In this initial chapter
we shall be laying the foundation for what is to follow.
Later we shall be breaking up the whole ground that we
shall be covering now, and we shall get to the real
application of the Lord's Word, but this chapter will be
of a general character, but quite important.
You will know that in
the New Testament the Lord's people were called by
various names, and these were the names by which
Christians came to be known. Most of the names were given
to them by themselves, but there were two exceptions. The
name 'Christian' was someone's joke. The inhabitants of
Antioch, who loved to tack a name on to everyone, found
this a very suitable title for these people and so they
called them Christians. And then there was another word
which was taken over from more common use, and, whilst
not particularly their own choice for themselves, it
became the name by which they were more usually known
than any other.
The various names, as
you will remember, were: Disciples; Believers; Saints;
Brethren; People of the Way; and Jesus called them 'My
There you have six
different titles for the Lord's people, and every one of
them was intended to embody and convey some special idea.
Put the Lord Jesus in the centre, and all these titles
indicate that His people are gathered around Him. Around
Him are the disciples, the believers, the saints, the
brethren, the people of the Way, and those of whom He
speaks as 'My Friends'.
It is the first of
these titles that is going to occupy us mainly, and it is
possible that we will not be able to go beyond this one.
The first title, then,
is 'Disciples'. That name had a double implication. There
was that which it implied where people were concerned and
that which it implied where the Lord was concerned. As to
those who were called disciples, it simply meant that
they were learners. The title came from a Greek word
which just meant 'to learn', but it had an active element
in it and signified something more than just learning in
the head: it meant putting into practice what was learnt.
So disciples were people who learned and then put into
practice what they learned.
It is interesting to
notice that this name for the Lord's people occurs thirty
times in the Book of "the Acts of the
Apostles". That means that it was a name which
continued after Jesus had gone and indicated that they
were still learning and putting into practice what they
were learning. We usually think of the disciples as
related to the Lord Jesus when He was here, but the name
'disciple' goes on a long time after Jesus went from this
world. Indeed, it continues until today, and I do want
you to realize that we are here at this time as
disciples: those who are learning from the Lord Jesus in
order to put into practice what we learn. That is what
the name means where we are concerned. We are meant to be
the disciples of Christ now.
Then the name carried
with it an implication where the Lord Jesus was
concerned. Of course, it just meant, and still means,
that He is the Teacher, the One from whom we have to
learn everything. That name was often used about Him when
He was here, and in that capacity He had four names:
Teacher; Rabbi; Rabboni; and Master. You will remember
that He was called by all those four titles. They
addressed Him as 'Teacher' - Nicodemus said: "We
know that thou art a teacher come from God" (John
3:2). But He was a different kind of teacher from all
other teachers. He was not a teacher of the schools, for
His teaching was spiritual, not academic. But this name
'Teacher' carried with it something very important and
very rich. We are going at this time to be very much
occupied with the Gospel by John, because it is there
that we learn more deeply of the meaning of the Lord
Jesus. The little phrase 'to know' occurs fifty-five
times in that Gospel, and that very phrase belongs to the
teacher and to the disciples. It is perfectly clear in
the Gospel that the subject is 'To know', for it is all
about knowing, and Jesus is the spiritual Teacher.
And then the phrase
'The Truth' occurs twenty-five times in that Gospel. To
what does 'To know' relate? "Ye shall know the
truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John
8:32). So 'the truth' mentioned twenty-five times is
linked with 'to know' occurring fifty-five times.
Then another phrase is
linked with those two: 'The Light', which occurs
twenty-three times. 'To know the Truth by the Light' is
the subject of John's Gospel, and, indeed, describes the
school of the disciples.
All that is connected
with the title 'Teacher'.
The name 'Rabbi' is
used separately of the Lord Jesus. In the Gospel by Mark
He is called 'Rabbi' three times, and in Matthew four
times, but this title is not used once in the Gospel by
Luke. You will see why in a moment. In John Jesus is
called 'Rabbi' eight times - more than in all the other
three Gospels put together. It is quite clear from that
what John is really seeking.
'Rabboni' does not
occur often. It is an intensified form of 'Rabbi'. You
will remember that Mary Magdalene cried 'Rabboni' in the
garden on the resurrection morning, when Jesus turned to
her and said 'Mary'. It simply means 'the great Teacher'
and it only comes in John's Gospel.
But why did Luke leave
out this title of 'Rabbi'? In his Gospel the Lord Jesus
is called by a fourth title more than He is in any of the
others. Luke's favourite title for Him in this capacity
is 'Master', and when you remember the object of his
Gospel, which was to set forth Jesus as the very perfect
Man, then you understand why he preferred this title.
