Who Is This Jesus?
Shaun LePage, December 4, 2005
A. Jesus Christ (long pause). What goes through your mind when you hear the name . . . Jesus Christ?
1. Perhaps you think of a wise, hippie-like pacifist.
2. Perhaps you picture one of the many actors who has portrayed Jesus over the years—tall and stoic with blue eyes and a British accent.
3. Perhaps—when I spoke His name—you were reminded of the last time you heard the name Jesus Christ used as a curse word.
a) Years ago, I was playing basketball with my brother-in-law, Larramie Crumpley. One of the players on the other team missed an easy shot and yelled, “Jesus Christ”. He was not asking the Son of God for assistance with his next shot. Larramie said, “...is the way!” The other guy turned and looked at him and said, “What did you say?” Larramie said, “You said, ‘Jesus Christ’ and I pointed out that He is the way.” The guy had no response other than a dumbfounded look on his face for the next couple of plays.
b) Isn’t it strange that no one ever curses with, “Pope John Paul” or “Joseph Smith” or “Dahli Lama”.
B. Jesus Christ. What goes through your mind when you hear. . . Jesus Christ?
1. In 1995, Philip Yancey—one of my favorite writers; an editor for Christianity Today magazine—wrote a book called, “The Jesus I Never Knew.” I love that title. This is coming from a man who grew up in church—much like most of us—a man who all his life read or heard the stories of Jesus many times—much like most of us.
2. When Yancey began to write this book, he decided to reread the Gospels. He decided to try and approach the stories of the life of Jesus without the biases he had developed from living in America in the 20th century and from years in Sunday School, church and Bible College.
3. In the foreward, he writes, “Modern scholarship . . . muddies the picture (of who Jesus is). If you peruse the academic books available at a seminary bookstore you may encounter Jesus as a political revolutionary, as a magician who married Mary Magdalene, as a Galilean charismatic, a rabbi, a peasant Jewish Cynic, a Pharisee, an anti-Pharisee Essene, an eschatological prophet, a ‘hippie in a world of Augustan yuppies,’ and as the hallucinogenic leader of a sacred mushroom cult. Serious scholars write these works, with little sign of embarrassment.” (p.19)
4. In the final chapter—in his conclusions—Yancey writes, “Icons of the Orthodox Church, stained-glass windows in European cathedrals, and Sunday school art in low-church America all depict on flat planes a placid, ‘tame’ Jesus, yet the Jesus I met in the Gospels was anything but tame. His searing honesty made him seem downright tactless in some settings. Few people felt comfortable around Him; those who did were the type no one else felt comfortable around. He was notoriously difficult to predict, pin down or even understand.” (p.258)
C. Who is the Jesus you know? Who is the Jesus you think you know? Is your Jesus “tame”? Is your Jesus the Jesus you want Him to be—the Jesus you’ve carved in your own mind—or the one carved for you by someone else? Or is your Jesus the true Jesus? Is your Jesus the Jesus of the Bible?
1. Or what about the people in your life. Who is the Jesus they know? A palatable Jesus they can live with? A Jesus who is content to be a minor part of their lives? A Jesus who is more defined by their own tradition or opinions than by the Bible? Do the people in your life know the Jesus of Scripture—the true Jesus? Our task as the church in modern-day America is to introduce some people to Jesus and reintroduce Him to others.
2. Matthew—the writer of the first book of the New Testament—had a mission.
a) He wanted to introduce people to the real Jesus Christ. His gospel doesn’t have a specific purpose statement—like John or Luke—but when we look at the entire book it becomes clear that Matthew’s mission was to answer the question, “Who is this Jesus?”
b) He wanted to clear up false ideas about Jesus. Some were saying Jesus was a bastard child. Some were saying Jesus couldn’t be the Jewish Messiah because He was from Galilee. Some were saying Jesus couldn’t be the King of the Jews because He died without establishing His kingdom. Some were saying Jesus couldn’t be the Risen Lord because His body was stolen. Matthew wrote to set the record straight.
c) One of the most monumental moments in the Gospel of Matthew, comes in Jesus’ exchange with His disciples in chapter 16.
