Lessons From the Master Teacher

September 24, 1995

Teachers deserve special honor because they help shape the next generation. By their words and by their deeds, teachers mold the leaders of tomorrow. Henry Brooks Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity. He can never tell where his influence stops.”

This week I tried to name all of my homeroom teachers from my growing-up years, starting with kindergarten and going through the 12th grade. I remembered Mrs. Devaney and Mrs. Coleman, Mrs. Harris, Mrs. Scruggs, Miss Ruby Hester, Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Witt, Mrs. Witt again, Mrs. Henderson, Mrs. Alexander, Mrs. Graves, Coach Wayne Ray and Mr. Hisham Durdunji. I cannot remember my 11th grade homeroom teacher. I am grateful to whoever it was! In large measure what my teachers taught me is long forgotten; I will never forget the kind of people they were.

Teachers never forget either. Back about a month and a half ago, I was in my home state of Alabama doing a book signing at a Christian bookstore not far from the town where I was raised. My mother told me that my third grade teacher, Miss Ruby Hester, was going to come to the book signing. That amazed me because I had not seen her in 33 years. When I was in the third grade she was 95 years old, which would make her 180 or something like that now. When I saw her, I realized she must have been about my age, which is saying something about me now. “Miss Hester, what was I like in class?” I asked. She immediately replied, “Oh, you were a good student, but you liked to talk a lot.” She would remember that!

Teachers shape values and mold character. They also impart truth. Just by the sheer number of hours that teachers spend with students, they are in a place of enormous importance. It is true that teachers become like parents to the children they teach, especially in the lower grades. Sometimes they reinforce, sometimes they correct, sometimes they replace what the parents teach at home. Therefore teachers bear a solemn responsibility. That is why only the best and the brightest should ever enter the classroom. So much is at stake—not just the future of our children, but the future itself.

It may interest you to know that Jesus was a teacher. We don’t often think of him that way. Other words come quickly to mind—Lord, Savior, Master, and Redeemer. But a quick reading of the gospels reveals an amazing fact. Jesus was called Rabbi (which means “teacher”) more often than any other title. Of the 90 times Jesus was addressed directly in the gospels, 60 times he was called Teacher. This was the word the multitudes used. This was how the disciples referred to him. Jesus himself used the term when he said, “You call me Teacher, and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am.” When Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, he said, “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God” (John 3:2).

History has echoed the truth of that verdict. These are the words of Scottish philosopher and theologian James Stuart: “The teaching of Jesus has had a power and an effect with which the influence of no other teacher can even for a moment be compared.” When Jesus had finished giving the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew tells us the crowds were so amazed at his teaching because, “He taught as one having authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:29). The rabbis quoted each other and other authorities, but Jesus spoke the true and authoritative words of God.

In his book The Christian Teacher, Clarence Benson begins his final chapter with these provocative words: “No one can make a careful study of the gospel without coming to the realization that our Lord Jesus Christ was the master teacher, and the master of all teaching.” So as we come to the gospel record, it is important to remember that Jesus is more than just a religious leader or a gifted teacher. He claimed to be the Son of God. Therefore we approach the sacred record with humility.

I want to briefly share with you four lessons from the Master Teacher. What do we learn when we study Jesus, the greatest teacher of all time?

I. The teacher must have appropriate qualifications.

In our day and age this usually means attending college, gaining a degree, and earning a certificate from the appropriate state agency. For Jesus it meant growing up in an orthodox Jewish home and learning that part of the Bible we call the Old Testament. He began his formal education at the age of six in the local synagogue. It was there he learned to read, write, and do simple math. During the later years he would have studied the law of Moses intensely. The episode in Jerusalem in Luke 2 where he confounded and amazed the doctors of the law seems to indicate to us that Jesus did his homework and learned his lessons well. Modern scholars tell us that Jesus spoke at least three languages fluently—Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. He knew the history of Israel, the written law and the oral tradition.

The Jews love to teach using the question and answer method. That is why many years later when the Pharisees came to him and tried to trip him up with trick questions, he always had an answer and would turn it right back on them. He had learned how to handle trick questions like that as a young boy back in Nazareth.

We may summarize the qualifications of Jesus this way:

1) He was the living embodiment of truth. That is to say, he was 100% what he taught.

2) He taught with authority.

3) He knew the Scriptures.

4) He understood human nature.

5) He had a big vision that encompassed the entire world.

