JESUS THE TEACHER: THE GOSPELS
by Jan Young
As a student teacher works with an experienced teacher, her eyes are opened to many creative ways of engaging children in learning situations. Not all the kids learn the same way, so her mentor coaches her in how to use different approaches with different kids.
During the three years of His earthly ministry, we see Jesus as the master teacher. By observing how Jesus taught, we can learn important principles that apply both to teaching the Bible in a structured setting and also in simply talking to unbelievers about biblical truth.
Jesus used metaphors, similes, hyperbole and parables (stories with a spiritual parallel). Sometimes He gave the spiritual principle at the beginning or the end of the parable, sometimes not at all--allowing His audience to draw their own conclusions. Sometimes He taught indirectly by asking questions instead of telling. He often took people to Scripture. We will look at examples of His teaching techniques in the Gospels.
However, we must keep in mind that while we can learn from His teaching style, Jesus spoke as God and we are human. He knew everything, including the other person's thoughts and motives, which we do not. He knew when to be gentle and when to be harsh. He knew if the person was a true seeker or a scoffer. We as teachers are much more limited, and need to be constantly aware of our limitations.
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The first recorded teachings of Jesus are Scripture quotations. (At that time, Scripture was the Old Testament.)
When Jesus begins preaching, His message is clear and succinct. He does not beat around the bush or worry about being politically correct.
The Sermon on the Mount is one of Jesus' three major discourses, the other two being the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:1-25:46) and the Upper Room Discourse (John 13:31-16:33). The three discourses are in different styles and tones. Notice that He is speaking to believers (5:1), not people in general. "Disciples" does not necessarily mean only the twelve; Jesus had many disciples, from whom the twelve were specially selected.
He starts by talking about who will be blessed (happy, fortunate); He starts with the positive. Many people think Christianity is about "don'ts" but the Sermon on the Mount is mostly about "do's." He uses an interesting teaching technique, giving a list in which each item starts with the same word. Lists can also start with the same letter--anything to help people remember.
In 13 and 14 He uses metaphors, comparing the disciples to salt and light. He goes on to warn of common problem attitudes. He speaks to common concerns, especially in 6:25-34. He talks about things that people can relate to.
In 7:3-5 He incorporates humor by using hyperbole (extravagant exaggeration, speaking of the impossible as if it were real). No one can really have a log in his eye, but the mental picture it creates is both humorous and effective. In 7:9-10 He uses a ridiculous example to grab their attention.
In 7:13-14 He uses the metaphor of life being like a road with gates. In 7:16-20 He likens people to fruit trees, something His listeners were familiar with because they lived in an agrarian society. In 7:24-27 He compares people to two men who build houses on different foundations and have differing outcomes.
The writer explains how Jesus' actions were the fulfillment of prophecy, but these are not the words of Jesus. The actions of Jesus are intended to remind people of Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. The people are to observe what He is doing, compare it with Scripture, and draw conclusions. So in a sense, much of Jesus' ministry is like a life-sized object lesson.
Jesus demonstrates who He really is. He uses drama. This makes much more of an impression than if He would have just said, "By the way, I am really God." Drama gets people's attention. You can't teach them if you don't have their attention. This is especially true with kids.
Again Jesus demonstrates who He is through the use of real-life drama.
Here we not only have Jesus demonstrating who He is--we also are told that this is the exact reason for this healing, to prove to the scribes who He is. Telling is one way of teaching, but Jesus adds a visual element to help them make the connection. The fact that this explanation is brought out in the text makes it clear to us that this is an important consideration in getting across a new idea.
Jesus does not come right out and say that He is bringing in a new dispensation, that now God is revealing something new. He gives three examples--the bridegroom, the cloth, and the wineskin. He doesn't explain these examples. He drops clues, adds an element of mystery, and then lets them to wonder about it. Rather than hit people over the head with truth, Jesus tries to get people to think and thereby come to the truth through their own discovery process. Those who are truth-seekers will find; as for the others, it will go right over their heads.
Jesus uses a paradox to get people's attention and make them think. He wants them to ask themselves: how can finding equal losing and losing equal finding? Many people don't like the work involved in thinking; they prefer to just be told what is what. They don't care about the "why." But a truth will be remembered better and have more impact if a person comes to that truth through their own thought process. They will "own" that truth.
Jesus doesn't answer John's question directly. He wants John and his disciples to think. He also quotes Scripture. He asks them, "What did you see? What does it mean? What does God's Word say?"
Jesus asks a series of questions. He says, "Think!" Then He points them to God's Word (at that time, the Old Testament). The answers are in the Bible. "Read it! Remember it! Think about it!"
