In a Class By Himself

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 7:45-46

The officers then went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this man!”

John 7:45,46 rsv

“No man ever spoke like this man.” Or more literally, “never once did any other man speak as this man speaks.” That’s what some of His contemporaries said about Jesus of Nazareth. Surprisingly, they were not His followers. We might expect a comment like that from starry-eyed, enthusiastic disciples. But, no, these were officers, temple policemen. They had been sent by the chief priests and Pharisees to arrest Jesus!

As they joined the crowd around Him, they couldn’t help hearing His message. It was a mysterious word about His imminent departure to a place where none could follow Him. It was an invitation to all who were thirsty of heart to come to Him and be refreshed. It was a promise that all who believed in Him would somehow become channels for living water.

The officers were eyeing the crowd all this time. The impression made upon this gathered throng was obviously profound. Some said, “This is really the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee?” So there was a sharp division among the people. Some were jubilant; others furious. Some wanted to arrest Him for making such staggering claims. But even the most hostile seemed afraid to move against Him. No one laid hands on Jesus.

It was after this that the officers went back to the authorities who had sent them. When asked, “Why did you not bring him?” the policemen answered with evident awe, “No man ever spoke like this man.”

They could have offered excuses, I suppose. We might have expected that. They could have pleaded that the crowd was too excited, the situation too volatile to take Him. They could have claimed that He had slipped away into the midst of the crowd and disappeared. They could have mumbled something about timing or strategy. Instead, they told the truth. They gave the real reason. They had been captivated, disarmed, almost rendered helpless by what Jesus said.

Their superiors were obviously not pleased. They said with a sneer, “Are you led astray, you also? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, who do not know the law, are accursed” (vv. 47-48). It was as though they had said, “Don’t be impressed by this ignorant rabble-rouser! The experts, the people in the know, are not impressed by this Jesus. Why should you be? You’re simply the victims of a kind of mob hysteria.”

But here, in what the officers reported, we have a remarkable kind of witness to Jesus. These are relatively impartial observers. If anything, their errand would incline them to be critical and suspicious. They certainly did not go to hear Jesus with a bias toward belief. They were sent, in their minds, to collar one more troublemaker. They were sent to follow orders and not ask any questions. But they came back shaking their heads: “Never once did any other man speak as this man speaks.” They were saying, these hard-bitten cops, as strongly as anyone could possibly say it, that as a teacher, speaker, preacher, Jesus was in a class by Himself.

THE MANNER

I want to think about that claim with you today and explore what it means. How is Jesus an incomparable teacher? Partly in His manner. They said this about Him, “He speaks with authority and not as the scribes” (see Matt. 7:29). The scribes were accustomed to quoting distinguished authorities: “Rabbi A said this . . . Rabbi B disagreed . . . Rabbi C took this middle ground.” The scribes who could cite the most opinions and quote the most-respected authorities were the star debaters. They overwhelmed their adversaries with an avalanche of tradition.

Jesus did nothing of that. As far as we know, He never mentioned a single rabbi’s name. He would sometimes refer to past teaching like this: “You have heard that it was said by the men of old . . .” But what would follow was a corrective, a new teaching, a word like this spoken with utter confidence, “but I say to you, thus and so.” Listen:

“You have heard that it was said to the men of old, `You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment. . . You have heard that it was said, `You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. . . .’ You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, `Do not resist one who is evil. . .’ Again, you have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:21-22, 27-28, 38-39, 43-44).

It was His habit, this Jesus, to speak as one who had a right to command. His manner was calm, measured, totally unselfconscious, but with a sense of finality that settled every issue. This was different, notably different. It took people by surprise. They didn’t know at first how to react. Some heard Him gladly, some with growing uneasiness, but all listened with mouths agape. They hadn’t heard His like before.

THE CONTENT

People were struck also by the matter, the content of what He said. It wasn’t all new. He was often quoting the Old Testament scriptures, which all agreed were authoritative. We can find parallels to a number of His teachings among the rabbis of His time. But some things were new. Think of the way He addressed God as “Abba,” a diminutive, familiar form of the word for “father.” No teachers had ever done that before. He told parables that often puzzled people and sometimes scandalized those in power. The values He expressed often overturned conventional wisdom.

But what was most impressive, most unheard of in the content of His teaching was the way in which it revolved around His own person. He spoke as God’s messenger. He said that His teaching was not His but the Father’s who had sent Him. Yet He made claims about Himself that no one before in Israel had ever dreamed of making. “I am the bread of life. I am the light of the world. I am the door into God’s fold. I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life. I am the resurrection.”

