Lesson 10: Jesus, the Maker of Meaning

Methods of Jesus.10

Lesson 10: Jesus, the Maker of Meaning

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this learning module, the class facilitator should be equipped to:

  • Explain the way previous modules have paved the way for teaching meaning.
  • List the ways Jesus created meaning.

A central and essential task of class facilitators is to become “makers of meaning.” Of Jesus it is said: “From His lips the word of God came home to men’s hearts with new power and new meaning” (Education, p. 82). Inspiration also says: “The Bible has a fullness, a strength, a depth of meaning, that is inexhaustible” (ibid., p. 188). The class facilitator should constantly strive to probe this depth of meaning.

Meaning Explained

What are people saying when they express that something has meaning? They are indicating that they not only understand information or actions but that the content does something to make a positive impact in their life. The information helps them to develop a needed life skill. It is useful. It fosters well-being. The subject matter helps them to live a more complete, fulfilling, functional, purposeful, happy, healthy, God-filled life.

One of the greatest hungers of the soul today is for a knowledge of how to live a victorious Christian life. Anything that empowers a person to live such a life is meaningful to the learners.

Love is what gives meaning to life. Class members will seldom question the meaning of actions, words, or expressions that manifest love. Members long for a greater capacity to love God and to recognize His love for them.

Meaning helps to form cognitive information into transformation. Only the Holy Spirit can infuse Bible passages, illustrations, and experiences into a dynamic supernatural life. Facilitators may assist the Holy Spirit by using tools that focus on meaning. Religious educator Harold W. Burges says: “The pedagogical problem, when viewed from the facilitational perspective, is not to control the actions of the Holy Spirit: it is rather to manipulate the environment (not the learner) in such a way that the Spirit will be enabled to operate most fruitfully” (An Invitation to Religious Education, p. 156). Prior lessons in this series funnel into this vital aspect of religious education.

Reflective Thinking and Meaning

The object of reflective thinking is to arrive at meaning. The best questions are those that lead learners to think reflectively in order to arrive at truth that connects with their development of faith. Thoughts are closely connected with feelings, and hence with spirituality. For example, facilitators may ask class members to put themselves in the shoes of Hosea to describe the complexity of emotions involved when he was told by the Lord to go and buy his wife after she had played the harlot (Hos. 3:1-3). In that moment of reflection, the Holy Spirit can bring life-changing insight into the heart and character of God as the learner vicariously experiences the unselfish love and pity offered the prostitute because of her need. This can transition into a recognition that all of us as sinners are still precious to God in spite of our disloyalty to Him. This healing grace gives spiritual power to be unselfish and forgiving to our spouses and to all others.

Motivation and Meaning

Adults are motivated to study when Bible facts give meaning to their life situation. This is especially true for Generation X and postmodern thinkers. In times past, young men and women in the church would have a tendency to follow the leadership of elders out of respect for authority. This is not so much the case today. If the class facilitator were to hand out an assignment to a member of the younger generation, the person will be more likely to ask why the exercise is important or what relationship it has to real life before responding positively.

Inquiry Learning and Meaning

The reason the disciples asked Jesus questions is because they wanted meaning. After Jesus spoke the parable of the sower, His disciples asked Him what this parable meant (Luke 8:9). Rather than becoming an obstacle to learning, the quest for meaning can become an open door to spiritual growth if the facilitator uses it to awaken interest and curiosity. This is why it is so critical to begin with a meaningful interpretation of Scripture.

For example, facilitators might ask the class the meaning of the experience of Abraham (Gen. 15:6-18). Here God asks him to divide the carcasses of animals and then witness a smoking furnace and blazing torch that passed between the pieces. The facilitator might ask if anyone would be willing to do research on this passage and bring back a clear explanation to the class. The passage may become one of the most meaningful experiences in the Bible when clearly understood. Archaeology has uncovered clay tablet descriptions of the details involved in making a covenant in the days of Abraham. The parties in the agreement walked between divided carcasses and said in essence: “Let this happen to me if I don’t keep my end of the bargain.” No wonder Abraham trusted that God would raise Isaac to life after Abraham witnessed the divine presence walking between the divided animals.

Facilitators should be ready to guide class members in the use of tools that will uncover the true understanding of the Bible. Various translations, commentaries, word studies, and books of historical backgrounds all help to arrive at the meaning of Scripture. Also read page 182 in Fundamentals of Christian Education.

Nonverbal Feedback and Meaning

Facilitators may be alert for signs and body language, and words that indicate boredom, disinterest, or lack of understanding on the part of the learner. Stay tuned in to class members.

Other Meaning Makers

The alert class facilitator may observe the ways that people focus on making meaning. Cues, for example, were used by Jesus not simply to help people store facts, but to convey insights and meaning. Adult learners want facts to have meaning in relationship to teachable moments in their changing life situations. It is the purpose of identification learning to make the content relevant by relating to the life situation of the learner.

How Jesus Created Meaning

In addition to all the various ways mentioned in the previous class facilitator seminar modules, Jesus used the following ways to create meaning:

Actions. When Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, He demonstrated service, love, humility, and the manner in which spiritual cleansing takes place (John 13). Meaning continued to unfold as the disciples repeated the act and reflected upon it.

Manifesting Love. Jesus demonstrated love and told His disciples to love others the way He loved them (John 13:34). The greatest manifestation of love was to lay down His life for His friends (John 15:13). Disciples have eternity to reflect upon the meaning of the Cross.

Warming the Heart

When Jesus spoke to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, they said that their hearts burned within them after He communed with them (Luke 24:32). This came about because Jesus had opened the Scriptures to their understanding (verse 27). The most heartwarming thing was for the disciples to discover how much Jesus loved them. The Scriptures convinced them that Jesus, their friend, was God in the flesh. But He also cared enough about them to associate with them in their common walks of life.

Effective class facilitators will look for heartwarming stories connected with the concept of the crucibles of life. For example, the story of the three Hebrew men—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Dan. 3:22-28)—demonstrates that Jesus may walk with us in the midst of the fires of affliction. He identifies with us and has participated in the crucibles that come from the conditions of a sinful world.

Breathing the Holy Spirit Upon His Disciples

Think of the meaning involved when Jesus breathed upon His disciples as an act of imparting the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). When class facilitators receive a daily baptism of the Holy Spirit, words will fall from their lips with truth and grace to impart the presence of Jesus in the form of His Spirit.

Exercise: It would be well to assign class members an unclear text to study, reflect and meditate upon, and then to share with the class. Take the following text for example: “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderers’ soap” (Mal. 3:2).

Example: Researchers can study this text in its context. They can study backgrounds. They may present visual, media, or descriptive evidence of how a refiner’s fire works. They may even demonstrate how the dross or slag floats to the surface when the ore is heated white-hot. From this the class can apply to their lives in a meaningful way the fact that meditation upon the life of Jesus will manifest flaws in our character and participating with Him in His suffering may leave our lives more pure and valuable than refined gold.


Jim Kilmer
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists