Was Jesus a Failed Teacher?
It might sound like a feeble attempt at crafting a captivating title, but it is not. The question of whether or not Jesus was a failed teacher is a valid question, one based on clear facts. The reason the question appears a bit off is because we are trying to answer it in hindsight. In hindsight, Jesus is the greatest teacher to ever walk on earth. No “founder” of any religion comes close to the following that Jesus garnered. But what if we were transported to Jesus’ times and attempted to answer the same question honestly? We would all conclude that Jesus was a failed teacher; and miserably so.
Indeed, he used various methods in his teaching ministry. In his three year ministry, he applied both the extremes of harshness and kindness in his teachings: he spoke of hell-fire and hugged children; he cleared out the temple in a rage and fed the hungry; he spoke curses at hypocrites and prayed for his enemies.
He did all this and more. But what was the outcome? By the time he was crucified, three years into his ministry, only a handful of people rallied behind him. Despite feeding more than 5,000 people, less than a hundred still followed him at the time of his death. Even his closest students abandoned him and went against his teachings. After three years of learning from him, Peter still denied him, James and John wanted privileged positions, and Judas sold him out to his enemies.
So, was Jesus, in his lifetime, a failed teacher? Before we answer that question biblically, we have to look at another “great” prophet who seemingly did worse than Jesus.
Jeremiah preached longer than Jesus (23 years), but no one listened. For 23 years, he begged and pleaded, prayed and implored, wept and coaxed, but nobody listened. Not a single soul turned to God. I guess it would be more reasonable to say that Jeremiah, in his lifetime, was the greatest failure of all. Even lunatics gain some followers, as we know many conspiracy theorists who gain massive followings. But what could have probably gone wrong with Jeremiah? Or Jesus?
The right answer to this question lies in something Jesus said right before he was crucified,
“I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:7-11)
The Greatest Teacher
If the measure of our teaching success is our grasp of “social and economic theories”, our “compelling arguments”, our “heart-moving illustrations” and “charismatic personalities”, we are failed teachers. It is not our knowledge, our creativity, our arguments, or even our great hermeneutics that will ultimately move hearts and change the world. Only the Holy Spirit will convict the hearts of his people.
It was only after the Holy Spirit had moved and compelled hearts that people were changed. It was only after the Spirit acted that the “effects” of Jesus’ teachings were seen: Thomas believed, Peter stood boldly for Christ and thousands of people became true, genuine followers.
“The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech, but will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:25-27)
I hope to encourage us to learn to rest in the sovereignty of God, to stay faithful to truth despite its apparent ineffectiveness. I want to exhort us to realize that when we fail to “change the world” it isn’t always because we didn’t “do enough.” When our efforts at compelling people to do the right thing fail, it is not necessarily because we are using poor methods of encouragement and need to be more creative with our message.
If all that we have is our abilities and gifts, our influence and gimmicks, and we seldom rely on the Holy Spirit to move when he wants to move and not just when we “set up” his move… we will all, UNLIKE Jesus and Jeremiah, be failed teachers in our lifetime.