[dropbox]W[/dropbox]hen you finish this session you should be able to:
- Understand How Did God Become Man
- Comprehend the Virgin Birth, the Sinless Life, the Death and Crucifixion of Jesus, the Resurrection of Jesus and appreciate the Ascension of Jesus
- Appreciate The Ministry of Jesus
- Comprehend The Works of Jesus over Demons, over Disease, Over Nature, and over Death
- Understand The Words of Jesus
- Appreciate Being intimate with God
- Grasp the Kingdom of God
- Know the Freedom of Being Ethical
- Recognize the Figures of Speech for Jesus
Where We Are Going
How Did God Become Man
Death and Crucifixion of Jesus
Resurrection of Jesus
Ascension of Jesus
Ministry of Jesus
The Works of Jesus over Demons, over Disease, Over Nature, and over Death
The Words of Jesus
Being intimate with God
Kingdom of God
Freedom of Being Ethical
Figures of Speech for Jesus
In this session, we will help you understand how God became a man. Second, we will help you comprehend the Virgin Birth, the Sinless Life, the Death and Crucifixion of Jesus, the Resurrection of Jesus, and appreciate the Ascension of Jesus. Third, we will help you appreciate The Ministry of Jesus. Next. we will help you comprehend The Works of Jesus over Demons, over Disease, Over Nature, and over Death. Then, we will help you understand The Words of Jesus. Next, we will position you to grasp the kingdom of God. Next, we will help you know the freedom of being ethical, Finally, we help you recognize the Figures of Speech for Jesus.
How Did God Become Man
How could the changeless God become a man? Interesting question about which the Western mind can speculate. The idea of God becoming a man has perplexed the Greek mindset for a long time. How is it that what is one essence can become another essence that it is not? Believers are faced with somewhat the same problem? How could God, the creator of the world, become a baby? There are all kinds of answers and positions on this question. Some believe that God never really changed into an actual man. Others believe in the true humanity of Jesus, but deny he was truly the eternal Second Person of the Trinity. Still, others defend the position that he was a God-Man, all God and all Man at the same time. The following is representative of some of the views over the centuries.
Docetism. This group believed that Jesus living in a physical body could not be real. Therefore, he was a mirage, a dream, an appearance. God, in their estimation, would be contaminated by partaking of humanity.
Unitarians. Jesus as the best of humanity was adopted to divine status at a certain point, like his baptism. After that point, he could be called divine.
Arianism & Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jesus was more than a man, he was an angel of high rank. He left that position to become a mere man. After his death, he was given a higher status than before. He is never God, only the highest representation of Jehovah.[ref] H.R Mackintosh, The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus Christ. Edinburgh. T. & T. Clark, 1913. 383-385. [/ref]
Reinhold Niebuhr. Jesus was fully human. He had a sinful nature. Even though Jesus sinned, he is the finest symbol of divine love that has ever been revealed to mankind[ref] Reinhold Niebuhr. The Nature and Destiny of Man. II New York; Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1948. [/ref].
Karl Barth. Jesus was fully human including a sinful nature even though he never sinned. God acted in the world through him incognito. [ref] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics. Edinburgh. T.& T. Clark. 1956. 147-159, 184-212.[/ref]
Orthodox Christianity. Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity and shares in all the divine attributes. His divine attributes were not taken from him at the incarnation. In becoming flesh he added to his divine characteristics the essentially human attributes which did not include a sinful nature or actual sin. The properties of the divine and human natures did not combine to form a third nature, and he did not become two separate persons. Jesus was one person with two natures, divine and human. [ref]G.C. Berkouwer. The Person of Christ. Grand Rapids. Wm. B. Eerdmans. 1952.[/ref]
Most believers know a lot of the stories which occurred in the life of Jesus. Few have had the opportunity to think about how those stories fit into his life. When we are making friends with others, we often want to know certain facts about the person we are befriending. We might want to know where he or she was born, who his or her parents were, what were some of the notable events which occurred in his or her life.
There was one event that comprised the life of Jesus. The event of Jesus coming to earth was the turning point in the salvation history of humankind. This event was made up of five important and inseparable parts: The Virgin Birth, The Sinless Life, The Crucifixion, The Resurrection, and The Ascension.
