Posts tagged Messiah
I love the book of John. Not only is it unique among the gospels (the other three being very similar to each other) but it is also unique in that it is a first-hand account of the events of Jesus’ life told by Jesus’ closest companion. This is a biography written by a best friend, not a casual observer.
One of the things that makes this book so unique is that John relates to Jesus both as friend and as God. His opening paragraph is a poetic vision of Jesus as the embodiment of the Word of God that spoke everything into existence. Yet, as we’ll see, John also presents the very human side of Jesus – the man that John got to know personally.
One of the things that John points out in his book is just how confused the religious leaders were by what was happening around them. When John the Baptist came (not the John that wrote the book, by the way), the religious leaders wanted to figure out who he was and what he was all about. They obviously recognized that there was something special about him, because, instead of dismissing him as some kind of lunatic, they wondered if he was the Messiah or Elijah or some great prophet. They legitimately wanted to know who this guy was.
When Jesus came along, they had similar questions, except that Jesus presented a much greater threat to their authoritarian system and so they were pretty hostile to him from the start. But they recognized that there was something special about him.
Even John the Baptist was confused by Jesus. Here is a guy who knows that his life calling is to prepare the way for the Messiah and yet, while he is preaching in the desert, he has no idea who the Messiah is. Then, he sees a dove rest on Jesus and his eyes are opened. What are his eyes opened to? They are opened to the fact that his cousin – a cousin who is younger than him by several months – is the Messiah.
Can you imagine discovering that your cousin was the Messiah? As we’ve already seen in the other gospel accounts, John would eventually question his own interpretation of that dove, sending his men to just confirm with Jesus that he was who John thought he was. It was a really confusing time. And yet, in the midst of all that confusion, it was still undeniable that there was something special about Jesus. People were drawn to him. They wanted to be around him and learn from him.
If we are to be like Jesus, shouldn’t people have the same reaction to us? Shouldn’t people want to be around us? Even on our worst days, shouldn’t people be eager to learn from us, rather than running away from us? I mean, look at what happened just after Jesus ransacked the temple. He started healing people. That means that there were people around him to heal – they didn’t all run away from this guy even on his angriest of days.
Being like Jesus means being a person that people want to be around. If I’m not that person, then I need to delve deeply into why that is the case. It’s not about personality or charisma. Being a Jesus-like attractional person is about a spiritual condition – the condition of the heart that welcomes and accepts people with genuine joy. People are attracted to that.
Much has been made of the text in Isaiah from which Jesus read in the temple. More to the point, much has been made of the fact that the scroll from which Jesus read just happened to contain that passage. Some would say that was incredibly fortunate. Others would say that Jesus was so well-versed in scripture that he could simply pinpoint any verse to make his point. Others would point to divine providence in linking this moment, this scripture and this man.
In fact, all of those may be true. But I don’t really think it matters…and here’s why. All scripture points to Jesus. Jesus stands at the center of the story of God and his people. The entire Old Testament is a lead up to Jesus. The entire New Testament points to Jesus’ life and then to his coming return. It’s all about Jesus.
I am convinced that if Jesus had picked up a scroll and read from the cleanliness rules in Leviticus, he could (and would) have still said something poignant that pointed back to himself – something that would have caused the religious leaders to run him out of the temple and everyone else to be astonished by him.
As the old saying goes, when you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In Jesus’ case, when you are the Messiah, everything looks like a Messianic prophecy. And it was. It is. Jesus is the answer to the questions raised in the Old Testament. He is the embodiment of the Kingdom of God here on earth. Jesus is, in the words of John (we’ll get to him in a few days) the Word made flesh.
And so, in a sense, when Jesus read from that scroll, he was simply reading a part of himself – something that was already at his core. It wouldn’t have matter where he started and stopped reading, those words were in him – they were his flesh. He was reading himself.
The question, then, is this: If we are supposed to seek to be like Jesus and Jesus embodied the words of Scripture, shouldn’t we seek to embody those same words? Shouldn’t we be eating, sleeping and breathing this stuff until it courses through our veins? For nearly 300 days, we’ve been on a journey of discovery through the Bible and yet, we’ve barely scratched the surface. We could spend every hour for the rest of our lives studying these words and still not fully grasp the wisdom they contain.
But I bet we would begin to embody them. I bet we would look, sound and act different if we devoted ourselves more to the study of scripture. I bet that, like Jesus, if asked to read a part of Scripture, we would be able to connect some dots for people that they had never connected before.
If I’m going to be a student of anything, let it be Jesus. If I am going to know any text, let it be the Bible. If I am going to pour my life into anything, let it be the effort to embody that which was embodied by Jesus. I may never fully succeed, but it will certainly be a fruitful journey.
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed throughout Matthew and now Mark, it’s how often Jesus let other people do the talking. Whether is was a demon calling him the Son of God, Pilate asking him if he was King of the Jews or, now, Peter calling him the Messiah, Jesus seemed to let his life tell people who he was.
Here is a man who had masses of people in the palm of his hand. He could have told them just about anything and they would have believed him, but instead, he spoke to the crowds in parables. Rather than saying, “I’m the Messiah and you should all worship me,” he talked about the Kingdom of God. Even for his closest disciples, he let them come to their own conclusions about who he was.
It makes me wonder how we’ve strayed so far from that course today. These days, there are many who believe you are only a “real Christian” if you are shouting down people and telling them how awful they are or at the very least, you have bumper stickers and t-shirts loudly proclaiming your stance on this thing or that thing (the passive-aggressive approach).
