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The Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth

November 7, 2009

This is a message from brother Hoanh in VnBiz forum in 2001. This will be useful for Christians and non-believers alike to know about Jesus of Nazareth.

The original message is here.

________

[vnforum] The Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth

[ Viet Search Engine on VietGATE http://www.vietgate.net ]

[vnforum] – Mesg from “Tran Dinh Hoanh” <hoanhtr@…>

Dear All,

Since I have been talking about Buddhism, I feel some obligation to post
some Christian teaching to be fair. But more than fairness, I always think
that EVERYONE of us needs to understand fairly well the core teachings of
Buddha, Jesus, Confucius and Vietnamese historical legends because that
would cover very much a major part of the Vietnam’s cultural core. We
cannot just stay inside the security blanket of our own religion without
understand fairly well what the man next door is really into when he is
praying to his God. An intellectual cannot afford to be partially blind.
That is a luxury we don’t have.

Following is an excerpt from chapter The Rise of Christianity, in The
Outline of History: The Whole Story of Man, written by H.G. Wells, the best
ever-written book on world history. I think Wells captured very well the
essence of Jesus teaching from the viewpoint of a philosopher/historian.

At the end of his excerpt I will add some of my notes from a theological
point of view.

In this excerpt there is old English in the Bible quotes. For you guys in
Vietnam who may think that Greek is creeping into the writing, here are some
quick hints: Ye, thou or thee means you. Thy means yours. He callest
means he calls. He saith means he said. Well, just guess your way out. I
‘ve never been able to swallow Shakespeare myself.

[The writing in brackets like this is my addition to ease the reading].

And here is a sentence at the end of the excerpt but I am putting it here
because I like it:

“Yet it be noted that while there was much in the real teaching of Jesus
that a rich man or a priest or a trader and an imperial official or any
ordinary respectable citizen could not accept without the most revolutionary
changes in his way of living, yet there was nothing that a follower of the
actual teaching of Gautama Sakya might not receive very readily, nothing to
prevent a primitive Buddhist from being also a Nazarene, and nothing to
prevent a personal disciple of Jesus from accepting all the recorded
teachings of Buddha.”

I agree with Wells’ assessment.

And here is Wells’ writing. My writing comes after his.
______

[So] remarkable is the enormous prominence given by Jesus to the teaching of
what he called the Kingdom of Heaven, and its comparative insignificant in
the procedure and teaching of most of the Christian churches.

This doctrine of Kingdom of Heaven, which was the main teaching of Jesus,
and which plays so small a part in the Christian creeds, is certainly one of
the most revolutionary doctrines that ever stirred and changed human
thought. It is small wonder if the world of that time [i.e., Jesus’ time]
failed to grasp its full significance, and recoiled in dismay from even a
half-apprehension of its tremendous challenges to the established habits and
institutions of mankind. It is small wonder if the hesitating convert and
disciple presently went back to the old familiar ideas of temple and altar,
of fierce deity and propitiatory observance, of consecrated priest and magic
blessing, and—these things being attended to—reverted then to the dear old
habitual life of hates and profits and competition and pride. For the
doctrine of the Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus seems to have preached it, was
no less than a bold and uncompromising demand for a complete change and
cleansing of the life of our struggling race, an utter cleansing without and
within. To the Gospels the reader must go for all that is preserved of this
tremendous teaching; here we are only concerned with the jar of its impact
upon established ideas.

The Jews were persuaded that God, the one God of the whole world, was a
righteous god, but they also thought of him as a trading god who had made a
bargain with their Father Abraham about them, a very good bargain indeed for
them, to bring them at last to predominance in the earth. With dismay and
anger they heard Jesus sweeping away their dear securities. God, he
taught, was no bargainer; there were no chosen people and no favourites in
the Kingdom of Heaven. God was the loving father of all life, as incapable
of showing favours as the universal sun. And all men were brothers—sinners
alike and v\beloved sons alike—of this divine father. In the parable of the
Good Samaritan Jesus cast scorn upon that natural tendency we all obey, to
glorify our own people and to minimize the righteous of other creeds and
other races. In the parable of the labourers he thrust aside the obstinate
claim of the Jews to have a sort of first mortgage upon God. All whom God
takes into the kingdom, he taught, God serves alike; there is no distinction
in his treatment, because there is no measure to his bounty. From all,
moreover, as the parable of the buried talent witnesses, and as the incident
of the widow’s mite enforces, he demands the utmost. There are no
privileges, no rebates, and no excuses in the Kingdom of Heaven.

