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The Life of Jesus: His Teaching

March 16, 2014

Sermon:  The Life of Jesus:  His Teaching

Text:  Mark 1:14-15, 21-22; 4:1-2a, 33-34


We continue today with our sermon series The Life of Jesus.  Our Scripture reading comes from various passages in the book of Mark.

I will begin with Mark 1:14-15.


14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.


Mark 4:1-2, 33-34:

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables…

33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.

Today we will focus on the teachings of Jesus.

Consider for a moment all the teachers you have had, including those from elementary school all the way through higher education.  Did one or two teachers stand out above the rest?  Several teachers were really important to me.  One, Harold Prosser, is a member of this congregation.  He taught me in elementary school; and he was my Scout Master, my basketball coach, and my football coach.  Believe it or not, he still comes to hear me preach.  Another great teacher in the congregation – Jackie Satterfield – was my preschool choir leader.  She really does not like me to tease her like that.

Have you ever been a teacher?  The book of James says, “Let not many of you become teachers” (James 3:1).  Teaching is a difficult task that requires more than preparation and knowledge of the subject; it also requires an awareness of the most difficult aspect of teaching – engaging students, keeping them interested in the subject.

Some of you have heard me talk about my eighth grade English teacher named Mrs. Estelle Lampley.  She was a real battleaxe who was as tough as nails.  Mrs. Lampley was determined to teach me to speak and write the English language without all of my lumberyard errors.  She worked and worked and worked.  I can tell you that when I left her class I was so relieved.  I thought, I don’t care what teacher I have in the future.  I have already had the toughest with Mrs. Lampley!  I must admit that she was a good teacher who had high expectations.

I will never forget the day when I reported to my eleventh grade English class and saw that Mrs. Lampley had been promoted.  She would now be my eleventh grade English teacher.  I thought, I learned everything she had to teach me back in the eighth grade!  Not so.  She had an entirely different curriculum my junior year.  Mrs. Lampley taught me how to read good literature and how to read critically.  She taught me how to take a novel apart, how to consider the background of the author, how to analyze the text of the novel itself.  She was a fabulous teacher who really helped me learn how to read – not just the words but also the meaning of the words.

I preached a sermon one Wednesday night called “The Punctuation of the Gospel” in which I talked about all that Mrs. Lampley had taught me in English.  One person attending the service that night, Bill Cantrell, sent her a cassette tape of that message, including the part where I called her a battle-axe.  From the nursing home where she lived in Pennsylvania, she sent me the most beautiful letter about how much she appreciated my mentioning her.  She wrote, “I know I was hard, and it is so gratifying to hear that a student actually learned something in my class.”

If you look at the life of Jesus, especially during his earthly ministry, you will see that teaching was the integrating role.  He certainly worked miracles and healed many people, but his primary preaching technique was really a series of teachings.  Consider the Sermon on the Mount, which was delivered while he was seated.  This itinerate rabbi from Galilee had a small band of followers in the beginning of his ministry, but the numbers grew as time passed.  Consider for a moment his audience:   believers, non-believers, those with ulterior motives, and those who simply wanted to be like him.  In addition to those devoted disciples, he had those standing on the sidelines that were up to no good.  Those people wished him harm and wanted to entrap him.  Jesus wanted his teachings to be engaging for all people, so he used of parables.

Why would a rabbi choose stories as a method of teaching?  Part of the rabbinical art is engaging people.  An audience leans forward, trying to catch the meaning.  Everybody loves a good story.  They are easy to remember.  Think about some of the ancient storytellers such as Aesop.  All I have to say is “the hare and the tortoise,” and you immediately know the moral of that story:  slow and steady wins the race.  Stories give us a way to remember a moral, a lesson on appropriate behavior.

Uncle Creech lived in Barnwell County in a rough heart pine house that was never painted.  He was somehow kin to me though I have not exactly figured out the relationship.  When your great-grandmother dies and your great-grandfather marries another woman, then your great-grandfather dies and that substitute great-grandmother marries another man, what relationship is he to you?  Uncle Creech had actually married my step-great-grandmother.  I never knew this man by anything but Uncle Creech.  He often sat on his front porch, telling stories.

One day one of his nephews said, “Uncle Creech, tell us a story.”

He answered, “I’ll be glad to, but would you kindly get me some water first?”

The boy trotted off to the deep-water well, lowered the bucket, poured some into a gourd dipper, and carried it back to the porch.  Creech drank the water and said, “Thank you.  Now, why did you bring the gourd?”

The nephew answered, “I had to carry the water in something.”

Uncle Creech said, “I tell stories because  I want you to learn something.  A story is like that gourd; it carries an important message.”

Using parables to make a point is like shooting a shotgun in that everybody is hit the same way.  People might not take the hits all the same though.  Certainly that was common with the stories of Jesus.  When we hear “A certain man had two sons…” we call to mind immediately the tale of the prodigal son.  We can find ourselves somewhere in the context of that story.  The words “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves,” immediately signal the story of the Good Samaritan, in which one man does an act of kindness to another man. We can also find ourselves somewhere in the context of that story.

Jewish people listening to that parable, however, would have never identified with the Samaritan.  Jews hated Samaritans.  The Jew in that story is actually the fellow in the ditch.  Jesus was essentially teaching his Jewish audience, “Look, you must be a neighbor to the point that you allow someone like a Samaritan to treat you like a neighbor.  You must actually let that person be a neighbor to you.”

My grandfather also told many stories, including one about a fellow coming into the lumberyard and buying a few items.  After that customer left, my grandfather told my dad, “You cannot do business with that man.”

Surprised, my father asked, “Why?”

“He has sued every lumberyard in this town.  He’ll sue you if you do business with him.”

