"The Character of the Teacher"
(Delivered Sunday, May 23, 2004 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture is taken from the New King James Version, unles.)
As we continue our study of the Gospel of Matthew this morning, we enter into a new section of the Gospel. We will be looking at a passage that is certainly very important in and of itself, because it's the passage that describes the actual beginning of the public ministry of Jesus. But it is also the preface of a lengthy, much-loved and very important portion of Matthew's Gospel - the portion in chapters five through seven that we know as the Sermon on the Mount.
The spotlight, of course, is on the teaching ministry of our Savior as He walked on this earth; and this introductory section sets the tone for it, in that it reveals much to us about the Teacher Himself. Please follow along with me as I read it to you.
Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:
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I believe we can never hear enough about Jesus; nor can we ever be taught enough by Him. He is the most blessed and wonderful Teacher that we could ever learn from; because time spent "sitting at His feet" as it were, and learn from Him - and of Him - brings refreshment and healing and life to the soul. He Himself described the impact of His own teaching ministry in this way: "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29). That's the kind of Teacher He presents Himself to be. To be invited to sit under His instruction is the most loving and merciful invitation we could ever be given. And if I may say so, I suggest that if a man or a woman is living life in a state of chronic distress, and is incessantly filled with fears and frets; if a man or a woman simply cannot find rest for his or her soul, it's most likely because he or she has not make it a habit of life to regularly take Jesus' yoke upon themselves and learn from Him. Everyone who does truly finds rest for their souls.
In this morning's passage, before the actual "teaching" ministry of our Savior begins to be described to us, we're given a brief summary of the actions and events that proceeded that ministry. It comes immediately after our Savior proved the integrity of His character by being tempted for forty days in the wilderness by the devil, and immediately before the greatest sermon ever preached in all of human history.
What we're told in this passage sets the tone for what comes after it. In other words, before we come to the great "teaching" portion of Matthew's Gospel, we're first prepared for the teaching by being introduced to the Teacher Himself.
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Let me recommend a helpful way to think of this passage. Over the years, I have learned an important principle of public speaking. Whenever any public speaker speaks somewhere, the speech doesn't begin at the point of stepping up to the podium or up to the microphone. The speech begins long before then. It actually begins the moment the speaker walks into the room.
Everyone who anticipates a talk will be looking at the speaker; and will be watching how he carries himself before speaking. He is communicating something of his integrity and competency as a speaker to the audience by a multitude of things - whether or not he arrives on time, whether or not he has a smile on his face and greets people warmly, the confidence with which he walks, how courteously he behaves toward others, how he is dressed, how he sits, how respectful and attentive he is to other speakers, and how organized and prepared he presents himself to be. All these "non-verbal" things pave the way for the speaker before he steps up to speak. A good and experienced speaker knows that much of a successful speech gets done long before he even opens his mouth! He knows that if he doesn't "speak well" before he speaks, then much of what he has to say later on from the microphone won't be heard.
Well, we are about to hear from Jesus - without question the greatest Teacher that has ever spoken on this earth. And we are about to hear Him give the greatest sermon ever preached in the ears of man. What do we see of Him before He speaks? What sort of character, and manner, and love for people does He display before He begins to teach? That, I believe, is what this wonderful passage is about to show us. In it, the character of this wonderful, life-giving Teacher is displayed for us before He even begins to speak.
I am convinced that, if we will allow ourselves to study this great Teacher before He teaches, we will be even more inclined and eager to sit under His teaching!
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What do we see about Him? First, please notice that this great Teacher is . . .
1. GRACIOUS TO THE UNWORTHY (vv. 12-16).
We see this in the first five verses. We're told, "Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Napthali" (vv. 12-13).
The last time we heard of John the Baptist, it was when he had baptized the Savior (3:13-15). But by this point in the story, much had occurred that Matthew doesn't mention; and John had apparently been arrested. And it was after hearing of John's arrest that Jesus departed from Judea and from the region of the Jordan, and travelled north to Galilee.
(As an aside, some scholars suggest that Jesus departed in order to flee and avoid arrest Himself. Personally, I have a hard time imagining that the same Jesus who would boldly cast money changers and dove-sellers out of the temple, and who would boldly respond to the challenges of the Jewish leaders by saying, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:13-22), could have been motivated by any fear of arrest. I believe He went to Galilee because that's where His Father was calling Him to minister.)
