David Jeremiah - Is He the Teacher of Truth or the Truth to Be Taught?
Wess Stafford was speaking at an educators' conference in Nairobi, Kenya, when he was impressed by the dedication of the approximately 400 teachers who had come to this mission compound for this special moment. Near the end of his talk, he asked the group if anyone had a story to share. A young man in the third row stood up and he said he was still in his first year of teaching and he loved it and then he told the group why he had chosen the field of education.
He recalled how his first days as a schoolboy had been painful because he suffered from stuttering in a terrible way. He felt embarrassed and alone and he could hardly wait for each day to end so he could go home. But his teacher, noticing his struggle, approached him and praised his work and she wrote encouraging notes on his papers and gave him some of the only hugs that he'd ever received in his whole life. And it was at that moment he decided he wanted to be a teacher, all the way back in the first grade because of a wise and loving teacher.
Stafford asked him, "Did you ever tell her of her impact on your life"? He said, "No, I never really did". "Do you think she even knows?" said Stafford. The young man said, "Well, sir, she does now". There was a hush in the crowd as the young man collected himself. Turning, he pointed across the crowded room and continued, "Because she's sitting right over there". The teachers gasped and turned to see where this man was pointing. There sat an aged, gray-haired woman with glistening eyes who, amid tremendous applause, stood quietly to her feet.
I love Wess Stafford. Here's what he said about that. He said, "Now, I can't prove it but I could swear violins were playing as the two of them made their way to the center aisle and met in a warm lingering and overdue embrace". Teachers change lives, and the lives of millions of people have been changed by a teacher they met in grade school or high school or college. Good teachers leave a deep imprint, and the American author, Philip Wylie, said, "One good teacher in a lifetime can sometimes change a delinquent into a solid citizen".
I'm sure all of you can think back over your lives and remember one or maybe two particular teachers. The teacher who really made the first impact on my life entered my life 70 years ago. I was in the first grade and, believe it or not, after 70 years I remember her name. Her name was Miss Gadell and she taught in the school that I went to when my father was a pastor in Toledo, Ohio. She encouraged me and helped me. I felt so out of place for some reason, like we all do. School's a pretty rough place to be if you're there for the first time. She made an impact on my life and I'm sure you can remember somebody like that as well.
America is full of godly professors and teachers. I believe teachers share a noble profession and I believe that because if you're a teacher, you have chosen the same vocational opportunity as the Lord Jesus Christ. He was the master teacher. He was often addressed not as Jesus or Lord, but his title of Teacher. In Matthew 8:19, a scribe came to Jesus, saying, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go". The rich young ruler addressed Jesus and said to him, "Good Teacher, what thing shall I do that I might have eternal life"? Once the disciples were caught in a storm and they awoke Jesus, saying, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing"? James and John came to Jesus one time and said, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask". Nicodemus came to Jesus by night and he said to him, "Rabbi", or Teacher, "we know that you're a teacher come from God".
Now, if you would take a concordance, especially an unabridged concordance, and look up the word "teacher" or "rabbi", you'd be surprised. Jesus is called teacher or rabbi more than 45 times in the New Testament. Jesus is called rabbi or teacher by the first person following the Resurrection. Remember that story? Mary Magdalene was standing by the tomb weeping when she turned around and she saw Jesus and, at first, she thought he was the gardener but then it came to her like a rush. It was Jesus. In John 20:16, "She turned and said to him, 'Rabboni,' (which is to say, Teacher)".
Jesus also spoke of himself in this way in John 13:13. He told his disciples, "You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am". Just as he is King of kings and Lord of lords, he is also Teacher of teachers. He's the supreme educator of the ages. Sometimes, he taught two or three people at once, sometimes just one. Other times, he spoke to thousands without the amplification or electronic projection and, even now, he is our teacher and he speaks to us across the ages, does he not, through his words which find a foundation in our minds and in our hearts.
Dr. J. Oswald Sanders pointed out that the teachings of Jesus were simple and vital and ethical and practical and original and psychologically correct and absolutely true. Indeed, true in every way. We know his teachings are true because he himself is the truth. So before we look at the nature of his teachings, let's look at what it means for Jesus to be the very definition of truth. Jesus is the truth. He is both God and man. As God, he is the source of the truth. As man, he's the personification of the truth.
Jesus said in John 14:6: "I am the way, the truth, and the life". He didn't simply say, "I will show you the way. I will tell you the truth. I will provide you life". He boldly declared he was those things. He said, "I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life". He was the very embodiment of those things. This is a major theme in John's Gospel. As you study the fourth Gospel, which is one of my favorites in the Bible, you can't help noticing how the subject of truth just keeps coming up again and again.
