The most striking feature of the teaching of Jesus is that he was constantly talking about himself. It is true that he said a great deal about the fatherhood of God and the kingdom of God. But then he added that he is the Father’s ‘Son’, and that he himself had come to launch the kingdom. Entry into the kingdom depends on how people respond to him personally. He even went so far as to call the kingdom of God ‘my kingdom’.
This self-centredness of the teaching of Jesus immediately sets him apart from the other great religious teachers of the world. They tend to be self-effacing. He is self-advancing. They point people away from themselves, saying, ‘That is the truth, so far as I understand it; follow that.’ Jesus says, ‘I am the truth; follow me.’ No other religious founder who dared to say such a thing would be taken seriously. The personal pronoun forces itself repeatedly on our attention as we read his words. For example:
- I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
- I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
- I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.
- I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.
- Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me …
The great question to which the first phase of his teaching leads is, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ He refers back to figures from the distant past and makes the astonishing claim that Abraham rejoiced to see his day, that Moses wrote about him, that the Scriptures point to him, and that indeed in the three great divisions of the Old Testament—the Law, the Prophets and the Writings—there are things ‘concerning himself’.
Luke describes in some detail the dramatic visit which Jesus pays to the synagogue of his home village, Nazareth. He was given a scroll of the Old Testament Scriptures and he stood up to read. The passage is from the book of the prophet Isaiah 61:1–2:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
He closed the book, returned it to the synagogue attendant and sat down, while the eyes of all the congregation were fastened on him. He then broke the silence with the amazing words, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ In other words, ‘Isaiah was writing about me.’
With such an opinion of himself, it comes as no surprise that he called people to himself. Indeed, he did more than offer a polite invitation; he issued a firm command. ‘Come to me,’ he said. ‘Follow me.’ If people would only come to him, he promised to lift the burdens of the weary, to satisfy the hungry, and to quench the longing of the thirsty soul. More than that, his followers were to obey him and to make no secret of their allegiance to him. His disciples came to recognize the right of Jesus to make these wholesale claims, and in their letters Paul, Peter, James and Jude delight to describe themselves as his ‘slaves’.
John Stott, Basic Christianity, New edition. (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 33–36.
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