Each of these parts is important and dependent upon each other. Each part holds its own significance in the Christ-Event. No part can be left out. No part has more importance than any other part.
This is the first of five biblical parts that scholars call The Christ-Event. Each of the parts of this great event is interlocked together. They all work together to bring about the plan and purpose of God for humankind. The Bible presents the virgin birth of Jesus as factual with no apologies. Jesus is seen as being born of human flesh from a normal human mother who was a virgin and became pregnant by the miracle given by the Spirit. Taking these stories at face value and regarding the virgin birth as a historical fact will result in certain consequences. Among the most obvious is that it strongly suggests that you believe miracles are possible. If one believes in the virgin birth of Jesus, it should not be too difficult to believe that God can and still performs other miracles.
The second part of The Christ-Event is the fact of the sinless life of Jesus. There are no specific records within the Synoptic Gospels in which Jesus claims to be sinless. There are, however, strong indications that support the view. Jesus never made any confession of sin. When he submitted to John’s baptism, Jesus declared that the baptism was “to fulfill all righteousness,” not to signify repentance from sin. In most of the Second Testament, the sinlessness of Jesus is implicit rather than explicit. However, there are several passages that explicitly state the sinlessness of Jesus (2 Cor. 5.21; Heb. 7.26; 1 Pet. 1.19). Nowhere in the Second Testament is there a suggestion that Christ had to become identical to fallen man in order to provide redemption. Any discussion of whether the sinlessness of Jesus means that he could not sin or that he was able not to sin is not discussed in the Second Testament. It is speculative argumentation.
The third part of The Christ-Event is the death of Jesus on the cross. More is made of this part of the fivefold event than any other, yet without the other parts, this part would have been useless. The doctrine of the Cross was first elaborated by Paul. He was not so concerned about the historical fact of the Cross as he was about the salvation which the Cross produced through Jesus’ death (Phil. 2.8). The message of the Cross was all that Paul wanted to preach in Corinth (1 Cor. 2.2). The Cross was the decisive revelation of God in salvation history. It was through the Cross that he reconciled man to himself (Eph. 2.13-16; Col. 1.19-20). Sin caused humankind to die. God dealt with sin through the violent death of his own son. The Cross was the turning point of The Christ-Event. The incarnation of Jesus was for the purpose of atonement. The Cross was the decisive blow to the enemy. It brought salvation and freedom to mankind who were enslaved by their sin.
Resurrection assumes death. Jesus frequently said that he was going to die and be resurrected. Mark records three times that he forecast his death (Mark 8.31; 9.30; 10.33). The resurrected Christ was seen by his disciples, his brother, Paul, and about 500 brothers (John 21.1-23; 1 Cor. 15.3-8). Paul’s decisive teaching on the resurrection of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15 may suggest that the church had a problem understanding the significance of this part of the Christ-Event. Paul makes it clear by his statement in 1 Cor. 15.12-17 that without the resurrection, our faith is useless. Behind the resurrection was the power of God. The resurrection of Jesus was an essential part of the plan of God for the redemption of mankind.
The final part of The Christ-Event is the ascension of Jesus. As the conqueror of death, Jesus became the first fruit among his people. Resurrection without ascension would leave many essential aspects of Jesus’ ministry unaccounted for. One of the most important ministries of the ascended Jesus is that of intercession. The work of mediation between God and man depended on the entrance of Jesus into heaven (Rom. 8.31-34). Another ministry of Jesus by virtue of his ascension is the bestowing of the gift of the Spirit. Pentecost could not have come without the ascension. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you (John 16.7).
The Two Ages
The key to comprehending the Second Testament is to understand the overlapping of the two ages. In the Synoptics, the kingdom or rule of God is the future blessing that belongs to the age to come (Mark 10.23-30). In the mission of Jesus, the kingdom had come among men (Matt. 12.28).
In John, eternal life is the life of the age to come (John 12.25). Through Jesus eternal life has come to mankind as a present existence (1 John 5.13). In Paul’s writings, justification is essentially the verdict of acquittal at the Second Coming (Rom. 8.33). But, because of the death of Jesus, justification-acquittal is announced to be a present reality for believers (Rom. 3.21-22).