Jesus points out that truth is not clear to everyone. It is hidden from those who already think they know (the proud) and revealed to those who admit they don't know everything (the humble). Like Easter eggs hidden by a child's loving parents, God's truths are hidden but easily found by any who would become His children.
Jesus is obviously not wearing an ox yoke; He is metaphorically speaking of a burden (11:28). His "yoke" is also a paradox; how can putting on a yoke give rest? A yoke is what a work animal wears. Paradoxes are designed to make people wonder and thereby come up with the right answer on their own as they put two and two together.
Jesus shows how to answer disagreements using Scripture. He doesn't get hostile or snide or self-righteous. He just makes it clear that God's Word is His standard of conduct and belief.
Here He answers questions with the use of logic. Make sure that what you believe and what you teach is logical. Truth should appeal to the intellect, to the mind (Matthew 22:37), not just to the emotions.
Again Jesus uses logic to convince His listeners. Always encourage logical thinking.
He uses the metaphors of a fruit tree and poisonous snakes, likening them to people to make His point clear.
Familiar Scripture is used to explain a concept they don't understand. "For as…so shall."
An ordinary comment or event can be used as a bridge to a spiritual concept. You can train yourself to become more aware of opportunities that have the potential to link the ordinary to the spiritual.
A parable is a hypothetical story that illustrates a truth in a somewhat veiled manner. Jesus likens God's Word to seeds, and different kinds of people to different kinds of soil.
Again we are told that not everyone has ears to hear.
Jesus speaks in parables so that His disciples can learn truth while the scoffers just hear a story. He doesn't try to force the scoffers to "get it." Jesus uses different teaching styles depending on whether He is talking to His disciples, the general public, or the scoffers (Pharisees, scribes, and lawyers--the hypocritical religious leaders).
Sometimes Jesus gives an explanation of the parable.
Even though the disciples do have "ears to hear," they don't always understand. When they ask for clarification, He gives it.
Jesus uses what is happening around Him at the moment. This miracle was a response to the needs and concerns of the moment. He could have healed someone or walked on water at this point, but He tuned in to what people needed. You may have a lesson planned, but if someone shares a concern that needs addressed, be flexible enough to drop your plans and use this concern for a jumping-off point to see what the Bible has to say.
Jesus often answers a question with a question. The question for us is, why? Is He being evasive? Can't He come up with a good answer? Of course He can. He is asking them to think. Most of the time, the Pharisees are not sincerely seeking answers. Most of their questions are designed to trap Him, but by asking them a question in turn, He avoids stepping into the trap.
Jesus uses the metaphors of leaven and bread. He points out to His disciples that they need to look deeper, past the surface meaning, to find the spiritual application.
Why does Jesus ask these questions? Doesn't He know the answers? The Bible makes it clear that Jesus is God in the flesh, and that He knows our thoughts and intents. His questions here are designed to get people to talk about something, to verbalize their thoughts. Learn to formulate questions that will get your group to open up, to share ideas and discuss them. Don't major in yes/no questions.
In your group, people will share thoughts that are humanistic, that are man's ways, not God's. Sometimes it feels uncomfortable for us to point out that difference between man's thoughts and God's thoughts. A responsible Bible teacher should not let those remarks go unchallenged, but you also have the responsibility of being gentle, tactful, loving, and constructive, not critical or destructive. Remind people that one of our goals in studying the Bible is to learn to replace man's ideas with God's ideas.
Jesus didn't tell His disciples that He was God in the flesh--He showed them. Which is more effective? While we cannot show that in the way Jesus did, we can use drama--skits, visuals, movement, varying our tone of voice to make something more interesting. This is a principle of good writing also: show, don't tell. Instead of telling the reader a fact or something about a character, devise a story scene that shows the reader what you want him to know. If you do it well, the reader feels himself drawn into the story and experiences it himself. This is why TV and videos draw kids away from books--they are visual and experiential. We can adapt this technique to more effectively teach our group.
Jesus asks a question designed to elicit a particular answer, as a springboard to what He wants to teach Peter. He uses what Peter already knows about collecting customs to teach him a spiritual lesson.
The words "as" or "like" make a comparison using a simile. Jesus compares the humble person to a child.
Does Jesus really want us to cut off our hand or foot or pluck out our eyes? If we did, would that solve our sin problem? In what part of us does sin originate? So Jesus uses hyperbole--gross exaggeration to make an effect--to shock people. He wants them to pay attention and say, "What?" Then they will think.
Jesus uses a story, asks questions and uses logic to make His concluding point, "even so…"
He addresses problems that come up in people's lives. He doesn't just talk about theology. He applies truth to daily life.
