Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Preaching and Teaching of Jesus: A Real Example

Jesus Christ was a preacher and a teacher. His ministry was primarily one of proclaiming and explaining the Word of God. Jesus is also an example for us to follow. He is the perfect expression of the God honoring life and it is our desire as Christians to become increasing like Christ in all that we are and do. We often think of this example in relation to our moral behavior and our devotional acts such as prayer but the example should extend beyond this. His handling of the Word of God and His submission to its authority is also an example to all Christians and particularly to teachers and preachers. Many of us are tempted, however, to think that since Jesus was the incarnate Son of God that it is unrealistic to aspire to the example that He set as a preacher or teacher. I would, however, like to draw attention to a few things that often are overlooked in our evaluation of Jesus as a preacher and teacher that demonstrate the way His ministry is a real example for preachers and teachers today.

It is true nobody can preach or teach with the authority that Jesus possesses. He is perfect in knowledge and power, He is the Word of God incarnate, and not only did He preach the truth He IS the truth. No other teacher or preacher can make those claims. While it is important that we not underestimate the degree to which the ministry of Jesus was unique, it is also important to bring the entirety of the doctrine of the incarnation to bear on our assessment of His ministry. Jesus is God, but He is also fully man and the relationship between His human and divine natures in His teaching and preaching ministry has implications for us today.

Jesus was not omniscient in His human nature. The scripture records that He learned things as He grew (Luke 2:52) and there were even certain facts that He did not know (Mark 13:32). This raises the question of how His teaching could be infallible and authoritative. Jesus, however, provides the answer Himself and does so in a way that lays a foundation for the ministry of the Church.

We know that Jesus was brilliant. Even as a 12 year old boy his insight into the Word of God amazed the teachers at the temple (Luke 2:46-47). His teaching and preaching, however, was not the result of the insights or perceptions of His human intellect. The message that Christ preached was revealed to His human nature from His divine nature. The source of this message is divine and Jesus, the God-man, communicates it perfectly. This is most clear in John’s Gospel. In His last public statement, Jesus explains that the very words He speaks are from the Father.

For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12:49-50 ESV)

Later, in response to Philip asking to see the Father, Jesus again explains that the Father authorizes the words He speaks.

“Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” (John 14:10 ESV)

That the preaching and teaching of Jesus comes from divine revelation rather than being the product of His perfect insight is important because it is a model showing how the ministers of the Church in all their weakness can also teach and preach an authoritative message. In His high priestly prayer just before His crucifixion Jesus, speaking of the apostles, says, “…I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them ...” (John 17:6-8 ESV)

The Church has received the actual Word of God through the teaching of Jesus. This communication of divine propositions continues through the ministry of the Holy Spirit working through the Apostles as they recorded the balance of Holy Scripture (John 14:26, 16:12-13; 2 Timothy 3:16). Our message is also not to be the result of human insight or perception. We are also to only teach and preach the message that God has given us. This is why Jude can refer to the message of the Church as the “Faith that was once for all delivered”. This is why John in his first letter sees no contradiction when he teaches the Church that they have no need for anyone to teach them because they have the anointing of the Holy Spirit. When the Word of God is faithfully and accurately preached and taught, it is God Himself who does is doing the teaching. It is an authoritative communication from God to humans.

Someone may still object pointing out that unlike Jesus, we do not have a perfect communion of a divine and human nature within ourselves. To this, I would like to add two points that I unfortunately do not have space to develop here. First, we have a check against the need for any sort of subjective apprehension of the divine message because we have an objective revelation in the Word of God. Any claim of authority by a preacher or teacher today is easily verified. Jesus, as God, possessed all authority but the authority of any minister today extends only as far as the extent to which they are in agreement with the Bible. The accuracy of the “communication” of the divine message is therefore to be objectively evaluated. Second, we have received a new nature and the Holy Spirit Himself applies the message of God to our understanding. Although we do not possess a divine nature as part of our inherent individual make-up, we do receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised us that we would be in Him as He is in the Father. Although we do not yet experience perfect communion we nevertheless recognize that it is the Holy Spirit working in us so that we may understand, believe, and share the Word of God.

The result of all of this is that the teaching and preaching of Jesus is a real example to us. By God’s grace, we are able to become partakers in His ministry. If we teach and preach the Bible, we continue to have an authoritative message. It remains the Word of God in every sense. The example of Christ shows us the seriousness and confidence with which we must handle it. We are to preach and teach just as He did, under the authority of the Word of God.

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