Jesus is the Master Man, and Luke meant to say: 'We are
all the servants of that Man.'
I have said all that
just to introduce this matter of discipleship and to show
that the great business of Christians is to learn Christ.
This is not just a subject to study. I want to ask you:
What is the greatest desire in your life? I wonder if it
is the same as mine! The greatest desire in my heart -
and the longer I live the stronger it grows - is to
understand the Lord Jesus. There is so much that I do not
understand about Him. I am always coming up against
problems about Him, and they are not intellectual
problems at all, but spiritual ones: problems of the
heart. Why did the Lord Jesus say and do certain things?
Why is He dealing with me as He is? He is always too deep
for me, and I want to understand Him. It is the most
important thing in life to understand the Lord Jesus.
Well, we are here that He may bring us to some better
understanding of Himself. The material of the word will
not be new - it will be old and well-known Scripture.
Perhaps we think that we know the Gospel by John very
well. Well, you may, but I do not. I am discovering that
this Gospel contains deeper truth and value than I know
anything about, and I trust the Lord will make us all see
that as we go on.
That has to do with the
disciples, who are learners, but what about the Teacher
Himself? What is His subject? Every teacher has his
subject. Some teach theology, and others teach science,
or philosophy, or art, or engineering, or various other
things. What is the subject of the Lord Jesus?
(I would like to send
you to your rooms to put your answer down on a piece of
paper, and I think it would be very interesting if I were
to read out all the answers later on!)
However, the answer is:
Himself. He is His own subject. Jesus was always the
subject of His own teaching. He related everything to
Himself. He said: "I am the way, and the truth,
and the life" (John 14:6): "I am the
good shepherd" (John 10:14): "I
am the bread of life" (John 6:48): "I am
the door" (John 10:9): "I am the
resurrection, and the life" (John 11:25). He is
His own subject. He spoke about many things, but He
always related them to Himself. He said very much about
His Father, and we may come to see something of what He
taught about Him, but He always related the Father to
Himself and Himself to the Father. He said: "I
and the Father are one" (John 14:9). He
spoke much about the Holy Spirit, but He always related
Him to Himself. He said much about man, but He always
related man to Himself. His own favourite title for
Himself was 'Son of man'. He said much about life, but He
always related it to Himself and never thought of life
apart from Himself. He said much about light, about truth
and about power, but always in relation to
Himself. He was His own subject of teaching.
But we are going to see
that Jesus brought in a complete revolution in this way
of teaching Himself. There is no doubt whatever that
Jesus created a revolution. Of course, some people would
not have it, for it was too revolutionary for them. But
others said: "Never man spake like this man"
(John 7:46 - A.V.). And it is said of Him that "He
taught them as having authority, and not as the
scribes" (Mark 1:22). He brought in a complete
revolution, but He did it by bringing Himself into
view by what He said about Himself. He was always talking
about Himself, and He is the only one in this world who
has a right to do that. We are here today because He had
a right to talk about Himself.
So the one business of
disciples is to know Him, and to do what He called His
disciples to do: "Take my yoke upon you, and
learn of me" (Matthew 11:29). Jesus came to
bring heavenly knowledge in His own person, and in His
person we come into heavenly knowledge. It is not just
what He says: it is what He says He is.
Every true teacher is
not one who says a lot of things, but one who, when he
says things, gives something of himself. You have had
teachers at school, and I had many during my school
years. Some taught me, or tried to teach me, this and
that and something else - it might be arithmetic, or
English language, or one of the many subjects. I hope I
learned something from what those teachers said to me,
but of them all one stands out in my memory. He said all
the things, but he also gave me something of himself. I
could say of him: 'He did not only talk; he made an impression.
He left something with me. I remember him, not for
his subject, but for himself. He made a difference in my
life.' And that is the kind of teacher Jesus is. He did
not just say things, or teach subjects only. His subjects
were very wonderful, as we have seen: the Father, the
Spirit, life, and so on, but Jesus gave more than words.
When people listened to Him they said: "Never man
spake like this man." He made an impression on
their lives and they carried something away. Afterwards,
it says, "they remembered his words" (Luke
24:8). Something had entered right into the deep places
of their lives and they were able to say: 'I not only
learned certain truths from Jesus, but I have got
something in my life from my Teacher. I have been
influenced by Him.' Jesus said: "The words that I
have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life" (John
6:63). That is something more than words.
The question which
covers and governs all learning is this: Why did the Lord
Jesus Christ come into this world? Of course, you might
answer that in simple fragments of Scripture. You might
say: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save
sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15). That is the Scripture
and is quite true. Or you might say: "The Son of
man came to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke
19:10), which is also quite true. There are many other
things like that which seem to answer the question, but
you need to put them all together - and even then you do
not have the full answer. It has many more aspects than
those! We have to approach it by two steps, and the first
is a very big step indeed.