He teaches about the kingdom by using a comparison--a parable (a story placed alongside a truth to explain it). Develop the habit of looking for ways to explain biblical ideas in everyday language and situations.
Jesus avoids stepping in a trap by not answering yes or no to this question. He not only dodges a trick question with a question, but notice what He asks. "Haven't you read God's Word?" Then He quotes Scripture that speaks to the real issue, instead of getting into a religious argument. The better we know the Bible, the easier it becomes to field questions of any type. You don't have to have verses memorized; you can say, "I don't know exactly where, but I know that the Bible says something like …" You can offer to look it up if the person would like.
The hyperbole of a camel (a common animal, familiar to His listeners) passing through the eye of a needle creates a shocking and humorous mental picture designed to grab the attention of the listeners. Then Jesus can teach them something about salvation.
The term "like" indicates this is a parable. Jesus makes up a story that His listeners can relate to--about employers, employees, and fair wages--that also teaches them about God.
How can a lowly servant or slave be the greatest? This paradoxical claim prepared the disciples to understand a spiritual truth. (In our culture, we might not use the slave/servant example because people don't really relate to that. We might come up with a different example.) Then Jesus gives the application, "even as…"
Would Jesus' teaching in 13 have been as effective if He had not just acted it out in 12? The drama of 12 would stay in people's memories more than just the words of 13.
Jesus answers a question with a question, again asking pointedly, "Haven't you read God's Word?" Remember that He is being questioned by those who claimed to be the experts in the Law of Moses.
Why does Jesus curse the fig tree? Is He just being petulant because He is hungry and there isn't any fruit? If Jesus is God, would that be in character with Him? Since the obvious answer is "no," we must assume He is doing something else. He is again teaching by the use of visuals. He uses a physical object to point to a spiritual truth. If we compare this drama with 21:33-41, which apparently happened the same day, and 24:32, we see He is teaching about Israel's lack of spiritual fruit.
Jesus ends this parable with a quiz question. He sets it up so that they themselves give the main point of the parable. Then He gives them the application.
Again Jesus ends the parable with a quiz question, to see if they are following. He again sets it up so that they come up with the answer. Then He applies it to them. The parable is about an ordinary earthly situation, but the truth illustrated is a spiritual truth.
Jesus, with His answering question, turns their question into an opportunity to make His idea actually become their idea.
Jesus' question takes the form of a riddle, a puzzle. Be creative in how you ask your questions.
This chapter--Jesus' last words to the scoffing Pharisees--is harsh. He does not speak this way to others. Compare the tone of this chapter to the next chapter, spoken to His disciples, and to 8:10, to someone who comes to Him in faith. Compare His attitude to people who don't get it yet, or have honest doubts, in 9:36, 11:3-6, 16:6-12; and in 20:22, even to someone who really doesn't get it, but is not a scoffer. Jesus spoke very pointedly to those who knew God's Word but refused to believe. He didn't avoid stepping on their toes, but He was gentle like a shepherd with those who needed teaching and encouragement. Bible teachers need to be careful not to discourage others, yet not be intimidated or manipulated by those who are argumentative and divisive, or who may be wolves in sheep's clothing.
In this chapter, the Olivet Discourse, Jesus teaches His disciples about His coming and the end of the age. His style is very straightforward. He refers to or quotes several Old Testament passages, explaining how and when they will be fulfilled. He uses two similes, lightning (27) and Noah's day (37-39), starting with "just as…" In 32-33 He gives a brief parable; perhaps 42-44 and 45-51 could also be considered parables.
After He explains what will happen, Jesus gives three parables to illustrate what the disciples (and by application, all believers) should be doing until that time. Then He tells of the next event, the judgment at the end of this age. In 32-33 He likens Himself to a shepherd, and likens mankind to either sheep or goats. This simile ("as the shepherd…") was a familiar scenario to the people of that day. Some Bible teachers think we should limit our examples to ones that Jesus used, but I think if He were here today, He would use examples that people in this day and culture would relate to. He would use examples reflecting our technology, because we are a technological society today more than an agrarian one.
During the Last Supper, Jesus uses two metaphors. He hands them the ceremonial bread and says it is His body. It obviously is not His actual body because He is sitting before them with His entire body intact, nor would He give them actual pieces of His flesh and ask them to engage in cannibalism. He gives them the ceremonial cup and says it is His blood. It obviously is not His actual blood because He is not bleeding or broken, nor would He give them blood to drink in disregard of the Law of Moses (Leviticus 17:11, Acts 15:28-29).
