The Great Teacher
Some people may feel that, if Christ was still present in the world, spiritual conditions would be very much better than they are. They may imagine that he, now exalted to heaven, seems remote from them and their needs – but if they could meet him in a Jerusalem street, for instance, or by the well of Sychar, his teaching would produce far more wonderful effects on their souls than the preaching of mere mortals, sinners like themselves.
But this is not so. God’s ways are best. Let us remember that the overall view which John gives us of the effects of Christ’s teaching among the Jews is: ‘He came unto his own, and his own received him not’ (John 1:11). This was according to the divine purpose; the main work which he came to bring about in the world was to lay the foundation for the salvation of multitudes by working out redemption. He is now ascended, as the God-man Mediator, to the right hand of the Father. It is the place of power; there he works according to his statement to the disciples: ‘All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth’ (Matt. 28:18).
Christ is continually exercising that power in gathering his elect into his kingdom, from all parts of the world. And he is in no way remote from the gatherings of his people; his promise remains true: ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Matt. 18:20). As the Prophet like Moses who was promised to the church, he works effectively, not only in the hearts of his people, but also in the hearts of those in whom a saving work is to be carried out. When Moses died, his work as prophet was over; but when Christ ascended to heaven, it was to carry out, on a vastly greater scale, his work as prophet – to teach sinners throughout the world the will of God for their salvation.
He had shown his wonderful power as the great teacher in dealing with, for instance, the woman of Samaria at the well of Sychar. He led her on, step by step; he showed her her sin and pointed to himself as the source of spiritual blessing. Then, as the conversation advanced, she referred to the Messiah who was to come, and the divine Prophet revealed himself to her with the words: ‘I that speak unto thee am he’ (John 4:26). His words were effective; they reached right into the woman’s soul. She learned what this Prophet intended she should learn – that he is the Messiah – and she trusted in him, for his words were accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit.
At that time, he spoke directly to the soul of a sinner. Now, exalted to heaven, he uses means; he speaks through the written Word of God. He, at the right hand of power, speaks into the hearts of sinners – by the Word and Spirit. This was what happened on the Day of Pentecost. Peter preached, along with the other disciples. Never, while Christ was physically present in this world, was there any suggestion of blessing on this scale; never before were 3000 souls gathered into the kingdom of God at once. Under conviction of sin, this multitude of sinners asked Peter and the other apostles: ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ (Acts 2:37), but they did so because the great Prophet was teaching each of them effectually. And when Peter told them: ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins’, they did repent, because Christ taught them effectually, through the instrumentality of Peter’s words.
Peter and the other disciples had been well prepared for their work as preachers. Jesus had met them on a number of occasions between his resurrection and ascension. On one of these occasions he reminded them of his previous teaching: ‘These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me’ (Luke 24:44). It is striking that even this supreme Teacher should lay such stress on the contents of Scripture (the Old Testament, all that was yet written of the Bible). Likewise, preachers today should be content to use the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the basis of all their teaching.
The Saviour went on to do what no mere man can ever do: He opened the disciples’ understanding, ‘that they might understand the Scriptures’. He had direct access to their souls and, to an extent that he had never done before, he enabled them to absorb his teaching. This was part of the special preparation these disciples were given so that they would be able to go out and speak in Christ’s name, with great authority, to Jew and Gentile. What he especially emphasised to them, on the basis of the Old Testament Scriptures, was his death and resurrection. He told them: ‘Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day’. And on the basis of his death and resurrection, ‘repentance and remission of sins’ were to ‘be preached in his name among all nations’.
Christ’s death and resurrection was to be at the centre of the disciples’ preaching also, as it was to be the main thread, not only of the Gospels, but also of the Epistles – indeed of the whole New Testament – which these men were to write. In today’s preaching likewise, Christ’s death and resurrection must have a conspicuous place. As ministers in every generation go out to proclaim forgiveness of sins and to call sinners to repentance, they must do so on the basis of Christ’s finished work in time. They do not receive teaching from Christ in the same way as the first disciples did. But Christ, as the great Prophet, uses the completed Scriptures to instruct those whom he sends out into the ministry. He applies the truth to them by the Holy Spirit so that they are equipped to preach the whole counsel of God, and particularly the doctrine of salvation through a crucified and risen Saviour. Thus their understandings are enlightened so that they have a proper grasp of those teachings which they, as ambassadors for Christ, are to proclaim to others.
Yet, if these preachers consider only their own powers, they must despair of ever doing good to any sinner, no matter how appropriate the content of their sermons may be or how earnestly they may speak. Their confidence must lie in the One who called them to preach. He is the great Teacher; he is ever able to reach the hearts of the hardest of sinners; he can open their understandings so that they too may comprehend the Scriptures and look to him by faith. And the result is that they are saved with an everlasting salvation.
These saved sinners need further teaching. And Christ as Prophet undertakes to provide that teaching. Their growth in knowledge comes through the Word, especially as proclaimed in public worship – when that Word is applied by the Holy Spirit. Thus they should look to him who has all power in heaven and earth, to bring the truth to bear effectively on their minds and hearts so that they may profit from all the means of grace, whether in private or in public.
In particular, we should desire that Christ, through the Spirit, would be present in our churches to bless the reading, and especially the preaching, of the Word of God. We should pray that the great Prophet would so use the truth that sinners would be awakened to a sense of their sins, having it powerfully imprinted on their minds. And we should ask that the great Prophet would then make the call of the gospel – in, for instance, these words:’Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matt. 11:28) – effective in drawing sinners to himself.
Christ does not need to be in this world to work such wonders of grace as the conversion of sinners; he is doing so from his throne in glory. Over the centuries he has effectually taught multitudes of sinners, so that they have acknowledged him as Prophet, Priest and King. Nor need he return to this world to work such wonders of grace on a large scale. On the throne of glory he has all power. And he will yet exercise that power so that ‘the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea’ (Isa. 11:9).
Kenneth D. Macleod is pastor of the Free Presbyterian Church in Leverburgh on the Isle of Harris. He is the editor of The Free Presbyterian Magazine, from the April 2011 issue of which the above editorial has been taken with permission.
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