John begins in chapter 1, telling us that Jesus Christ, "was the true light", and that he came to us from the Father, "full of grace and truth", and referred to himself as the, "true bread from heaven". Perhaps John's interest in emphasizing the nature of his absolute integrity was prompted by something John heard when Jesus was on trial. You remember in this public exchange, Jesus told Governor Pontius Pilate, "Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice". And Pilate snarled back at him with this question: "What is truth"? You can see the smirk on his face. That is the cynical cry of relativism today. Humanism and secularism. Pilate's question has overtaken our age and most modern thinkers, they reject the existence of ultimate truth or absolute values.
Os Guinness points out in his book, "Impossible People", that today's radical form of philosophy claims that all human knowledge is socially constructed and nothing more. In other words, we invent truth. We make up knowledge. It has no objective absolute source. That's what's being taught. And that is what you hear if you enroll in many of today's university classes in philosophy, history, biology, or any other subject.
The sneer of Pilate is echoing in the halls of our colleges, across our screens, through the pages of our textbooks. And the world tells us there are no eternal foundations. There's no truth. I have truth, you have truth. If you let me have my truth, I'll let you have your truth, even though they may be totally contradictory to each other. So here's the deal. We think that we have truth at our disposal that we can make our own truth.
Randy Alcorn reminds us that truth isn't about our own perceptions or desires. It's always about Reality with a capital "R". A majority of us could get together and agree that we'd like gravity to be suspended tomorrow. But our vote would have no impact on reality. You and I can discover truth but we cannot create truth. What's true is true and what's not is not, for all of us, all the time. Our culture views truth as something inside of us subject to revision according to our growth and enlightenment. Scripture views truth as something outside of us which we can believe or not, but never ever change.
You know, a lot of pastors, if you wanna know the truth, can take the Bible and make it say whatever they want it to say. But my role as your teacher is to go to the Bible and find out what it says, what it meant when it was written, what it meant to those who first read it in their culture and take that same truth and apply it to us today. I do not have the authority to change the meaning of the Bible. My job is to find out what the Bible really means, what it really says, and then help us all understand what that means to us.
Count me among those who will stand and shout that Jesus is the truth, that Jesus is the author of truth. Jesus is the communication of truth. Without this core axiom, there's nothing on which to build one's life. That's why there's so much chaos and confusion in our world today. Everybody's inventing their own set of truth. There's nothing but the kind of despair that eventually overwhelmed Pilate who's gone down in history as one of the greatest fools who ever lived. He stood face to face with the truth himself and rejected him. He had the truth standing in front of him and he asked the truth, "What is truth"? He could have accepted Jesus. So can you.
Think of what this means. If Jesus Christ is the incarnation of truth, we can have a personal relationship with the incarnation of the truth. We can not only know Jesus, we can know truth. The truth is absolute, it's objective, but it's also personal and knowable. That's why Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free". And because this truth is a person, you can know him and because he is Jesus, he can set you free.
Nothing more liberating than the truth, no matter how hard it is. How many times I thought about this during my bout with cancer. When I would take a test on a Monday and be told that I couldn't get the answer back for ten days. And all during that time, I would say to myself, "Whatever it is, is immaterial. I just wanna know what it is. I want the truth". And today, in our culture, the greatest need we have is for truth. The Bible says there's one who can give us that truth, that way, that life, and that one is Jesus Christ. You will never have a true moment of truth until you meet the truth himself: the Lord Jesus Christ.
So Jesus, the truth. The question is, is he the teacher of the truth or is he the truth itself? He is the truth itself but he's also the teacher of truth. Oh, what we could learn about Jesus as we study his teaching. Jesus, the truth, and Jesus, the teacher. Math teacher, Jim O'Connor, is known for his tough, no-nonsense approaching to algebra, pushing his students, all of them boys, into shape. O'Connor is a Vietnam vet. He told CBS, "It drives me crazy when people say schools should be fun. I mean, it's nice if it could be but you can't make school fun".
Pat McGoldrick, a senior at St. Francis, says it this way: "Until people get used to him, they think he's really mean". But all that changed for Pat one day when he and his classmates visited Los Angeles Children's Hospital to recruit blood donors for a blood drive they were organizing. When the boys mentioned where they went to school, they were immediately met with awe. Hospital staff said things like, "Oh, so you must know Jim O'Connor. Isn't he wonderful"? And the boys were stunned. They didn't think he was all that wonderful. They thought he was mean.
As if they were being honest and a little confused about the man they thought they knew, that confusion was cleared up when they saw a plaque in the hospital for all-time donors and at the top of the list was Jim O'Connor. A universal blood donor, type O-negative, O'Connor has donated 72 gallons of blood and platelets since 1989, surely saving countless lives along the way. But there was more. The boys learned that day that Jim O'Connor who never married or had children of his own volunteers three days a week, holding and rocking sick and dying babies when their parents can't be there. O'Connor says of the babies, "I don't want to see them alone. I can't do that".