Jesus, being God in the flesh, speaks with the authority of God, and the people could recognize the difference between Him and others. We are not God, but when we speak God's Words--the Bible--we too speak with God's authority. Man's words do not have that same authority. When we speak God's words, we are assured that it will accomplish God's purpose (Is. 55:11). Be careful not to rely too heavily on curriculum content rather than God's Word. Study guides should clarify God's Word or help us find our way around it; they should never be the main focus in themselves. In evaluating curriculum, your standard should be, how closely does this adhere to Scripture? Groups often read someone's book as a study guide; Christian books can be good as supplementary reading but should not replace the Bible as study material.
Always be able to support your position with Scripture.
Sharing personal experience, rather than just information, can be an effective part of teaching, if not done inappropriately or to excess.
Many of the things Christians do are based on tradition rather than the Bible. Be careful not to present traditional practices as biblical teaching. For example, the Bible does not say that an offering plate should be passed during church, that an invitation should be given, that we should close our eyes when we pray, or that we should celebrate Christ's birth.
Don't confuse Christian practices with Christianity. Make it clear to your group that a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ is what makes you a Christian, not going to church, reading the Bible, praying, giving money, working in the church, or doing good things.
Be clear in your teaching of who Jesus is and what He did. This is the gospel in a nutshell (I Corinthians 15:1-5).
When Peter rebukes Jesus, Jesus attributes his challenge to God's Word as being instigated by Satan. Adding to, deleting from, changing, denying, or watering down God's Word to make it more acceptable to man are tactics of Satan. Boldly stand up for God's Word, and for the literal interpretation of it, as Jesus modeled for us.
Be careful how you talk about other teachers, groups, ministries, denominations, etc. Many Christians differ in matters of practice, while holding to the basic truths of Scripture. We are not to put down everyone who does not teach and do the exact things we do. However, if we know someone's teachings or actions are unscriptural, we are to warn people, even naming individuals, churches or organizations (Mark 12:38-40, Galatians 2:11-14, II Timothy 1:15, and III John 9-10).
Here is another example of Jesus avoiding the trap of hypothetical questions, but rather going straight to the biblical issue. Like Jesus, we should make it clear that the Bible has the answers to our questions, and that we need to know and better understand the Bible.
Even though we are not told that this scribe actually believed, he is not a scoffer like the others, and we see that Jesus encourages him. We need to encourage people who are open and interested, even if they make a remark or ask a question that is a little "off the wall." These may come from unbelievers or from believers who just don't know the Bible very well yet. Teachers who prefer to be nonconfrontational may be tempted to simply agree with them or let it pass, rather than correct misconceptions. Other teachers who are more confrontational may just correct them, which may be perceived as a put-down. We need to be sensitive to the person's feelings without at the same time letting misconceptions stand uncorrected. We can respond positively to their input, then point them more clearly toward what the Bible says.
Jesus has something to say (5:10) but He chooses to preface His statement with a real-life drama. Would His statement have had as much impact if He had just said it out of the blue? He uses the physical to point people to the spiritual.
When comparing the Bible's teachings to those of any other belief system, point out inconsistencies. You may have a skeptical group member who thinks there are contradictions in the Bible. Clarify that the Bible is inspired by God and actually claims to be without error; God, by nature, cannot lie or be confused. Apparent contradictions can always be resolved by careful, contextual reading and comparing the rest of Scripture. The few possible minor contradictions in the Bible have no impact on the Gospel and the important doctrines.
In correcting Simon's wrong attitude, Jesus could have just told him not to be so judgmental. Instead, He tells him a story and asks him his opinion. Based on Simon's own logic, He then makes a comparison between Simon and the woman. Finally, He makes His point, but never specifically addresses Simon's judgmental attitude. He lets Simon see the application for himself. This type of indirect teaching takes a little more thought, creativity, patience, and even self-restraint on the part of the teacher. It is so tempting to just tell someone what you want them to know. But over and over we see Jesus setting up learning situations and then letting the person learn for himself.
Notice the figure of speech Jesus uses. Can you think of a way to make this interesting choice of words into a strong visual for children? Like Jesus, use colorful images to get your point across and help your class relate to the concept you are teaching.
Again we see Jesus indirectly teaching, while also using a paradox to get their attention and make His point.
In sending out the disciples, Jesus uses a simile to help them understand the type of situation they would find themselves in. Picturing lambs among wolves creates a certain visual and emotional impact.
Here we see Jesus answering a question with a question of His own, designed to get the man to think. When the man comes up with another question, this time Jesus answers with a story. At the end of the story, He does not summarize or explain; He asks the man a question about the story that answers the man's own question. Then Jesus takes the man's own words and tells him to do what he just said. Jesus does not give simplistic answers, but helps people to discover God's truth for themselves.
