If Jesus took a seminary class on how to teach and preach, he would have received high marks in use of illustrations and stories, but when it came to closure or conclusions, he would have faced a bit of a problem.
He also tended to leave out details (like what happened to the older brother in the story of the prodigal son).
But none of this was without purpose. And perhaps Jesus exposes our tendency to want everything to “wrap up” nicely as a well-packaged presentation.
Jesus never hesitated to challenge deeply held assumptions and traditions of the establishment. He didn’t seem troubled if his hearers were shocked, angered or even confused by his words. I think there were numbers of times that his own disciples cringed at ways he exposed the hypocrisy of religious leaders (see: Matthew 15:1-14).
Three significant emphases stand out in the teaching of Jesus.
1. Reality vs. hypocrisy
Jesus relentlessly cut through the smoke and mirrors to expose the sham of religious hypocrisy. He insisted on complete honesty and exposed the motives of deceived hearts.
Human tendencies toward hypocrisy are forcefully confronted in the teaching of Jesus. Jesus exposed man-pleasers and con-artists. Following him (truly following) demands that we keep it real and honest. Jesus stepped into the religious scene and said, “The shows over because God knows your hearts.”
One example of this is found in what Jesus said to the highly esteemed religious leaders: “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight” (Luke 16:15).
2. Reality as earth and heaven
Do you live in reality? Do you like to keep it real? Is reality only the world of the five senses? Or, is there an unseen reality that matters enough to affect the way we live in this world?
Jesus relentlessly insisted on connections between earth and heaven; between time and eternity; creation and God; finite and infinite; seen and unseen.
Jesus repeatedly moved from the seen, known and familiar to teach lessons about the unseen, spiritual and eternal. Yet this was no pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by! He had no interest in high-sounding religious platitudes about an imaginary ethereal world of wonder. Reality itself, according to Jesus, was more than the physical world. To live in reality, one must make connections between this life and the unseen world; between time and eternity.
Jesus used many common things to teach spiritual and eternal truths (salt, light, wind, bread, vine and branches, flowers, trees, seed, birth, gates, coins, treasure, pearls, nets, cups, dishes, tombs, fox, birds, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs, serpents, fish, gnats and camels, a hen and her chicks, etc…).
Ignoring or rejecting this connection is a sure way to avoid reality.
When you do life with earth disconnected from heaven, you live in a truncated, illusionary state of self-deception that will be exposed for what it is when you die. Not if you die, but when you die. This is reality.
So the teaching of Jesus insists on deep connections between the horizontal and the vertical. Let’s make the connections (See also: II Corinthians 4:16-18).
3. Reality as scandalous reversals
The cultural setting of Jesus’ ministry was deeply divided by ethnic and religious prejudice. In John 4:9, for example, we learn that, “Jews do not associate with Samaritans.”
Social lines were drawn between those considered acceptable and the sinners. But Jesus boldly confronted these divisions by telling stories and parables that consistently honored the “wrong” people.
In his stories, the Samaritan keeps God’s commands by loving his neighbor not the priest; the tax collector is justified before God rather than a Pharisee; the sinful woman worships Jesus and is forgiven; tax collectors and prostitutes enter the kingdom before the religious leaders; Gentiles demonstrate faith in Jehovah, etc…?
These stories were shockingly offensive to the dominant religious system of the Pharisees. They were scandalous reversals of the prejudices and prideful posturing of those who considered themselves righteous and looked down on others.
God’s kingdom is disruptive to the expectations of human pride — the reversal of what is expected. In his kingdom, power is found in weakness, the poor are rich, the least are great and the great are least, the first are last and the last are first, the humble are exalted and inherit the kingdom of heaven, etc…
We must ask for eyes to see. If we allow prideful prejudices and prevailing expectations to shape our worldview, we won’t discern God’s kingdom and work in this world.
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