Light of the World

Booklet 16

The Faith and Teachings of Jesus

"I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6).

"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).

Dr. Aldridge, an American philosopher, was once asked, "If Jesus and Plato should return to earth for just one hour and were both scheduled to lecture on the same campus at the same time, which one would you go to hear?" Here is his answer: "Who would go to hear even so great a one as Plato talk on truth when he might listen to One who is the Truth?"

The teachings of Christ have moved the world as have those of no other man because He is Himself the embodiment of truth. His words were perfectly illustrated and supported by the life that He lived. The disciple Matthew had opportunity to observe the reaction of the large crowd that gathered to hear Christ's gracious words of power, and he said, "The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law" (Matthew 7:28, 29).

When a delegation of officers was assigned to arrest Christ, they returned empty handed and reported to the priests in Jerusalem, "No one ever spoke the way this man does" (John 7:46). The reason, of course, was that no man ever lived like this man. Jesus taught the truth because He was the truth. He was the Teacher sent from God, and He affirmed that His teachings were not human, but divine, in their origin. To those who questioned His authority, Jesus said:

"My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own" (John 7:16, 17).

Jesus was the missionary chosen by God to reveal in person to the human family the knowledge and character of the heavenly Father. He was the perfect ideal, and He showed in His teaching that this ideal was the standard which human beings should try to attain. He encouraged those whom He taught to believe that humanity might be charged with the divine life and character through the indwelling of God's Spirit. His teachings moved them to seek with all their might for the divine grace that would restore them to a position befitting the sons and daughters of God.

In this booklet, we will see from the Scriptures what Jesus taught on some of life's greatest themes. As a foundation for this booklet, let's turn, first of all, to the New Testament for a statement from the lips of Christ Himself regarding the authority of the Scriptures.

Jesus continually quoted the Old Testament Scriptures as divine authority. The New Testament was not written for many years after His death and resurrection. Speaking of the Old Testament, Jesus said, "These are the Scriptures that testify about me" (John 5:39). After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples on the way to Emmaus and explained to them the events of His life, death, and resurrection in the setting of the Old Testament prophets (see Luke 24:25-27). And to the Jewish leaders he said, "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me" (John 5:46).

"On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. 'Teacher,' he asked, 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?' 'What is written in the Law?' he replied. 'How do you read it?' (Luke 10:25, 26). Jesus continually quoted the Scriptures as the Word of God. What would the Bible-quoting Savior say to the many Bible-doubting Christians of today?

The New Testament, likewise, is a part of the Holy Scriptures. Peter refers to the writings of Paul as "scriptures" (see 2 Peter 3:15, 16). Paul recognized the inspiration of the Bible. The word Bible, from the Greek word, biblia, means "book."

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).

The sixty-six books of the Bible came to us from God through His chosen messengers—the prophets and apostles. It is God's love letter to the world. Both the Bible and the life of Christ reveal the divine character to humanity.

Three historical questions concerning the Bible are answered by Roy F. Cottrell:

1. When were the thirty nine books of the Old Testament confirmed?

"About the end of the first century of our era a council of Jewish scholars met at Jamnia, south of Joppa, in Palestine, and placed their official stamp upon the arrangement of the sacred books (Old Testament canon) that had existed for so many centuries. They made no additions or subtractions, but simply confirmed the position that Jews and Christians alike had held in New Testament times. In this belief nearly all devout Protestants and Jews continue to share unshaken confidence" (The Review and Herald, March 10, 1955, page 6).

2. What books form the canon of the New Testament?

"Throughout the Christian world of today there is no controversy regarding the books that constitute the canon of the New Testament. This was settled by the internal evidence and inspired testimony of the writings themselves; for in the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, as well as in the thirty-nine books of the Old, devout men and women of the early church clearly recognized the voice of God" (The Review and Herald, March 10, 1955, page 7).

3. What is the origin of the chapters and verses of the Bible?

"About the year A.D. 1244, Cardinal Hugo began work on a Latin concordance, and to facilitate the work, he divided the Bible into chapters. Although the division was arbitrary and far from ideal, nearly all future editions and translations have followed his arrangement. Three centuries later, Sir Robert Stephens divided the New Testament into verses, and not long afterwards an entire edition of the Bible appeared with the same chapters and verses as are in use today" (The Review and Herald, March 31, 1955, page 6).