He linked Himself uniquely and startlingly with God the Father. “The Father loves the Son,” He said, “and has given all things into his hand . . . . (John 3:35). “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me . . . . (Matt. 28:18). “He who has seen me has seen the Father . . . (John 14:9). “I and my Father are one” (John 3:30).

Again and again, He invited people to come to Him for blessings only God could provide. “Come to me,” He said, “all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest . . . (Matt. 11:28). “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink . . . (John 7:37). “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and he who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).

Further, Jesus placed Himself squarely in the center of every person’s destiny. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me . . . (John 14:6). “If you do not believe that I am he,” Jesus says, “you will die in your sins . . . (John 8:24). “All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out . . . (John 6:37). “He who believes [that is, in Jesus], has everlasting life” (John 6:47). Did anyone (that is, anyone people take seriously), ever speak words like these, ever make such extravagant claims?

THE EFFECTS

But there was something else about Jesus’ speaking, not simply His manner and His message but the effects of what He said. Jesus’ words were full of power. They made things happen. This was what awed people more than anything else.

Imagine that you’re in the synagogue at Capernaum where a man obviously possessed cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). Jesus rebukes the spirit, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him” (v. 25). And the unclean spirit, convulsing the man and crying with a loud voice, comes out. You hear the townspeople talking among themselves, “What is this? A new teaching? With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (v. 27).

Now you’re in the Garden of Gethsemane. The soldiers have come looking for Jesus with their lanterns and torches and weapons. When they call the name “Jesus of Nazareth,” the Lord steps forward and says, “I am he.” At His words, the soldiers in front of Him fall back to the ground.

You’re in a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. A storm is whipping the waves into a frenzy. You’re one of the disciples and you’re afraid the boat will go down within minutes. You wake up Jesus from a sound sleep. “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (Mark 4:38). He stands up and rebukes the wind. He says to the sea, “Peace! Be still” (v. 39). And, suddenly, all is calm. You’re filled with awe and you say, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (v. 41).

You’re walking outside a city called Nain and you come upon a funeral procession. A widow lady has just said goodbye to her only son. Jesus sees her, has compassion on her, says, “Don’t weep.” He comes to those carrying the body and stops them. Now He’s speaking, “Young man, I say to you, `Arise'” (Luke 7:14). And the dead man sits up and begins to speak. Did anyone ever speak like that before, with a voice that raises the dead?

It makes you think about what the psalmist said of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “He spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood fast . . . (Ps. 33:9). By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth” (Ps. 33:6). Jesus spoke with that same creative power. He announced His ministry in these words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who were oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18). His ministry was all about preaching, proclaiming, speaking the word of God. And His word did things. When He spoke to the captives, they were set free. When He spoke to the blind, they could see again. When He spoke to lepers, their skin became like the flesh of a little child.

There was one other word Jesus spoke at times, perhaps the most powerful of all, “Your sins are forgiven.” How could people know if that really was true, if He had that power, if He could make that pronouncement, if what He said on earth really registered in heaven? According to Jesus, His other miracles provided the evidence that this one was authentic. Before He healed a paralytic, He had said, you remember, “My son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). When the scribes, sitting by, called this blasphemy, saying, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus countered, “Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, `Rise, take up your pallet and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins, he said to the paralytic, `I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.’ And he rose and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, `We never saw anything like this'” (Mark 2:8-12).

So you can count on it, friends, that whatever Jesus says in the Scriptures, by His Spirit, to your life in some time of need, is marvelously effective.

Shortly after I became a believer in Christ, I was privileged to hear in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, the great Scotch preacher, J. Sidlow Baxter. I’ll never forget his sermon. It was on the text, “His Name Shall be Called Wonderful” dealing with all the ways in which that is true of Jesus. Surely one of those is the way He spoke simply, yet profoundly, tenderly and sternly, meekly but with incomparable majesty.

His word can be depended on. When He calls you to do something, even though you may feel helpless in yourself, you’ll find yourself able to do it. Jesus said to a man with a withered hand, “Stretch out your hand.” That’s exactly what He couldn’t possibly do – but he did. He said to the paralytic, “Get up and walk.” That’s what he had been incapable of doing. And when he says to sinful, mixed-up people like you and me, “Repent, rise up and live!” somehow, by His mighty word, we can do it. He’s in a class by Himself. No one ever spoke like this man, and He still speaks today!