But it was not only the intense tribal patriotism of the Jews that Jesus
outraged. They were a people pf intense family loyalty, and he would have
swept away all the narrow restrictive family affections in the great flood
of the love of God. The whole Kingdom of Heaven was to be the family of his
followers. We are told that, “While he yet talked to the people, behold,
his mother and his brethen stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then
one said unto him, Behold they mother and thy brethen stand without,
desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told
him, who is my mother? And who are my brethen? And he stretched forth his
hand towards his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethen! For
whoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my
brother, and sister, and mother.” Matt 12:46-50.

And not only did Jesus strike at patriotism and the bonds of family loyalty
in the name of God’s universal fatherhood and the brotherhood of all
mankind, but it is clear that his teaching condemned all the gradations of
the economic system, all private wealth and personal advantages. All men
belong to the kingdom; all their possessions belonged to the kingdom; the
righteous life for all men, the only righteous life, was the service of God’
s Will with all that we had, with all that we were. Again and again he
denounced private riches and the reservation of any private life.

“And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and
kneeled to him, and asked him, Good master, what shall I do that I may
inherit eternal life? And Jess said unto him, Why callest thou me good?
There is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do
not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness,
Defraud not, Honor thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto
him, Master, all these things have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus
beholding loved him, and said unto him, One things thou lackest: go thy way,
sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have
treasure in heaven: and come take up the cross, and follow me. And he was
sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

“And Jesus looked around about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly
shall they that have riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier
for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter
into the kingdom of God.” Mark 10:17-25.

Moreover, in his tremendous prophecy of this kingdom which was to make all
men one together with God, Jesus had small patience for the bargaining
righteousness of formal religion. Another large part of his recorded
utterances is aimed against the meticulous observance of the rules of the
pious career. “Then came together unto him the Pharisees [teachers of the
Jewish law], and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. And
when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say,
with unwashen, hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the
Jews, except they wash their hands off, eat not, holding the tradition of th
e elders. And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat
not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as
the washing of cups, and pots, brazen vessels, and of tables. Then the
Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the
tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? He answered and
said unto them, well hath Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is
written,
“This people honoureth me with their lips,
But their heart is far from me.
“Howbeit, in vain do they worship me,
Teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
“For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men as
the washing of pots and cups: and many other such things ye do. And he unto
them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own
tradition.” Mark 7:1-9

So, too, we may note a score of places in which he flouted that darling
virtue of the formalist, the observance of the Sabbath [the rest day, the
Saturday, now it is the Sunday thanks to the Catholic Church].

It was not merely a moral and social revolution that Jesus proclaimed; it is
clear from a score of indications that his teaching had a political bent of
the plainest sort. It is true that his kingdom was not of this world, that
it was in the hearts of men and not upon the throne; but it is equally clear
that wherever and in what measure his kingdom was set up in the hearts of
men, the outer world would be in that measure revolutionized and made new.

Whatever else the deafness and blindness of his hearers may have missed in
his utterances, it is plain that they did not miss his resolve to
revolutionize the world. Some of the questions that were brought to Jesus
and the answers he gave enable us to guess at the drift of much of his
unrecorded teaching. The directness of his political attack is manifest by
such an incident as that of the coin— “And they send unto him certain of the
Pharisees and of the Herodians [officials of Herod, king of the Jews], to
catch him in his words. And when they were come, they say unto him, Master,
we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not
the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to
give tribute to Ceasar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give? But
he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? Bring me a
penny, that I may see it. And they brought it. And he saith unto them,
Whose is this image and superinscription? And they said unto him, Ceasar’s.
And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Ceasar the things that are
Ceasar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” Mark 12:13-17 – which , in
view of all else that he taught, left very little of a man of his possession
for Ceasar.

