Who Is Jesus? Pt 2- Radical Jesus

Posted: April 15, 2013 in Uncategorized, Who Is Jesus?
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This message continues the Who Is Jesus series that’s based in Matthew’s gospel by examining the radical nature of Jesus’ message. Radical? Yes, exactly so. And while the word “radical” can imply different things to different people, it’s often used to describe a person who advocates complete social and political reform. The more radical the person is, the more thorough the reforms they suggest will be.

Jesus was a radical. I know that it’s not an aspect of Jesus we usually consider; we’re so immersed in the message of the spiritualized Jesus, the Jesus who cleanses the soul, who transforms the life, who is ascended, glorified, and coming again, that we rarely, if ever, consider the human Jesus. We don’t think of the Jesus with dusty feet, the bearded Jesus, Jesus with a throat hoarse from preaching on mountainsides to multitudes. Our thoughts of Jesus tend to place him in a rarified heavenly atmosphere, and usually we fail to recognize that he was an actual, historical person who really interacted with the society and culture he was part of. And, that the Jesus the people of the day responded to was to them a very real and very human person.

So, while you may think that it’s strange to say that Jesus was a radical, consider three things:

RESET: Proclaiming Jubilee

First, when Jesus came out of the wilderness to inaugurate his public ministry, he went to synagogue…which would be akin to us going to church…and made a very public proclamation. This event occurs between verses 12&13 of Matthew four, and is recorded in Luke 4:16-21. As Luke mentions, this was a selection from the Isaiah…specifically, it’s from Isaiah 61:1-3. But I want to remind you of how real and concrete this was to them. They didn’t know the spiritualized Jesus. The only Jesus they knew was the other guy, the one with the dusty feet, the beard, and the hoarse voice. So, when Jesus made this declaration, they didn’t immediately spiritualize it as we do. To them, Jesus was making a radical, public statement about his intentions and his mission. This was real.

To help drive the radical nature of his proclamation home, it may help you to understand that his audience would likely have understood this particular selection from Isaiah to refer to the Jubilee Law contained in Leviticus 25. We don’t have time to either read the text or discuss it in detail, so here’s a quick summary of what the Jubilee Law established. Every 50 years;

  • All debts were forgiven, no matter how large or how small.
  • All slaves were freed, and given enough money to start a new life with.
  • All land that had been sold during the previous 50 years was returned to its original owner, or the owner’s family.

Basically, the Jubilee was God’s way of pressing the “reset” button on the Israelite economy and on their society. It prevented a permanent underclass from developing. It prevented a handful of people from getting a choke-hold on economic power. It controlled bad lending and bad borrowing. It prevented a small cadre of people from becoming outsized landowners at the expense of creating a class of landless peasants. Jubilee gave Israel a giant economic and social “do-over”.

When Jesus declared that he was here to bring freedom to everyone, and that he was pushing the “reset” button, this was interpreted by his listeners as real world stuff! And it was incredibly radical!

Declaring Kingdom & Constitution

The second thing I’d like you to consider is this: Matthew 4:17 describes him traveling through the region preaching that the kingdom of Heaven was at hand…it will be established presently, and not at some distant future point. Now, keep in mind that Jesus’ preaching about the immediate inception of the Kingdom of Heaven is set against the backdrop of him being a Galilean holy man who has just proclaimed that he’s hit the “reset” button on Jewish society!

This is real to them…not spiritual or theological. When Jesus preached about the Kingdom of Heaven, they didn’t hear him as we hear someone when they preach about the Kingdom of Heaven. “Kingdom” to them was the primary national political construct of the time. It was as common to them as the idea of “republic” is to us. To understand how his listeners would have heard him, try to imagine what you’d be thinking if you heard that some blue-collar prophet was making public appearances all over your homeland declaring that a “new republic” was about to be established. The Kingdom was real!

Radical? You bet! Attractive? To a poverty stricken people under the boot of Rome, it was incredibly attractive! On top of this, Jesus established that he was a real power by healing the sick, casting out devils, calming tormented minds, and loosing paralyzed limbs. Combine the radical message with radical power and know what you have? You have multitudes of people following him, and all the makings of a revolution!

Then, as the crowd grew further still, Jesus climbed up a hill and sat down to teach them about how the New Kingdom would work. This is called the Sermon on the Mount, and it’s found in Matthew 5-7. These three chapters are the most complete record of Jesus’ moral teaching, and they demonstrate that the Kingdom of God would function nothing like the kingdoms of the world. The Sermon on the Mount has been called by some the Constitution of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Well, if Matthew 5-7 is the Kingdom Constitution, then perhaps the first 12 verses (the Beatitudes) serve as the Preamble to the Constitution. The Beatitudes provide you with an overview of the utterly radical nature of the New Kingdom. All of the Beatitudes start off with the word “blessed”…in this selection coming from a Greek word which would essentially mean to us that fortune has really smiled on you. “Oh man! You are luck-eeeeeeee!” Obviously, the implication is that the favor you’re receiving is from God. So, you are one lucky dog because you’re in God’s good books! Do you want to know who are in God’s good books, who are the “luck-eeeeee” in the Kingdom?