Jesus Christ was and is qualified to be called the Master Teacher. In our day and age we focus sometimes almost exclusively on degrees and educational attainment. That is obviously essential and absolutely important. But a study of the gospel record teaches us that the truest and most important qualification for a teacher is the qualification of the heart—the call, the purpose, the passion and the commitment to truth.

II. Good teaching has a definite purpose in view.

We all know that objectives are important. Aspiring teachers take many classes in which they are taught over and over that when you walk into the classroom, you must know what you are trying to accomplish. Have an aim, have a goal, have an objective. Know where you are going and how you are going to get there. Why? Because the teacher who aims at nothing will not be disappointed.

With Jesus teaching always had a practical purpose. Again and again he asked his disciples, “Do you understand what I am saying?” He appealed to all three areas of the human personality—the mind, the emotions and the will.

If you study the gospel record and ask what Jesus was trying to accomplish as a teacher, the list of answers would look something like this:

1) He sought to lead his disciples into the knowledge of God.

2) He challenged his hearers to believe the truth.

3) He appealed to them to make the right choices.

4) He called them to the highest moral standards.

5) He sought racial and ethnic reconciliation.

6) He taught his disciples the Golden Rule as the basic principle of human relationships.

7) He called for total self sacrifice for those in need.

8) He reached out to the lowly, the despised, the hurting and overlooked.

9) He challenged the self righteous and proud.

10) He vigorously condemned religious hypocrisy.

11) He repeatedly called his closest followers to commit themselves to him.

12) Before he left, he prepared his followers for his departure. That, ultimately, is the test of every teacher.

Have you prepared your students for the day when they will no longer be in your classroom? Jesus did that for his followers. He found them, he called them, he taught them, he showed them, he sent them, he equipped them and then he left them.

Before we leave this subject, let us not forget the ultimate act of teaching by example. Jesus gave his life for those he loved. While he was dying, he even forgave his murderers. All that is to say with Jesus nothing happened by chance. Here was the ultimate man of purpose and the ultimate life of purpose. Everything he did fit into a larger plan. Nothing happened by coincidence. He did what he came to do because he had a clear purpose in view. Nothing was wasted, every word counted, every moment mattered.

III. Teaching always engages all of life.

This is a statement about methodology. Educators today speak about life-long learning. The mission statements of District 97 and District 200 state that we are trying to take our students and turn them into life-long learners. That is exactly right. The best teachers understand that teaching is not confined just to the classroom. It is not just what goes on during a sixty-minute period. The best teachers use a variety of methods, engage all the senses, understand that class is always in session. They never stop teaching. It is here that Jesus shines as the Master Teacher.

Consider his methods. He used the lecture method. He spoke often to large crowds. However, he spent his premium time with that small group of men called his disciples. Some of his best teaching was face-to-face in one-on-one encounters. He taught in parables, he told stories, he used miracles to teach spiritual truth and he used questions to create teachable moments. Not only that, Jesus taught with his eyes. The Bible says that he saw Simon and Andrew before he called them. He initiated conversation. He said to the woman at the well, “Give me a drink,” and from that teachable moment came a complete change in that woman’s life. He invited others into a personal relationship with him. “Follow me,” he said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” He called people by name. “You are Simon, son of John.”

He used common objects to teach profound truth. Here are some of the things he used: a lost coin, a lost sheep, a lost son, a woman kneading dough, corn growing in the field, a farmer sowing seed, men investing their money, hired hands working in the fields, birds in the trees, running water, fresh bread, light shining from the hill and salt cast on the street.

As with all the Jewish rabbis, he loved to ask questions. By the way, if you are looking for an interesting Bible study, let me challenge you to go back to the New Testament and study the questions Jesus asked. The gospels record more than 100 questions by Jesus Christ. Some of them were given to stimulate interest. “Who do men say that I am?” Some clarified issues. “What did Moses command you?” Some emphasized a truth. “What will it profit a man if he gain the whole world and yet lose his own soul?” Some were asked to drive home a truth. “Which of these was a neighbor to the man who fell among thieves?” Some established a relationship. “Who touched me?” Some created conviction. “Have you never read?” Some were used to cause searching self-examination. “Simon, do you love me?”

His style was simple yet profound, deep yet accessible. By his simple stories he revealed God in a way his hearers could understand. No wonder it is said of him, “The common people heard him gladly.” He was, of course, the master storyteller. To this day, some of the greatest short stories in all of literature are the short stories of Jesus Christ: the good Samaritan, the prodigal son, the house built on the sand, the blind leading the blind, the new wine in old wineskins, the mustard seed and the sheep and the goats. Even people unfamiliar with the Bible know these stories.