O'Connor's students were blown away. "I mean, I've always respected him", said Pat, "but now it's to an even different degree. Now, I not only respect him, I wanna be like him". The most effective teachers in life are those who model the truth that they teach and challenge their students to grow beyond what they think are their possibilities. And that was true of Jesus, was it not? He influenced his disciples, not only by what he said, but by how he lived and by the curriculum he taught. He had a vision of what disciples could be and he gave his life to teaching them what would that look like in you.
I wanna share with you just three ways that Jesus's teaching not only affected those who heard it when he walked on this earth, but how it affects us today as well, as followers of Jesus. First of all, when Jesus taught, his teaching challenged people and his teaching will challenge you. The Jesus you may not know was a teacher who constantly challenged his students. He challenged their priorities, their potential, their possibilities.
For example, Jesus challenged the rich young ruler's priorities. Remember what he said to him? He said, "Go and sell everything you have and then come back and follow me". Well, he didn't really care whether the man sold everything he had or not. Here's what the problem was. This man didn't have his wealth; his wealth had him. And Jesus wanted to find out if he was willing to walk away from that in order to put Jesus first in his life.
Jesus also sent out his disciples to accomplish things that seemed beyond their potential, things like feeding 5000 people, healing the sick, and most of all, casting out demons. And remember, they failed. They came back and they said, "Lord, what do we do now? It didn't work"? And it was a teaching moment for Jesus and his young men. And when Jesus gave the Great Commission, it was physically impossible for them to complete it. But he used it to expand the vision and get them started planting churches around the world. And we're still following that teaching and still feeling the impossibility of it all, but because of the teaching of Jesus we continue to take the gospel to the whole world.
Perhaps the most challenging part of the teaching of Jesus and the most famous, by the way, is found in Matthew 5 through 7. This is what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. These chapters prove that Jesus was more than a carpenter, more than a preacher, and more than a mere man. From his first word, he spoke as if he were the author and interpreter of Scripture. His words and their tone amazed the crowds as they astound us today and, in the Sermon on the Mount, we have a set of ethics that has never been bettered, a set of images that have never been forgotten, and a set of instructions so relevant and challenging for us today as if they were written just for us.
There are 107 verses in the Sermon on the Mount and here we have, now listen to this. In the Sermon on the Mount we have this: the Beatitudes, the Lord's Prayer, the Golden Rule, the city on a hill, the salt of the earth, the narrow gate and the wise man who built his house upon a rock. Here in this sermon, we discover the eternal dimensions of morality and spirituality and we discover how to deal with anger and lust and divorce and retaliation and anxiety and oaths and hypocrisy. All of those are taught in the Sermon on the Mount and we know what to do when we read them.
In Matthew 5 through 7 we have the greatest advice ever given in the greatest sermon ever preached by the greatest man who ever lived. The Sermon on the Mount provides evidence for the truthfulness of Christ in Christianity for if Jesus were any less than he claimed, his message would have been less than it was. How otherwise, do we explain that here we are, over 2000 years later, talking about a sermon that was preached by a man outside on a mountain to a group of people who don't have anything to do with us or our culture today?
That sermon is still the greatest sermon from the greatest preacher who ever lived and it is also regarded as one of the most famous speeches in world history and the greatest message on practical ethics and moral psychology that has ever been delivered by anyone. The secularists say that, not religious people. This great sermon, which was preached in Matthew 5 through 7, was only the beginning of our Lord's instructional ministry. But for the sake of time, let me just give you a few little tidbits of what he said just in the verses. This is some of what Jesus taught in his great sermon.
Matthew 5:16: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven".
Matthew 5:44: "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you".
Matthew 6:6: "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place".
Matthew 6:20: "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven".
Matthew 6:25: "Do not worry about your life".
Matthew 6:33: "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness".
Matthew 6:34: "Do not worry about tomorrow".
Jesus said that in his great sermon, and Matthew 7:12: "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets". Can you imagine having that kind of incredible truth packed into one sermon, given by one person, at a specific time and place in history?
Herbert Taylor was a Chicago business leader who salvaged a nearly bankrupt company called Club Aluminum. In time, Taylor made a small fortune and invested most of it in Christian causes. He was a deep and dedicated Christian and he became the major financial backer for many of the great student ministries that shaped the last half of the 20th century. Once, during an illness, Taylor felt God wanted him to memorize the Sermon on the Mount and, while bedridden, he did it. While he couldn't do anything else, he couldn't work, he used his time while he was sick to memorize the Sermon on the Mount, 107 verses. And he recited the Sermon on the Mount to himself every day.