The gift of the Spirit is a future (eschatological) gift. Two metaphors used of the Spirit in Scripture are aparche (ah-par-kay) and arrabon (are-a-bone). The first, firstfruits (aparche, Rom. 8.23), indicated the actual beginning of the harvest. It is not a promise or hope of harvest. It was a harvest that was already being experienced. The second, (arrabon, Eph. 1.14), tells us that the Spirit was the down payment of a future inheritance—an inheritance which begins in the present, but is not completed until a future time.
In Galatians, this same future-in-the-present scheme is seen in regard to the Spirit. Galatians 1.4 sets the tone for Paul’s outlook in Galatians. We are rescued from this present evil age. We are not removed from it, but in anticipation of the age to come, we are freed from the present evil age. In Jesus, the age to come has broken into the Present Evil Age in order to rescue us from the power of the god of this world (2 Cor. 4.4). There is an overlapping of the two ages. The old-age remains and believers and unbelievers can fall to its power. For Paul (Gal. 3.1-5), the Spirit is received now, even though he is also the blessing of the age to come.
The Ministry of Jesus
John writes in his Gospel a very revealing sentence. Jesus tells his audience that …the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does (John 5.19-20). This has often been used to suggest that Jesus was constantly watching to see if God the Father was doing something and then he would join his hand to it. While this may have some validity, it seems that there is more here than this interpretation provides. It could very well mean that Jesus, who is the only one among them to have ever seen the Father, has seen what the Father has been doing since creation and does the same things that the Father does. If this is the case, to understand Jesus, we must understand his acts also.
The Words and Works of Jesus:
An Assault on the Kingdom of Satan
There is an indispensable relationship between the words of Jesus and the works of Jesus. His preaching and teaching ministry and his miracles are in essence the same thing. Some have suggested that the miracles of Jesus were no more than a form of great advertising. His miracles heightened interest in the message of Jesus, often startling men and women into paying attention to his message. Others have suggested that the miracles are rewards for having faith. When a person has gained enough faith, then a miracle can occur. The words of Jesus in the Gospels, Go your way, your faith has made you whole, could validate this kind of meaning. However, there are other places where miracles occurred in which an individual did not have a personal faith response. Certainly, the widow’s son who was resuscitated would certainly fit this category. It would be hard for one to press a meaning that the dead man’s faith brought him back to life.
Yet another reason offered for the miracles of Jesus is that he had compassion for people in need. Certainly, we are shown his compassion in the Gospels (the widow’s son, Mark 6.34ff.; the feeding of the five thousand, Matthew 14.21ff.). However, it must be pointed out that Jesus did not heal everyone that he passed. He left many sick and hungry, more people than he healed and fed.
If miracles were rewards for people’s faith, then it follows that one left unhealed who has genuine faith might deduct that his or her faith is insufficient. If miracles are evidence of the compassion of Jesus, the unhealed person might come to believe that in his or her case Jesus has no compassion. We must look elsewhere to discover the purpose of the works of Jesus.
Remember, the words and works of Jesus are identical. There is no difference between them. The works have the exact same meaning as the words. The words of Jesus announced that the kingdom of God is at hand. The works of Jesus demonstrate what the kingdom of God is like. His preaching, teaching, parable telling, and healing ministry were announcements of the fact that the kingdom had arrived and the rule of God would destroy the rule of Satan.
It seems certain, then, that the miracles of Jesus should be understood in the context of warfare with Satan. John understood this concept when he wrote, The whole world is in the power of the evil one…(1 John 5.19). Paul tells the Corinthians that Satan is the god of this world (2 Cor. 4.4). In his circular letter to the churches around Ephesus, he told the congregations that the church does not fight against flesh and blood, but that the real enemy was Satan. He described the frightening dimensions of satanic power and insisted that his readers stand against their cosmic foe, the principalities and powers, the world rulers of this present darkness. Paul is convinced that this present evil age is entangled in the snares of Satan and estranged from God and under the rule of fallen powers and principalities (Gal. 1.4).