You need to appreciate the significance of the fact that our Lord went to Galilee. Galilee was a vast place that was very populated. But it was also a somewhat despised place, because it had originally been inhabited by a mixed race of people from Canaan (Judges 1:30-33), and it never seemed to be able to live its 'second-rate' image down. Solomon once wanted to give a gift to Hiram, King of Tyre; so he didn't feel it was much of a loss to his kingdom to give away twenty cities in the land of Galilee. And what's interesting is that Hiram didn't appreciate the gift. He sent word back to Solomon, saying, "What kind of cities are these which you have given me, my brother?" - calling them "Cabul", that is, "Good for Nothing" (1 Kings 9:10-13). And even in Jesus' day, Galilee was inhabited by a mixture of Jews and Gentiles. In fact, it was referred to as "Galilee of the Gentiles". It was easy to tell that someone was from Galilee, because they had an accent that was distinct from the rest of the Jewish people (Matthew 26:69-73; Luke 22:59); and even after Jesus' time, people from Galilee where considered to be backwards and viewed somewhat like uneducated "hicks" (Acts 2:7).
Jesus was originally from Galilee - from Nazareth. And for Him to move back to Galilee was to step down. Remember how Nathanael responded when he first heard about Jesus? He scoffed, saying, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46).
What's more, Jesus was even rejected in Nazareth. The Bible tells us that He came to His own hometown and preached in the synagogue after He had been tempted in the wilderness. They marveled at the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth; but then, He began to shock them by saying,
Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the regions of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4:24-27).
And on hearing that, everyone in the synagogue in Nazareth was filled with wrath, rose up, thrust Him out of the city, led Him up to the top of a cliff, and prepared to throw Him off! But He simply passed through the midst of them and went His way (Luke 4:28-30).
That's why we read, in our passage this morning, that He left Nazareth. Literally, the idea is that He left Nazareth behind and forsook it. In fact, He stepped even further down and made His home in Caperneum - which is by the Sea of Galilee; bordering the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. He moved to a fishing town - making His home in a place that was a lot like the"Cannery Row" of its day.
And this is how we are shown the character of our Teacher - one who is gracious to the unworthy and despised people of this world. Matthew tells us that this all happened that an Old Testament prophecy of God's gracious mercy to the poor, broken and needy would be fulfilled.
You see; the prophet Isaiah spoke of God's judgment on the people of the northern kingdom of Israel - that they would be captured by the king of Assyria and drug away as captives (2 Kings 15:27-30). It was going to be a time of "trouble and darkness, gloom and anguish; and they will be driven into darkness" (Isa. 8:22).
But then, Isaiah says,
Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed,
Do you know what the name "Caperneum" means? It means "City of Naham", that is, "City of Consolation". And truly, consolation did come! It was to this most despised land - a land living in gloom and darkness - that the Light of life condescended to come and shine upon them; to come and live among them, and to perform miracles and teach the message of the Good News of the kingdom of heaven.
And isn't this the way our great Teacher works? Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said,
For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God - and righteousness and sanctification and redemption - that, as it is written, "He who glories, let him glory in the LORD" (1 Cor. 1:26-31).
Jesus - our wonderful Savior - is very gracious to the unworthy and despised of this world. Those whom the world turns its nose up to are the very ones He loves and blesses. Don't you want to hear a Teacher like this?
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Second, we see that He is . . .
2. BOLD IN HIS PREACHING (v. 17).
In verse twelve, we're told that John had been thrown into prison. Do you remember why that happened? It was because John had confronted and rebuked Herod Antipas, the tetrarch, because of his sin.
Herod, the son of Herod the Great, was ruler over the region of Galilee. He was a married man; but he coveted a woman named Herodias. She herself was married to Philip - who was Herod's own half-brother, and her own uncle. But even though they were forbidden to each other by the law of God and the natural bounds of marriage, Herod nevertheless put away his own wife and married Herodias - even though Philip was still living.
We sometimes hear of such moral outrages happening in the Hollywood social world, or even among those high-up in political or social power; and we roll our eyes and shake our heads, and that's all we do. But not John. He dared to confront the ruler Herod; and said, "It is not lawful for you to have her" (Matthew 14:4). This is absolutely in keeping with the character and preaching of John, whose message is recorded for us in Matthew 3:2; "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" Eventually, Herodias had John's head cut off because of his uncompromising call for repentance.
"Repent!" Sin hates that message; and it truly is a dangerous message to preach in a world such as ours. But John preached it fearlessly. And when John went to prison, do you see what Jesus began to do? He took up the same message as John had been preaching. "From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'" (v. 17). Jesus even preached it in Galilee; where Herod ruled - the very Herod before whom our Savior would one day stand and be examined before being crucified (Luke 23:6-12). But there was no holding back in fear. The same bold message was preached by our Savior as had been preached by John.
