1-3. (a) The disciples traveling with Jesus have what rare privilege, and how does he make it easier for them to remember what he teaches? (b) Why are effective illustrations easy to remember?
THE disciples traveling with Jesus have a rare privilege. They are learning directly from the Great Teacher. They get to hear his voice as he opens up the meaning of God’s Word and teaches them thrilling truths. For now, they must carry his precious sayings in their minds and hearts; it is not yet the time for his words to be preserved in writing.* However, Jesus makes it easier for them to remember what he teaches. How? By his way of teaching, especially his masterful use of illustrations.
2 Indeed, effective illustrations are not quickly forgotten. One author noted that illustrations “turn ears into eyes” and that they “free listeners to think with pictures in their heads.” Because we often think best in pictures, illustrations can make even abstract ideas easier to grasp. Illustrations can bring words to life, teaching us lessons that become etched in our memory.
3 No teacher on earth has ever been more skillful at using illustrations than was Jesus Christ. To this day, his illustrations are easily recalled. Why did Jesus rely heavily on this method of teaching? What made his illustrations so effective? How can we learn to use this teaching method?
Why Jesus Taught With Illustrations
4, 5. Why did Jesus use illustrations?
4 The Bible gives two important reasons why Jesus used illustrations. First, his doing so fulfilled prophecy. At Matthew 13:34, 35, we read: “Jesus spoke to the crowds by illustrations. Indeed, without an illustration he would not speak to them; that there might be fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet who said: ‘I will open my mouth with illustrations.’” The prophet mentioned by Matthew was the writer of Psalm 78:2. That psalmist wrote under the inspiration of God’s spirit centuries before Jesus’ birth. Consider what this means. Hundreds of years in advance, Jehovah determined that the Messiah would teach with illustrations. Surely, then, Jehovah must value this method of teaching.
5 Second, Jesus explained that he used illustrations to sift out those whose hearts had “grown unreceptive.” (Matthew 13:10-15; Isaiah 6:9, 10) What was it about his illustrations that exposed the motives of people? In some cases, he wanted his listeners to ask for an explanation in order to get the full meaning of his words. Humble individuals were willing to ask, whereas haughty or indifferent ones were not. (Matthew 13:36; Mark 4:34) Jesus’ illustrations, then, revealed truth to those whose hearts hungered for it; at the same time, his illustrations concealed truth from those with proud hearts.
6. Jesus’ illustrations served what beneficial purposes?
6 Jesus’ illustrations served a number of other beneficial purposes. They aroused interest, compelling people to listen. They painted mental images that were easy to grasp. As noted at the outset, Jesus’ illustrations helped his listeners to remember his words. The Sermon on the Mount, as recorded at Matthew 5:3–7:27, is an outstanding example of Jesus’ generous use of word pictures. According to one count, this sermon contains over 50 figures of speech. To put that in perspective, keep in mind that this sermon can be read aloud in about 20 minutes. At that rate, a figure of speech is uttered, on average, nearly every 20 seconds! Clearly, Jesus saw the value of painting a picture with words!
7. Why imitate Jesus’ use of illustrations?
7 As followers of Christ, we want to imitate his way of teaching, including his use of illustrations. Like the seasonings that make a meal more appetizing, effective illustrations can make our teaching more appealing to others. Well-thought-out word pictures can also make important truths easier to grasp. Let us now take a closer look at some of the factors that made Jesus’ illustrations so effective. Then we will be able to see how we can put this valuable teaching method to good use.
Using Simple Comparisons
8, 9. How did Jesus make use of simple comparisons, and what made the comparisons he drew so effective?
8 In his teaching, Jesus often used comparisons that were uncomplicated, requiring just a few words. Yet, the simple words painted vivid mental images and clearly taught important spiritual truths. For example, when urging his disciples not to be anxious over daily needs, he pointed to “the birds of heaven” and “the lilies of the field.” The birds do not sow and reap, nor do the lilies spin and weave. Still, God cares for them. The point is easy to see—namely, that if God takes care of birds and flowers, surely he will look after humans who “keep . . . seeking first the kingdom.”—Matthew 6:26, 28-33.
