(6.) Teaching Methods of Jesus: Intellect

(6.) Teaching Methods of Jesus: Intellect

(6.) Teaching Methods of Jesus: Intellect. 

Sharpen the Intellect. Jesus was a rigorous thinker, He was a spiritual intellectual. He was able to outthink the scholars and professional theologians of the day.  And He earnestly sought to renew the minds of His followers, of everyone who listened to Him. In Jewish homes, the parents were the first teachers, and they had the responsibiliy  to develop in each child the tools of acquiring knowledge… reasoning, remembering, reading, discussing. Any further efforts to strengthen those tools were built on the foundation laid in the home. So when Jesus continued in His teaching ministry, He wanted to sharpen what was already present in elementary form in His audience. He taught a wide variety of listeners, young and old, immature and mature, knowledgeable and relatively uneducated. He wasn’t offering the people information so much as renewal and transformation. He kept attempting to help His audience reach understanding at a deeper level, to draw their own conclusions, to gain insight into the ways of God and His Kingdom. Jesus aimed to redeem their ability to reason effectively as He stimulated their thinking. There were a number of ways Jesus sought to sharpen the intellect of His followers as well as those on the fringes who were curious but skeptical. Jesus was the type of thinker who made those around Him better thinkers.

GOOD  QUESTIONS. According to the Gospels, Jesus was a master of asking a good question. He was adept at the spontaneous Q and A wherever He went. He would inquire in a way that would reach the heart of a matter. Sometimes the question would stump the listener, sometimes it was probing for a particular purpose, sometimes it was rhetorical. Jesus wasn’t above asking leading questions, or even questions that didn’t have a ready answer (Luke 20:7). Most times His questions led to a good conversation. Good questions challenge the listener to think more deliberately and join in the interaction. Jesus would ask questions that would eventually lead to the truth. “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29); “What does it profit a man if he gains the world but loses his soul?” (Matt. 16:26); “How much more will He clothe you?” (Luke 12:28); “Whose picture is this?” (Matt. 22:20); “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” (Matt. 7:9); “Peter, do you love me?” (three times in succession, John 21); “How can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods unless he first binds the strong man?” (Matt. 12:29). Jesus loved to ask the sort of question that would open the door to wisdom, forcing the listener to think for himself, to strengthen the listener’s mind and make it agile. Every teacher needs to learn how to ask good questions, strengthening the student’s intellect and his ability to reason.

DISCOURSE. Jesus would sometimes teach a lesson in more of a short lecture form. He had something particular in His mind, and He wanted to convey that truth in a simple didactic way. He taught regularly in the synagogue, but we aren’t privy to His style of discourse in that setting. Was it a bare bones exposition of Scripture? Did He engage in discussion, or was it more of a Bible lecture? Sometimes His discourse in the synagogue was centered on a healing miracle that lead to a conversation, and another time His discourse ended in His declaration that He was the fulfillment of Scripture. But we can guess from His discourse in more public settings that He would bring to light biblical misunderstandings. He would lay out truths in a logical pattern, for example the Beatitudes in Matt. 5. He would often unpack a deeper level of knowledge than the audience was accustomed to, stretching the meaning and stretching their minds. He certainly would speak in ways that would be easy to remember, unless it’s a quizzical parable that is  purposely difficult to understand. His famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 was a lengthier discourse that included every method of speech one can think of. His use of irony, metaphor, hyperbole, illustration, questioning, logic, morality lesson, letter of the Law and spirit of the Law, a model prayer, some nature references. something said for the shock effect (7:21-23), and even a short parable story at the end. Jesus intertwined so many parts of speech, styles of discourse, and approaches to the truth that it boggles the mind. His Sermon has been unforgettable ever since. In a teachable moment, Jesus was adept at using object lessons to bring home a point. He would reveal practical examples on the spot that would help the audience remember a concept, such as embracing children to represent humility (Luke 18), or a poor widow to represent true generosity (Luke 21). In His Gospel discourse, it seemed that Jesus used every method in the book that would exercise the intellect, sharpen thinking, and explore the truth.

