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John 1:49 "Nathanael answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!"
We’re continuing to consider some of names and titles that the Bible applies to Jesus. There are so many of them. There are 11 different titles in John chapter 0ne alone! Although we are not working through these titles in any particular order we have already thought about 4 of these 11: Word, Lamb, Christ and the One and Only.
This evening we will look at another: rabbi and it appears twice in this opening chapter of John’s gospel.
Rabbi is a Hebrew/Aramaic word that is simply transliterated into the Greek of the NT. There several other words like this in the NT that you are familiar with: words like Sabbath, hosanna and hallelujah. Sometimes Hebrew words used in this way are explained by the writer once he has included the word in the Hebrew original – let me remind you of some you already know: Abba, Father (Mk.14:36) or Talithua Cumi "which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’" (Mk.5:41) Or again you’ll remember those poignant words that Jesus uttered from the cross: ""Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt.27:46).
Well rabbi is another of those Hebrew/Aramaic words. Most of the time it stands alone but just once it is clearly explained:
Jn.1:38 "And they said to him, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher)"
This title, rabbi, is used a total 15 times in the NT and of these 12 refer to Jesus. Most English translations uniformly render the word into English as Rabbi though the AV sometimes translates it with a different title, that of "Master". There is also a slightly different form that appears in Mk.10:51 and Jn.20.16 where we find "rabboni" where we are again told that this means "teacher". Again it is Jesus who is spoken of. In fact the title rabbi literally means something like "my great one" and was the highest title of honour that was used to show respect to a distinguished scholar or teacher of the law. And of course there are plenty of others verses that simply refer to Jesus with the usual Greek work for a teacher.
Who used the term "Rabbi" in relation to Jesus?
As the term is one that attributes great respect to a teacher it is not at all surprising that the title is mostly found on the lips of his followers.
Sometimes we are simply told his disciples called him "rabbi" but sometimes we are told that specific individuals used it of him too eg. Peter used it twice and we also find it being used by Andrew (and perhaps John); by Nathaniel, by Mary Magdalene and by Nicodemus.
It was used as a term of respect by a blind beggar called Bartimaeus who cried out so insistently to the Lord when he heard that Jesus was passing by. Bartimaeus was longing to recover his sight and called out with such respect to the one person he thought could help him.
Is this how you and I esteem Jesus? Is he our highly honoured Master Teacher? Do we listen to his voice and set what he has to say above every other competing voice? And do we do so in practice as well as in theory? In what we do and not just in what me might think or say?
How important this is because it is always possible to use glowing words while at the same time failing to follow through in any practical way at all. Are you a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ? Are you still eager to learn from him? Or are you content, as were the members of the church in Sardis, to "have the reputation of being alive" while in reality being spiritually dead? (Rev.3:1)
You see it is all too easy to feign allegiance in the way that another of Jesus’ disciples did. Three times in the gospels we are told how Judas shamefully and dishonestly addressed Jesus in this way and all he intended to do was to betray his one-
The first occasion that we are specifically told that Judas spoke to Jesus like this was during the Last Supper. Jesus has stunned his followers by telling them that one of them would betray him and one by one they asked him if it was them. Judas needed to keep up his facade if he was to succeed with his plans to betray Jesus and so spoke in the same way as the others:
Mt.26:25 "Judas, who would betray him, answered, "Is it I, Rabbi?" He said to him, "You have said so."
Then, of course, came the treacherous betrayal with a kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane. I wonder with what tones he spoke his infamous words:
Mt.26:49 (cf. also Mk.14:45) "And he came up to Jesus at once and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" And he kissed him."
Let’s not be like him!
Just once after this is Jesus addressed as a rabbi only this time in the slightly different form of "rabboni". This was the highest possible term of honour for a Jewish teacher and it was used by Mary Magdalene when she was confronted by her risen Lord:
Jn.20:16 "Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher)."
In the remainder of the NT Jesus is regularly referred to with greater titles, titles such as Christ or Lord, as the full significance of this most wonderful man gripped the church. But that does not mean that he is no longer the rabbi above all others. He had taught his followers the truth and now in heaven he has sent his Holy Spirit with as part of his mission to lead us into all truth, that is to make clear to us the truth that Jesus taught and its ramifications.