In my opinion, there are few people more out-of-sorts with themselves than a preacher who is afraid to speak the truth of God's word when it needs to be spoken. It's hard to see what good such a man is. He will not only fail to do his duty at the most critical moment, but he'll also say whatever he thinks needs to be said in order to be liked. Such a preacher lacks integrity before God and before man. You can't trust a cowardly preacher.
And again, this underscores for us the character of our great Teacher Jesus. The One whose teaching we are about to receive in this Gospel, and whose great sermon we are about to hear, has proven Himself in the heat of battle to be a Teacher of great moral courage - a Teacher who was bold in His presentation of the truth when the truth was dangerous to speak - a Teacher you and I can trust. It's true that He was gentle and compassionate to those living in darkness and in the shadow of death; and how thankful we should be that He is! But He was also faithful to speak the truth when it needed to be spoken, and to call men and women to respond to that truth as they should; and we should be thankful for that as well.
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A third thing that I love about our Teacher is that He proves to be . . .
3. MEEK IN CHOOSING HELPERS (v. 18-22).
You would naturally expect that the greatest of all Teachers would select from among men the most brilliant philosophers and communicators to be His students and teaching assistants. You would think that such a Teacher would draw potential disciples from the finest colleges or universities, or from top corporations or positions of leadership. Perhaps today, we would think that He should have them all compete for this top position through His own reality TV show - titled something like, "The Twelve", or "Who Wants to Be An Apostle". But then, how many of us would be able to relate to such intellectual or theological giants? Instead, Jesus, the Master Teacher, selects - of all things - fishermen to be His disciples.
We read, first, that as Jesus was walking along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two fishermen brothers - Simon (who He nick-named Peter), and Andrew - both working hard together, throwing their net into the sea. Apparently, they already knew Jesus. The Bible tells us that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist; and when John pointed Jesus out as the "Lamb of God", Andrew followed Jesus. Then, later on, Andrew found his brother Peter and brought him to Jesus too (John 1:35-42). Jesus even once went to Peter's house and healed his mother-in-law of a sickness (Luke 4:38-39). All Jesus had to say to them was, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men"; and they immediately left their nets and followed Him.
Later on, Jesus saw to other fishermen brothers, James and John - both sons of a man named Zebedee - working away at mending their nets. And apparently, they also must have known Jesus before this time; because Luke tells us that they were business partners with Peter and Andrew (Luke 5:10). And they must have been successful fishermen, because theirs had been a family business - so successful a family business, in fact, that Mark tells us that their father had hired servants who helped in the work (Mark 1:20). But when Jesus called them, we're told that, "immediately, they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. Jesus, I believe, was compassionate toward Zebedee too; He made sure that the old man had hired helpers before He took his sons away.
Notice a couple of things about how Jesus called these to His work. First, notice that Jesus' call came unexpectedly. They were fishermen; and were doing the work that they did every day. They had gotten to know Jesus, and He had already begun to reveal the truth about Himself to them; but they just kept on doing what they always did. They weren't anticipating anything different. And then, suddenly, Jesus came and called them - "Follow Me . . ." And away they went. They did not hesitate at all; but left everything - livelihood and family ties - and followed in obedience to His call. I should warn you: once we begin to study the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew and He introduces you more and more to the truth about Himself, it may be that He will suddenly and unexpectedly intrude into your daily life, call you from your accustomed work, and say, "Follow Me . . ." If He calls, don't delay. Follow Him!
Second, notice that when Jesus called them, He didn't call them to something radically different from what they were already doing. They were fishers - but only fishers of fish! Jesus called them to still be fishers - but now to be fishers of men. And He taught them how to be men-fishers through on-the-job training. Very often, when Jesus calls someone, He calls them to do what, in His providence, they'd already been trained and experienced to do - but He now sanctifies their training and experience and calls them to do that same sort of work for a higher and more eternal end.
And third - and most to the point this morning - notice that He didn't call what the world would consider "experts", or "astute theologians", or "ministry professionals" to be His helpers. That would be the world's way of doing things. Instead, He meekly called the meek to His work, and trained them Himself. These four men became the closest disciples to Jesus - the "inner circle" of His Twelve. Two of them were used by the Holy Spirit to write some of the most profound works of sacred literature known to man. They were fishermen that God used to changed the world.
And this is the Teacher whose teaching we're about to hear. He is marvelously meek in choosing His helpers. This means that there's untold opportunity for even the most meek and humble among us who are called into His service.
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Another thing we discover about this great Teacher is that He is . . .
4. PEOPLE-CENTERED IN HIS METHODS (v. 23).
Matthew goes on to tell us, "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues . . ." Jesus started His ministry by teaching in the place that teaching was expected - that is, in the synagogue. The Greek word for synagogue (sunagőgă) means "a place of gathering". It's related to the word sunagő, which means "to gather together". Jesus taught at the place where the Jewish people naturally gathered together for teaching.
