In our previous analysis of the Gospel Commission, we noted how we often stop with decisions for Jesus when He wants so much more. In focusing on teaching, we noted that a good teacher adds to the efficiency of the discipling process. Now we must consider the material to be taught.
Jesus instructed His disciples to teach all the things He had taught. While we don’t have space here to include all that (see Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), I encourage you to consider the things that are unique regarding the teachings of Jesus.
He used multiple tools: direct didactic instruction, parables, figures of speech, miracles and His own example. When His disciples pleaded, “Lord, teach us to pray,” He gave them the Lord’s Prayer in an informative response. When the disciples of John the Baptist questioned, “Are you the one who is to come or do we look for another?” Jesus simply invited them to follow Him around for a day. When the rich young ruler wanted information on inheriting eternal life, Jesus referred him to the commandments, and then added, “Sell your goods and give to the poor…” And perhaps nothing is more remarkable than Jesus’ teaching to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus deals with the ethical realities of His own heavenly kingdom. As the Messiah, He immediately turns the ecclesiological and political landscape upside down. He was expected to speak against murder, adultery, lying, stealing and other such practical realities. Instead He expanded the definition of sin by adding prohibitions of lust, anger, theft by subterfuge and more. And both before and after His resurrection, Jesus taught the incredible worth and depth of the Original Testament: “These are they which testify of me” (John 5:39).
What I would like to emphasize, however, is Jesus’ use of the parable as an ageless, transforming vehicle of truth. Far too often we try to put more into the parable than is truly there. Each parable is designed to teach one lesson. The Sower tells the importance of planting where there is likely to be a harvest. It is not really about the soils, although some corollaries may be made. The Rich Man and Lazarus is not about the state of the dead. The real lesson is spelled out clearly: If they don’t believe Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe if one were to come back from the dead.
The Wedding Garment is all about grace. The Great Banquet tells us the kingdom of God is for any who will come, not just those who think they belong on the guest list and then make excuses for not showing up. In all the kingdom parables Jesus is expecting His hearers to think beyond the boundaries of human devisings, be they social, political, geographic, economic, ethnic, gender, etc. No one is excluded from the kingdom of heaven based on anything other than a faith response to grace. And from the totality of what Jesus taught, the faith response is indeed reflected in what one does with his/her faith. Remember Matthew 25: “Inasmuch as you have done it [or not] to the least of these…you have done it [or not] to me.”
It does not take long for us to realize that “teaching them to observe all things” extends far beyond the baptismal vow. I know many good people, but none would go so far as to say they have arrived with the expectations of the kingdom. It comes back to grace and power to help in time of need. Jesus said, “come to me all of you…and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).
If we would be disciplers and disciples ourselves, we must find our wellspring in Jesus only.