9 Jesus also made generous use of metaphors, which are even more forceful comparisons. A metaphor refers to one thing as if it were another. Here, again, he kept the comparisons simple. On one occasion, he told his disciples: “You are the light of the world.” The disciples could hardly miss the point of the metaphor, namely, that through their words and deeds, they could let the light of spiritual truth shine and help others to give glory to God. (Matthew 5:14-16) Note some other metaphors used by Jesus: “You are the salt of the earth” and “I am the vine, you are the branches.” (Matthew 5:13; John 15:5) Such figures of speech are powerful in their simplicity.
10. What are some examples that show how you can use illustrations in your teaching?
10 How can you use illustrations in your teaching? You do not have to come up with long, elaborate stories. Just try to think of simple comparisons. Imagine that you are discussing the subject of the resurrection and that you want to illustrate that raising the dead poses no problem for Jehovah. What comparison comes to mind? The Bible uses sleep as a metaphor for death. You might say, “God can resurrect the dead as easily as we can awaken someone from sleep.” (John 11:11-14) Suppose that you want to illustrate that children need love and affection if they are to thrive. What example could you use? The Bible uses this comparison: Children are “like slips [new shoots] of olive trees.” (Psalm 128:3) You could say, “Love and affection are to a child what sunshine and water are to a tree.” The simpler the comparison, the easier it will be for your listeners to get the point.
Drawing From Everyday Life
11. Give examples of how Jesus’ illustrations reflected things that he had no doubt observed while growing up in Galilee.
11 Jesus was a master at using illustrations that related to the lives of people. Many of his illustrations reflected everyday circumstances that he had likely observed while growing up in Galilee. Think, for a moment, about his early life. How often did he see his mother grind grain into flour, add leaven to dough, light a lamp, or sweep the house? (Matthew 13:33; 24:41; Luke 15:8) How many times did he watch the fishermen as they let down their nets into the Sea of Galilee? (Matthew 13:47) How often did he observe children playing in the marketplace? (Matthew 11:16) Jesus no doubt saw other commonplace things that are mentioned in his many illustrations—seeds being sown, joyful wedding feasts, and grain fields ripening in the sun.—Matthew 13:3-8; 25:1-12; Mark 4:26-29.
12, 13. Why is it significant that Jesus used the road that went “from Jerusalem to Jericho” to make his point in the parable of the neighborly Samaritan?
12 In his illustrations, Jesus mentioned details that were well-known to his listeners. For example, he began the parable of the neighborly Samaritan by saying: “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among robbers, who both stripped him and inflicted blows, . . . leaving him half-dead.” (Luke 10:30) Significantly, Jesus referred to the road that went “from Jerusalem to Jericho” to make his point. When relating this parable, he was in Judea, not far from Jerusalem; so his listeners undoubtedly knew about the road in question. That road was known to be dangerous, especially for someone traveling alone. It wound through lonely terrain, providing many lurking places for robbers.
13 Jesus included other familiar details about the road that went “from Jerusalem to Jericho.” According to the parable, first a priest and then a Levite were also traveling that road—although neither stopped to help the victim. (Luke 10:31, 32) The priests served at the temple in Jerusalem, and the Levites assisted them. Many priests and Levites resided in Jericho when they were not working at the temple; Jericho was only 14 miles (23 km) from Jerusalem. Hence, they could be seen on that road. Note, too, that Jesus spoke of the traveler as “going down”—not up—the road “from Jerusalem.” This made sense to his listeners. Jerusalem was higher in elevation than Jericho. Therefore, when traveling “from Jerusalem,” a traveler would indeed be “going down.”* Jesus clearly kept his listeners in mind.
14. When using illustrations, how can we keep our audience in mind?
14 When we use illustrations, we too need to keep our audience in mind. What are some things about our listeners that might have a bearing on our choice of illustrations? Perhaps such factors as age, cultural or family background, and occupation come into play. For instance, an illustration that mentions details about farming might be more readily understood in an agricultural area than in a large city. The everyday life and activities of our hearers—their children, their house, their hobbies, their food—might also provide the basis for fitting illustrations.
Drawing From Creation
15. Why is it no wonder that Jesus was intimately acquainted with creation?
15 Many of Jesus’ illustrations reveal his knowledge of the natural world, including plants, animals, and the elements. (Matthew 16:2, 3; Luke 12:24, 27) Where did he get such knowledge? While growing up in Galilee, he no doubt had ample opportunity to observe creation. More significantly, Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation,” and in creating all things, Jehovah used him as the “master worker.” (Colossians 1:15, 16; Proverbs 8:30, 31) Is it any wonder that Jesus was intimately acquainted with creation? Let us see how he put this knowledge to skillful use.