Jesus gives His chastisement of Martha in a very gentle, positive manner--no put-down, no criticism. He just talks to her about priorities. Again we see the difference in how Jesus talks to hypocritical scoffers (the Pharisees) and to believers.
This Pharisee just wants to talk about the Pharisees' tradition of ceremonial washing before a meal; little does he know Jesus will see that as an opportunity to point out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Jesus can find a teaching opportunity in any situation.
Jesus goes on to lecture the Pharisees, using repetition and parallelism ("woe to you…") to make His point. In 51 He uses alphabetic order, A to Z, for emphasis. This could also be seen as a timeline order, Abel being at the beginning of their Scripture (the Old Testament, at that time) and Zechariah being at the end.
Jesus uses the picture of leaven (yeast--familiar to His listeners) to symbolize the evil of the Pharisees.
Here Jesus gives the principle first, then illustrates it with a parable, which is not really about farmers, barns, or crops, but about something they symbolize.
Jesus gives the disciples a glimpse of what He is personally feeling. By sharing His own trials and conflicts, He models for them that following God is not a bed of roses, as it is often wrongly and simplisticly presented. It does not always involve exercising our "gift" in a way that we find enjoyable. The Father has given Him a distressing job to do. But He will accomplish it no matter how He personally feels about it.
Jesus can even take something as mundane as a weather report and turn it into a teaching opportunity. The more we learn to see God in every aspect of life, the easier it becomes to see these links to teaching opportunities.
Jesus uses current events and the local news as a link to a point He wants to make. Accidents and deaths always make the news; He wants to warn them of the danger of spiritual death. Why do bad things happen to "good" people? He uses this same opportunity to dispel the religious myth, still common today, that people who have bad things happen to them must be worse than other people. Bad things--tribulations--are just a part of life (Genesis 3:16-19, Job 5:7, Matthew 6:34, John 16:33, Romans 5:3, James 1:12). Jesus addresses the basic concerns and questions that keep people from believing and from trusting God. Familiarize yourself with these issues and the answers that Scripture gives; make up a list and keep it in your Bible.
Jesus is not teaching about how to grow figs or run a vineyard. He designs stories about subjects familiar to His listeners that illustrate a spiritual truth.
When a religious leader accuses Jesus of not being religious enough (not following the rules), Jesus answers him by telling a story. His story ends with two questions--rhetorical questions. His story is so logical that His opponents are publicly humiliated; everyone can see the ridiculous nature of their criticism.
Jesus uses a simile from gardening.
He uses a simile from baking.
Jesus indirectly likens Himself to a door. He clarifies this in John 10:9.
God's truth often seems paradoxical to our finite human minds. Presenting it as a paradox is a way of helping it to stick in our minds.
Jesus likens Himself to a protective mother hen and the people of Jerusalem to her wayward chicks. Perhaps when Jesus uses examples from daily life, the inspiration for His example happens to be right there in plain view. Use what is around you. Look for spiritual connections.
Jesus gets their attention and appeals to their curiosity with another paradox.
Notice how Jesus involves His listeners by personalizing the story. "If you…you would…" (6), "which of you…" (7), "me…me…I…" (8), and concluding "So you too, when you…" (10). He is asking them to think about what they would do.
Although He doesn't actually quote Scripture, Jesus alludes to the Old Testament, which they know. He reminds them of how things happened in Noah's day, and how things happened in Lot's day, asking them to see the parallel in what will happen in the future. In 27, Jesus confirms that the flood was indeed worldwide, destroying all, contrary to what some Christians teach about Genesis. Jesus would not use a myth or falsehood as an example for His teaching, so we can be assured that the Genesis record is indeed literally true. All His teaching is based on a belief in the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, as ours should be.
In this passage, we also see Him using parallelism to emphasize His point. He repeats the phrase "the day" and applies it to Noah's situation, Lot's situation, and then to His own future return. In 32, without explaining about Lot's wife, He asks them to bring to mind what they already know of Scripture, and apply it to the information He is giving them.
Here Jesus uses a contrast instead of a comparison. Some get confused about this parable, thinking Jesus is comparing God to the unrighteous judge. But in 6-7, we can see the comparison in the wording, "Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice…" The human judge who is unrighteous is contrasted with God who is just and righteous.
This idea of contrast is made even clearer in the parable in the very next verses, which we are told also deals with the subject of righteousness. The self-righteous Pharisee is contrasted with the humble tax collector. So along with thinking of comparisons, metaphors, and similes, we might also think about using opposites to draw attention to biblical truths.
Jesus uses the man's own words to formulate a question. He wants this man to think about what "good" really means. Jesus is asking the man to consider the fact that if Jesus is truly good, then He is indeed God, just as He has been claiming. But He doesn't come right out and say that. His teaching is often oblique, coming in from an angle rather than head-on. This type of teaching is more effective with adults than children.