Jesus placed a high value upon every human being. In each one, however fallen, Christ beheld a son or a daughter of God. He saw individuals, not as they were—degraded by sin or afflicted by disease—but as they might become when restored to physical and spiritual soundness and to a right relationship with God. See Booklet 9 for illustrations of this truth.

"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him" (John 3:17).

How could Christ denounce or condemn those who were struggling with sins from which He came to save them? He encouraged all His listeners to persevere in the battle with sin, assuring them that God was on their side and would give them the victory. Christ would have died to save one lost soul. Matthew described his great compassion for men:

"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36).

The human philosophies of Christ's time were inadequate for mankind's spiritual needs. People were tired of the traditions they had been taught to believe. They longed for a saving power from heaven to lift them out of the darkness of sin and selfishness. This Jesus came to impart, and to restore, the knowledge of God to men and women. He set aside the false teachings by which those who claimed to know God had misrepresented Him. His life revealed the beauty of true holiness. As the result of His teaching, faulty men such as James and John, the sons of thunder; Simon Zelotes, the implacable hater of Roman authority; the impetuous, self-willed Peter; doubting Thomas; and the other disciples—not only the twelve, but hundreds of others, both men and women—became transformed in character.

A lady once showed Ruskin a costly handkerchief on which a drop of ink had been spilled. "My handkerchief is ruined!" she said in tears. Ruskin said nothing, but took the handkerchief away with him. Later he returned it to the owner, who was thrilled by the transformation. Using the blot as a basis, Ruskin had skillfully worked around it a beautiful and artistic design, changing what was ruined and worthless into a thing of beauty and value.

Even so, the results of Christ's teachings in the transformed lives of men and women showed that the most worthless human being, changed by His grace, may become a beautiful trophy of the love and power of God.

In all His teachings, Christ's favorite theme was the tender mercy and love of the heavenly Father. To the Pharisees who had accepted the invitation to attend Matthew's feast, at which he was the guest of honor, He said:

" 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matthew 9:13).

But the religious leaders did not understand the meaning of mercy and love, so Christ said, "Go and learn what this means" (Matthew 9:13). The worship of God in spirit and in truth had been replaced by the glorification of priests and rulers who followed an endless round of ceremonies. All this obscured the true glory of God and made Him appear as a tyrant existing on man's level and exacting from him a tribute of toil and tears and sweat and blood and money—the price man had to pay to appease God's wrath.

Christ removed this misconception about God. In His parables and in His general teachings, He described the love and mercy of the heavenly Father. By healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out devils, cleansing lepers, and going about doing good, the Great Teacher removed these false ideas about God. Thus He explained that God was not seeking sacrifice, but the health, security, and happiness of His children.

And today, as in Christ's temple, people have wrong concepts of God. "We . . . get all sorts of wrong ideas about him," wrote Hannah W. Smith. "We think he is an angry Judge who is on the watch for our slightest faults, or a harsh Taskmaster determined to exact from us the uttermost service, or a self absorbed Deity demanding his full measure of honor and glory, or a far off Sovereign concerned only with his own affairs and indifferent to our welfare" (Living in the Sunshine, page 13).

Naturally, with such false conceptions of God, it is easy to be plagued with doubt and fear. Thank God that in the four Gospels we see Jesus revealing to mankind the eternal tenderness and love of the heavenly Father. And that, friend, is enough to make us love him. Like the minister who was asked, "What do you know about God?" we may reply, "Very little, but what I know has changed my entire life."

Many people today say that it doesn't matter what you believe. This is an error of vast dimensions. Faith molds the life, and we act out all the faith we have. Our lives testify to our understanding and appreciation of the truth.

The Jews were great sticklers for forms and ceremonies. They argued continually about the externals of religion (see John 4:20-22). Jesus said nothing to discourage divinely ordained forms of worship, but He opposed all man-made traditions and customs that perverted the teachings of Scripture (see Mark 7:1-16). He taught that true worship was spiritual, personal, and experiential. Upon His return to Galilee after His early ministry in Judea, Jesus said to the woman of Samaria:

"Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23, 24).