The Second Testament believes that while Satan is not in control of the world, he does have limited power and authority. The ills and woes of mankind originate with him. Suffering, tragedy, and pain are not punishments of an angry God. They are the result of living in a fallen world and are sometimes a direct attack of the kingdom of Satan.
The miracles of Jesus are attacks on Satan and his demonic forces and reverse the stronghold of Satan and demonstrate the kingdom of God. Jesus both announced the kingdom with his words and carved out an arena in which the kingdom invaded the rule of Satan with his works.
We can see the miracle ministry of Jesus in four different areas: expelling demons, curing diseases, dealing with nature, and overcoming death. Let’s take them one at a time.
The Works of Jesus over Demons
When Jesus expelled a demon from a person, it was a direct attack on Satan. At the beginning of the ministry of Jesus (Mark 1.15), Jesus withstood the attacks of the enemy in the wilderness and demonstrated that one area of nature in the presence of Jesus had been restored. The wild beasts were with him but did not harm him (Mark 1.13). When Jesus left the wilderness, he came to preach that the Rule of God was present in the synagogue of Capernaum. No sooner than he had opened his mouth, the demonic forces attacked. One can only surmise that he may have been teaching about the kingdom. A demon recognized Jesus (I know who you are—the Holy One of God) and the demon knew that Jesus had come to destroy him.
Jesus rebuked the demon and told him to be silent (Mark 1.25). The two Greek words here are very strong. Rebuke can be defined as to scold, denounce, or censure in order to bring an action to an end. Be silent can be defined as to muzzle, strangle, or tie shut. Jesus lashed out at the demon, denounced him, and choked him off and set the man who was demonized free. It is not only Satan, the strong man of Mark 3.27, who alone is to be bound. It is his co-workers who should also be attacked, strangled, choked, and deployed elsewhere.
When Jesus delivered the young boy with a dumb spirit (Matt. 17.18; Mark 9.25; Luke 9.42) he used the same word rebuke. Driving out demons and the smashing of the ruling grip of Satan on the stolen world was proof and fulfillment that the kingdom which Jesus had announced had arrived. The arrival of the kingdom is simultaneous with, dependent on, and manifested in the throwing out of demons from people’s lives in the present. The kingdom will arrive in its fullness on a worldwide basis at the Second Coming of Jesus.
Until that future moment, the battles go on, even though the decisive battle has been won by Jesus on the cross. The call of the army of God is to overthrow Satan and his demonic friends.
The Works of Jesus over Disease
A second arena in which Jesus attacked the rule of Satan was disease. The mindset of those living in the first century was that sickness was a work of Satan, a heavy weapon of his demonic force. Sickness and disease were ways in which Satan ruled the world. When Jesus healed those who were sick, he was in the act of pushing back the kingdom of Satan. In healing, Jesus not only attacked the demons, but he also attacked their work. He undid their damage.
The Crippled Woman: Luke 13.10-17
The mindset of the medical world is that sickness is always caused by physical factors. Jesus, however, ascribed sickness directly or indirectly to the perversity of Satan. He pointed to a little old lady, tied like a horseshoe for eighteen years, and claimed that her physical infirmity was caused by the power of Satan (Luke 13.16). One might want to note that Dr. Luke’s worldview was different from today’s medical worldview. (This is not an argument saying that the ancient world’s medicine was superior, only that one doctor saw sickness from a different perspective.)
We who are living with a Western mindset often see crippling diseases as the will of God in a person’s life; or that we will understand it better when we get to heaven. Western theology does not make room for satanic intervention in illness. This was not so with Jesus. On many occasions, he looked at a sick person and called his or her infirmity the work of the devil, not the will of God (Luke 13.11-16). This passage is loaded with profound theological significance. One might note that the woman had a spirit of infirmity, translated in the NIV by crippled by a spirit. The doctor confirmed the idea that illness can be inflicted by a supernatural force. Luke equated this spirit of infirmity with Satan, the one who stood behind the twisting and binding. Jesus attacked the demonic host when he healed this sick woman.
