He Sent them forth to Preach
John A. Flynn, Belfast
The New Testament includes records of the public ministry of God-sent teachers and preachers. A close-up study of the preaching of the Lord Jesus Christ the apostle Peter, the evangelist Philip and the apostle Paul is very revealing and instructive. It is with the greatest precision that the Holy Spirit of God has recorded the history of the propagation of the gospel in the early years of the church's ministry. While the main emphasis would apparently be on the importance and scope of the matter preached, the methods of presenting the gospel message teach us guiding lessons for today. The preaching was God-inspired, and the methods were Spirit-directed.
There are at least twelve words in the Greek language used to set forth the task of "communicating the unchanging gospel to a changing world", and a study of the actual words used is in itself a spiritual lesson. The twelve words are complementary, and, while conveying slightly different shades of meaning, they are nevertheless meaningful and relevant in their application to preaching and witnessing, No doubt the preacher mentioned in Ecclesiastes would be one of our oldest and best guides, "moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs. The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth", Eccles. 12. 9-10.
We are indebted to Luke for his descriptive words explaining the real character of the oral ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, Luke 4 is full of accounts of the greatest Preacher's activities. Commencing from His return from His baptism in the river Jordan and being full of the Holy Ghost He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The Lord Jesus Christ "answered" the devil's threefold temptation by His victorious application of Old Testament Scriptures by which He confounded the tempter.
Returning to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, the Lord Jesus "taught" in their synagogues—the places where the Jews assembled to read and recite the Old Testament Scriptures. The towns of Nazareth, where He was brought up, and Capernaum seem to be the main centres where He "taught" with power and authority. Reference is made to the public ministry of the Lord Jesus in verses 15, 31 and 32 and the word "taught" is didasko, meaning to give instruction or to impart knowledge. We notice that the apostles Peter and Paul engaged in a "teaching" ministry, Acts 4. 2; 28. 31. Also in the church "teaching" was one of the gifts, and one of the requirements of an elder is that he should be "apt to teach", Eph. 4. 11 ; I Tim. 3. 2,
Luke in chapter 2 gives a graphic picture of the "Son" who was found by His mother and Joseph in the temple at Jerusalem. There was astonishment among the doctors because of His listening (hearing) and asking questions, His understanding and answers, Luke 2. 47. There was silence when He answered the accusers, Luke 20. 26. There was a feeling of superior authority in the heart of Pilate when Jesus gave him "no answer", John 19. 9;—the word here is apokrisis, which means "separation or distinction", the regular usage of answering which implies the ability to separate and distinguish between. In all this, the character of the Teacher is seen as the "Son" in the temple, one day to emerge as a "teacher come from God" to give to the people of Judah divine instruction.
Various methods were used by the Lord Jesus Christ to communicate divine truth, and these did not in any way detract from the force of the content of the teaching. These methods included Old Testament quotations, historical events, object lessons, natural phenomena, parables, miracles and direct pronouncements. These were all used by the Lord Jesus in His teaching and preaching, and He convincingly applied them to each situation. When He cleansed the temple, He made reference to Psalm 69 and to His death and resurrection. When speaking to Nicodemus as the "teacher come from God", He illustrated His lessons from nature and history by referring to "the wind" and "Moses". A different illustration was used to convey divine truth to the woman from Samaria who had gone to the well to draw water—she heard of a spring from which she could receive a drink which would cause her never to thirst again.
The Gospel narratives are full of the records of the teaching and preaching of the Lord Jesus when He used natural objects to communicate God's message to His hearers. Flowers, lilies, grass, the vine, the olive-tree, fig-tree, corn of wheat, bread, sheep-fold and many others are among the objects used by the Lord to attract the eye, captivate the ear for attention, arrest the conscience, convince the head, instruct the heart and save the soul.
The use of parables, mostly connected with some aspect of Jewish life, were used by the Lord, and each was full of a clear and convincing application. The principles of the teaching in the parables ever remain true today, as they would teach divine lessons. No doubt, present-day teachers and preachers could use up-to-date parables drawn from experiences of everyday life as a profitable means of conveying the message from God.
Most of the miracles performed by the Lord Jesus were used by Him as opportunities for teaching some spiritual truth, and it is instructive to note that many physical miracles resulted in spiritual blessing, as is seen in His words "thy sins are forgiven thee" and "thy faith hath saved thee". All this is instructive today, as physical and natural circumstances can be used to teach and to captivate the attention of those who are dull of hearing spiritual lessons.
From our observations of the method of Christ's teaching and preaching, there are many lessons which can be learned. But the manner in which the teaching and preaching is carried out is vital to the listener, for often a good lesson or message is destroyed because of the manner in which it is given. Often the Lord Jesus gave a direct and clear denunciation to the scribes and Pharisees, as He felt that such was the only language that these men knew! The use of "blind leaders", "that old fox", "vipers" and "whited sepulchres" was warranted, and used by the Lord in any suitable situation.