My dad fussed, “If I tell him I’m not going to do business with him, he’ll sue me for that.”

My grandfather answered, “You let me handle it.”

The next time the fellow came in, my grandfather said, “You know fellow, I had a dream about you last night.”

“What did you dream?”

“Oh, you don’t want me to tell you.  It was a terrible dream.”  Without another word, my grandfather turned around and walked into the warehouse.

Late that afternoon the man returned and said, “Mr. Neely, I don’t think I can sleep tonight if you don’t tell me the dream you had last night.”

“No, I’m not going to tell you what I dreamed.  Do your best with your sleep tonight.  I’m not going to tell you.”

At seven o’clock the next morning the man was waiting for my grandfather on the steps at the lumberyard.  He pleaded, “Mr. Neely, you have to tell me what you dreamed.”

“No, I’m not going to tell you.  It was just a dream, nothing real.  You don’t want to know.  It is not good, not flattering at all.”

My grandfather strung this fellow out for about a week, refusing to tell him the content of the dream.

The man returned to the lumberyard on a day that the showroom was crowded.  He said, “Mr. Neely, I cannot sleep at night.  I am worried to death.  Please tell me what you dreamed about me!”

My grandfather asked, “Are you sure you want to know?”

“I am sure!”

“Did you folks around here hear this man tell me that he wants to hear my dream?”

“Oh, yes!”

“Now, remember that this was just a dream.  I dreamed you went to Greenwald’s (a fine men’s clothing store here in Spartanburg) and bought a brand new suit and pair of shoes.  As you walked down the street, a little boy standing on the corner with bare feet, dirty clothes, and a runny nose held out his hand and asked you for a dime.  You leaned over and spit in his hand.”

The man flushed red, turned around, and stomped out of the lumberyard.

My dad remarked, “He’ll never be back.”

My grandfather asked, “You cannot sue a man for a dream, can you?”

You cannot sue a man for a dream, and you cannot sue a man for a parable.

Those people trying to trap Jesus could not bring charges against him for telling a story.  Telling stories was like shooting a shotgun.  He let them hit where they would.  They hit everyone then, and they still do.  Stories are a wonderful way to state the truth.

One of my favorite books when I was growing up was the Tales of Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris.  I am not even sure the public library carries that book now; it is not politically correct.  That collection of stories offers a fantastic way to understand important truths about life.

What was the curriculum Jesus used?   What lessons was he trying to teach?

Some people say a red-letter Bible is where Jesus speaks in red.  Some people say a red-letter Bible is one that ought to be read.  If you analyze all the teachings of Jesus, you will find that he really emphasized twelve topics. Here I am using the calculations of others. I have double checked, and I believe them to be accurate.

Twelve Topics                                                                                                Number of Verses

Marriage and divorce                                                                                                  16
Money, Financial Resources (A Topic of Discomfort for Many)                43
Salvation, Eternal Life                                                                                                 46
Prayer Life of Jesus and Disciples                                                                           48
Response of Christians and Disciples to Persecution for
            “righteousness’ sake”                                                                                      54
Eternal Judgment                                                                                                         61
Predictions about His Life and the Life of Disciples                                       67
Hypocrisy (Deceit, Guile, Deception, Underhandedness)                           73
Second Coming, End of Time                                                                                    79
Jesus’ Mission and Identity (Son of David, Son of Man,
Son of the Living God, the Messiah)                                                                     129

The number one subject that Jesus placed the most emphasis on with 159 verses was the kingdom of God.  You see that emphasis here in Mark 1:14:  “Repent.  The kingdom of God is at hand.”  Jesus was not talking about the “sweet by-and-by.”  He was not talking about the kingdom of God after death in heaven.  He was talking about the kingdom of God – here and now.  “The kingdom of God is among you,” he said.  He taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Jesus was very concerned that we understand that God is sovereign, that God is in charge.  We still need to hear and learn that lesson:  “Repent.  The kingdom of God is at hand.”

One of the most impressive sermons I have ever heard was “The First Word of the Gospel” by Dr. J. Edwin Orr.  He said that the first word of the gospel is repentance.  We are to turn around, turn away from the sin that has drawn us off the path.  We are to get back on track and move toward our Creator, God.

The number one topic on my list is not one you will find written in red letters in your Bible.  The number one lesson Jesus taught was that we are to have a servant’s heart.  That heart comes from love.  He did not teach that lesson so much by parables, although the parable of the prodigal is a good example.  He did not teach it so much by giving pithy proverbial sayings.  He taught it the way good teachers always teach:  by example.  He washed the disciples’ feet to show them what servanthood looked like.  He touched people who were untouchable and embraced a leper before healing the man.  Jesus responded to people with a servant’s heart and with an attitude of love.

Jesus’ last great teaching act on this earth, going to the cross, demonstrated that we must have love that is self-giving, love that knows no boundaries or limits, love that is unconditionally accepting, love that is amazing grace.  Though Jesus taught by parables, to be sure, he taught us how to love through example.

Do you know the love of Jesus?  Have you accepted his love?  He did not die on the cross as a random act of kindness.  The Scriptures are very specific that he died on the cross for you, for me, for all of us, for the entire world.  We start learning from him the moment we decide to become followers, disciples.  When we say, “This is the love that is missing in my life” or “This is the love that I need” and we accept that love and repent, we feel the cleansing power that only Christ can give – the forgiveness of the Lord Jesus.

If you have not experienced that power, I want to invite you to accept Christ Jesus today.  Maybe your walk with Christ has grown stale.  We have tried to give you the opportunity to renew your faith through these forty days of prayer during the season of Lent.  We invite all of you to know Christ Jesus and his love.  You respond.

Kirk H. Neely
© March 2014

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