In Essentials of Demonology, Edward Langton says, “Special demons came to be associated with particular forms of disease or sickness. Certain diseases were held to be caused by particular demons.”[ref]Edward Langton, Essentials of Demonology: A Study of Jewish and Christian Doctrine, Its Origin and Development (London: Epworth Press, 1949), 173.[/ref]
We are not to get carried away with this bit of knowledge and do as an acquaintance of mine once did and cast the spirit of bark out of his dog. However, we should take the words of Luke seriously and understand that sickness can and is often tied to the supernatural realm. God helps us discern this through his gifts. We should enter this ministry with vigor and caution.
Peter’s Mother-in-law: Luke 4.28-39
Jesus rebuked the fever when he healed Peter’s mother-in-law. He used the same language that he used on the demon in Luke 13. Since words are clues to our thoughts, it is my conclusion that Jesus used the same word in addressing the fever that he did when addressing the demon because he saw a lethal unity between sickness and Satan. He spoke to the fever directly and told it to stop.
The Works of Jesus Over Nature
Demonic forces play havoc in the lives of mankind through demonization and sickness. They also indirectly exert their perverted influence by causing nature to run amuck. This is a key to understanding the nature miracles.
The Storm at Sea: Mark 4.25-41
Often this story is used to posit a meaning for the ability of Jesus to bring inward harmony to one’s life. “As the winds and the waves of life begin to sink your boat, Jesus is there to speak, ‘peace, be still!’” While it is true that Jesus can bring peace into a stormy life, this is not the primary interest of Mark in telling this story. Rather, he wanted to demonstrate for his readers that Jesus was in conflict with nature itself.
According to Paul (Rom 8.21), the forces of evil hold creation in bondage and decay. In the beginning, when God created the world, he gave humans dominion over all things. When Jesus and his disciples were in the boat, Satan was attempting to take that dominion away. The twelve, in fear, cried, “Master, we perish!”
They woke Jesus and immediately he rebuked the wind. The word which Mark used for rebuke is the same word spoken to the demonized man in the synagogue and to the fever of Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus spoke to the storm and told the sea to “be quiet.” He simply scolds the sea in the same way he did the demon.
It can be reasoned that the same words are used by Jesus in dealing with demons and sickness that he used in dealing with the storm at sea because he saw each of these incidents as being caused by the same source, Satan. In bringing the demonic to wholeness, Jesus attacked the demon. In healing the mother-in-law and bringing the sea into compliance, he attacked the work of the demon.
The Works of Jesus over Death
Death was the last bastion of rule for Satan. It was his most powerful and feared weapon. It was final! For those who suffered famine, there was hope that they would live to eat again. For those who suffered sickness, there was hope that they would be cured. But, for those who died, all hope was gone. The grave wrote final over all the hopes of humankind. It was in the arena of death that Jesus broke the back of Satan. The miracles of resuscitation are important aspects of the kingdom ministry of Jesus. There are three specific accounts and one general account of raising the dead in the Gospels. We will look at one.
The Daughter of Jairus: Mark 5.21-24, 35-43
Jairus was the ruler of the local synagogue. He had been faced with the illness of his twelve-year-old daughter. He had gone to seek out Jesus for help. On the way to the home of Jairus, Jesus paused and healed a woman who had been hemorrhaging for as long as Jairus’ daughter had been alive. As Jairus, Jesus, and his disciples were returning to Jairus’ home, he was greeted with the tragic news that his daughter had died. The pause for compassion to the hemorrhaging woman had been costly. The servants told Jairus that there was no longer any need for Jesus. Death had shattered all the aspirations and optimism of Jairus’ family. His girl was dead. It was final!
One difficulty we have as Westerners some 2,000 years after the stories of Scripture was written is the timeframe of the two millenniums of the Christian tradition. We stand on the positive side of Easter. We no longer see death with the same eyes that the people before the resurrection of Jesus saw death. We see death as a door to the hereafter, an entrance into the presence of a loving parent with whom we will have fellowship forever. Struggle for a moment to let your Christian understanding of death be temporarily modified. Look at death as it was before the resurrection of Jesus. It was final. No hope, for life itself had gone. Stand for a moment in the graveyard of the ancient past and see a father bury his only daughter of twelve, dead before life had its fullest expression. Comprehend the agonizing note of finality wrapped in the shrouds of death as you adjust to the cold hard fact that your only daughter was gone with no promise of ever seeing her again. Feel the emptiness, the void, the hollow, vacant feeling that Jairus must have felt when he heard the word that his daughter was dead. Dead must have struck his ears like the blow of a hammer. She’s dead; don’t trouble the teacher any longer. Depression was already setting in.
