JESUS OF NAZARETH
Here are my teaching notes for the teaching I presented at the Cornerstone Church on Sunday, January 20, 2019. This is part 2 of the series called #JESUS.
JESUS OF NAZARETH: A MAN IN HIS PLACE
I remember reading The Lord of the Rings when I was 11 or 12 years old. I was camping on summer vacation with my family in the Lake District of England. It poured with rain for days at a time, so we stayed in our tent, which I loved because I could lie in my sleeping bag and read all day. The Lord of the Rings is an epic story and I was totally immersed in the imaginary world of middle earth.
One mistake we might be tempted to make is to read the Gospels as though they were like the Lord of the Rings - fiction set in an imaginary world - and to see the stories about Jesus as epic myths, and not real. I think it's possible to think about Jesus as a somewhat unreal character in a novel. That would not be helpful.
I've called today's teaching "Jesus of Nazareth" to emphasize the fact that Jesus was a true man in a true time and place in the world. God's Son took on humanity in flesh and blood, was born into the real world and lived a real life in a real place in a real time in history. This is what is called the "incarnation" of God. At the end of today's teaching, I'll show you why that is really important.
Last week, I described the four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - as four portraits of Jesus. The Gospels make a lot more sense, and we can understand what Jesus did and taught so much better, when we know where he lived; that is, the political, cultural, and religious world into which he was born.
So, let's dive into an exploration of Jesus' time and place.
JESUS THE JEW
The Gospel of Matthew begins with Jesus' lengthy family tree. The purpose is to show two key facts about Jesus:
Jesus was of the people of Israel. His family tree traces his ancestors back to Abraham through Isaac and Jacob (Israel).
Jesus was a member of the Israeli tribe of Judah, the same tribe to which David belonged, and the same tribe from which the promised Messianic king would come (2 Samuel 7:11-16; Micah 5:2). Jesus' ancestral home was Bethlehem, King David's home village, a few miles south of Jerusalem. But Jesus was raised mostly in Nazareth 80 or 90 miles north of Jerusalem, close to the Sea of Galilee.
God became a Jew. Jesus was a first-century Jew.
THE POLITICAL WORLD OF JESUS
When Jesus was born, there was no State of Israel and there was no King of Israel. Instead, Herod the Great (an Idumean, Edomite) ruled as Rome's puppet over the provinces of Judea and Galilee. Herod was a cruel despot who tried to kill Jesus. He also tried hard to win over the Jews. For example, he repaired and extended the temple in Jerusalem. He also did not eat pork.
When Herod the Great died in 4 BC., his territory was divided among three of his sons. Rome intervened in 6 AD and appointed its own procurator over Judea. Procurator Pontius Pilate was in power when Jesus was sentenced to death. Pilate hated the Jews and brutally squashed any resistance to Roman rule. At one point, he massacred a group of protesters in Galilee (Luke 13:1). The Pax Romana was applied by brute force. The headquarters of the Roman administration was in Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast in a complex built for them by Herod the Great, but Roman officials and their military moved to Jerusalem during festivals to prevent uprisings.
One of Herod's sons, Herod Antipas, ruled over Galilee and he arrested and executed John the Baptist. So Jesus grew up a Jew under the rigid rule of Rome and the despotic reign first of Herod the Great and later of his sons.
THE CULTURAL WORLD OF JESUS
Language is an integral part of culture. So, what language did Jesus speak? There were four languages used in his day. Hebrew was used for temple and synagogue Bible readings. Latin was used for government affairs. Koine (= common) Greek was the trade language and was spoken by everyone. The original New Testament manuscripts were written in koine. Aramaic was the native language, especially of the working classes.
Jesus was familiar with all four languages, but he was a native Aramaic speaker. This was the language he learned at home, he spoke with friends, by which he taught the crowds, and cried out from the cross.
Jesus and his family probably lived in a one or two room mud or dried brick house. The family ate and slept in the upstairs room. The entire family slept side-by-side on mats. The animals (goats for dairy products) lived downstairs. Houses had flat roofs made of branches and mud (wattle).
In Jesus' day, the vast majority of people were poor, eking out a living day-by-day. They worked as farmers, shepherds, craftspeople, and merchants. Jesus and his father were carpenters (TGk. tekton), which in that day meant they were builders who used wood, metal, and stone as their materials.
Jesus' family probably ate two meals a day, at noon and evening, consisting of bread, vegetables, fruit, fish and milk products. Meat was only eaten on special occasions. They drank water mixed with wine to kill impurities. They ate on mats on the floor.
The most important social values in Jesus' day were:
Live for the group (family) rather than for self.
Bring honor to the group and avoiding bringing shame.
Enjoy and help family and extended family.
Show hospitality to guests and strangers.