Jesus affirms that all prophecy will be fulfilled exactly as written. This supports the approach of taking the literal interpretation rather than a loose allegorical interpretation; all fulfilled prophecy has been fulfilled exactly, not just "sort of," "more or less." Our approach to teaching Scripture should be the same as that of Jesus.
Avoiding a trap, again Jesus answers a question with a question. Obviously He has an advantage over us, in that He knows men's thoughts. But we can be as knowledgeable as possible about other positions so that we can field tricky questions by those who might want to trip us up. In adult groups, you might have someone present who is disruptive and who enjoys trying to throw you off or make you look bad. This might be a skeptical unbeliever. Unfortunately, it could also be a believer. Just become someone is a true believer doesn't necessarily mean he has overcome his fleshly nature. Such a person can be found in almost any church.
Jesus is quite skilled at handling such problem people. Here we see that He again not only answers the trick question with a question of His own, but He even designs a question to put those people on the defensive, instead of allowing them to continue taking the offensive. Jesus is not a wimpy, fuzzy-lovey sort of person, especially with religious hypocrites. He is the Master Psychologist, the master of personal relations, and there is much we can learn about interacting with people by observing Him. Is Jesus showing love toward these people? Yes! God's love is based on His truth, not on a warm-and-fuzzy unbiblical concept of "fellowship" that means tolerance for and inclusiveness of all beliefs and behaviors. True fellowship is found around the truth--God's Word. Jesus refuses to allow people to play games with Him. He continually confronts people with God's truth. That is one way God shows His love to people.
The Sadducees devise an unrealistic hypothetical question. They are not interested in learning which of the seven brothers will have the wife in eternity (the resurrection) because they don't even believe in the resurrection. Does Jesus answer their question? No. He addresses their real problem: their lack of belief in the resurrection. He gets right to the heart of the matter by taking them to Scripture and showing that those believers who have died are alive, thereby showing scripturally that there is indeed a resurrection--life after death. This lesson especially applies to encounters we have with members of cults who go door to door, asking some question about a detail of prophecy. That is not the question to address; instead, turn the conversation immediately to foundational issues such as Jesus being God in the flesh, the Bible being the only basis of God's revelation, salvation by faith in Christ alone and the impossibility of salvation by good works.
Jesus uses the example of a real person, someone known to His listeners, someone they would not have thought they could learn anything from. Use real-life examples in your teaching. People can relate to true stories, and are encouraged by hearing how God has worked in someone else's life. Because they are watching the event Jesus is talking about, we can also say that Jesus is using a dramatic visual aid to get their attention and to teach effectively.
Following His resurrection, Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus and speaks with them at length. He opens the conversation with a question--as we have noted, a good "technique" whether in a formal lesson or in a casual conversation, with either a believer or an unbeliever. It is not a fakey, loaded or obnoxious question. He gets them to talking about what is on their minds. He uses another question, 19, to draw them out further. So often Christians approach "witnessing" in a manner that is aggressive, assertive, confrontational, and preachy. This usually turns people off. Jesus uses what people are talking about as a jumping-off point to turn the conversation to the things of God.
Even then He does not insert "self" into the conversation. He could have said, "Hey, it's me!" But instead He directs them to Scripture to make His points. These were believers, who knew the Old Testament. Going to Scripture might not always be the most effective approach to an unbeliever, who doesn't know or believe God's Word. When we get to the Gospel of John, we will look at Jesus' conversation with an unbeliever, the woman at the well; He does not take her to Scripture.
Notice Paul's tactics in two different situations in Acts 17. At Berea, the Jews who accepted Paul's message already know the Old Testament. He presents Christ in that context, and they use their prior knowledge of Scripture to compare to Paul's message, 10-12. But when approaching the pagan Athenians, instead of referring them to Scripture, he first appeals to their own religious views, then points them to the true God by identifying Him as the Creator. Romans 1:20 states that the creation is the revelation of God given to all men; everyone can relate to it regardless of their religious background. Creation was the defining event of the Old Testament by which God revealed Himself to all men. Compare Acts 14:17; Romans 10:18; Psalm 19:1-4, 97:6.