But if we lived life the way Jesus did, we wouldn’t need bumper stickers (I doubt he had any) and we wouldn’t need to shout at “sinners” (he only really shouted at church people). If we lived our lives the way Jesus desires for us to, when we encountered evil, it would beg for mercy. If we lived our lives the way Jesus desires, even our fiercest enemies would know there was something different about us. And if we lived our lives like Jesus live his life, when we asked a friend what kind of person they thought we were, they would say, “I believe that you are a wholehearted, devoted follower of Jesus.”
We may never live up to Jesus’ standard and we certainly won’t hear anybody calling us Messiah, but we can start in the right direction by living lives that spread the good news of Jesus without us saying a word. “Life-evangelism” – that’s the stuff of Jesus!
Can you imagine being in that crowd and witnessing Jesus’ final moments on earth? Even if you had no idea who he was, and even if you were numb to the events leading up to the moment of his death, once he died, things started getting funky!
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. (Matthew 27:51-53)
Um…this is like horror movie stuff. A guy dies, which causes an earthquake, the giant temple curtain rips in two from top to bottom like God ripping a phone book (it was a thick curtain), rocks bust open and the zombie apocalypse is upon us. Now, I don’t know if I would have had the Roman soldier’s wisdom and recognized Jesus as the Messiah, but I surely would have known that something was up with this guy!
But look at the reaction of the religious leaders just a couple of paragraphs later. Having witnessed all of this (and, no doubt, had a committee meeting about how to mend the temple curtain) their chief concern wasn’t re-examining Jesus’ life and teaching to determine if he actually was the Messiah. No, they wanted to make sure he didn’t come back to life or have the appearance of coming back to life. They were determined that Jesus would not be deified.
You see, power, especially of the religious variety, has an ability to corrupt like nothing else on this earth. These guys were at the top of the food chain – they were Billy Graham, Bill Hybels, John Hagee, T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen and the Pope all rolled into one. Then along comes Jesus and, even though he was just a homeless carpenter, threatens their power and authority. At that point, it no longer mattered if he was who he said he was. All that mattered was that they wanted him removed from the equation.
I wonder how often I let my own desire for power push Jesus out of the way. How often do I ignore the obvious signs that God is doing something special because I feel it is more important that I be in control. How many earthquakes and zombie apocalypses (metaphorically speaking) have I turned my back to, denying their very existence, so that I could continue to live my “in control” life.
I’m not a powerful guy. I don’t have authority over much. But too often, I’m afraid, my little kingdom becomes more important in my eyes that God’s great kingdom. In that way, I’m more like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day than I care to admit. How about you?
I can already tell that blogging through the New Testament is going to be a challenge. While the Old Testament writers often devoted multiple chapters to the same story arc, the New Testament writers, especially the writers of the gospels – the books about the life of Jesus – have a tendency to move a little more swiftly.
Here, in just four short chapters, Matthew moves us from the time prior to the birth of Jesus through his birth, baptism, testing in the wilderness, the calling of his first followers and all the way to the beginning of his public ministry. That’s around 30 years of history in the life of the most important man in history condensed to 4 chapters.
But you see, Matthew really wanted to cut to the chase. He wanted to get to the part where Jesus truly began to make a visible impact on the world around him. The rest, for Matthew, is background. But the background is important! In fact, Matthew takes great pains to make sure that the people of Israel (and, ultimately, we) can connect the dots.
He begins with a genealogy that traces Jesus’ lineage all the way back to Abraham – 42 generations. To us, this may not seem all that significant, but for the Jews, this was key to them receiving and understanding Jesus as the Messiah. The Messiah would come from the line of David and Abraham. If Jesus wasn’t from that line, then nothing else mattered.
Matthew then goes on, in several passages, to show how Jesus’ life fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah from centuries earlier. He ties the virgin birth, the birthplace in Bethlehem, the time spent in Egypt, Herod’s killing of baby boys, the childhood home of Nazereth, the appearance and ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus’ ministry in Galilee – ties them all back to the prophecies found in scripture. Again, all of this in just 4 chapters.
There is so much more contained here, but I want to point out one series of events that has served as a guiding light and reminder to me throughout my life. They begin with Joseph, the “surrogate father” of Jesus. Joseph played a crucial role in God’s plan for the world – especially in those early years.
Just look at the obedience of Joseph and how it plays into the prophecies about the Messiah. We know from other accounts that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem for a census because it was Joseph’s hometown. Jesus, then, was born in Bethlehem, which fulfilled a prophesy. Joseph gave him the name Jesus, as instructed by an angel. Joseph then, after being warned in another dream, took his family to Egypt, which fulfilled another prophecy. Then, after beginning the journey back to Judea, he was once again warned in a dream and instead took his family and settled in Nazareth – fulfilling yet another prophecy.
You see, Joseph, by most accounts, is kind of a background player in the life of Jesus. But, as we’ve discovered, the background can be very important. Joseph’s role here seems to be that of unknowing prophetic tour guide, leading this baby Messiah down the path that God had already carved out for him. I have to wonder how many other times, in Jesus’ young life, Joseph was the guiding force, steered by the voice of God to lead and raise the child who would save the world.
Background is important. Bit players are important. Joseph, for me, serves as a constant reminder of that. I would rather play a bit part in God’s great story than to strive to be the star of a show he didn’t write.