We will spend the rest of our time this evening considering Jesus in his role as teacher.
What Does the NT teach us about Jesus the Teacher?
It was clear to everyone at the time and it ought to be equally clear to anyone who reads the NT that Jesus was a teacher and took the teaching element of his ministry very seriously indeed.
Jesus spoke about his teaching ministry and also referred to himself as "The Teacher"
Given the importance Jesus attributed to his teaching ministry we are not at all surprised to find that his followers also held him in special esteem as a teacher, their teacher, and yes as "the Teacher".
The ordinary people who had heard not a few preachers found in him something that was totally unlike what they had found in others. His teaching while being full of stories and parables which were interestingly to listen to and on one level at least easy to understand was also full of an authority they were simply not used to. They were impressed and challenged by what they heard him say and were ready to hear him again and again:
Mk.12:37 "And the great throng heard him gladly." Or "The common people heard him gladly" , "with delight".
What is perhaps a little more surprising is the fact that his enemies were prepared to recognise that he was a teacher and even addressed Jesus as teacher on some occasions. Sadly, though, they showed little interest in responding positively to anything he had to say. Sometimes it seems as though they even used the title teacher in an attempt at a bit of soft-
Mt.22:16 "And (the Pharisees) sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances."
They then went on to ask him what they thought to be their unanswerable question:
v.17 "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?"
Others came to Jesus with a more honest approach. These folk wanted answers to their questions and spiritual help.
Mt.19:16 "And behold, a man came up to him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?"
Lk.9:38 "And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child."
There were even some Pharisees who came to Jesus in a much more open manner than the majority of that particular group. Do you remember how Nicodemus came to the Lord Jesus?
Jn.3:2 "This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him."
The composite picture that all this gives us about Jesus is the following:
He was a man who:
Loved to teach
Knew what he was talking about
Was entertaining and interesting as he taught
Drew needy men and women to himself
If we dig a little deeper we find that Jesus was concerned to teach only what his Heavenly Father gave him to teach. He didn’t intend to claim the teaching as somewhat originating with himself but attributed everything that he taught to his Father. As such he was not involved in the self-
Jn.12:49 "For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak."
Jn.8:28 "So Jesus said to them, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me."
Jn.7:17 "If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority."
What this means is that we are not to think of Jesus’ teaching a simply containing some good advice – it does that but oh so much more!
Jesus’ teaching is like the opening up of the user manual only this manual is not about a washing machine or a power tool it is the Maker’s Manual for human life and how to understand and live life as the Maker intended.
Is that how I approach Jesus in his capacities as a Teacher, come from God? With Jesus we have to do with a man whose teaching was and is true and wholesome and practical. Many in the world today will say nice things about Jesus the teacher, the rabbi, without bothering to find out what he actually taught. Are any of us in just the same position?
The Care Jesus took
Jesus made teaching a very real priority in his life and ministry. He taught people in their synagogues but also in the open air as well as in private homes. He saw the crowds living in ignorance and without spiritual shepherds to lead them and provide for them and he had compassion on them.
In particular he made himself available to his disciples and was happy to give them further instruction in private when he had finished teaching the crowds.
Teaching was important to him and by that I don’t mean by that that it was the act of teaching that was most important to him, it was the content of what he wanted to teach.
So important was and is this content that he carefully prepared his immediate followers, the apostles, that they might transmit his message to others and indeed just before returning to heaven he charged those same followers with the task of taking the good news to the furthest corners of the world.
To ensure that his teaching would be properly understood and rightly communicated Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to his followers.
Since the Spirit came upon the church at Pentecost he has been doing just that. The church has been led into the truth and then in the power of the Spirit the church has taken the good news of Jesus out into the whole world. The teachings of Jesus are accessible now to millions and millions of people in their own mother tongue and often in multiple versions.
The whole Bible exists in over 600 languages; the NT in over 1400. At least some portion of the Bible has been translated into in excess of 3200 languages.
How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? Why would we want to avoid hearing about our Lord and Saviour?
May our practice keep in step with our beliefs!
And to God be the glory.