In the Old Testament, the Messiah taught through male and female prophets, priests, and wise men and women. He arranged for their words to be recorded and made available in books which made their way into our Bible. Then the time came when the Messiah decided to take birth among us. His aim was to have disciples in every nation all over the world.
By any standards Jesus was a superb teacher. He walked with people, asked and answered questions, told parables and taught by example. This was his invitation to learn with him. "Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). He offered a way to find peace for those who were crushed by the burdens of life. He did this in three ways.
HE ENROLLED DISCIPLES There was some explanation given to the crowds that gathered, but serious learning was by spending time with him as he moved around Galilee. Similarly Socrates taught a group of young men. In India a guru enrolls a small group of disciples (chelas). Carpenters, plumbers, stonemasons, and many other trades learn by working with a master craftsman. You need to learn with a personal teacher to master Karate, Piano, Dancing, or Scuba diving. Ice skaters need a coach to make it to the Olympics.
As opposed to teaching all and sundry in a haphazard way, there has to be some means of enrolling disciples. The enrolling includes a commitment to begin learning with the teacher, and a commitment by the teacher personally to impart the skills he or she has to offer. In India a guru would indicate his acceptance of a person as a disciple by putting a mark on the forehead, or giving a flower. Jesus used baptism as a means of enrolling his disciples (John 3:22; 4:1).
Obviously the act of enrolment has no benefit if the disciple never comes to learn. Jesus pictured this in the parable of the Sower, where seeds could be eaten by birds before they could germinate. Disciples are also free to stop learning from the teacher. When they found the teaching unpalatable "many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him" (John 6:66).
HE SHARED WITH HIS DISCIPLES
To impart what he had in kind the Messiah did not open a university, issue a textbook, or give degrees. There is nothing wrong with academic work for some professions, but what Jesus wanted to impart cannot be learned by reading a book or attending lectures. (A lecture has been jokingly defined as a means of transferring information from the notebook of the professor to the notebook of the student without passing through the mind of either). It is possible that Matthew the tax collector wrote down some sayings of Jesus which were later included in two of the Gospels. But there is no evidence that Jesus’ other disciples ever sat at desks and made notes to learn off by heart.
What Jesus did was to invite his disciples to travel with him. They walked together, ate together, watched him at work, asked questions when they were puzzled, learned to love one another. He had nothing to hide from them. With some difficulty they caught his style, his wisdom, his concern for others. Later one of them wrote "We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hand, concerning the word of life - this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us" (1 John 1:1-2).
HE PROVIDED FOR DISCIPLES IN EVERY NATION
He had begun with twelve men. After some basic teaching he sent them out to enroll other men and women in Galilee and Judea. After his death and resurrection the plan expanded. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:18-20)
The Holy Spirit had been involved in the reign of the Messiah from the beginning. He gave the inspiration that men and women needed to function as prophets. He imparted wisdom to rulers and generals and parents who were humble enough to ask for it. He was the source of every kind of artistic creativity. But now the Holy Spirit would undertake the personal teaching of the Messiah’s disciples all over the world. They have access to his wisdom any time of the day or night. But he would also teach them as a group. For this purpose Jesus arranged for his disciples to eat together as a family gathering at least once a week. This became the communion service that has been the focus and place of empowering for disciples in every city and town and hamlet all over the world (Acts 3:42). The word Christian means a disciple of the Messiah, and "It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).
Jesus had taken birth in Bethlehem, and he was raised in Nazareth among the Jewish people. Many of them became his disciples (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 6:7) and they were leaders of the first churches. Others to this day expect the Messiah to come some day in the future. They fail to notice that their Old Testament has been translated into hundreds of languages by Jesus’ disciples. Children read about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Minor Prophets in every continent. Millions of us are nourished by the Messiah’s Psalms. When I die I expect to be given the same kind of resurrection body that the first disciples saw when the Messiah appeared to them (probably on seven successive Sundays after his resurrection).
WHAT DIFFERENCE COULD THIS MAKE TO US ?
By the Holy Spirit we also can become personal disciples of the Messiah. Christian baptism is a sign that we want to learn with him. The different denominations in each city offer many ways to learn what Jesus came to impart. We can learn to love by sharing in a communion service with other disciples of the Messiah.
It was said that the early Messiah people turned that world upside down. And now more than ever our city and country, and every nation of the world needs that kind of love revolution.
(For further reading and documentation see the book on this site, Go Make Learners).