(i) Read 16:13-17.
(ii) There’s that question: Who is this Jesus? What about you? Who do you say Jesus is?
(iii) Jesus is saying that there is a right answer! He wasn’t saying it was just fine for all those other people to define Him however they wanted. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”
(iv) God has spoken, Matthew tells us in this book. God has spoken and revealed Himself in and through the person of Jesus Christ.
d) In the days ahead, I want to walk through the Gospel of Matthew—chapter by chapter—and show the significance of this amazing piece of work. We’ll take a break from it from time to time and come back to it until we’ve looked at the entire book. This morning, I’d like to talk about the book as a whole. Who is this Matthew? Who is this Jesus—as presented by Matthew? What is the significance of these 28 chapters for us and for the people in our lives?
II. Body—An Overview of The Gospel of Matthew
A. Who is this Matthew? We really know very little about Matthew, but the gospels give us some very important facts.
1. He was a sinful man whose life was eternally changed by Jesus.
a) Jewish Tax-collector—despised by his own people. Tax-collectors were Jews hired by Romans to strong arm other Jews into paying an exorbitant amount of tax. Obviously, these collectors were hated by their fellow Jews. They were rich, but lonely.
b) Imagine Matthew’s surprise when Jesus asked him to become a part of the twelve. Imagine everyone’s disgust when Jesus chose one of these Benedict Arnold’s—one of these Roman sympathizers—to be one of His closest companions. Matthew’s reaction was to throw a party and invite all his other tax-collector friends.
c) The point, though, is that Matthew was a sinner—a really bad one. He was almost certainly cheating people and growing rich off the hard-earned wages of his own country men.
2. He was a disciple of Jesus Christ who was chosen to be an apostle.
a) He is a great example of what a disciple is. Read Matthew 9:9-13. He got up and followed Jesus. No doubt, he had already been listening to Jesus speak and had witnessed Jesus’ miracles. But this passage represents Jesus’ formal invitation to be part of the twelve who would become apostles. But at this point, his example is magnificent! “He got up and followed” Jesus. This was immediate and literal! He literally got up and walked away from His filthy riches and His lucrative source of income. He chose Jesus over everything else. He paid the high cost of discipleship Jesus demanded. What a great example.
b) Ultimately, Jesus is calling each of us to follow Him and it’s not so much about what we leave behind as it is about Him. But, it’s what we’re asked to leave behind that can make it such a hard decision sometimes. What’s Jesus calling you to walk away from? Are you willing to walk away from anything? Are you willing to choose Him over everything else and everyone else in your life? That’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
c) Matthew is also an apostle—a “sent one”—who was actually with Jesus. He was with Jesus for the purpose of providing eyewitness testimony of Jesus death and resurrection—the very definition of an apostle. Matthew’s eyewitness testimony is written down for us in black and white.
d) So, knowing these things about Matthew can be very helpful as we explore this book. It should make an impression on us that his life was completely transformed by Jesus. We should want to examine closely what this eyewitness has to say about the most remarkable and influential Person in history.
B. Who is this Jesus? Let me go back to my earlier question: What goes through your mind when you hear the name, Jesus Christ? I think Matthew wants us to think at least two major things:
1. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah—the God of the Bible.
a) It has been said that Matthew is written by a Jew for Jews about the Jew.
(i) Over and over, Matthew uses the word “fulfilled”. He systematically shows that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. For example, in chapter 1, after describing the events surrounding the supernatural conception of Jesus, Matthew wrote, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a won, and they will call him Immanuel—which means, ‘God with us’” (1:22,23).
(ii) He quotes or alludes to the Old Testament far more than the other three gospels writers. For example, when he explains who John the Baptist was, he quotes from Isaiah 40:3, “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him’” (3:3).