Jesus and his family wore simple clothing. The men wore a one piece tunic that went down to the knee. A sash was tied around the waste. On cooler days, they also wore an outer cloak made of wool. They wore leather sandals if they could afford them. Women wore a short tunic under an ankle length robe.
Jewish men usually wore beards and medium length hair. The women had long hair that they covered with a shawl. They did not cover their faces.
THE RELIGIOUS WORLD OF JESUS
Judaism in Jesus' day held three fundamental beliefs: 1). There is one God. 2). God made Israel his people by covenant. 3). The way to maintain the covenant relationship with God was to keep his covenant laws (torah), including circumcision of males, sabbath day rest, and dietary laws.
The two main religious buildings were the temple in Jerusalem, where the major festivals were kept and sacrifices made, and the synagogues (meeting places) where the Scriptures were read and preached, and where prayers were offered up. The synagogues probably developed during the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BC.
The most prominent religious people and groups during Jesus day were:
The Scribes: These men were religious scholars, experts in the interpretation of the Torah (God's covenant laws) and the traditions that developed around it. They were also called teachers of the law because they had studied and memorized the teachings and interpretations.
The Levites, Priests, High Priests, and Chief Priests: The various ranks of men descended from the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron, who were assigned to Temple work. In Jesus' day, they were very powerful families.
The Sanhedrin: the Jewish high court made up of power brokers in Jerusalem, including some influential priests - the chief priests.
The Sadducees: In Jesus' day, this wealthy and influential group controlled the priesthood and the Sanhedrin. In order to maintain their political power, they supported Roman rule. The Sadducees accepted only the Pentateuch (Torah, first five books of the Bible) as the Word of God. The did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.
The Pharisees: What the Pharisees lacked in political power they made up for in popularity among the people. They were deeply committed to living by the Torah (Law of God) and its traditions. They separated themselves to God and had great expectations for the arrival of the Messiah, the Son of David, who would rescue them from foreign oppression and establish Israel in its promised land.
JESUS: A REAL MAN FOR US
That's a very brief overview of the world Jesus lived in. My goal is for you to think of Jesus as a real, flesh and blood, man. He is truly God and truly man, incarnate God. Earlier, I mentioned that this is really important, so let me tell you why I think so. Since Jesus is a real man ...
Think of your Christian faith as relational, not philosophical. Jesus is a living person. If you turn him into a collection of principles, or a code of conduct, or a religious symbol, you miss the point and you'll be a miserable religionist. Follow Jesus the man. Love him, talk to him, and worship him. Paul discovered this:
(Philippians 3:8-9) I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him ...
Think of Jesus as your closest friend, not a distant deity.
(Hebrews 4:15-16) For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
He knows about your struggles and responds with genuine empathy. His heart breaks for you. He's been there and done that. You never have to think, "Jesus doesn't understand what I'm going through." Yes, he does. He's experienced it all - relationships, hurts, emotions, weaknesses, losses, death. When you talk to Jesus, it's like talking to your closest friend, who knows you and understands you and hurts when you hurt and laughs when you laugh. He is God WITH us and FOR us.
Think of Jesus as your defender, not your accuser. Jesus said:
(John 3:17-18) For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned
The incarnation of Jesus was motivated by love and mercy, not anger and justice. God did not send a prosecutor. He did not send a judge. He did not send an executioner. God sent a Savior, his own Son. He was made human to rescue us from our sins, not to condemn us for our sins. God would rather die than condemn you. He would rather pay for your sins than make you pay.
Since God cannot die, he became a man who can. In order to rescue us, he became one of us. He lived perfectly for us. He became sin for us. He paid the price of our sins. He was crucified and went to hell for us. All for us. Such love:
(Romans 5:8) God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Jesus loves you with the deepest and purest love. Don't run from him. Run to him, to his open arms, to his mercy and kindness. He is more willing to forgive you and bless you than you are willing to ask.
Today, right now, I invite you to commit yourself to him. Don't try to find your own way to God. Let Jesus do it for you. There's no need to make it complicated. It's a straightforward as ABC:
Admit that your sins are getting in the way of a relationship with God.
Believe that all your sin and guilt was transferred to Christ at the cross.
Call on Jesus to cleanse you, forgive you, and restore you to God. Commit to follow Jesus as your God and Savior.
THE NICENE CREED
The Nicene Creed is a statement of the orthodox faith of the early Christian church in opposition to certain heresies, especially Arianism. These heresies, which disturbed the church during the fourth century, concerned the doctrine of the trinity and of the person of Christ. In its present form this creed goes back partially to the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) with additions by the Council of Constantinople (A.D. 381). It was accepted in its present form at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven; he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and was made human. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried. The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will never end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. He proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified. He spoke through the prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and to life in the world to come. Amen.
An excellent study of the person of Jesus Christ was released by Ligonier Ministries. It can be found at: www.christologystatement.com/downloads