The whole tenor of the opposition to him and the circumstances of his trial
and execution show clearly that to his contemporaries he seemed to propose
plainly, and did propose plainly, to change and fuse and enlarge all human
life. But even his disciples did not grasp the profound and comprehensive
significant of that proposal. They were ridden by the old Jewish dream of a
king, a Messiah to overthrow the Hellenized Herods and the Roman overlord,
and restore the fabled glories of David. They disregarded the substance of
his teaching, pain and direct though it was: evidently they thought it was
merely his mysterious and singular way of setting about the adventure that
would at least put him on the throne of Jerusalem. They thought he was just
another king among the endless succession of kings, but of a quasi-magic
kind, and making quasi-magic professions of an impossible virtue.

“And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying Master, we
would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. And he said
unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? They said unto him,
Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy
left hand, in thy glory. But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what we ask:
can ye drink the cup that I drink of? And be baptized with the baptism that
I am baptized with? And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto
them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of, and with the baptism
that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: but to sit on my right hand
and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for
whom it is prepared. And when the ten [other disciples] heard it, they
began to be much displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to
him, can saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over
the Gentiles [i.e., the non-Jews] exercise lordship over them; and their
great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you:
but whosever will be great among you, shall be servant of all. For even the
Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his
life a ransom for many.” Mark 10: 35-45.

This was cold comfort for those who looked for a due reward for their
services and hardships in his train. They could not believe this hard
doctrine of a kingdom of service which was its own exceeding great reward.
Even after his death on the cross, they could sill, after their first
dismay, revert to the belief that he was nevertheless in the vein of the
ancient world of pomps and privileges; that presently by some amazing
miracle he would become undead again and return, and set his throne with
much splendour and graciousness in Jerusalem. They thought his life was a
stratagem and his death a trick.

He was too great for his disciples. And in view of what he plainly said, is
it any wonder that all who were rich and prosperous felt a horror of strange
things, a swimming of their world at his teaching? Perhaps the priests and
the rulers and the rich men understood him better than his followers. He
was dragging out all the little private reservations they had made from
social service into the light of a universal religious life. He was like
some terrible moral huntsman digging mankind out of the snug burrows in
which they have lived hitherto. In the white blaze of this kingdom of his
there was to be no property, no privilege, no pride and no precedence; no
motive indeed and no reward but love. Is it nay wonder that the priests
realized that between this man and themselves there was no choice but that
he or priestcraft should perish? Is it any wonder that the Roman soldiers,
confronted and amazed by something soaring over their comprehension and
threatening all their disciplines, should take refuge in wild laughter, and
crown him with thorns and robe him in purple and make a mock Ceasar of him?
For to take him seriously was to enter upon a strange and alarming life, to
abandon habits, to control instincts and impulses, to essay an incredible
happiness …

Is it any wonder that to this day this Galilean is too much for our small
hearts?

* * *

Yet it be noted that while there was much in the real teaching of Jesus that
a rich man or a priest or a trader and an imperial official or any ordinary
respectable citizen could not accept without the most revolutionary changes
in his way of living, yet there was nothing that a follower of the actual
teaching of Gautama Sakya might not receive very readily, nothing to prevent
a primitive Buddhist from being also a Nazarene, and nothing to prevent a
personal disciple of Jesus from accepting all the recorded teachings of
Buddha.

(Excerpt from chapter The Rise of Christianity, The Outline of History: The
Whole Story of Man, H.G.Wells, copyright 1971, p. 445-450.)
____

Hoanh’s writing:

I agree with everything Wells’ wrote up there. We can see that H.G. Wells
downplayed the theological basis of Jesus teaching, and approached it from a
non-religious philosophical/historian point of view. This is OK. Except
that he left out some of the most important theological points in Jesus
teaching that truly give the teaching the attraction it has and that form
the foundation for Christianity as a worldwide religion today.

In order not to be lost in theological subtleties that tend to lead us away
from the original Jesus teaching and into quarrelsome church’s teachings, I
will limit the observation to a couple of points only.

First, Jesus made it very clear that here is a God.

This places Jesus in the same tradition as the Jews and the Muslim: There
is a God. And all the subsequent reasoning or teaching comes from that
determination. (The Buddha did not address the question “Is there a God?”
He did not say whether there is a god or no god. He never addressed that
question).