In the worship of God, truth must be the guide, and Jesus said:

"Your word is truth" (John 17:17).

It is truth that leads people to God—not error or error mixed with truth. It is important to worship God "in spirit and in truth." Those truths which proceeded from the mind of God will guide His stumbling, erring children back to Him.

"To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn" (Isaiah 8:20).

"There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death" (Proverbs 14:12).

We should have a "thus saith the Lord" for every form of worship that we hold and for every doctrine that we believe. Then, when we worship God, we will be worshiping him "in truth." Not until then can we bring the right "spirit" into our service.

Jesus taught that Christians should obey the laws of the state and respect civil government. The Pharisees and the Herodians approached Christ on this question, thinking that He would discourage such loyalty.

"They came to him and said, . . . 'Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn't we?' But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. 'Why are you trying to trap me?' he asked. 'Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.' They brought the coin, and he asked them, 'Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?' 'Caesar's,' they replied. Then Jesus said to them, 'Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's' And they were amazed at him" (Mark 12:14-17; see also Luke 20:20-26).

Jesus' reply surprised the Jews. He gave a direct answer and did not evade the question. He held in His hand a Roman penny upon which was stamped the image and name of Caesar. He said that because Israel was living under the protection of Rome, the Jews should obey that power. Only if they were required by the state to violate their conscience and break God's law, were they to refuse to obey, for, as Peter later said, "We must obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:29).

The Christian is to carry out his duties to the state faithfully, obeying the laws of the government, respecting those in authority, paying taxes, being a good neighbor—patriotic and proud of his country. He is not to shirk the responsibilities of citizenship (see Romans 13:1-7). We have no knowledge that Jesus ever violated the Roman law, nor would He have done so unless a particular requirement of the state conflicted with the law of God. And He is our example in all things.

In an interview with Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, the Master Teacher set forth the principles of salvation. To the learned Pharisee, Christ said with great frankness:

"I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. . . . No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit" (John 3:3, 5).

It is impossible for a leopard to change its spots or a person to change the color of his skin (see Jeremiah 13:23). Neither can we bring clear water out of a polluted well. It is impossible for a bramble bush to produce figs. Therefore, Jesus said, "You must be born again" (John 3:7).

Salvation is a work of re-creation in the human heart, brought about by the Holy Spirit. We must look to Christ for this change of life, which is accomplished by the Spirit (see John 3:8). The grace of God alone makes this possible, for we cannot even repent unless God gives us repentance. Concerning Jesus, we read:

"God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel" (Acts 5:31).

Pardon comes from Christ. So does repentance. Spiritual rebirth is His work of grace in the heart. We cannot earn it by anything we may do. How, then, are we to be saved? Listen:

"Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:14-16).

Jesus is "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Christ dying on the cross, revealing the love of God, brings to our poor sinful hearts a sense of need. Then faith in Jesus as our Savior is awakened, and we go to Him confessing our sins. He forgives our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness (see 1 John 1:9). The Spirit of God brings about a conversion in our hearts, in our thoughts and habits. Our desires and aims miraculously come into harmony with the mind of Christ. We are created anew in His moral image. God's law is written in our hearts as the psalmist said:

"I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart" (Psalm 40:8).

This experience is simply wonderful, and it is wonderfully simple. Friend, go to God in faith and ask Him to work a change in your life. With David pray:

"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10).

God will not, cannot, turn away any honest soul who seeks Him for a new life. Jesus says, "Whoever comes to me I will never drive away" (John 6:37).


Original manuscript author: Beatrice S. Neall
Editors revised edition: Barbara Shelley, Sue Robinson
Design and Layout: DEC Designs, Morisset, New South Wales Australia.
Used by permission of Discovery Centre, Wahroonga, New South Wales, Australia.
Graphics: Still images taken from Matthew video, copyright © 1997, 2004 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of International Bible Society.
Scripture: Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
Cover Picture: "The Light of the World" by Nathan Green, ©2004 All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2007 revised edition, Voice of Prophecy, California.