “plain” than that spoken to the woman at the well of Samaria? The Pharisees had no problem understanding the Lord’s message, so much so that they sought to destroy Him. Never once do I read of Jesus telling His audience, “Oh, you misunderstood!”

Third, Jesus was the incomparable teacher because His message had a universal appeal. William Barclay picked up on this: “One of the most amazing characteristics of Jesus as a teacher is the universality of his appeal. We find him teaching in the synagogues (Matt. 4:23). We find him teaching in the Temple at Jerusalem (Mark 14:49). We find him engaged in technical arguments and discussion with the foremost scholars of his day (Matt. 22:23-46). We find him in the streets and on the roads, using a fishing boat as a pulpit by the seashore, holding the crowds spellbound with his words. We find him teaching the intimate inner circle of the disciples, and yet we find that amidst the crowds the common people heard him gladly” (Barclay, The Mind of Jesus, 90-91). The versatility of our Lord with regard to subject, audience, and method astounds all those who would study the teaching methods and manner of our Lord.

Fourth, Jesus was the incomparable teacher because He never avoided controversy. He did not go about looking for controversy, but when it came His way, He would engage the lawyers, Pharisees, Sadducees with the courage and determination to protect the truth and expose error at every occasion. The late G.C. Brewer wrote: Our Lord Jesus Christ was the most persistent, alert, resourceful and master controversialist that ever lived. He lived at a time when controversy was the order of the day. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the leading sect among the Jews, and they were constantly in disputes among themselves. The Sadducees were cool and calculating, rationalistic and philosophical. The Pharisees were technical, carping, and captious. They were past masters in the tricks of sophistry, caviling, and casuistry. But Jesus met the combined efforts of these masters of debate and quibbling and put them to silence. His quick analysis, his penetrating, powerful and unsparing logic, and his unanswerable and embarrassing ad hominem replies to their assaults have never been equaled among men. They, therefore, prove him to have been something more than a man” (G.C. Brewer, source lost). Regarding Jesus and controversy, Alexander Campbell wrote in the Millennial Harbinger:

No man can be a good man who does not oppose error and immorality in himself, his family, his neighborhood, and in society as far as he can reach, and that he cannot oppose it successfully only by argument: or, as some would say, by word and deed, by precept and by example. There can be no improvement without controversy. Improvement requires and presupposes change; change is innovation, and innovation always has elicited opposition! And that is what constitutes the essentials of controversy. Every man who reforms his own life has a controversy with himself. And, therefore, no man who has not always been perfect, and always been in company with perfect society can be a good man without controversy. This being conceded, it follows that whensoever society, religious or political, falls into error; or rather, so long as it is imperfect, it is the duty of all who have any talent or ability to oppose error, moral or political, who have intelligence to distinguish, and utterance to express, truth and goodness, to lift up a standard against it, and to panoply themselves for the combat. If there was no error in principle or practice, then controversy, which is only another name for opposition to error, real or supposed, would be unnecessary. If it were lawful, or if it were benevolent, to make a truce with error, then opposition to it would be both unjust and unkind. If error were innocent and harmless, then we might permit it to find its own quietus, or to immortalize itself. But so long as it is confessed that error is more or less injurious to the welfare of society, individually and collectively considered, then no man can be considered benevolent who does not set his face against it. In proportion as a person is intelligent and benevolent, he will be controversial, if error exist around him. Hence the Prince of Peace never sheathed the sword of the Spirit while he lived. He drew it on the banks of the Jordan and threw the scabbard away (Alexander Campbell, Millennial Harbinger, Volume 1, Electronic Edition).

Finally, Jesus was the incomparable teacher for the simple reason that His messages were memorable. Jesus was most effective in this particular aspect of His teaching because of the parables He presented that enabled His audience to take the message home, not only imbedded in their mind, but encased in their hearts. Multitudes are those who know the meaning of the words “Good Samaritan,” though they may never have read a page of the Bible. Jesus was fully aware that the use of parables would serve to impress upon the minds of His audience great truths that would come to be understood and cherished many days after He actually spoke the words.

Great leaders have often been great spokesmen. That is not always the case; but it certainly is true of our Master. Not only is He our King, but as King, His words sound clear, and when compared to the thoughts of men, they demonstrate the unique nature and source of those words. Yes, indeed, Jesus is the incomparable teacher, and we are the richer for it.
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