Who Is Jesus? Pt 1- Rabbi Jesus

Posted: April 8, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

Matthew is the Jewish Gospel; it was likely written specifically for Jewish Christians, and as an apologetic to the Jews…as an evangelistic tool. Like the other synoptic Gospels of Mark and Luke, Matthew doesn’t pretend to tell the entire life story of Jesus. That’s not the point. The point of the story is to introduce his Jewish brothers and sisters to Jesus, and to provide evidence that Jesus was the expected Messiah of the Jewish people.

The Book of Matthew starts off immediately by emphasizing the Jewishness of Jesus, and lays the foundation for his being considered the Messiah of God…Israel’s saviour and deliverer. Matthew does this by tracing the lineage of Jesus through his step-father Joseph to King David, and from there to Abraham. In doing so he kills two birds with one stone. First, that Jesus is Jewish is settled unequivocally. You simply can’t get any more Jewish than having a documented genealogy that traces your ancestors in a straight line back to Abraham. Second, it establishes Jesus’ royal bonafides as a direct descendent of King David’s ruling dynasty. What about Jesus not actually being Joseph’s son? No problem. He was accepted by Joseph, named by Joseph (which indicates adoption), raised by Joseph, and understood by the villagers to be the son of Joseph.

So, the Jewish readers of Matthew’s Gospel would immediately be thinking of Jesus in the context of their own culture and history. Immediately Jesus is established as one of their own in a very real sense.

What this tells you as a 21st century reader of Matthew’s Gospel, is to expect Jesus to be presented in the context of Jewish culture and belief. If it seems as you read that Jesus is “foreign” to you…that he speaks a foreign language, practices foreign customs, and teaches foreign concepts using foreign methods…it’s because he is. Jesus is presented in Matthew’s Gospel in the context of the first century Jewish world of Roman-occupied Israel, so expect it to seem strange.

Rabbi Jesus: What We Don’t Mean

We’ve titled this first message in the series as “Rabbi Jesus”, and it’s important now to clarify what we mean by that. However, it’s far easier to start by telling you what we don’t mean.

First, we don’t mean that Jesus was ordained officially by any of the several Jewish religious schools that existed at the time. He most likely was not officially “ordained” as a rabbi.

Second, we don’t mean that Jesus teachings aligned him with any particular sect or faction of Judaism that existed then. While from time Jesus’ teachings seem to align with one group or the other, at other times he contradicts their ideas. Jesus’ teachings do not consistently place him within any first century group…he is quite by himself, in his own category.

Third, we don’t mean that Jesus submitted his teachings to the authority of the rabbinical leaders of the time. An ordinary rabbi had every word scrutinized by councils and groups of peers and elders within his sect. If he said something out of line with the group’s philosophy and belief, his feet would be held to the fire. He’d be expected to line up to the official teaching in order to stay with the group.

However, Jesus taught with authority, as if he spoke directly for God…on behalf of God. Rabbis, on the other hand, based their teachings on the authority of Scripture. Jesus didn’t. He spoke with the authority of God. Matthew presents Jesus this way; Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, with authority higher than that of any Rabbi. He speaks for God.

Rabbi Jesus: What We Do Mean

So, now that we’ve established what we don’t mean when we speak of “Rabbi Jesus”, maybe we should talk about what we do mean.

First, when we refer to Rabbi Jesus, we mean that Jesus was recognized as a teacher among his own people, and that he was generally given the appropriate honor that accompanied that recognition.

Second, we mean that Jesus used the methods appropriate to the teachers of the time. He called disciples, had his followers baptized, and taught them using object lessons, Q &A, and exposition. And, he sent his disciples out to teach others.

Third, we mean that Jesus had the expectations of his followers that were common to the teachers of his time. He expected them to;

Hear. Literally, to hear, but also to seek to understand what he taught them. And he expected them to…

Obey. He expected his followers to actually do what he taught them to do, to actually live according to the principles of life that he laid down. Jesus fully expected that his followers would submit to the authority of his teaching.

What This Means to You

So, what does any of this mean to you, a 21st century reader of the Gospel of Matthew?

First; that if you want to learn of Jesus, you’ve got to approach him with the proper sense of respect for who he is, acknowledging that he knows something you don’t, and that he has much to teach you. You don’t have to start out by acknowledging his Messianic nature…that he’s the Savior of Israel and of the world. You don’t have to start out by confessing his Lordship…that He’s King of Kings and Lord of Lords. You don’t have to start out by acknowledging his Deity…that He indeed is God manifested in the flesh. But you must start with the acknowledgment that he has something to teach you about living this life, and about preparing for the next one.

