Archive for the ‘Who Is Jesus?’ Category

Introduction:

This message wraps up the Who Is Jesus series that’s been based in Matthew’s gospel. In the last message in the series we talked about Radical Jesus; about how he proclaimed Jubilee, declared the arrival of God’s Kingdom, and occupied the Temple to demonstrate his authority over it. If you could distill those three events down to their core essence and summarize that essence in one word, that word would be freedom. Jesus proclaimed freedom from debt, from slavery, from poverty, from political oppression, and from religious corruption.

But all the proclamations and demonstrations didn’t make it real. You can proclaim a thing until the cows come home, but something has got to bring that proclamation into reality. There’s usually an event of some kind, or a series of events, that brings a proclamation to life. For example; in 1776 the Second Continental Congress adopted that famous document known as the Declaration of Independence. Yet, the beauty and power of its words notwithstanding, the independence that was declared was made a reality only by the Revolutionary War…the point being that proclamations are made real by actions or events.

In order for the proclamation of freedom that Jesus made to have any force, something had to happen to bring it into reality. That’s what we’re going to be talking about today; how Jesus was not only radical enough to proclaim freedom, but that he was committed enough to do something about it. Today we’re talking about Redeemer Jesus, and our Scripture text is found in Matthew 20:25-28.

First Century Freedom

Since Jesus kick-started his public ministry by proclaiming Jubilee…by declaring freedom…it’s probably a good idea to start this message by making sure we have a basic understanding of what the concept of “freedom” would have meant in Jesus’ time.

It’s important to point out that the peoples of the ancient world would have had no concept of freedom in the American sense. The freedoms we have guaranteed by the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution (freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly) wouldn’t have even entered their thinking. In ancient times you worshipped the national gods. You spoke carefully to those above you, as you wished to those below you, and were very careful about expressing any opinions contrary to those of the authorities. There was no press, and you could assemble with whom you wanted with the understanding that the government could bust up any meeting at any time with a squad of soldiers. The people of Jesus’ time simply wouldn’t have had any concept of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

And they most certainly wouldn’t have thought of freedom in the sense of individual liberties. Ideas such as freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and that most precious and paramount of all individual liberties, the freedom to do what I want, where I want, when I want, with whom I want, would have been utterly foreign to them.

Freedom to ancient peoples was a very different thing.

First; in a world where life was cheap and slavery was a common condition for untold millions, ‘freedom’ in its most basic sense meant that you weren’t a slave. You could earn for yourself, build for yourself, marry for yourself, and generally live for yourself. In a world where options for most people were very limited, you were at least able to choose among those limited options for yourself. You were free.

Second; in a world of empire that had torn down national leaders, transformed entire kingdoms into provinces of empire, and absorbed countless ethnic and linguistic groups, “freedom” meant you were part of an independent kingdom, and that you were ruled by your own king. Whatever his weaknesses, whatever his predilections, whatever his evils, he was your king. He spoke your language, he practiced your customs, and he worshipped your God or gods. He was a product of your culture. So, if you were ruled in your own land by your own king, you were free.

Third; in a world where most common people lived by the whim of the mighty, the ultimate personal meaning of ‘freedom’ was to possess the rare and precious prize of citizenship. Citizenship in those times was a very different thing than it is now; being born in a place didn’t make you a citizen. Living in a place for years didn’t either. In the Roman world, citizenship required a Roman father. Or it could be granted by very high officials…usually at a price. As a citizen you could vote in certain assemblies, become a civil servant, or serve in the military. You may be exempted from certain taxes. And you could travel as you pleased within the Empire, confident of the protection of the Empire. If you were a citizen, you were free.

Ransom

So…what if you were a slave, what if you were in bondage to a foreign king, and what if you weren’t a citizen? What then? Well, you were generally stuck. Most slaves in the Empire didn’t live to see their 30th birthday. If you were ruled by a foreign power, you kept your head down and tried to get by as best you could without attracting undue attention to yourself. If you weren’t a citizen, you pretty much did the same and hoped that some of the mighty and powerful would be compassionate. You basically had to take life as you found it, and there was little hope and even less opportunity to actually change your station and condition.

But then, as now, there was one thing that had the remarkable ability to fix a lot of problems. It could make free men out of slaves, overthrow foreign rulers, and transform strangers into citizens. What was this wonderful thing? Money! Then, as now, plenty of money thrown in the right direction could accomplish a lot. A slave’s freedom could be purchased. Armies could be raised to overthrow the foreign king. A freedman could become a citizen if enough money was placed in the right hands. But it took a lot…either of money or something of equivalent value…to bring this kind of freedom.

