Last week some of our students returned from yet another week at Forest Home. All three of our groups (HS, JH and 5/6) have now gone and returned from a week of getting away into the mountains to spend time with God and each other, and to dig a little deeper into those relationships. All three weeks were spectacular on different levels.
During our first camp week of the summer, our High School students were taught by the camp’s director, each night exploring the theme of Jesus as our teacher. The different talks addressed topics discussing what it means to follow, learn from, get to know and emulate Jesus as teacher. It was a great week and students really took a lot away from the theme.
As I pondered some of the issues with which our students wrestled at camp, I realized that seeing Jesus as our teacher and submitting ourselves to his teaching is something each us could stand to incorporate more fully into our faith. Many in pop-culture see Jesus as a “great teacher and nothing more.” We may not consciously proclaim such a worldview, but our lives may be oriented in ways that reflect such a sentiment. Too often, we follow the pattern of our culture and pick and choose the teachings we like and to which we will ultimately adhere.
Like the world, we may say: We love his teachings about grace; or we love his work on forgiveness (at least when we want others to forgive us); or we respect his teachings about the poor (in theory, perhaps, but in practice we’re just not convinced); or maybe even the times were different back then, being a servant doesn’t work in today’s capitalist system where the first are always first and the last shall be last.
The problem is, if Jesus is lord as well as teacher we aren’t really allowed to pick and choose. We follow him and must deal with all of his teachings, whether or not they fit within our thinking.
In the gospels, when Jesus is portrayed as a teacher there seems to be three responses to him and his teachings. First, some folks marvel at his teaching (Luke 4:15; Luke 4:22). Often times this is the stuff we like, it makes sense and is quite palatable. Second, some folks hear what he has to say and leave sad (Luke 18:18-23). This tends to be in response to the teachings we don’t really like or we struggle with because they call us to something a little uncomfortable or beyond what we thought we signed up for. Lastly, some folks get mad (Matthew 12:38, 22:15-22, 23-33). Often these scenarios involve the Pharisees or Sadducees or teachers of the Law who have come to Jesus with their preconceived notions of who Jesus is, and they try to trap him with difficult questions, only to be frustrated and silenced.
See, the Pharisees and their cronies had an idea of who God was and who the Messiah was supposed to be, and when Jesus did not fit into that mold and that image, they resisted and plotted his death. We may not think we resist in the same ways, but too often, like them, we come to God not to learn from him and sit under him as our teacher, but rather project on to God and Jesus our expectations of what he must really be saying, and read into the text support for our already determined opinions.
One night of camp, the students were powerfully presented with God’s love for us as it related to us being image-bearers of God. We were created to bear he image, not the other way around. And they were challenged to try to approach God as he is, to learn from him and then to bear his image to the world around us. Many were struck by this truth.
The hard part is denying our tendency to be like the Pharisees. Eugene Peterson asks,
Will we let God be as he is, majestic and holy, vast and wondrous, or will we always be trying to whittle him down to the size of our small minds, insist on confining him (or his teachings) within the boundaries we are comfortable with, refuse to think of him other than in images that are convenient to our lifestyle?
Thus, I invite you to join the High School students in attempting to approach Jesus as our teacher, as he is, and sit under he teaching, learning from him, getting to know him and ultimately learning to emulate him. This may mean shouting for joy as we dine on the teachings about his amazing grace; this may mean wrestling and struggling with Scriptures that stretch our worldviews and that we don’t quite understand, resisting the temptation to merely write them off with the thought, It can’t possibly mean that!?!; it will definitely mean letting God be as he is, majestic and holy, vast and wondrous, and the image we bear and seek to learn to bear a little better each day.
The teacher has come. Class is in session.