Just A Good Moral Teacher?
One thing that a lot of people say about Jesus, even those who are not Christian, is that he was a good moral teacher. The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates offered, “how we ought to live”, as a working definition of ‘moral‘. As I said, people often say, even those who would claim to be following Jesus, say that Jesus was simply a good moral teacher – and that’s all he was. Today we seek to discover if Jesus was a good moral teacher? If he was, did Jesus teach and does it reflect a good way to live? Finally, we will look briefly at if he was more than just a good moral teacher – as some claim!
Jesus’ moral code, revolving as it would have done around the part of the Bible we call the Old Testament, can be seen in “do to others, what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Some people refer to this as the “Golden Rule“. However, Jesus, as ever goes further than anybody else and says that it is not only the outward actions of a person that makes them morally good, it is also the internal attitude behind it. Jesus was acknowledged as a great teacher often during his lifetime. One example is Nicodemus in John 3.
Let’s have a brief reading of some of his moral teaching.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain;
and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.
Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,
for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Those words are from what is generally called the “The Sermon on the Mount”. Jesus also said “Love your neighbour as yourself”. “Love your enemies, not just your friends” That is a world-turning morality! He forgave people their sin, but also told people not to continue in their sin – such as the woman caught in adultery and dragged before Him in by the teachers of the law, to whom Jesus said “neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:1-11. Jesus not only taught great morality, but he lived his morality! That is part of his uniqueness and set him apart from others!
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, people today hold it as a paragon of virtuous teaching and regard Jesus as a great teacher. Although, this is the best-known teaching of Jesus, it is also the least understood, and certainly the least obeyed. Whilst some may see The Sermon on the Mount as a call to peaceful demonstration against provocation, this was never Jesus intention regarding this teaching. It is as somebody once said “a picture of God’s alternative society… containing the standards, the values and priorities of God’s Kingdom”. It was this that Jesus spoke in the Sermon, not as a general guideline for people to wallow in comfort and boundless joy. Jesus was a good moral teacher, certainly at least to his followers, but was he more than this?
CS Lewis once wrote “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a good moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic-on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg-or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great moral teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Jesus Christ of Nazareth, was certainly more than a good moral teacher! As Christians we believe that His purpose for coming was to rescue this world from the mess it is in! That is why God became human in Jesus Christ. Our next study looks at Jesus being fully human and that will be followed by Jesus being fully God – and why it is so!