(iii) All this is a major clue as to why Matthew wrote his version of the life of Christ. Jews had heard lots of things about Jesus—mostly wrong. Matthew was setting the record straight. Was He illegitimate? Was He a failure? Was His body stolen? Did He fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament? Matthew sets the record straight. He records that Jesus was pre-announced. He was the fulfillment of numerous Old Testament prophecies. Predictions were made about His family lineage, His birthplace, His enemies, His death and His resurrection. The Old Testament prophecies were like a thumb print. They could only match one person.
b) Does this mean Matthew’s account is only for Jews? Should Gentiles bypass this version and skip to Luke or John? No! Matthew’s gospel is great for our day and time. Our culture knows about Jesus—they’ve heard His name. But our culture has heard lots of wrong things about Jesus—Matthew can set the record straight
(i) Matthew sets the record straight with Jesus’ own words.
(a) There is good evidence to indicate that Matthew recorded Jesus’ sermons as He was speaking. He took notes. Then, he included those notes when He wrote this Gospel. The entire book is built around five lengthy discourses—speeches from the mouth of Jesus.
(b) Our world—the people in our lives—need to know what Jesus actually said. The words of Jesus are the great undiscovered treasure of our generation. We have more translations of the Bible than any other people in history, yet so few people know what Jesus actually said. How many people do you know who think all religions are basically the same? No one who has honestly examined the words of Jesus Christ can truly believe that. The vast wealth of the words of Jesus are life-changing.
(c) Matthew 7:24-27.
(d) 60% of the book of Matthew is in red letters—from the mouth of Jesus. This reason alone is enough for us to devote our time to a careful study of the Gospel of Matthew.
(ii) Matthew sets the record straight with eyewitness testimony.
(a) Many in our day believe Jesus was just a myth. But Matthew’s account is eyewitness testimony. Anyone who claims Jesus was just a myth has never really examined the testimony of those who walked with Him, learned from Him, witnessed His miracles and watched Him fulfill His mission. Matthew’s testimony about Jesus is not mythical in nature. It contains too many facts that can be authenticated—names, dates, places—all very real. All very historical.
(b) Many in our day believe Jesus was just a man. Matthew gives eyewitness testimony that proves otherwise. Those who will examine the record will see that this Jesus was not just a man. He was a walking miracle. Matthew records several supernatural works of Jesus. He gives eye-witness testimony of Jesus healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, exercising authority over the demonic realm, and demonstrating power over the natural realm. This was not just entertainment. This was not just showing off. This was for the purpose of demonstrating who He was and is, and for the purpose of authenticating His message.
(c) If someone comes along and can heal every kind of disease (as Matthew reports in chapter 4); if He can speak to a tree and cause it to whither immediately (as Matthew reports in chapter 21); and if He can walk on water and help others do the same (as Matthew reports in chapter 14), listen to Him! Someone who can do those things has earned a hearing. He is no ordinary man.
(d) C.S. Lewis quote. Jesus was not just a man. That’s not an option.
(iii) Our job is to set the record straight. Our job is to reintroduce people to the Jesus of Scripture. A careful look at Matthew can change the lives of those who have heard a lot about Jesus, but don’t really know Him.
2. Jesus is the Universal King—Everyone’s Greatest Need.
a) Chapters 1-11 present the offer of Jesus the King. Matthew gives His genealogy, His miraculous birth in Bethlehem, His baptism, His miraculous healing powers, and again, His own words which demonstrate that Jesus was offering Himself to the Jewish nation as the promised heir to the throne of David who would rule forever.
b) Chapters 11-28 present the rejection of Jesus the King. Matthew records the debates Jesus had with the Jewish leaders as they rejected Him, the parables that Jesus told that highlighted the significance of that rejection, the presentation of Jesus as King in the Jerusalem and the ultimate act of rejection—the nation’s demand that He be crucified at the hands of the Romans.
(i) Look at Jesus’ confrontation with Pontius Pilate in chapter 27:11.
(a) Pilate asks, “Are you the king of the Jews?” There it is again—“Who are you, Jesus?” The greatest question Pilate could have asked. The greatest question any person of any time in history is, “Who are you, Jesus?” How individual humans answer that question is eternally significant.
(b) Jesus’ answer? “Yes, it is as you say.” Yes, I am the King of the Jews. Despite that claim and all the evidence Jesus had provided, He was rejected by His own people.