The Bible doesn’t have a philosophical discourse on “Is there a God?” This
Book simply assumes that God exists. And God teaches men wisdom. God is
always there. He created the world and men. He talked to Moses, Abraham,
the prophets, Jesus, etc…

In biblical God is different from the god of philosopher. Philosopher may
find God by using logic. But logic always has defects, because (1) a string
of logic on a piece of paper may lead to some result on the paper, but we
never can be sure if the theoretical result on the paper would be true in
real life, and (2) logic is simply too limited. Say, God creates the world.
Then who creates God? This circular logic still plagues mankind on the
question of God today. Logic may get us closer to God, but cannot get us
directly God.

But the biblical God is different. This God is very certain, because
believers take him as a real, living entity.

How does that happen?
Well, if God appears to you as he did with Moses, Abraham (or as in George
Burns movie “Oh God!”), then you know that he exists (Sorry to the ladies!
The God of the Bible appears to be a man :- ) . Or you believe in what
your forefathers said, as the Jews believe in what Moses, Abraham and the
prophets said as recorded in the Old testaments. Or you see vision and hear
God’s word like Saint Paul. Or one day you just feel strongly in your heart
that there is a God and he is talking to you or watching over you (In
Christian lingo, that is when you are enlightened by the Holy Spirit).

For whatever reason, the biblical God is real and very personal to the
Christian. He is not abstract. He teaches them some very specific things
to follow. It is not the God of philosopher, which is an abstract logical
entity without personal relationship to any person and whose existence is
only a logical probability at most.

The element that makes the Christian God real and personal to the believer
is called faith. People may acquire faith through many ways, and logical
rationale is certainly one of the half-way (not full way). But faith always
requires something more than mere logic. That is why the “leap of faith” is
so important in Christianity. Once the Holy Spirit reveals God’s presence
in you so strongly that you feel you are really with God, then don’t let
logical reason pull you back, just make the “leap of faith” and embrace God.

The send point in Jesus teaching is that he is the Son of God. (The
theologian will say “God the Son.” I am not getting into this). And of
course, you also need the element of faith to believe this point. (Note:
Jesus emphasized heavily on this element of faith: “If you have faith as
small as mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to
there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible to you.” Matt 17:20).

Now, why are these two points (that there is a God and Jesus is the Son of
God) so important? Why don’t we just ignore them, and treat Jesus like
another Buddha, another great teacher?

Of course, we can. And many people around the world do that. The Muslim
treat Jesus in the Koran as another great prophet (but not God). The Dalai
Dama said that Jesus is a Buddha. And of course, each one of us considers
Jesus a great teacher of mankind, whether we are Christian or not.

But the fact remains crystal clear that Jesus did say more than once that he
is the Son of God and whatever he did and taught, he did in accordance with
his Father’s will. This point is so clear in his teaching that we cannot
simply cross it out because it poses a challenge to our intellect.

If we cross these major points out of his teaching we will make two
mistakes: (1) His teaching is no longer his teaching, but has become the
“diluted” teaching of some third-grade ethics teacher. (2) We will dilute
the “God-centered” or “Christ-centered” life, which is the excellent model
of Christian conduct and which is the sole source of power that has led the
Christians to triumph through all kinds of oppression over the centuries.
This is the point that I am expanding below.

But before that, let me do a little detour. Let’s take a look at some of
Jesus teaching. Some of it is just weird at first glance. “Love your
enemies, do good to them which hate you. Bless them that curse you, and pray
for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smites you on the on
cheek offer also the other; and him that takes away your tunic forbid not to
take you coat also.” Luke 6:28-29. Where is the idea of self-defense?

Or Jesus’ golden rule: “Do unto other what you would have them do unto you.”
Compare this with Confucius’ more reasonable rule: Don’t do unto others what
you don’t want to be done unto you. Ky? so+? ba^’t du.c ha` thi u+ nha^n.

Jesus didn’t teach many things, only several key points. And some of these
are so offbeat, so irrational, so extreme in humility, love, gentleness, and
meekness that by typical human standards he must be classified as sick in
the head. Or, as he says, he must be the Son of God.

