CHRIST THE TEACHER - 2009, Matt. 5: 13-20, John 6: 25-40

Christ’s teachings are the basis upon which the Christian Church is founded: and our own lives of faith are established.
 
The Lord did not speak against the Old Testament: but built much of his teaching: upon the solid foundation of the best of what it offered.
 
He quoted from 24 of the 39 books of Jewish scripture: and spoke of their historical importance, and unchanging nature.
 
He said that he had not come to do away with the Law, as given through Moses, or the 18 books of the prophets: but would confirm their teaching, in his own life and ministries.
 
One statement that he made then; that has puzzled Christians ever since: was that heaven and earth would pass away, before even the smallest part of the declared 'Word' of God would be changed. (Matt. 5:18).   We will look at that, in a while.
 
Many of the Jewish leaders refused to accept him, for who he said that he was: and tried to undermine his authority. In public, they asked: ‘How did this man get so much learning, without having studied?’. (John 7:15).
 
Privately, they must have asked themselves: ‘Why have we never caught him out: though we have often tried to do so?
 
Although Jesus knew the 'Letter of the Law'; and expressed the ‘Spirit’ of it, in clear and accurate ways; the Jewish leaders still tried to catch him out.
 
Perhaps they wanted to do so, because Jesus had the disturbing ability to catch them out: and to show how they failed to match up to the requirements that they taught; and claimed to live by.
 
The Pharisees were determined men. If they could not discredit Christ’s teachings; then what about discrediting him? So, they asked for his credentials: probably in a sneering tone of voice.
 
Jesus said: ‘My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me'. That his ministry was both challenging, and effective, is shown by the reaction of the people who flocked to hear him.
 
As Matthew 7:28 says: ‘The crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority’.
 
They recognized the validity of what he taught: and many lives were changed by it.
 
Nevertheless, together with the Scribes: the Pharisees still tried to fault him. On each recorded occasion, the Lord manifested another disturbing quality: that of speaking a last word that left them wrong-footed, and speechless.
 
The answer to what puzzled the early Christians; and some of us, today: is quite simple: but it does not jump out of the New Testament pages. Instead: it needs to be searched for, and it requires some prayerful consideration, when found. 
 
The Scribes and Pharisees could not fault Jesus when he quoted texts accurately, without a change of emphasis: so long as he didn’t alter the ‘letter’ of the law... and nor can we.
 
They had to be content that his occasional change, of well-known meanings: was a matter of allowable interpretation, as was common amongst rabbis…and so must we.
 
What really upset those leaders: was the Lord’s ability to actually change the ‘letter’ of the law, and yet appear not to have done so… and that is what puzzles Christians today.
 
Sometimes he would say: ‘You have heard it said (whatever it was) but I say to you’, and he would so change the words as to give them a different-from-usual meaning, or application.
 
When his critics tried to prove that he had made an unlawful change, to an unchangeable text; Jesus would add a last word: that showed that he was right.
 
 ‘An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth', is part of the Old Testament law (Exodus 21:24). We might not like such a concept of retaliation and retribution, but it is a part of what Christ said was the unchangeable word of God.
 
When Jesus quoted that 'eye-for-an-eye' text (Matt 5:38) although he did not alter the actual Old Testament words, he did add a powerful, new understanding of their application: which radically changed their meaning; for ever.
 
He said: ‘But I say to you ... ‘, and he went on to give an attitude-changing teaching, about not having a sense of grievance, and of not wanting to retaliate.
 
For some people; when making an honest search for biblical truths: Christ's apparent alteration of the meaning of a text; creates this sort of problem.
 
If the 'eye-for-an-eye' teaching: at Exodus 21:24. is part of the Law, which, as Christ said, cannot be altered …
 
... and if his 'eye-for-an-eye' teaching was, as he said, not his own word, but that of God the Father speaking through him; again in words that cannot be altered; then what do we do?
 
We cannot obey both directives: for the one appears to cancel out the other. Can it be said that both teachings are right; each in its own day: and that the Old Testament teaching; became superseded, by that of the New Testament?
 
I do not believe so. Instead: Jesus changed the application of the teachings; not so much by altering the actual words of the Law ... but more by giving them a very different emphasis.
 