And those who knew him said his life increasingly began to take on the truths which Jesus spoke. So let me make a suggestion to all of us. No, I'm not gonna ask you to memorize the Sermon on the Mount. Memorization, for most of us, is like, "You want me to do what"? Take a few minutes, though, in the next few days, perhaps during your daily Bible reading time and just work your way through Matthew 5, 6, and 7, the Sermon on the Mount. Use a colored pencil to highlight any command you find there or make a list of them on a tablet. Choose one of those things you read that strikes you in a special way and ask the Lord to pump that into your bloodstream until the obedience of your life reflects the truth that came from the lips of our Lord.
You will never have a more interesting experiment than to experiment on the Sermon on the Mount and learn the truth that is there and apply it to your life. Number two, his teaching will challenge you and his teaching will change you. Jesus's teaching inspires us to change, to be different, to be better. When we read about his life and study his words, we wanna be more like him: the perfect picture of what it means to be a holy, healthy human being. Only one person ever successfully lived a Christian life and that was Christ himself. When he returned to heaven, he sent his Spirit to live within us so that his Spirit could form the personality of Jesus in our hearts.
And that's why you read in 2 Corinthians chapter 3, "But we all, with unveiled faces, behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, and we are being transformed", we're being changed, "into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord". In other words, Paul told the Corinthians when God brought Jesus back to heaven, Jesus sent his Holy Spirit down here and when you accept Jesus as your Savior, his Holy Spirit comes to live within your heart. And one of the things the Holy Spirit does, one of his key jobs, one of his ministries, is to convict us of sin and to help us to grow into the likeness of who Jesus is. Not that we become religious weirdoes but that we just become the quiet people of God who live out the reality of the Lord Jesus Christ in our life.
And as we notice him doing that, as that begins to happen in our hearts, we are often surprised by ourselves because we ourselves are not ourselves. We are surprised because we see the Lord Jesus doing things in us that we never dreamed we would ever do and we stop and say, "Where did that come from"? In other words, as we keep our eyes on Jesus, the Holy Spirit transforms us into the very person that Jesus himself is. We become more like Jesus. Romans 8:29 says: "God has chosen us to be conformed to the image of his Son". And Ephesians 4:15 tells us to, "grow up in all things unto him who is the head - Christ".
As we grow up in Christ, our lives become more intrinsically truthful for we are becoming like the one of whom we speak. Could I just stop for a moment and say that in the world you can have a job and unless you do something really, really bad, what you do on your own time will never become an issue. In fact, in many places you can go to work 8 to 5 or whatever the hours are and live like a demon outside of that time. Nobody finds out, nobody cares, makes no difference at all. But that is not true if you're a Christian. If you're a Christian, and you name the name of Christ, and you claim him to be your Savior, somewhere along the way it has to start making a difference in the way that you live.
You cannot live like you'd never met Christ and then come to church on Sunday and say, "Oh yes, I'm a Christian. I'm a Christian". The worst thing that can happen is to say with your mouth, "This is who Jesus is", and then to live with your life in such a way that you deny everything that you said. If you don't believe what you teach, you shouldn't teach. Teaching is not a career, it's a calling. And teaching is not just about more information. Teaching is about a life that changes. His teaching will challenge you, his teaching will change you. and his teaching will cheer you up. It will cheer you.
I love to read the words of Jesus. One time, his disciples had gotten wind of the fact that he was going back to heaven. They didn't know what that all meant but they'd been with him for three years and they loved him. And so, they started asking him questions, and here's what Jesus said. He said, "Guys, just cool it. Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions; I go to prepare a place for you and if I go to prepare a place for you, I'll come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also".
I love that passage of Scripture 'cause I can get into what the disciples were feeling: "Jesus is leaving? He's not gonna be here anymore? He's going to another world? What are we gonna do"? Jesus stepped right into that moment of despair with his comforting words. It was Jesus who said, "Let not your heart be troubled". It was also Jesus who said, "Peace be still". And it was our Lord who reassured us, "For your heavenly Father knows that you need all of these things".
And Jesus was a teacher. All of us in one way, the another, we're teaching somebody, aren't we? Whether just as parents, we're teaching our children, or maybe you teach in our Sunday school. You will never find a better model for what it means to be a true teacher than to go to the teacher himself, the Lord Jesus Christ, and discover how committed he was, not just to communicating truth, but to changing lives. Here's what I know, men and women. You can't walk with Jesus the way you're supposed to walk with Jesus and not be changed. Jesus will change you.
If you wanna grow in your faith, go get a Bible and read it. The greatest resource we have is this book and it's the most neglected resource for all of us if we're honest. The devil has done a huge task on many of us to push the Bible to the circumference of our lives so that it cannot make an impact on us. My challenge to us all is, we have this Book and it's primarily a book about Jesus, and when you read this Book, it makes you different and it makes you better and it makes you the person you really want to be. I pray that for all of us today, amen.