John Stott on Jesus’ Self-Centered Teaching

Jesus made bold claims about His identity, which religious leaders of His day considered blasphemy. He claimed to be God’s only Son, one with the Father, descended from Heaven and destined to rule the universe as King. And what response was He met with? “For this reason they tried all the more to kill him” (John 5:18).

Many today try to reduce Jesus to the role of a good teacher, a good moral example, maybe the best among many. But His own claims about Himself in Scripture make that impossible. He is not the best among otherwise equals; rather, He is the utterly and completely unique God-man.

In his book Basic Christianity, John Stott—one of my favorite writers of all time—points out that Jesus’ claims and self-advancing words are part of what set Him apart from any other religious teacher. —Randy Alcorn

The most striking feature of the teaching of Jesus is that he was constantly talking about himself. It is true that he spoke much about the fatherhood of God and the kingdom of God. But then he added that he was the Father’s “Son,” and that he had come to inaugurate the kingdom. Entry into the kingdom depended on men’s response to him. He even did not hesitate to call the kingdom of God “my kingdom.”

This self-centeredness of the teaching of Jesus immediately sets him apart from the other great religious teachers of the world. They were self-effacing. He was self-advancing. They pointed men away from themselves, saying, “This is the truth, so far as I perceive it; follow that.” Jesus said, “I am the truth; follow me.” The founder of none of the ethnic religions ever dared to say such a thing. The personal pronoun forces itself repeatedly on our attention as we read his words. For example:

I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.

I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”

I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…

John 6:35; 8:12; 11:25, 26; 14:6; Matthew 11:28, 29

The great question to which the first part of his teaching led was, “Who do you say that I am?” He affirmed that Abraham had rejoiced to see his day, that Moses had written of him, that the Scriptures bore witness to him, and that indeed in the three great divisions of the Old Testament—the law, the prophets, and the writings—there were “things concerning himself” (Matthew 8:29; John 8:56; 5:46; 5:39; Luke 24:27, 44).

Luke describes in some detail the dramatic visit which Jesus paid to the synagogues of his home village, Nazareth. He was given a scroll of the Old Testament and he stood up to read. The passage was Isaiah 61:1-2:

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 are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

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 has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, “Isaiah was writing about me.”

With such an opinion of himself, it is not surprising that he called people to himself. Indeed, he did more than issue an invitation; he uttered a command. “Come to me,” he said, and “Follow me.” If men would only come to him, he promised to lift the burdens of the weary, to satisfy the hungry, and to quench the thirsty of the parched soul (Matthew 11:28-30; John 6:35; 7:37). Further, his followers were to obey him and to confess him before men. His disciples came to recognize the right of Jesus to make these totalitarian claims, and in their letters Paul, Peter, James and Jude delight to call themselves his “slaves.”

More than that, he offered himself to his contemporaries as the proper object of their faith and love. It is for man to believe in God; yet Jesus appealed to men to believe in himself. “This is the work of God,” he declared, “that you believe in him whom he has sent.” “He who believes in the Son has eternal life.” To believe in him was man’s first duty; not to believe in him was his chief sin (John 6:29; 3:36; 8:24; 16:8, 9).

For more on Jesus, see Randy’s book Face to Face with Jesus: Seeing Him as He Really Is.

Photo by Anthony Garand on Unsplash