So, you’ve got to respect him.

Second; that if you’re going to learn of Jesus, you’ve got to expect that he’s actually going to teach you. This implies that he will point out where you have to alter your thinking, alter your habits, and alter your life’s direction. This implies that you do indeed lack something, and that he can supply it…and supply is exactly what he’ll do. Jesus isn’t shy about pointing out where you’re wrong, about calling you out on your own private and personal hypocrisy and inconsistency. Don’t expect Jesus to always be gentle with your feelings. But his point is never simply to embarrass you or make you feel like a dolt. The purpose is always to make you better.

So, Jesus will teach you.

And third; if you’re going to learn of Jesus, you’ve got to recognize that as the Teacher, he has expectations of you. Learning of Jesus is never simply a passive transmission of data or ideas. Learning of Jesus is always interactive with a healthy serving of practicality. As the Teacher, Jesus expects you to hear…to listen actively with the intention of seeking to understand what you don’t understand. He expects you to make an investment in your own learning. He expects you to put the time and effort into learning that you would as if you were enrolled in classes taught by the world’s greatest moral teacher.

Oh. Wait. That’s who he is.

And he expects you to do what he says. Jesus isn’t neutral about what he expects his teaching to produce in your life. He doesn’t just throw it out there, granting you the authority to pick and choose what you think is significant. Jesus is no advocate of the ‘meat & bones’ philosophy of learning; “I’ll just take the meat and throw away the bones.” He’s not the professor who says, “Do the work or don’t do the work…I’ll still get paid.” Jesus expects obedience. What he teaches he expects you to apply.


On any given day of the year you may find yourself in need of medical attention. You might not be sure of what’s wrong, exactly…you only know that something isn’t quite right. Perhaps you’re one of those fortunate people who have always been healthy as a horse and you’ve never had to develop a relationship with a physician. So you start by checking online or looking in the phonebook…and it’s so incredibly frustrating! You don’t know these people! You don’t know who’s a good doctor or not! At the end of the day, you talk to a few friends and family members…and there’s one name that keeps popping up…Doctor Bob.

You’ve never met Doctor Bob, but with so many people that you know saying good things about him, you decide to check him out. So, you make an appointment, and take your symptoms to Doctor Bob. While you’re there he does all the doctor things; he asks you questions, he pokes and prods and looks in your ears and makes you stick out your tongue and say “ahhh.” He sends you for x-rays, takes blood for tests, and a myriad other little semi-invasive things.

But it’s worth it…because about a week later you’re back in Doctor Bob’s office and he’s telling you that you have a particular disease. It’s fatal if left untreated, but the good news is that it’s treatable. In fact, it’s been treated successfully thousands of times, and Doctor Bob sees no reason why your prognosis shouldn’t be just as good. You’re scared, but at the same time hopeful and relieved as he reaches for the pad and begins to write out the prescription for the drugs that will be part of your course of treatment. He carefully explains how you’re to take the medicines, and continues to talk to you about a change in your diet and level of activity. He’s specific, and pointed…you know he’s not kidding. But you feel good because he knows the cure.

You’ll do what Doctor Bob says. You’ll take the medicine. You’ll change your diet. You’ll change your level of activity. And you’ll do it all without any real proof that he’s actually a doctor. You don’t know him personally. You don’t know if the fancy certificates on the wall are real. You don’t know anything at all. But you’ll put your life in his hands, and you’ll do what he says.

I understand that you may be here just because someone else told you that Jesus had answers. And he does. Jesus has the cure for the disease of sin, and he knows the things you should do to make your life better. I understand that you may not know Jesus, and that truly trusting relationships take time to build. But there are also some things that you’ve got to address NOW. So as someone who’s heard Jesus’ answers, I strongly suggest that you just do what he says.

  1. ed arbeau says:

    great teaching; depth and practicality here; and true, following him means that he’s not going to be so concerned with whether my “feelings” are hurt or not.

  2. Brent Calhoun says:

    Awesome, next time you visit bring a suit and teach for me.

  3. Mel says:

    Dennis absolutely enlightening… As Ed has said: depth yes …but also easy to read & understand. I love the way you present the Word …

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