Education Sunday – August 27, 2017
The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the ways of his father David before him. He did not consult the Baals 4 but sought the God of his father and followed his commands rather than the practices of Israel. 5 The Lord established the kingdom under his control; and all Judah brought gifts to Jehoshaphat, so that he had great wealth and honor. 6 His heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord; furthermore, he removed the high places and the Asherah poles from Judah.
7 In the third year of his reign he sent his officials Ben-Hail, Obadiah, Zechariah, Nethanel and Micaiah to teach in the towns of Judah. 8 With them were certain Levites. 9 They taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the Lord; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people. (2 Chronicles 17:3-7)
“Above all things, the principal and most general subject of study, both in the higher and the lower schools, should be the Holy Scriptures.”
Martin Luther wrote those words. He knew a thing or two about Christian education. After he nailed the 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, after he defended his works and writings and beliefs in his showdown with the emperor and the church at the Diet of Worms, Luther was excommunicated.
How could this Reformation, this return to God’s Word, take hold in such a superstitious and defiant church? How does a minister “right the ship”? Martin Luther soon realized two important answers to that question. The first is that no minister, no person, can make another person believe. Only God can do that. And the other important realization Luther came to was that God changes people’s hearts through his Word.
At the heart of the Reformation was the teaching of God’s Word. The people needed to be educated, and Martin Luther would spend the rest of his life, up to his dying days, preaching and teaching the Word of the Lord. He had his work cut out for him. Starting with his fellow priests, Luther found out that these ministers of his day couldn’t even list the ten commandments! The German Christians knew even less.
No wonder Martin Luther finally said, “Above all things, the principal and most general subject of study, both in the higher and the lower schools, should be the Holy Scriptures.”
That wasn’t just true in 16th century Germany. It has always been true. Any great reformation, any important revival of Christianity has to be founded on Christian education.
This morning we see an important but overlooked example of the importance of Christian education from Israel’s history. Education in God’s Word had become a hallmark for Israel in the time of King David. He had returned God’s people to God’s Word through music and the organization of music in worship. Johann Sebastian Bach once famously stated, “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” David would have whole-heartedly agreed.
David’s son, Solomon, picked up the mantle of education and furthered it using his many proverbs. We heard one of those educational proverbs in our verse of the day, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” That teaching was meant to be a teaching of God’s Word.
Sadly, those beautiful educational reforms of David and Solomon were undone by the kings that came after them. By the time of King Jehoshaphat, the southern Kingdom of Judah needed spiritual help. Christian education was no longer a priority. The people had fallen away.
That danger holds true for us, too. Distractions keep us from learning from God’s Word in church. Distractions keep us from spending time in God’s Word at home. Embarrassment can sometimes keep us from teaching that word to others. Would our former teachers always be proud of how we carry ourselves? Not always.
In a similar situation, Jehoshaphat did something that, as far as we know, no other king of Judah had done. He taught the people. He sent his own officials and paired them with the Levites who knew God’s Word better than anyone. “They taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the Lord; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people.” In many ways, it was Judah’s first reformation. They would need many more over the years.
By the time Jesus had begun his ministry in the New Testament, his people were once again in spiritual dire straights. Oh, they had teachers, but those teachers of the law and the Pharisees were only interesting in teaching their own made up laws.
The people knew nothing of God’s love. They knew nothing of the coming Messiah. They were “like sheep without a shepherd.” They were like students without a teacher.
But now the rabbi, the teacher, had arrived. Throughout Jesus’ ministry we hear him teaching the people as the ultimate teacher: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom.” It was this teaching specifically that aroused the anger and jealousy of Israel’s old teachers.
They wanted him gone, by any means necessary. The means came when one of Jesus’ own pupils, Judas, decided to betray his teacher.
Having been captured, Jesus, the perfect teacher of Israel, was forced to stand before those false teachers on the Sanhedrin. As bad teachers are wont to do, the Sanhedrin made up facts in order to try and prove Jesus wrong.
It worked. Jesus allowed these Jewish teachers, who should have known better, to crucify him. And the Great Teacher died because no one believed what he taught. Of course, the most important teaching he taught was that he came to die. He also came to rise again.
Sometimes teaching a lesson in the classroom is not enough. The children’s eye glaze over. They glance out the window. The material just doesn’t seem to connect. That is when a physical, memorable lesson needs to take place. Don’t just talk about leaves. Go outside and see them, touch them. Don’t just talk about how a prism divides the light. Show it.
There was no more physical or memorable lesson Jesus could share than his appearance to his disciples on Easter Sunday. Peter and John never forgot what it was like to hold Jesus’ nail-marked hands and see where the spear pierced his side.
We have been taught those precious truths, too. We need to keep hearing those truths. We need to keep teaching those truths to the next generation. Martin Luther had it right. “Above all things, the principal and most general subject of study, both in the higher and the lower schools, should be the Holy Scriptures.” But perhaps a man named Nikolai Grundtvig put it even better…
“God’s Word is our great heritage And shall be ours forever;
To spread its light from age to age Shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life it guides our way; In death it is our stay.
Lord, grant, while worlds endure, We keep its teachings pure Throughout all generations.” Amen.