He shifted the emphasis from the 'flesh’, to the 'Spirit’: from the 'Letter of the Law', to the 'Spirit' of it. Having done that, he trusts us to follow the lead that he has given.
 
Christ’s teachings touch on just a few aspects of Old Testament Law, codes of practice, and similar matters.
 
Therefore, today’s Christians, in search of the truth: will come across situations, events and biblical texts, about which the Lord made no recorded statement.
 
For example, he appears to have said nothing about the moral and spiritual implications of Israel's own system of slavery: or about the Jewish nation being forced into a form of slavery, to the demands of the Roman Empire.
 
In many matters: he seems to have trusted his followers to do their own interpreting: and to decide how best to apply what they discover.
 
Slavery had been common for centuries, and even the enlightened St. Paul, told slaves who had become converted to Christianity, to obey their earthly masters, every bit as much as they would obey Christ himself. (Ephesians 6.5).
 
It took Christians a very long time: but, eventually, they came to the place where their interpretation of God’s mercy, love and grace in Christ, forced them to abolish slavery.
 
Christ the Teacher did not give his followers a textbook to be adhered to: but a way of life to be discovered, and lived out.
 
Where Old and New Testament teachings appear to be in opposition: it is seldom a case of the one superseding the other, and mostly, simply a matter of changed attitudes…
 
…changes that lead to more gracious and loving applications of the laws in question, or to not resorting to the Law at all.
 
Much of the Old Testament, with its 613 commandments: is about establishing and defending  'rights' of various kinds.
 
The ancient Jews were a rugged, independent-minded people: living a nomadic life, and needing rugged laws to begin to knock them into shape.
 
As they became a settled people, with developing concepts of nationhood and stability: they needed changed laws to meet their changed situation.
 
However, as Jesus said: whenever God tried to update the laws, by giving a new 'word' through the prophets: the Jews killed them; and carried on as before.
 
When Christ came among them, and began to interpret the time-hallowed, earlier teachings, in a much-needed 'new light’, the religious leaders reacted very badly.
 
They probably felt justified in doing so: because the Scribes; who claimed to preserve the integrity of the law; and the Pharisees; who claimed to interpret it correctly: had become fundamentalists and literalists.
 
They took the view that, if you knew the ‘letter' of the law, then the literal meaning of it, was yours also.
 
Because they saw themselves as defenders of the 'Letter of the Law’: it was no wonder that they rejected Christ’s teachings.
 
Jesus taught the people; that God the Father expected them to go far beyond the mere ‘Letter’ of the law; in search of the deeper, spiritual truths, he had made available to them.
 
In doing so: their lives would then begin to demonstrate something of the divine qualities of mercy, love and grace.
 
From such changed understanding: whenever a text could be interpreted in two ways: then the call of the indwelling Spirit of God; must always prevail over any demands the flesh.
 
The historical Christ may not have said anything at all about some matters that concern us today; but he did promise that the indwelling Holy Spirit would teach us all needful things: and enable us to interpret situations and events, and to apply mercy, love and grace to them, wherever possible.
 
In many situations, there are two or more ways to do things: and the Christ-like way, must always be our first choice.
 
Some matters are so straightforward, as not to require any interpretation: and we simply get on with things.
 
But, where matters are not so easy: we can prayerfully consider how Christ the Teacher might have interpreted them, in the long ago…and take our lead from him.
 
‘You have heard it saidbut I say to you…’ is a well known text, to be referred to: but, it always risks becoming fixed in history; instead of being a lively truth, that is still passed on.
 
Down through many centuries: Christ’s teaching has been passed on; and his: ‘But I say to you’ word, has reached us, and has blessed us in many ways.
 
A truth that is fully learned: can be, just as fully, passed on. But vast numbers of Christians do not see teaching as forming any part of their responsibilities.
 
Instead: they rely on Sunday school staff, to teach the basics of faith, to their children: on the minister to teach from the pulpit; on missionaries to teach, beyond the church walls...
 
…and on Christian magazines and books, to fill the gaps.
 
However: one of the simplest and best ways to teach, and, therefore, to pass on what Christ offers: is not acquired through colleges and book learning.
 
Instead: out of joy and thanksgiving, for all that Christ has done for us: to say to others…
 
’this is what the Lord has done in our lives: and, if you allow him to; he will do the same for you’.    Amen.