This concept of purchasing freedom had a particular label; it was called ransom.  Ransom was the money or item of value that was given in exchange for freedom. The very word in the languages of the Bible referred to loosening bonds and severing cords, of bringing freedom by offering something of greater value. But like the old saying goes, freedom wasn’t free. The society had a vested interest in everything staying as it was. There was tremendous economic, political, and social value in keeping slaves as slaves, in keeping nations in bondage, and in limiting citizenship to a select few. In order to overcome that vested interest, you could expect the ransom to be high.

So…when Jesus declared ‘freedom’ in Luke chapter four, he had to be ready to take the necessary action to make that declaration reality. He had to be willing to pay the necessary ransom to purchase that freedom.

Jesus Redeemer

We already know that Jesus, radical though he was, wasn’t interested in revolution. He made it clear that his interest was in bringing transformation to the heart. You see, if you transform enough hearts, you can change an entire society…and never unsheathe a sword. So understand that Jesus’ first and greatest priority was altering the state of the inner man, knowing that a change of heart would work its way into a change of life.

The great slavery that Jesus was primarily concerned about was slavery to sin. The foreign pretender that Jesus wanted to overthrow was the devil. And the citizenship Jesus wanted to all to have was in his New Kingdom. You see, if sin and evil are dealt with in the heart, if the New Kingdom is established in the heart, then the effects of that inner transformation will begin to be made known practically. Slaves would be freed, bondages ended, and all could have status…if the heart could only be changed.

Obviously such a transformation would be costly…very costly. That kind of freedom would require an incredible ransom. The question is; what was Jesus going to offer to bring these freedoms? What would he do to free people from slavery to sin, overthrow the devil, and transform strangers into citizens of that New Kingdom?

He would offer himself. He would sacrifice himself. That’s called “substitutionary atonement” in the language of theology, and it’s pretty hard for us to wrap our heads around. How could one person offering himself bring that kind of redemption? But to the ancients it was a commonly understood principle; they understood that a sacrifice was a stand-in for them. “Vicarious sacrifice” was recognized by the entire ancient world as an accepted way of dealing with many significant issues…including spiritual ones. And for most ancient societies, the more valuable and significant the sacrifice, the greater it’s power and effect.

So imagine there’s a man who’s lived his entire life without sin. He’s done nothing but good for people everywhere he’s gone. He’s truly a holy man in the best sense of the term. And he’s powerful! He can heal blindness, paralysis, lameness, hemorrhaging, leprosy, tormented minds, and even raise the dead. He can cast out devils, feed lots of hungry people with little food, walk on water, and calm storms with a word. He loves children, is kind to women, and merciful to sinners. He brings hope to the oppressed, the common people love him, and he loves them right back. Many are calling him the Chosen One, the Messiah, and there are even whispers of divinity.

Now imagine that such a man said that he was willing to offer himself as ransom, to willingly surrender himself to bring freedom to others…how much, do you suppose, someone like that would be worth? According to Jesus, such a man could be given in exchange for the whole world. “For God so loved the world,” Jesus said, “that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

That’s what makes Jesus the Redeemer; he gave himself to free us from slavery to sin and bondage to Satan, and to give us a place in his New Kingdom. He ransomed us.

Closing:

The story is told of a boy who built a model sailboat. He carefully assembled the little wooden hull, placing small stones inside for ballast. He attached the mast, and made the sail, then tarred the boat and painted it.

After he finished it, he took it to the lake to try it out. Sure enough, a wisp of breeze filled the little sail and it sent the boat rippling along the waves. But the breeze gusted, and before the boy knew it, the boat had sailed out of his reach. As he watched it float away, he hoped that maybe the breeze would shift and return the boat to him. Instead, he watched it sail farther and farther until it was gone.

Sometime later the boy saw his boat in the window of a nice second hand shop. He went in and said to the shop owner, “That’s my boat!” He then walked over to the window, picked the boat up and started to leave with it. The owner said, “Wait a minute, kid. That’s my boat! I bought it from someone.” The boy said, “No, it’s my boat. I made it. See?” And he showed the shopkeeper the little scratches and marks where he had hammered and filed.

But the owner said, “I’m sorry, kid, but if you want it, you have to buy it.” The boy didn’t have any money, but he hustled around and did enough odd jobs to earn it. Finally, one day he went in and bought the little boat. As he left the store holding the boat tightly and closely, someone overheard him say, “You’re my boat. You’re twice my boat. First you’re my boat ’cause I made you, and second you’re my boat ’cause I bought you!”

That’s a great illustration of redemption. You see, Jesus as Creator made you…and then on the cross as redeemer he bought you so that you might be free.


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.