The Nature of His Teaching
(Taken from The Life of Jesus Christ by James Stalker)
91. The most prominent of them seems to have been Authority: 'The people were astonished at His doctrine, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.' The first thing which struck His hearers was the contrast between His words and the preaching which they were wont to hear from the scribes in the synagogues. These were the exponents of the deadest and driest system of theology that has ever passed in any age for religion. Instead of expounding the Scriptures, which were in their hands, and would have lent living power to their words, they retailed the opinions of commentators, and were afraid to advance any statement, unless it were backed by the authority of some master. Instead of dwelling on the great themes of justice and mercy, love and God, they tortured the sacred text into a ceremonial manual, and preached on the proper breadth of phylacteries, the proper postures for prayer, the proper length of fasts, the distance which might be walked on the Sabbath, and so forth; for in these things the religion of the time consisted. In order to see anything- in modern times at all like the preaching which then prevailed, we must go back to the Reformation period, when, as the historian of Knox tells us, the harangues delivered by the monks were empty, ridiculous and wretched in the extreme. ' Legendary tales concerning the founder of some religious order, the miracles he performed, his combats with the devil, his watchings, fastings, flagellations; the virtues of holy water, chrism, crossing, and exorcism; the horrors of purgatory, and the numbers released from it by the intercessions of some powerful saint-these, with low jests, table-talk, and fireside scandal, formed the favourite topics of the preachers, and were served up to the people instead of the pure, salutary, and sublime doctrines of the Bible.' Perhaps the contrast which the Scottish people three and a half centuries ago felt between such harangues and the noble words of Wishart and Knox, may convey to our mind as good an idea as can be got of the effect of the preaching of Jesus on His contemporaries. He knew nothing of the authority of masters and schools of interpretation, but spoke as one whose own eyes had gazed on the objects of the eternal world. He needed none to tell Him of God or of man, for He knew both perfectly. He was possessed with the sense of a mission, which drove Him on and imparted earnestness to every word and gesture. He knew Himself sent from God, and the words He spoke to be not His own, but God's. He did not hesitate to tell those who neglected His words that in the judgment they should be condemned by the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba, who had listened to Jonah and Solomon, for they were hearing One greater than any prophet or king of the olden time. He warned them that on their acceptance or rejection of the message He bore would depend their future weal or woe. This was the tone of earnestness, of majesty and authority that smote His hearers with awe.
92. Another quality which the people remarked in Him was Boldness: 'Lo, He speaketh boldly.' This appeared the more wonderful because He was an unlettered man, who had not passed through the schools of Jerusalem, or received the im0primatur of any earthly authority. But this quality came from the same source as His authoritativeness. Timidity usually springs from self-consciousness. The preacher who is afraid of his audience, and respects the persons of the learned and the great, is thinking of himself and of what will be said of his performance. But he who feels himself driven on by a divine mission forgets himself. All audiences are alike to him be they gentle or simple; he is thinking only of the message he has to deliver. Jesus was ever looking the spiritual and eternal realities in the face; the spell of their greatness held Him, and all human distinctions disappeared in their presence; men of every class were only men to Him. He was borne along on the torrent of His mission, and what might happen to Himself could not make Him stop to question or quail. He discovered His boldness chiefly in attacking the abuses and ideals of the time. It would be a complete mistake to think of Him as all mildness and meekness. There is scarcely any element more conspicuous in His words than a strain of fierce indignation. It was an age of shams above almost any that have ever been. They occupied all high places. They paraded themselves in social life, occupied the chairs of learning, and above all debased every part of religion. Hypocrisy had become so universal that it had ceased even to doubt itself. The ideals of the people were utterly mean and mistaken. One can feel throbbing through His words, from first to last, an indignation against all this, which had begun with His earliest observation on Nazareth and ripened with His increasing knowledge of the times. The things which were highly esteemed among men, He broadly asserted, were abomination in the sight of God. There never was in history of speech a polemic so scathing, so annihilating, as His against the figures to which the reverence of the multitude had been paid before His withering words fell on them-the scribe, the Pharisee, the priest and the Levite.
93. A third quality which His hearers remarked was Power; His word was with power." This was the result of that unction of the Holy One without which even the most solemn truths fall on the ear without effect. He was filled with the Spirit without measure. Therefore the truth possessed Him. It burned and swelled in His own bosom and He spoke it forth from heart to heart. He had the Spirit not only in such degree as to fill Himself, but as to be able to impart it to others. It overflowed with His words and seized the souls of His hearers, filling with enthusiasm the mind and the heart.