I will never forget my fourth grade teacher. He taught in a way that increased my love for reading and made me and each of my classmates feel uniquely special to him. My appreciation for him has grown over the years as I have come to better understand the unique difficulties of teaching. I think just about everyone can relate to knowing the impact a good teacher can have on his or her students. Teachers, whether in the classroom, the church, or informally in life, can open our minds to things that no one else can.
Every January, my youth pastor asks all the junior and senior high schoolers in our church to choose “target words” to focus throughout the year – love, discipline, humility, etc. This time I chose “disciple” as a concept to explore and mature in this year. Thinking about discipleship over the past five months has taught me not only about myself as a disciple, but Christ as teacher. He said, “You are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers… Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah” (Matthew 23:8-10). That statement is amazing – indeed, the great part of the Christian life, whether you are a child in the faith or the apostle Paul, is simply sitting at Jesus’ feet saying, “teach me.”
Elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30 KJV). Jesus is a gentle teacher. He knows our weaknesses, and the ways even our good intentions can get messed up. He forgives, and forgives again, and forgives again. He never stops saying, “Come to me and I will give you rest.” His nail-pierced hands are always stretched out to welcome and embrace the sinners who come to him.
He is gentle, but uncompromising. He says “my burden is light”; he also says “take up your cross and follow me” (Luke 14:33). That’s like a holocaust victim saying “walk into your gas chamber.” He says, “be free” (John 8:36); he also says “be a slave” (Mark 10:43-44). He promises “life to the full” (John 10:10), along with daily death (Luke 9:23). If we are to be his students – his disciples – we must open the textbook, examine the coursework, and understand his methods.
He turns our whole paradigm for life on its head. He, the author of the Torah, did not go to people who cared about the Torah. He went to people like prostitutes and lepers, people without a shred of hope in regard to morality or keeping commandments, people overwhelmed in every way by the evil of humans, in both other people and themselves. He taught that the most precious thing in life, the only significant reality worth living for, is something you cannot see. It involves a way of life that will cost you pain and rejection, even from the people you love the most. He said that our hatred of sin ought to be so great that we consider physical maiming preferable to a single glance that offends God. He said to be unafraid of terrorists and murderers, but terrified by the anger of God against sin; and he said the same God whose anger burns so fiercely against sin feels such great love for forgiven sinners, and identifies himself with them so closely, that he calls them his children and asks them to call him their father. He preached Judgment Day, and he preached love, forgiveness, and mercy.
He is like no other teacher who has ever lived, and yet he is more than a teacher. Many have claimed to be teachers; a few have claimed to be saviors; none have claimed to be God. He is all three. He came to “give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), because all of us, like prostitutes and lepers, have absolutely no hope in regard to morality and keeping commandments. We need his lessons; even more desperately, we need his salvation.
I know his salvation, therefore I say, “Lord, teach me” (see 2 Corinthians 4:13-14). He answers – through his Word, through my experiences, through his people, even through my failures, as amazing as that is – and I praise him for that.
Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes;
and I will keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways.
Confirm to your servant your promise,
that you may be feared.
Turn away the reproach that I dread,
for your rules are good.
Behold, I long for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life! Psalm 119:33-40