Sunday, February 18, 2018

#Jesus, Teacher of Wisdom #JesusFollowers


Jesus of Nazareth has forever impressed upon the human race a whole series of truths which Millions regard as normative for life. This fact rates him as one of the world's pre-eminent thinkers. Should he then properly be called a philosopher?

Certainly not in the modern technical sense of the term philosopher common or in the ancient sense of the term as the Greeks understood and used it.

Philosophy is esteemed as the gift of the Greeks to civilization. But there is an important difference between Jesus, and Plato and Aristotle. These latter men, as typical philosophers, were primarily interested in an intellectual understanding of the universe in which we live and of which we are a part. Jesus shared that interest, certainly, but speculation was not his primary concern.

His primary interest was morality and religion, and about these, his thinking was not abstract, but concrete and practical.

In its literal meaning, philosophy means "love of wisdom." Philosophy is not merely the "love of wisdom," it is the best wisdom of the lovers of wisdom. The Jewish people, in New Testament times, had their lovers of wisdom.

They were known variously as wise men, the wise, sages, or teachers of wisdom. They were the educators of their day, men whose special interest lay in knowing and producing the kind of thought which is technically termed Wisdom.

Such sages were usually men of professional scribal training, but a Jew, such as Jesus, might gain a knowledge of the Hebrew language and the Hebrew Scriptures outside of a formal School.

The Jewish sages did not form Schools of thought as the Greeks did. But they were differences among them, especially in regard to the nature of the divine government of the world, and regarding the dignity and possible happiness of human life.

From the Seventh to Second Centuries, BC, there was growing an increasing body of Jewish wisdom teaching. Among these can be classed the Book of job, Ecclesiastes, the Wisdom of Ben Sirach, The Testament of the twelve Patriarchs, the Wisdom of Solomon, and 4th Maccabees.

While the Greek philosopher sought to read the riddle of the universe by the investigation of natural phenomena, the Hebrew philosopher already held in his hand the key of Revelation, and with the help of this, sought a closer understanding of the ways of God and the duty of man.

Jewish Wisdom, therefore, was not a view of the universe distinct from God much less a view of God distinct from the universe it was a view of the universe with God dwelling in it.

Jesus’s thinking likewise was built on the same fundamental Axiom of Jewish thought. No doubt about the existence of God ever crossed his mind. He never argued about or sought to prove the reality of God. He was too much profit to feel the need for any such proof. Nor did he attempt a systematic presentation of the idea of God. Jesus assume the existence of God, not because it was traditional to do so but because of his own inner experience of God.

Like every prophet, Jesus was a man of insight and action. "Not learning, but doing, is the chief thing," was a basic principle of Jewish wisdom teaching. That principle set the motive for Jesus. Life was something to be lived, rather than something about which to speculate or construct a systemic Theory.

Jesus thought and taught Jewish wisdom. The spirit of the wise was in him. To consider Jesus as a teacher has long been commonplace. What kind of teacher he was has not been so clearly pointed out. Jesus is properly to be integrated with the wisdom teachers of Judaism. This interpretation not only does not modernize Jesus, emphatically orients him, historically.

In Galilee, Jesus's Ministry was primarily that of a prophet and a teacher. The most certain fact that we know about Jesus is that he was a teacher. As the Fourth Gospel quite fittingly ascribes to Jesus this self-appraisal: "You call me Teacher, and Master, and rightly so, for such I am." (John 13:13)

His ethical teaching shines through every account of his life. In Mark, he says, "Let us go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because I came out for this reason." (Mark 1:38)

Mark records that Jesus was saluted as a rabbi by his disciples. Mark refers to the long, tasseled, teacher's robe which Jesus wore, on which some in the crowd tried to grab.

This picture of Jesus as a teacher is not one that Mark would have invented. It was not a role that was expected of the Messiah.

Here then, Jesus is understood as a man of Wisdom. He is depicted as an itinerant teacher. He preached in the synagogues, for example in Nazareth, Capernaum, and elsewhere. He addressed people in the villages; not only in synagogues, but on the streets. He taught them in the countryside wherever he met them, by the lake, in the field, or on the hillside.

This method of Jesus is characteristically that of the Wisdom teachers. Jesus pursued his ministry in the manner of friendship and intimate personal relationship. He deliberately chose this method rather than any other for his work, for it was a customary method with Jewish teachers.  

Such itinerant teachers are popularly called philosophers. The whole emphasis of philosophy in the first century was ethical, its aim was the formation and guidance of moral character.  But Jesus did not write down his Wisdom, instead, he embodied the living spirit of his teaching in his life.



(Adapted from "The World-View of Jesus," by Elmer W. K. Mould, 1941)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

#Jesus: A Practical Preacher And Fitting Example #JesusFollowers


Jesus was a preacher of repentance and righteousness. He made known the love of God and declared the mercy of God to a guilty world; but at the same time, he insisted that without repentance there can be no salvation. (Luke 13:3-5.) God sent him to bless mankind; but it was by turning them from their iniquities. (Acts 3:26.)

He declared that a leading object of his mission was to call sinners to repentance. (Mark 2:17.) To deny the efficacy of repentance would be to render the mission of Jesus a nullity.

In his Sermon on the Mount he appears altogether in the character of a practical preacher.

He taught that to do the will of God, and seek to be like Him, is the only way to gain admittance into his kingdom, that the condition of forgiveness is our forgiving others, and that the man who hears his sayings and doeth them builds on a good foundation, that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees or we shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (See Matt. 5, 6 & 7.)

When he upbraided the cities in which most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not, he spoke of their impenitence as the sole cause of their destruction, Chap. 11:20-24.