It is always good to use God's Word in teaching or in witnessing. God's words are powerful in a unique way; Isaiah 55:11, Jeremiah 23:29. But if someone does not even believe in God, or scoffs at the Bible, try appealing to their knowledge of the creation. If they counter with evolutionary views, don't argue or ridicule those ideas, but, like Jesus, counter with more questions. How could something come from nothing? How did life come from non-life? Science has no answer to these questions. How could things evolve from simple to complex? This "fact" of evolution contradicts the well-established Second Law of Thermodynamics: all processes move toward chaos, not order, without the intervention of some outside source of organization. Why does the world appear to have been intricately designed? Explain that it is just as logical, if not more so, to believe there is a Designer, a Creator. It actually takes more faith to believe that the world is a product of evolution. Read up on the biblical creationist views so you can speak confidently about creation and the Bible.
After Paul introduces the idea of the true God being the Creator, he follows up with the fact of the resurrection of Jesus, which proves that He is God in the flesh. Just as creation was the defining event of the Old Testament, the resurrection is the defining event of the New Testament by which God revealed Himself to all men. Paul does not get off on irrelevant religious arguments but sticks to the most important truths--who God is, who Jesus is.
Jesus takes the two disciples to the Old Testament to teach them about Himself. Many Christians ignore the Old Testament, thinking the New Testament is for the church and the Old Testament is for the Jews, or is irrelevant for today. Jesus teaches us otherwise, Luke 24:44-47. The New Testament cannot be fully understood without a knowledge of the Old Testament. The Old Testament--the entire Bible--is about Jesus. He appears in the first chapter, and the first prophecy about His coming to earth is in Genesis 3:15. The Old Testament historical accounts follow the genealogical line that leads to Christ, as well as Satan's many attempts to thwart God's plan. The Psalms and the prophets speak often of Christ.
Jesus' words have an intended double meaning. A play on words is especially effective with kids.
Another word game is the oxymoron, a phrase made up of two words that seem contradictory. The act of being born is a one-time event; Jesus adds the adverb "again" to change the meaning and coin a new phrase describing the salvation experience.
Jesus uses a common example from nature that is easily understood, to teach a spiritual concept that is not so obvious.
He uses darkness and light as contrasting metaphors for two contrasting spiritual conditions. The use of opposites is easy for people to remember. Also, we know from reading the rest of this book that Jesus is giving "light" a double meaning: a spiritual condition, and also a reference to Himself, 1:4-9, 8:12, 9:5.
As noted above, Jesus does not use Scripture when speaking to the woman at the well, a non-Jewish unbeliever. He starts by appealing to her curiosity, then sets up a conversation in which she discovers that He is the Messiah (Christ). He uses the props that are at hand: the well, water, a jug, His desire for a drink. For once Jesus does not begin with a question, but His opening statements are designed to elicit questions from her. He gently and skillfully turns the conversation immediately to spiritual things, although at first she is concerned only with physical water and physical thirst. She doesn't understand the references to living water, failing even to respond to His mention of eternal life. He then sets up a situation in which He reveals His intimate knowledge of her life history.
In 19-20, her responses are now on a spiritual level, but she brings up a religious argument. Instead of arguing the point, Jesus takes one of her own words, "worship," making it the cornerstone of the conversation. He neutralizes her argument by telling her it is not about Jews vs. Samaritans, but rather it is about being a "true worshipper." Apparently because of Jesus' revelation of the details of her life, and His insight into true worship, the woman is reminded of what she has heard about the Jews' Messiah--the Christ, the Anointed One. Now Jesus reveals His identity to her.
Do you see how much more effective it is to allow someone to discover the truth (with your guidance) than to just blurt it out at the start, which would probably cause her to become defensive and argue? It's a longer process, but sometimes, the long way is the short way. And the short way can end up being the long way.
In 35-38, Jesus uses a farming metaphor. Because He says, "Lift up your eyes and look on the fields," it is quite possible that there are fields right around them ready for harvest. Jesus is quick to pick up on any visual aid at hand.
Jesus often appeals to the authority of Scripture; so should we.
Jesus sets up a drama to make a point. He could have just said, "I am God in the flesh, the promised Messiah," without the miracle of the loaves. But would the impact have been as great? Then He stages another dramatic incident to show the disciples who He is. He could have just said, "I am God, and I have power over the elements." But without the dramatic incident, would those words have much impact? Especially with kids, take advantage of any opportunity to use drama and visual aids. This is why TV has such a powerful influence. Engaging the senses appeals to your listeners more effectively than words alone.
The rest of the chapter is teaching based on the drama of the loaves. Now that He has their attention and has made a point through the miracle, He can teach and elaborate about that truth. He talks about the true bread, taking them from the physical to the spiritual. He uses common experiences such as eating and drinking, hunger and thirst.
Jesus has been telling them all along who He is, in many different ways, in His words, in His actions. They refuse to see. So He answers their question with another question. He is basically telling them, "Think! Observe! Remember! Compare!"