But apparently, Jesus was systematic. He taught in synagogues as He "went about all Galilee". He didn't wait for people to come to Him to be taught by Him. He went out to them. He didn't hold a conference; He worked a circuit.
Matthew also tells us that Jesus was "preaching the gospel of the kingdom". His message was "Good News"; because that's what the Greek word for "the gospel" (euaggelion) means - good tidings of the kingdom! And His method of conveying this message was "preaching". The word used here is kărusső - which means "to proclaim aloud" or "to announce publically" or "to preach". This great Teacher not only taught in the formally gathered assembly, where people came to hear, but also in the public places and in the streets where people would hear while in the midst of other pursuits. He went wherever people were.
Some people say that "preaching" is an outmoded way of reaching people. But I've noticed that those who say this communicate that idea by using the very same message that they say is outmoded! Preaching is a very "human" form of communication. It's the method the Master Teacher used. He was the greatest Preacher to ever preach on earth. It's a method that has His own endorsement. It will never be outmoded - so long as it's His truth that's being preached.
And third, Matthew tells us that Jesus was "healing all kinds of sicknesses and all kinds of disease among the people." He taught and preached in words; because that's how the truth is conveyed. But He didn't just speak in words; but also spoke in actions. He showed the truth of who He was by loving and caring for people.
Jesus was a proven lover of people. He went out of His way to be with people. He went to where people were. Think of it: He even went so far as to leave His heavenly glory to walk on this earth among people as one of them. That's how profoundly "people-oriented" His methods are. He spoke to people personally, taught them, preached to them, and met their needs. He isn't a Teacher who is distant, and "ivory tower", and unreachable. He is a close-up and personal kind of Teacher. How privileged we are to hear from Him!
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This greatest of all teachers is also shown to be . . .
5. MERCIFUL IN HIS SERVICE (v. 24).
Matthew tells us that, as He taught and preached and healed throughout Galilee, "Then His fame went throughout all Syria" (which is a Gentile region); "and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics . . ." As the King of the Jews, He was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; and it was only to the Jewish people that He went. But when the people heard about Him from Syria; and they came to Him, and He mercifully met their needs. This is a picture of things to come - when even the Gentile peoples would receive Him as their Savior.
Look at the kinds of needs that He met. He met all sorts - "physical", in that He healed all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments". He didn't just heal a few of the people, but all of them. No one presented a physical ailment to Him that He was not able to heal. He also met "spiritual" needs. Those were brought to Him who were possessed by demons; and He cast them out. No one was brought to Him who was demon possessed that He didn't send away delivered. He also met "mental" or "psychological" needs. People were brought to Him who were "epileptic" or those "having seizures" (NIV). The King James Version calls them "lunatic". The Greek word itself (selăniazomai) means "to be moonstruck". Jesus healed the insane and sent them home sound of mind. He even met "incurable" needs. Those who were paralytics were healed by Him - brought to Him on stretchers, and sent away carrying their stretchers home.
It's quite a list of human suffering: ". . . various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics . . ." But look at how simply the list ends: "and He healed them."
And the thing that this shows us about our wonderful Teacher is how willing He was to give of Himself and serve the needs of the people that came to Him. No one was turned away. No one went home disappointed. That's the kind of merciful Servant our great Teacher Jesus is. The Bible tells us that, even when He sought to get away from those who were seeking to kill Him, and withdrew to some safer place, "great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all" (Matthew 12:15).
He did not come to be served, "but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). Don't you agree that such a Teacher as this should be heard?
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And finally, we see that He is a teacher who was . . .
6. UNIVERSAL IN HIS APPEAL (v. 25).
Matthew tells us, "Great multitudes followed Him - from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan." He had left the region beyond the Jordan. He had left Jerusalem and Judea. He was rejected by His own hometown in Nazareth. But now, great multitudes from all these regions followed Him.
That, by the way, is the context in which the Sermon on The Mount is given to us. It begins with these words: "And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him, and He opened His mouth and taught them . . ." (Matthew 5:1-2). Everyone came to hear His teaching. Surely this is a Teacher that we should give our fullest attention to.
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Now if you knew you were about to hear the teaching of someone who was going to preach the greatest sermon ever preached on earth, you would certainly have your eyes on Him before He spoke, wouldn't you? And as we look at this Teacher and behold His character, look at what we see . . .
-- A Teacher who is gracious to the unworthy and hopeless;
By God's grace, may we often come to sit often at this great Teacher's feet!
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