(ii) Then—after that rejection—He shifted His focus to Gentiles, concluding the book with the command to “go and make disciples of all the nations…” (Gentiles).
c) So, Jesus presented Himself as the King of the Jewish nation and was rejected by the Jews. Now, through the Gospel of Matthew—and the rest of the New Testament—He is presenting Himself in this Church age as the King of all nations.
(i) How many people do you know who think Jesus is only for white Europeans? Christianity is a Western religion?
(ii) The Jews of Matthew’s time rejected the idea that Jesus was the Messiah because the early Christians were taking their message to Gentiles. But Matthew shows that the Jews rejected their Messiah, which redirected the mission to include Gentiles.
(iii) Jesus is for all people. Everyone needs Jesus. I recently saw a clip of a woman in the audience of the Oprah Winfrey show who said that Jesus was the only way of salvation. Oprah asked, “How can you believe that? There are so many people who have never even heard the name of Jesus—what about them? How can you really believe Jesus is the only way?”
(iv) Matthew gives us Jesus’ answers to that question:
(a) Start with the end—the Great Commission—Matthew 28:18: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations…” The implication is that Jesus is for all people.
(b) When Jesus was formally rejected by the Jewish leaders in chapter 12, He made things pretty black and white in v.30: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.”
(c) Matthew 21:42ff: “Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.’ Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you (the Jews) and given to a people who will produce its fruit. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.’” Jesus was telling them that everyone had a choice: Accept or reject Jesus.
(d) Matthew 25 records Jesus’ description of judgment. He tells us that there are two kinds of people ultimately: Sheep and goats. Sheep are His people and goats are those who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. He eventually tells the goats, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (v.41).
(e) Yes, Matthew taught—and the rest of the New Testament teaches—that Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved. He is the solution. We, therefore, believe that Jesus Christ is everyone’s greatest need. And even though our culture—people you and I personally know—will tell us that there are many ways to be saved (if we really even need to be saved at all) and that “Jesus may be good for you, but that’s not my thing,” we know better. We know better because we have the Gospel of Matthew and the New Testament. The world has a disease called sin and Jesus Christ is the only cure and we’ve got to let people know of their great need for Him. This is a life and death matter—eternal life or eternal death.
d) The question is still one of acceptance or rejection. He is the King! He claimed it in His sermons and proved it in His miracles. Will you—will the people in your extended family, the people you work with, the people who live next door to you, will the people of “all nations”—accept Him or reject Him as King?
III. Closing—As I’ve thought about this book I’ve come to the conclusion that we should see Matthew as a great example. We should be able to relate to Matthew and be inspired by his life and testimony as it relates to Jesus. Like Matthew, we are…
A. Sinners who have been eternally changed by Jesus. Like Matthew, we should desire to throw a party and introduce our fellow sinners to Jesus. We must engage our culture—introduce and reintroduce people to the true Jesus of Scripture. We know the real Jesus. We know how much the world needs this Jesus. We must tell the world about Him. Just as Jesus offered Himself to the Jews—demonstrating exactly who He was—we must present Jesus to our world, showing that He is the Jewish Messiah and the Universal King.
B. Disciples who have been sent by Jesus. Like Matthew, we are called to follow Jesus. Becoming a disciple of Jesus cost Matthew a lot—financially. Becoming a full devoted follower of Jesus may cost us financially, it may cost us relationships, it may cost us time. I can’t list all the ways it might cost us, but I do know discipleship costs. But Matthew shows that it’s worth the cost.
1. Like the little girl whose Daddy gave her some costume jewelry—a string of fake pearls. She loved that necklace and kept it for years. One day, he came to her and said, “Honey, do you love me?” She said, “Of course, Daddy, I will always love you.” He said, “Then give me your necklace.” She didn’t understand and wouldn’t give him the necklace. The next day he asked for them again, but she couldn’t give up her necklace. One day, when her father asked again for the necklace, the girl—with tears in her eyes—put the necklace in her Father’s hand. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a box. He gave it to her. She opened it and pulled out another necklace. A string of real pearls—many times more precious than the cheap necklace she had held onto for so long.
2. Whatever Jesus asks His disciples to give up, He will replace it with something infinitely more precious.