Jesus heals a blind man, then discusses the incident with those who are spiritually blind. In 39-41, He makes it clear that this miracle is an object lesson about who is really blind and who really sees. He uses the physical to point people to the spiritual. Object lessons are effective teaching tools.
Jesus uses the metaphor of the sheep and the sheepfold. He compares Himself to the shepherd, and the Pharisees to thieves, robbers, and strangers. John, the writer, makes sure we understand, 6, that Jesus is using a figure of speech, that He is not talking about actual sheep.
Jesus uses more metaphors, likening Himself to both the door and to the shepherd. Whether your interest is in horses, gardening, family life, cars, sports, computers, medicine, or fishing, you will be able to see parallels in life that you can use as illustrations in your teaching.
Jesus explains that Lazarus' illness was actually an object lesson, to show both His glory and the Father's glory. This knowledge can help us show people that God has reasons for the trials He allows in our lives, even if we don't understand at the time.
We see the disciples not understanding Jesus' use of figurative language, so Jesus then tells them very plainly what He is talking about. A good teacher can find more than one way to get a point across.
This drama is so powerful that no teaching is added afterwards. A skit before a lesson can help the class understand the lesson, but a drama--a movie or play--can be a powerful self-contained lesson.
In the example of planting a seed, Jesus gives a paradox of nature. Then He uses that same paradox to give a spiritual truth. Again He takes them from the physical to the spiritual. Learn to always be on the lookout for "links" that you can use in your teaching.
Jesus models for the disciples what it means to be yielded to God, even in difficult situations. He allows them to see that inside, as a man, He too has struggles. He lets them see Him struggling with Self, considering different choices, then making the right one--submitting to God. Sometimes it is good for the teacher to be transparent, so the class knows you are not teaching one thing while doing something different.
With difficult concepts, sometimes it helps to demonstrate the concept rather than explain it. Once they have seen it demonstrated or dramatized, the class may be better equipped to understand the teaching about it. This is how Jesus teaches the disciples about serving. He lets them see Him doing the job of a lowly servant. We know from Luke 22:24-27 that during this meal, the disciples were actually arguing about which of them was the greatest. This is how Jesus chose to address their arguing. Following the demonstration, He then teaches them about the true meaning of the foot-washing.
Jesus uses an illustration from farming to explain new spiritual truth to the disciples--the relationship of the vine and the branches, and the processes of pruning and cleansing the branches.
A good teacher doesn't overload the learners. Break things down into bite-sized pieces, for their age or their level of spiritual understanding.
The disciples can't grasp the idea that Jesus' leaving is a good thing for them. Jesus uses a well-known physical phenomena, childbirth, to demonstrate that their pain will soon be overshadowed by great joy.
Jesus reminds them that figurative language--parables, metaphors--has been necessary at this stage in their understanding, but that one day they will be able to truly understand what He has to tell them about God. Figurative language is a tool to help us link new ideas with things we already understand.
In this prayer, Jesus models before the disciples His relationship with the Father. Model your relationship with God to your class. Explain to them some of your spiritual struggles and how you handled them. Admitting you have failures and weaknesses does not diminish your credibility as a Bible teacher; pretending you don't have them is more likely to make others skeptical. Explain how God's Word has been powerful in your own life.
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We see that Jesus used many teaching styles and teaching aids to reach people with spiritual truth. He often used the visible and physical to point to the unseen and spiritual. He used creative methods to show people that God's world is about much more than we can merely see and touch.
We can learn from and imitate some of His teaching techniques. He didn't give boring lectures; He used stories, parables, real-life drama, and whatever props are at hand. He didn't talk at people-He engaged people. His approach was never "canned." We cannot do the things He did, but we can make our teaching come alive with the use of physical aids such as object lessons, skits/drama, puppets, and visuals of various types. TV and movies get people personally involved as they are drawn into the action through their various senses; we can use this technique to create interest in spiritual truth.
However, we should not just be adding entertainment to draw people in. These teaching aids should always point to spiritual truth. In I Corinthians 2:1-5, Paul warns against trying to influence people through worldly or humanistic methods. Every teaching method we use should point people to Christ.
We also see that not everyone understood the figures of speech He used. When teaching young children, be especially careful of the examples you use, because they take words literally and may have trouble understanding some figures of speech. But when you explain them, they are often delighted at the humor involved in word pictures.
Because Jesus is God--the second person of the Trinity--we can assume that the methods Jesus used when He was on earth are similar to how God still teaches us today. God uses everything that happens in our lives to get our attention and to point us to spiritual truth. He never forces Himself on us but helps us open our eyes and ears to see Him better. He is always setting things up so we can find it on our own, through the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Copyright 2012 Jan Young
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