Jesus, on the other hand, had a different view. He began to change the atmosphere around him. He sent everyone outside the girl’s room except his small team and her mother and father. He spoke to the dead, lifeless body and life came back like the rush of an erupting volcano. Victory had been snatched from the jaws of defeat. Death had been conquered by the rule of God. Jesus had come into the enemy’s camp and abolished his greatest weapon.
The Resurrection of Jesus
Jesus was on the attack, out to plunder the strong man’s house. He drove out demons; stilled storms; healed the sick; cursed the unfruitful; fed the hungry; and threw death back into the pit. The victory over the grave was the final blow. It was a foretaste of the ultimate stroke of victory when Jesus was raised from the dead by the powerful rule of God.
The writers of the Gospels do not present Jesus as some kind of victim being led to slaughter. He was the conquering one who submitted to the cross so he could ascend to the throne. The death of Jesus was not an end. Satan may have thought he had won, but he did not. The death of Jesus was only a means to his final victory over Satan, his resurrection. Jesus never announced his death without announcing his resurrection (Matt. 16.21; 17.22-23; 20.17-19; Mark 8.31ff.; Luke 9.22).
The cosmic overtones of war and judgment are all there in the cross: darkness at a strange hour, rocks splitting, an earthquake, people coming out of the graveyards. The war had been fought and Satan had lost.
The resurrection of Jesus assures, confirms, and completes the victory of the kingdom of God over the kingdom of Satan. It is for this very reason that the resurrection is at the very heart of the message of the early Church. It was the final authoritative announcement that God had won the battle and the firstfruits of the age to come had arrived. Paul insisted that there was no Christianity apart from the resurrection (1 Cor. 15.14, 17). It was a decisive event in history. If Jesus had not been brought back from the tomb, Satan would have indeed been stronger than God.
Death has been somewhat romanticized in Western Christianity. It is often seen as a sweet release provided by a loving Father who gently calls us home to be with him. Not so with the early Christians! They saw death as an enemy, a work of Satan to destroy them. Paul told the Corinthians that death was the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor. 15.26). It was last chronologically because it was the most powerful stronghold of Satan. The author of Hebrews sums it up: through death, he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil (Heb. 2.14).
The kingdom ministry of Jesus can plainly be seen in his words and works. His ministry over demons, sickness, nature, and death are models for his followers to pursue. The kingdom of God is more than a theology to establish; it is a perspective about life to be lived. In his ministry, Jesus revealed what God is like. He was the living, walking proof that God was working in the lives of his creation. To understand how Jesus acted is to understand how he will act in the lives of his followers and how his followers are to act in the lives of others.
The Words of Jesus
We must remember that the preaching and teaching ministry and miracles of Jesus are in essence the same thing. We have demonstrated that his works ministry can be understood in relation to the kingdom of God, which rule he had come to bring to humankind. His teaching must be understood with this same framework. What he teaches tells us a lot about what he believed, which helps us not only to believe but to “know” him better, to have a deeper relationship with him. If we know what was important to him, these things can become important to us. When we know what he taught, we can proceed toward a richer relationship with him. Here are some of the methods he used and some of the material he taught.
Methods of Teaching
He used unforgettable quips, a phrase that would tend to lodge in one’s mind and stay there even when one tries to forget. He said things like:
- For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matt. 23.12).
- Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12.15).
- Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9.62).
- For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it (Matt. 16.25).
- What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul (Matt. 16.26)?
Jesus often used phrases that refused to be forgotten. The first hearer had to figure out what the meaning of these sayings was for his life. To respond to these pithy little sayings of Jesus often meant that the hearer had to change a perspective in his or her life.