The amazing thing is he never entered a classroom as we know a classroom. He never had a degree as we understand an educational degree, yet all the world was his classroom. No degreed teacher did anything greater than what Jesus Christ did. He was truly and absolutely the Master Teacher and the greatest teacher of all time.

IV. Teaching ultimately involves moral transformation.

Jesus said, “I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth. Everybody on the side of truth listens to me.” That is a profoundly important statement. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Truth always demands a commitment. Teaching is more than the impartation of information. It is more than simply taking a formula from a page and putting it inside somebody’s head so they can spit it out on their final exam.

Teaching is ultimately the impartation of truth from one life to another life. Marion Lawrence said it well, “Surely a teacher teaches more by what he is than by what he says or does. It is the moral power of the teacher’s own person. It is the broadening influence of the teacher’s whole life. The teacher’s life is the life of his teaching.” That is why when God wants a cold heart warmed, he puts another warm heart next to it.

Jesus said much the same thing in Luke 6:40, “Everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” As the King James says, “When a student has been fully formed, he will become like his master.” That is the frightening aspect of teaching. Whether we like it or not, and whether we admit it or not, when you teach, you are teaching more than information. You are teaching more than what is in the textbook. You are passing along the very principles of life itself. So we ought to ask to all of our educators, what would happen if all your students turned out just like you? Character matters. Morality matters. The teacher’s life matters.

In the end Jesus focused on just 12 key men. The Master Teacher used his ministry as the ultimate classroom of life. He made their training his constant work and the whole Christian movement after 2,000 years can be traced back to that tiny handful of men and to a few others who followed them. What unlikely men they were. Rough, impetuous Peter; proud John; scheming Matthew; Simon the Zealot; dense Philip; doubting Thomas; James and John, the wild and impulsive sons of thunder. These were the Master’s men. He took a small group of undeveloped, basically uneducated men, mostly from the countryside, and grew them into a band of leaders who after his departure changed the course of world history.

Was Jesus a teacher and did he teach well? Consider his final words, his last instructions, his ultimate command as given to us in the King James Version: “Go ye into all the world and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19). His final command was a teaching command. Twice he told them to go and teach others what he had taught them.

How well did it work? Look around you. Two thousand years have passed and we meet today as followers of the Master Teacher. Across the world approximately two billion people bear his name. Christianity has spread from Jerusalem to every corner of the world. At this very moment multiplied thousands of missionaries are doing what Jesus said to do: teaching all nations. Therefore I say to you, if the success of the students is the measure of the teacher, then no teacher was ever so successful as the one and only Master Teacher, Jesus Christ. He was the Master Teacher because he perfectly embodied the truth he taught. He perfectly understood his students. He used perfect methods to convey a perfect message.

One final question regarding Jesus the Master Teacher. Are you one of his students? Has the Master Teacher ever changed your life? Have you ever enrolled in his classroom? He is still alive today. Last night there was a nationally broadcast radio debate from the Moody Memorial Church in downtown Chicago on the subject “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?” The debate was between a liberal Catholic theologian and an evangelical scholar. Conservative commentator William F. Buckley, Jr. moderated the debate. The issue of the debate was this question: Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Evangelical scholar William Lane Craig finished his final summation with words like these: “You have heard all the evidence. You have heard the pros and the cons. You have heard the arguments on both sides. I urge everyone to consider the claims of Jesus Christ. If he really did rise from the dead, then he really is the Son of God. If he is the Son of God, then everything he said is true. Because Jesus is alive, he can change your life today.”

I close my comments with that electrifying thought. The Master Teacher is alive today. Not just in our hearts, not just in our memories, not just as a figment of our imagination. The Master Teacher, Jesus Christ, is actually and truly alive from the dead. He is more than a model. He is the one and only Son of God from heaven. I urge you to consider Jesus as more than a teacher and as more than even the Master Teacher.

Has he ever become your Savior? Have you ever given your heart to him? Have you ever trusted in Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for the complete forgiveness of all your sins? If you aren’t sure, do it now. Open your heart to Jesus Christ and he will come in. Give your heart to Jesus Christ. Become a student of the Master Teacher. It is one decision you will never regret. God bless you and thanks so much to all the teachers and educators. We love you and thank God for you. Amen.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?