The birth of Jesus at
Bethlehem was not the birth of the Son of God. He did not
begin His existence when He came into this world: He was
with the Father before ever this world was. He said: "O
Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the
glory which I had with thee before the world was"
(John 17:5). We do not know when He began to have His
being, but it was somewhere, if at any time at all,
before time began. He was with the Father from
everlasting. If you can fix the date of the first words
in the Bible, then you know the answer. Perhaps you are
wondering why I am saying this? Because this is where the
Gospel by John begins, and you can never understand the
Lord Jesus until you begin back there: "In the
beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and
the Word was God" (John 1:1). That is where the
teaching begins. Oh, we have come into a very big school!
It is the School of Eternity. We are going to see later
on how that applies to us. It is one of the things that I
hope we are going to learn, but for the moment we just
have to note this: that it was not the beginning of Jesus
when He came into this world.
The other step is this:
His coming into this world in human form definitely
related to mankind. He did not completely break with His
deity, but He came in the form of humanity, and that
means that His coming had something vitally connected
with human life. 'It is not unto angels: it is unto men.'
He came as Man to men in order to teach men. God was in
Christ, but in human form in order to do something in
man: not only for man, but in man. God
could have done everything for man without
coming in human form, but in order to do something in
man he had to come in the form of a man.
The full answer to our
question, then, is this: Jesus came to bring in His own
person all that which man was intended to have, but never
had. Man was intended by God to have something that he
has never yet had. He missed it by his disobedience and
has never possessed what God intended him to possess. And
man as he was never could possess it, so there had to be
another kind of Man to bring it to man.
And we repeat: the
answer to our main question is just this. Jesus came to
bring in His own person all that which God meant man to
have, but which he had never had. That is why the
teaching of Jesus was always united with His acts. Do you
notice that? After Jesus said something He did something
to prove it, and He never said anything about Himself
without doing something to prove it. Did He say: "I
am the light of the world" (John 9:5)? Then He
opened the eyes of a man born blind. Did He say: "I
am the resurrection, and the life" (John
11:25)? Then He raised Lazarus from the dead. And so He
was always uniting His words with acts, His works with
His teaching. He was not just saying things, but with the
saying He was doing. That still continues to be His
method, and is what you and I have to understand. I hope
we are going to learn that in these days, and that it
will not just be only words, but the works of the Lord
Jesus accompanying the words.
There is something that
we could just put in at this point which is very helpful.
There is something very unusual about this great Teacher.
Have you noticed the kind of disciples that He chose? Why
did the Lord choose that kind of disciple? What kind of
people were they? They were not the great scholars of the
day, nor men with university degrees. I think we could
say that on the whole they were a poor lot and seemed to
have poor brains. They were always misunderstanding what
He said, or failing to grasp the point. They were always
forgetting things He had said to them and He had to
remind them later on, or bring these things back to them
by the Holy Spirit. Paul's description of the Christians
at Corinth fitted these disciples well: "Not
many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many
noble... God chose the foolish things of the world... God
chose the weak things of the world..." (1
Corinthians 1:26,27). Now, that is not the way in which
the world goes to work. You would not stand a chance
today if you were a Peter, or a James, or a John, in any
high position in this world. Why did He choose those men?
Because there was plenty of room in them for what He had
come to bring. They were not already full or strong. In a
sense they gave Him a very good opportunity for putting
into them what they did not have. The people in Christ's
day who had it all never got anything. You know how true
that was! The full went away empty and the empty went
away full. That is something for us to learn!
One of the things that
we have to leave down in the valley when we come up on to
the mountain is our ignorance. You will say: 'Ignorance
means "I don't know"', but just think again.
What is the hallmark of ignorance? It is: 'I know it
all.' Is that not true? The really ignorant people are
those who think that they know everything.
I remember a certain
lady some years ago. I do not profess to be a great
teacher, but to every sentence that I uttered she said:
'I know it! I know it!' That would have been all right if
her life had proved that she did know it, but it
proved that she did not know it, and you could get
nowhere with that dear soul because of: 'I know it! I
know it!' The mark of ignorance is knowing it all, and
that is one of the things to leave down there when we
come up on to the mountain.* We must be teachable, empty,
weak, foolish in our own eyes, just nobody. The School of
Jesus Christ is filled with people like that - and that
is why He chose the men that He did.
Let us remember that we
are His disciples and still have everything to learn. We
really understand the Lord Jesus very little, but He is
amongst us as Rabboni, our great Teacher, and I believe
that He will reveal Himself to us if our hearts are open
* Spoken at the
Conference among the mountains in Switzerland.