Second, Jesus used thought-provoking paradoxes. He said things that sounded incredible to the mind. It set the hearer to think about and wrestle with the haunting suspicion that the thought was somehow true. These little thought-provokers are riddled throughout Matthew’s presentation of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5.1-16). Blessed are the poor, blessed are the hungry, blessed are the sorrowful, blessed are the persecuted; these bluntly contradict the standard of the world. Success in life is not found among the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, and the persecuted. These little sayings turned the meaning of life upside down. They reversed the accepted wisdom of his day and ours as well. When he says, “Unless a man becomes like a little child, he cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven,” the standard in the world for greatness and prestige are annihilated. These thought-provoking statements are valuable because of their power to disturb the person who has heard them long after other things are forgotten. Jesus loved to disturb the comfortableness of men and women. His words drove them to rethink what they thought and experience again what life really was all about. These thought-provoking paradoxes presented new perspectives on old thought patterns. They provide the same impact on the reader today!
Third, Jesus used hyperbole. Often men and women need a shock treatment to dislodge them from their hard-line beliefs if they are to come to the truth. He would say things that would shake them from their lethargy. Jesus told his listeners, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right-hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matt 5.29-30). This is a shocking statement. Literalness is forbidden because passionate hyperbole is in use. On another occasion, he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14.26-27). Jesus did not hesitate to say the most startling things in order to stab at the minds of his listeners so that they would hear and respond to his message.
Fourth, Jesus used humor. Our reserved religious mindset usually has a difficult time thinking of Jesus as having a good old belly laugh with his friends. Most all of our artistic renderings show a somber Jesus. In Matthew 7.1-5 Jesus drew a picture of a man who had a log in his eye while he was trying to extract a speck of dust from the eye of someone else. While the first audience would have seen the humor in this saying, they were left with the gravity of its truth long after the laughter left. Other sayings like, “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matt. 23.24), and “You are like whitewashed tombs” (Matt. 23.27) are all humorous sayings which Jesus used within his culture to get his point home.
Finally, Jesus used parables. Using parables in that day was the fine art of story-telling. To teach in parables was to teach in pictures. Most people think in pictures. Few people are capable of grasping abstract truth, a notable form of teaching in the Western world. Most of us need truth to become concrete before it can be intelligible. We can try to define beauty with many words, but when we point to a person and say, “This person is beautiful,” the abstract becomes clear. Parables do not tell the person a truth as much as help the person discover the truth. A parable tells a person to put on another set of glasses. It suggests that one looks at the information from a different perspective. The individual hearing the parable is left to draw his or her own conclusions and to make his or her own deductions. Truth which is told and memorized is quickly forgotten. Truth which is discovered will last a lifetime. The great value of parables does not impose truth on a person; it places a person in a position to realize truth.[ref]Winn Griffin. God’s EPIC Adventure. Harmon Press. 242-244. [/ref]
The people who Jesus taught were familiar with their history and heritage. These people shared a fundamental knowledge about who God was by understanding the pictures of God as presented in the stories of the First Testament. He taught with the motive of bringing fresh insights with his communication. There are several recurring themes that Jesus used in his teaching. Here are a few:
Being intimate with God
The term most used by Jesus to demonstrate this new intimate relationship was “father.” The First Testament understood God as “father” of the nation of Israel in the sense that he was the creator of the nation (Deut. 32.6). Jesus, however, takes this concept beyond the First Testament concept. This intimate relationship would bring freedom to those who love the Son. To say Abba, to God was to use the warm, familiar term used in everyday life in the family. This was entirely new and for the Jew. This unheard-of use of the familiar term demonstrated the unique relationship of Jesus to God. It showed his attitude of trust and obedience toward God. We should not jump to the belief that God is Father just because Jesus addressed God as Father. This is one of the many metaphors used for God to help his creation understand and identify with him. So why the Father metaphor?
First, everyone has a father and a mother. For the most part, everyone knows who their mother is. However, not everyone knows who his or her father is. This is caught correctly by Margaret Turnbull when she said “No man is responsible for his father. That is entirely his mother’s affair.”[ref]Margaret Turnbull. Alabaster Lamps. Reilly & Lee Company, 1925. 300. Original Version[/ref] This possible broken relationship between father and child provides a basis for humankind to know God in a way that we may not have ever been able to experience on a human plane with a human father.