He taught that men will be accepted or rejected according to the use they make of the talents entrusted to their care; that when brought to judgment, they will be received to glory, or doomed to punishment, according to their works (Chapter 25.) Throughout his ministry he taught men to expect salvation, and every blessing, on the ground of the love, mercy and favor of God, solely on the terms of repentance and obedience to the Gospel.

He accepted those as his nearest relatives who did the will of his heavenly Father. Mark 3:35. When a young man inquired of him what he must do to inherit eternal life, he directed him to keep the commandments of God. chap 10:19. He informed the lawyer who tempted him that if he kept the commandments he should live. (Luke 10:25-28.)

Jesus represented God as accepting penitent sinners, on the ground of his free mercy, just as a compassionate father would his offending child when he saw him turn from his folly. (Luke 15.)

He said to his disciples if you know these things happy are you if you do them: (John 13:17) which implies that happiness can be attained only by obedience. He taught them that they should continue accepted if they continued in his word, and that if they did not they should be rejected. (Chap. 15:1-8.)

The Gospel is undoubtedly a system of divine mercy and grace, but in this system conditions are certainly comprehended. The conditions are repentance, faith, and obedience. Without a compliance with these conditions sinners cannot be saved.

We have redemption in Jesus as we have it in his Gospel: he came and revealed it, he lost his life in making it known, he is appointed by the Father to dispense it, and we enjoy it so far as we conform to his teaching and example, so that we should not henceforth live to ourselves, in the gratification of our evil passions and desires, but to him, in obedience to his Gospel, and in the imitation of his example, especially of that generous love which he manifested in laying down his life for the good of men.

Jesus can be an example to us only so far as he was like us in nature, state and circumstances, or as we are capable of becoming like him. Had he never suffered, he could not have been an example to us in suffering: Had he not died he could not have been an example to us in dying. Had he not perfectly obeyed he could not have been an example of perfect obedience.

But now by his death, his character is perfected, his qualifications are completed, his testimony is finished, his obedience is tried and, found perfect, he received a glorious reward, and we have a suitable and perfect example of every excellency attainable by us.

(By Richard Wright in “The Anti-Satisfactionist, 1805)

Sunday, February 4, 2018

God Has Done Much For Us; And Gives Us Much To Do #JesusFollowers


Jesus has, with the utmost propriety, taught us to pray, “Give us our daily bread.” That God is the giver of our daily bread, we cannot hesitate a moment to admit.

But in vain would the sun shine and the rain descend, if we were not to prepare the ground, sow the seed, and gather in the produce, which would otherwise be scattered and lost.

Everything the hand of the Almighty has bestowed with the utmost liberality and profuseness – light, air, water, fire, minerals, metals – all require the labor and ingenuity of man to be productive of their greatest benefits.

And with respect to ourselves, the preservation of our bodies in health depends in no small degree upon our own care, caution, and prudence.

But in these calls upon the industry, care, and attention of humanity, there is no coercion - no absolute uncontrollable necessity; strong motives are indeed presented, but we may, if we will, counteract them. If we do so, we become culpable, and suffer in consequence.

Nothing can be more evident than that we are to work together with God; and it is equally clear that all this would have no meaning, if we were not endued with liberty of acting.

Let us then inquire whether he be not possessed of freedom as a moral agent. Our moral, as well as our rational faculties, are the gift of our Creator. By our moral faculties, it would be understood to mean our perception of the intrinsic difference between moral good and evil. Being thus given, it is ours for the time we are to exercise it.

Revelation, and particularly the Gospel revelation given to us by Jesus, is that influence under which the moral principle fully unfolds itself, and, like the ripening sun and fructifying showers of heaven, assisting and co-operating with human industry, attention and culture, exhibits it in all its beauty, fragrance and utility.

But as is true in Nature’s system, it is also true in the moral system: in vain may the sun of righteousness arise, in vain may divine instruction and assistance be offered, if we will not accept and improve; in vain may the hand of divine mercy be stretched out, if we will be disobedient. Almighty God has, by the laws He has established, put it out of His own power to save the obstinate and rebellious from the consequences of their misconduct.

As He spoke to Israel, saying, “Say unto them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live-turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die, 0 house of Israel?” (Ezek. 18:31; 33:11)

It was as if He says, “I cannot help you if I would, if you will not help yourselves."

Indeed, the power of humanity to obey or disobey, to accept or refuse, is, like the unity of God, so clearly legible in every page of revelation, that it is so abundantly confirmed by every reasoning and feeling faculty, that to doubt of it would be to doubt of our existence. 

As little also can we doubt of the nature and reality of that influence and assistance which is imparted to us from above. Like the light that visits our eyes, it is present if we will but open them to see. Like the air that surrounds us, it is every moment ready to be inhaled, if we do not willfully obstruct the organs of respiration.

At any moment we please, we may have recourse to God’s word, which He has given us, as a good parent gives his children an estate. At first view, and on its very face, it is a generous gift, an ample patrimony, capable of supplying our most pressing demands, with a small degree of attention.

But we are not to satisfy ourselves with this. We are to dig into it to find the treasure it contains - we are to ascertain, by study and experiment, how it is to be made capable of producing the greatest possible benefit; and, if we are wise, shall hear and compare the different opinions of others before we finally decide upon our plan.

God has made us with such capacities for happiness as suited the plans of his infinite benevolence. A state of inaction on our part does not enter into those plans.

God has done much for us, but He has given us much to do; and if we neglect or refuse to fall in with His intentions, our interest and our happiness suffer in proportion, for His laws are not to be disregarded with impunity.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Ralph Eddowes, 1817)