This is precisely the point whoever studies Jesus long enough will have to
face. One either dilutes Jesus teaching by adding lots of ifs, buts, yets
into it and thus effectively turns him into some third-grade ethics
instructor. Or declares that he is mentally incompetent and simply ignores
him. Or with the overwhelming evidence of his “crazy” simple teaching
conquering the hearts of men the world over and hopefully with the little
help of the Holy Spirit in the heart, accepts that he is what he says–The
Son of God.

The true Christian, of course, takes the position that Jesus is the Son of
God and his teaching is God’s teaching. And this is the starting point of
Christian conduct, Christian life, and Christian strength.

The Christian path is called Christ-centered path (versus the human-centered
path taught by the Buddha):

The world, including man, is created through Christ. John 1:1-5.
Christ is the Son of God. Christ comes down to the world to save the world
from sin. John 3-16.
Christ has done the saving as a gift to all men. Man is saved individually
when he accepts that gift, by believing in Christ. John 3:16 (This is a
little expansion of John 3:16).
Man is not saved by his good ethics, or hard word, or his good morality. He
is saved simply by believing in Jesus the Christ. (Strict reading of Jesus
saying in John 3:16. Repeated constantly by Saint Paul’s writings).

Men do good works, love his enemies, love his neighbors, pray for his
oppressors, forgive his enemies, love and respect his parents, act simple
and innocent like little children, stay gentle, humble and meek in spirits,
etc… not because such works will save them. They don’t. (Repeat: The only
thing that gives men their salvation is faith in Jesus Christ). But emn
perform these good works, good conduct, because they believe in Christ, love
Christ and, therefore, obey Christ and do what Christ tells them to do.

Thus, the Christian good work and good conduct are not the CAUSE of
salvation. They are the RESULT of salvation (running from faith in Christ).
This is different from the Buddhist model where your good work is the cause
of your “salvation” (enlightenment).

Only when one understands this Christ-centered mode of thinking and living,
one will understand how a little group of humble, gentle, poor, ragged,
uneducated fishermen with a poor carpenter leader (who was executed only
after three years of preaching) had the spiritual strength to endure extreme
hardship and persecution of the most powerful empire on earth then. And not
only they endured the empire’s persecution, they eventually conquered the
empire, not by force but simply by spiritual strength. And two thousand
years later, they continue to be persecuted around the world and still show
enough spiritual strength to conquer the hearts of their persecutors.

My message to our Christian brothers/sisters is that we have to have faith
in Christ. We have to be Christ-centered (and not Church-centered,
group-centered, politic-centered, organization-centered, mission-centered,
or anything-centered). And Christ will conquer the hearts of men, though
our outward expression of the living Christ that resides in our heart.

For folks who want study Christ teaching without being lost in so many
church teachings by various churches, I would recommend the four Gospels
(Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) in the New Testament part of the Bible. Any
Bible is good. The International Revised Version is a very good version to
read because it is in international, beautiful, clear English.

The four Gospels were written by Jesus disciples. (Matthew and John are
among the first.twelve disciples. Mark and Luke are probably the second
generation). They recorded what Jesus himself taught. Matthew, Mark and
Luke are very similar. So one of them can represent all three (Mark is
generally considered the main one among the three. But I like Matthew
better, because it is very well organized). John is a very good theology
discourse and markedly different from the other three. Each book has about
30 pages. So we are talking about 60 pages of reading. There is not much
to read in Jesus teaching. Whether you can get the gist of the teaching is
something else. But as the Christian says, if you truly want to understand,
the Holy Spirit will answer you.

(I don’t recommend that beginners read Paul. Saint Paul’s writing is too
narrow compared with Jesus teaching and beginners may get lost easily).

Also, the best book to read on Christian theology that has a very firm
foundation on Christ is Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. This is
the second most authoritative book, after the Bible, in Christendom. This
is a series of theology lessons Chambers taught in his theology courses (for
pastors and the like) and is used today as daily reading for missionaries
around the world. I think this book would work for both Protestants and
Catholics. The difference between the two is more or less in church
doctrines, which govern church organizations.

Both the Bible and the Chambers book are available at the Christian
bookstores.

I hope that this has been a small contribution to the understanding of
Christianity. My apology for the long posting.

Have a great day!

In Christ,
Hoanh.

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