TEST  THE  MEMORY. Jesus seemed to love to test the memory of His Jewish audience, particularly with regard to their knowledge of Scripture. He would sprinkle references to the Hebrew Bible throughout His teaching, challenging the listener to remember what they’ve been taught, helping the listeners to make connections between various passages. He would quote Torah and challenge the audience to remember what they had heard, either from Him earlier or the synagogue or the Temple. When the rich young ruler approached Jesus in Matt. 19:16, Jesus ended up quoting the Ten Commandments. When the Pharisees asked Him about divorce and marriage in Matt. 19:3, Jesus responded by quoting from the Genesis creation story. When a learned scribe asked Jesus about the greatest commandment, in Mark 12, Jesus quoted the central Jewish prayer in all of Scripture, the  Sh’ma in Deuteronomy 6. And then He topped that off with a quote from Leviticus 19 about loving your neighbor. Jesus was either enlightening the people, or He was refreshing their memory. Numerous times in the Gospel of John, Jesus claimed to be the “I AM.” Every time He dropped that title into a conversation, He was reminding them of Moses and the Burning Bush in Exodus 3:14, when the Great I AM, the I Am what I AM, identified Himself as Yahweh. With His claim to be I AM, Jesus is reminding the people of Yahweh, the Almighty God, and that Jesus is pronouncing Himself to be co-equal to God, the very Son of God. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:7, Jesus reminds the people of the letter of the Law, and then somewhat scandalously tells them the actual spirit of the Law. “You have heard it said… But I tell you” was used often in His famous Sermon to help the people to think about the heart of the matter. Jesus also used repetition to make a point or to help the listener remember something that was important. In fact, Jesus repeated three times the fact that He would be suffer, die, and then rise from the dead (Mark 8:31, 9:31, and 10:33). That scenario was so abhorrent to the disciples that they still couldn’t take it in. Through repetition, Q and A, quoting, and using Scripture as a reference point, Jesus was constantly checking the knowledge and memory of His disciples and the people in His audience. Listeners needed to be sharp, attentive, and on point when engaging with Jesus. The intellect was an important part of the learning process when sitting at the feet of rabbi Jesus.

GUIDED  CONVERSATION. Jesus was quite the conversationalist. He was serious about interacting with others at all different levels. When He was at table with the outcasts, He probably enjoyed the bantering as much as the next person. He engaged in a whole different type of interaction, though, with the religious establishment, much more confrontational. Then again, he would offer an extended discussion with the disciples privately after a difficult parable or lesson. Sometimes He would start the conversation with a question, other times with a healing (Luke 14), other times with a parable, and still other times with a provocative statement (Matt. 15:10). In most cases, Jesus thought it important to think out loud, to provide a model of how to think but also to reveal what was on His mind. Jesus wanted to engage the listeners and encourage them to do some serious thinking. Jesus created the human mind, the greatest wonder of creation, and so He was very intent on renewing each person’s ability to think clearly, to think on one’s feet. No sloppy thinkers. Especially with the religious leaders, He didn’t suffer fools gladly. And in order to go into a truth deeply, He seemed compelled to engage in rigorous discussion, a group conversation, the natural give and take that occurs when people are exploring a life lesson. Jesus was clever in how He drew people into conversation, such as in Matt. 15 with a Gentile woman. He at first played hard to get and didn’t even answer her request to heal her daughter. He responded to her request with total silence, knowing this would only draw her in further in their interaction. Sure enough, she wouldn’t give up, and they ended up having an interesting conversation together, and her daughter was indeed healed. One time, some Pharisees approached Jesus to ask Him about divorce, and Jesus wanted to discuss this topic at a deeper level (Matt. 19). So Jesus raised the important point of God creating us male and female, and the two becoming one flesh in marriage. Their conversation was meaningful, and ended up drawing in the disciples as well. His last guided conversation was at the Last Supper (Luke 22), and it was crucial that they interacted together concerning the meaning of Passover in light of the Passion of Christ. So Jesus was not some solitary guru sitting on a mountaintop somewhere dispensing one-liner wisdom. He went right to the people personally, engaging them in earnest conversation for the sake of the truth. All of Jesus’ disciples became better thinkers after three years of exposure to learning at His feet. And this motley crew ended up changing the world.