It’s the poor, the grieving, the humble, those craving justice, the merciful, the pure in heart, those who make peace, those who suffer injustice, those who are taunted, ridiculed, and lied about for Jesus’ sake…this Kingdom is upside down! In all the kingdoms of the world it’s the rich, the powerful, the manipulators, the sociopaths, the corrupt, the warmongers, the unjust, and those who mock righteousness who are on top, who are the lucky ones. But not in God’s Kingdom!

So yes, Jesus was radical.

Occupy Temple Mount!

To consider the third thing that confirms Jesus as a radical, skip ahead to Matthew 21. This chapter tells the story of this very popular and very powerful teacher making his grand entrance into the city of Jerusalem. This is called the Triumphal Entry, and as Jesus enters riding on a donkey, the multitudes throw their coats down, paving the street with a carpet of clothing for the beast to walk on. Others cut branches off of palm trees and put them down on the path.

This was a purposeful action on Jesus’ part. Matthew records that Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey because the prophet Zechariah had said that the King would enter Jerusalem this way. Wait! This is the radical rabbi who’s been preaching about the KINGdom of heaven, and now he’s entering the city on a donkey? What’s he saying? He’s saying that he’s the KING! And on his ride from the gate, great crowds of people line the streets proclaiming him to be King!

So there are multitudes. You’ve got a leader proclaimed as king. Now all you need is a confrontation to spark a revolution! If revolution is what Jesus wants, it would make sense for him to lead the crowds to the Roman garrison or to Herod’s palace. Confrontation would be guaranteed there! But instead Jesus leads them to the Temple! As the crowds surge around Jesus up the steps, through the gates and into the Court of the Gentiles, Jesus begins to turn over the tables of the money changers, to drive out the sacrificial animals being sold there, and to command the buyers and sellers to leave. By doing this he was establishing his authority over the temple.

You’ve heard of Occupy Wall Street? This is Occupy Temple Mount!

Jesus isn’t breaking any laws, so the authorities can’t arrest him. And, he’s got a huge following with him, so any overt move against him could get ugly. Plus, it’s hard to do anything to a guy that’s busy healing blind and lame people as fast as they can be brought to him.

The next day as Jesus and his multitude of followers flooded the Temple once again, and the religious leaders decided to try to trip him up so that the Romans could swoop in and arrest him. They knew that the Romans would be aware of what was going on, and, being very suspicious of sedition, they’d be watching closely. Anything that smacked of revolution would be dealt with decisively and brutally. So, they tried to trick Jesus into making statements that were openly seditious.

Taxation by the Romans was a sore spot for the Jews. So, they asked Jesus a question about taxation; “Should we pay taxes to Rome or not?” If Jesus said “Yes” then the crowd would turn on him. If Jesus said “no” the Romans would arrest him. But he surprised them by asking them who’s image was on the a coin. They said, “Caesar’s.” Then Jesus told them to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give God what belongs to God. He’s telling them that Caesar owns what bears his image, but nothing else. Caesar controls the economy…his image is on the money. Caesar controls the military…his image is on the standards. Caesar controls the courts…his image stands in all of them. But he doesn’t own you!

Imagine the multitude that surrounds Jesus as he answers the religious leaders. They are largely poor, many of them slaves or freedmen. They have visible scars on their bodies where they’ve been branded by Roman masters or Roman courts. Some have a large ring through an ear indicating their slavery. Others have been tattooed by their masters, so their status is plain to see. And as they stand and listen to Jesus make his pronouncement about image and ownership, the undercurrent of meaning breaks in on them and says, “No one owns you! No matter what brand they’ve burned into your flesh, no matter what tattoo you bear, no matter how large the ring in your ear…NO ONE owns you! You are made in the image of God, so HE owns you, and you are free from all the rest!”

Yes, Jesus was most definitely a radical.

Closing:

We have little awareness of how carefully Jesus picked his way along the edge of open insurrection. His declaration of Jubliee, his proclamation of a New Kingdom, and his march through Jerusalem while being hailed as king, are only three indicators of just how radical he was. There are others. Yet with the throngs behind him, and the dynastic right to the throne, Jesus chose at the crucial moment to lead his followers to the Temple, of all places…to cleanse it…and to heal.

Perhaps Jesus was sending us a message. Maybe he was trying to tell us that the greatest, the most significant, the most radical revolution of all is the one that occurs when God rules the temple of the heart. Perhaps the radical nature of Jesus cleansing the Temple is an indication of the radical way that he cleanses the heart. And maybe his acts of healing tell us that after our cleansing he’ll begin to heal our souls.

After all, Jesus is still a radical. He can still press the “reset” button your life and let you start over. He still declares that you can serve a new King as a citizen of Heaven’s Kingdom. And He still frees you to be God’s image in God’s world.

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