16, 17. (a) What indicates that Jesus was very familiar with the traits of sheep? (b) What example shows that sheep really do listen to the voice of their shepherd?
16 Recall that Jesus identified himself as “the fine shepherd” and his followers as “the sheep.” Jesus’ words indicate that he was very familiar with the traits of domestic sheep. He knew that there was a unique bond between shepherds and their sheep. He noted that these trusting creatures readily allowed themselves to be led and that they faithfully followed their shepherd. Why do sheep follow their shepherd? “Because they know his voice,” said Jesus. (John 10:2-4, 11) Do sheep really know their shepherd’s voice?
17 From personal observation, George A. Smith wrote in his book The Historical Geography of the Holy Land: “Sometimes we enjoyed our noonday rest beside one of those Judaean wells, to which three or four shepherds come down with their flocks. The flocks mixed with each other, and we wondered how each shepherd would get his own again. But after the watering and the playing were over, the shepherds one by one went up different sides of the valley, and each called out his peculiar call; and the sheep of each drew out of the crowd to their own shepherd, and the flocks passed away as orderly as they came.” Jesus could hardly have found a better illustration to make his point, namely, that if we recognize and obey his teachings and if we follow his lead, then we can come under the care of “the fine shepherd.”
18. Where can we find information about Jehovah’s creations?
18 How can we learn to use illustrations that are drawn from creation? The outstanding traits of animals may provide the basis for simple but effective comparisons. Where can we find information about Jehovah’s creations? The Bible is a rich source of knowledge about a variety of animals, and at times, it uses animal traits in an illustrative way. The Bible alludes to being as swift as a gazelle or a leopard, as cautious as a snake, and as innocent as a dove.* (1 Chronicles 12:8; Habakkuk 1:8; Matthew 10:16) Other valuable sources of information are The Watchtower, Awake!, and other literature produced by Jehovah’s Witnesses. You can learn much from observing how these publications employ simple comparisons drawn from the wonders of Jehovah’s many creations.
Drawing From Familiar Examples
19, 20. (a) To expose a false belief, how did Jesus make effective use of a recent event? (b) How can we use true-life examples and experiences in our teaching?
19 Effective illustrations can take the form of real-life examples. On one occasion, Jesus used a recent event to expose as false the belief that tragedy befalls those who deserve it. He said: “Those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, thereby killing them, do you imagine that they were proved greater debtors [sinners] than all other men inhabiting Jerusalem?” (Luke 13:4) Indeed, those 18 souls did not perish because of some sin that provoked divine displeasure. Rather, their tragic death was a result of “time and unforeseen occurrence.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11) Jesus thus refuted a false teaching by referring to an event that was well-known to his hearers.
20 How can we use true-life examples and experiences in our teaching? Suppose that you are discussing the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy concerning the sign of his presence. (Matthew 24:3-14) You might refer to recent news items about wars, famines, or earthquakes to show that specific features of the sign are being fulfilled. Or imagine that you want to use an experience to illustrate the changes involved in putting on the new personality. (Ephesians 4:20-24) Where can you find such an experience? You could consider the varied backgrounds of fellow believers, or you might use an experience printed in one of the publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
21. What rewards come from being an effective teacher of God’s Word?
21 Truly, Jesus was the Master Teacher! As we have seen in this section, “teaching . . . and preaching the good news” was his lifework. (Matthew 4:23) It is our lifework too. The rewards of being an effective teacher are great. When we teach, we are giving to others, and such giving brings happiness. (Acts 20:35) That happiness is the joy of knowing that we are imparting something of genuine and lasting value—the truth about Jehovah. We can also have the satisfaction that comes from knowing that we are following the example of Jesus, the greatest Teacher ever to walk the earth.
The first inspired record of Jesus’ earthly life was evidently the Gospel of Matthew, written about eight years after Jesus’ death.
Jesus also said that the priest and the Levite were coming “from Jerusalem,” thus going away from the temple. Thus, no one could excuse their indifference by saying that they avoided the man who appeared to be dead because they did not want to become temporarily unfit to serve at the temple.—Leviticus 21:1; Numbers 19:16.