Second, the metaphor of Father is one that crosses time and culture. Not everyone has a King, not everyone understands Rock, not everyone comprehends Shepherd, or any of the other hundred plus metaphors for God (see p. 12 for a partial list). Nor can all people identify with these metaphors in a personal way. God chose lots of ways to reveal himself so that his creation could have an intimate relationship with him. The primary one in the Second Testament is Father. One must remember that God is not a man, but is spirit. Scripture uses the language of condescension to help us understand and relate to God. He is a personal spirit with which those who have become his children can be intimate. While the term is not used, God is also revealed as Mother.
It is the need of our culture to understand the Fatherhood of God because of the number of broken relationships between fathers and children, which might affect our understanding of what a true father is like. The parenting aspect of God is often misunderstood. He wants us to experience the freedom to be his children and enter into an intimate relationship with him that awaits us. To know and understand him as Father is of great value.
Experiencing the Kingdom of God
The Jews had longed for the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. In the ministry of Jesus, this long-awaited event was taking place. Jesus announced that in his ministry, “The kingdom of God is near.” The kingdom is his rule and reign on earth. It is occurring “now” but will not have its fulfillment until a future time. We the church live between the times. A full discussion of this topic will occur later. However, Jesus told Nicodemus that the entry point of having God’s rule was to be “born from above.” Alas, we will discuss this metaphor in a future session.
Knowing the Freedom of Being Ethical
The ethical teaching of Jesus mirrored those of the First Testament. The teaching of Jesus was found by his contemporaries to be somewhat novel because of the new approach to the issue of ethics. The Pharisees approached ethics from a legalistic point of view. The ancient Hebrews were called to live life according to a specific set of rules. How ethical you were in any situation of life was measured by your conformity to the rules, regardless of whether the rules came from the Law or from tradition.
Jesus attacked this approach to living. The rules often led the leaders and followers in Judaism to ignore the human need, which often kept them from doing good deeds as the story in Matthew 12.1-14 makes clear. Rules had become an end in themselves.
The teaching of Jesus called for ethics based on rules, to be replaced by ethics based on love found in the rule of God. An ethic based on love does not do away with the rules; it only focuses the attention on the motive behind the rule. In Matthew 5, Jesus shifts attention from murder to the anger which led to murder. In addition, he transferred from adultery to the lustful attitude of the person who commits adultery (Matt. 5.21-30). These acts of anger and murder are part of this present evil age. The teaching of Jesus around these concepts shows his concern for men and women to move beyond the evil of this age to the rule of the age to come. You can’t get there from here without the love of the age to come abiding in your life on a continual basis.
Figures of Speech for Jesus
- The Last Adam (1 Cor. 15.45)
- Advocate (1 John 2.1)
- Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1.8)
- Anointed One (Acts 4.25)
- Apostle (Heb. 3.1)
- Atoning Sacrifice (1 John 2.2)
- Author of Faith (Heb. 12.2)
- Beginning and End (Rev. 22.13)
- Bread of God (John 6.32)
- Bread of Life (John 6.35)
- Bridegroom (Matt. 9.15)
- Capstone (Matt. 21.42)
- Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5.4)
- Cornerstone (Eph. 2.20)
- Deliverer (Rom. 11.26)
- Firstborn (Rom. 8.29)
- Firstfruits (1 Cor. 15.20)
- Foundation (1 Cor. 3.11)
- Gate (John 10.7)
- Head (1 Cor. 11.3)
- Hen (Matt. 23.37)
- Holy One of God (John 6.69)
- Hope of Glory (Col. 1.27)
- I Am (John 8.58)
- Image of God (2 Cor. 4.4)
- Immanuel (Matt. 1.23)
- King (John 18.36)
- King of Kings (1 Tim. 6.15)
- Lamb (of God) (Rev. 6.1)
- Life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15.45)
- Light (John 1.1)
- Lord (2 Tim. 4.8)
- Mediator (1 Tim. 2.5)
- Morning Star (2 Pet. 1.19)
- Peace (Eph. 2.14)
- Purifier (Matt. 3.12)
- Ransom (1 Tim. 2.5)
- Savior (John 4.42)
- Stone (1 Pet. 2.4-8)
- Vine (John 15.1)
Community Discussion Questions
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