Jesus’ Death

Matthew 20:28 reveals Jesus’ primary purpose for coming. He came to give his life as a ransom for many. The word “lutron” in Greek refers to the price paid to release a slave. The ransom was paid to fulfill the requirements of the Old Testament law. That means Jesus’ death was not paid to the Father to satisfy his wrath, as some have concluded. While Paul does refer to the wrath of God being expressed in Romans 1, it is important to recognize at what his wrath is being directed. Jesus constantly portrayed God as our loving father, who is kind and compassionate toward his children. So what is God angry at? He is angry at evil in the world that both mis-portrays God himself and deceives his children from the truth. Some have used “God’s wrath” to convince individuals to repent, however that method often leads to individuals being terrified of God, rather than living in the freedom of his love. There is also the question of why Jesus declared that God had forsaken him while he was on the cross. I believe the best way to understand this is not that Jesus was experiencing all of God’s wrath that had been stored up for mankind, but that Jesus referred to the natural consequence of a broken relationship due to man’s disobedience of God’s commands. I don’t believe Jesus felt God’s wrath on the cross, rather he felt his distance, which broke Jesus’ heart.

I’ve also heard some say that the ransom that Jesus referred to in Matthew 20:28 was paid to Satan as if he had kidnapped the human race. However, we find no evidence in Scripture for this explanation. Satan often deceives mankind, as he tried to deceive Jesus during Jesus’ temptation. However, this does not mean that Satan is the legitimate master of mankind, even though he may deceive men and women into thinking that he is.

Earlier Jesus had said he had come to fulfill the law, not to abolish it. Here Jesus tells us how he would fulfill the law. His death would fulfill the law’s requirements regarding judgment of mankind’s sin, which is why the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom at Jesus’ death. What was keeping men out of a close relationship with God had been removed. Jesus set us free to engage in and experience a father and child relationship with God.

Kingdom Recognition

In the parable of the workers, the master hired workers throughout the day, but only with the first did he agree on a wage, a denarius. With the rest, he just told them he would pay them, but didn’t specify an amount. At the end of the day, he began paying the workers, beginning with those hired last and gave them a denarius as well. Those hired first felt cheated because they didn’t get more. However, the master reminded them that they had agreed to work for a denarius, so why should they be upset because he decided to be generous with those who were hired later in the day?

Here Jesus addressed our tendency to compare ourselves with one another, rather than accepting what we have been given. I believe this parable reveals the heart of God toward all. A denarius was considered a day’s wages. A worker would take his wage home and feed his family with what he earned that day. Many workers literally lived hand to mouth; they immediately spent what they earned that day to survive the day. Those who worked the entire day and received a denarius got the normal rate, but those who worked part of the day received a gift; they got more, because they only worked part of a day. Many of us when we read Jesus’ parable of the workers identify with those who were hired in the morning, because we view our work as providing a living for ourselves. However, since Jesus is describing the Kingdom of Heaven, we should identify with those hired throughout the day and receive a gift at the end of the day. None of us deserve the Kingdom of Heaven, we receive it as a gift. Even those who walk with Jesus their entire lives or most of their lives deserve nothing more than those who acknowledge Jesus at the end of their life.

Jesus shows us that in the Kingdom of Heaven the first are last and the last are first, because there is no hierarchy in the Kingdom of Heaven. We are all brothers and sisters. In the world we have to earn much of what we receive, or at least we think we do. Some are in authority over others and receive more because of the concept that more responsibility should receive a greater compensation. However, in the Kingdom of Heaven there is no need for that model, because the Kingdom of Heaven is similar to children in a family where all have their needs met, not based on effort and accomplishment, but on relationship. In the Kingdom of Heaven compensation is not the motivating factor to our efforts, love is.

Divine Compassion

Following Jesus is much more than external behavior. Jesus made this point in his parable of the unmerciful servant. That parable was prompted by Peter’s question regarding how many times he should forgive his brother. Peter assumed up to seven times, Jesus corrected him with the instruction to forgive seventy times seven times. Jesus then described the Kingdom of Heaven as a Master who decided to settle accounts with his servants. One servant owed his master 10,000 talents, an unimaginable and unpayable sum. As his Master was about to hand him over to debtors’ prison, the servant pled with him to give him time to repay, at which the Master had compassion on the servant and forgave the debt. He forgave the debt, which meant the servant didn’t have to ever pay back what he owed. But immediately the servant went out and found another servant who owed him a rather small sum, one hundred denarii. Like he had done before his Master, his co-servant begged him to give him time to repay, but without compassion he threw his co-servant into prison until he repaid his debt. The other servants, seeing this injustice, went to their Master and explained what had happened. When he confronted his servant about what he had done to his co-servant, the Master reminded him of how he had forgiven him that great sum and declared that he should have done the same toward his co-servant. Since he had not, the Master cast the servant also into prison. Jesus concluded that this is what would happen to those who claim to follow Jesus but refuse to forgive their brothers from the heart.

Jesus’ conclusion is more than just an action, but expects his followers to feel compassion toward those who have hurt them and forgive them. The motivation for this behavior is how God our heavenly Father feels toward us who are in greater debt to Him than anyone is toward us. The compassion that we feel toward those who hurt us, is grounded in the gratitude that we have for how much we have been forgiven. When we fail to experience that compassion, it indicates that we have not recognized how much we’ve been forgiven and therefore are not grateful toward God or compassionate toward our brothers who hurt us. That compassion we are to feel toward those who hurt us does not come naturally to us, but comes from our heavenly Father though Jesus’ Spirit who dwells with us. That divine compassion we feel toward those who hurt us is yet another sign that we are children of God. Of course we also have a choice to tap into that divine compassion and forgive, or to ignore it and remain in hurt and anger toward that person. The choice is ours.

Following Jesus is much more than the development of certain disciplines and habits, but involves allowing him to address the issues of our heart, then living out the implications of what Jesus has done in our hearts.

Living Right Side Up

We live in an upside down world that exists in contrast to how Jesus revealed his Kingdom to be and the world should be. When his disciples asked who was the greatest in Jesus’ Kingdom, Jesus gave them a surprising answer. He called a child to stand in their midst and declared that unless, they, the disciples, were converted or changed to become like children they would never enter his Kingdom. While Jesus’ words are shocking today, they would have been outright unbelievable in the first century. The ancient world had little or no value for children. Some religions even sacrificed them. The Romans often abandoned baby girls. Children were often seen as an economic drain on the family, not as blessings from God as Scripture declares. Only after, and because of Jesus, were children valued. Christians rescued baby girls abandoned by their Roman families and raised them as their own daughters. In subsequent centuries Christians and churches established orphanages to care for abandoned and unwanted children, who otherwise would have been left to fend for themselves. Years later, Christians like D. L. Moody established schools on Sunday to teach children to read and write. Just in declaring value for children Jesus transformed multiple cultures in ways we take for granted today.

However, what did Jesus mean by becoming like children? Jesus instructed his disciples that they were to humble themselves like a child. This is where Jesus’ kingdom instructs our upside down world. Children are actually the model for a citizen of his Kingdom. In what way? Children recognize their dependence upon their parents. They are valued and loved by their parents just for who they are, not for what they can produce. They are a picture of the model kingdom citizen, humble, joyful and confident that all their needs will be cared for. They stand in stark contrast with those who Jesus said will come to him on the day of judgment declaring they are part of his Kingdom because they prophesied, healed the sick and cast out demons in Jesus’ name, prompting Jesus to say that he never knew them. This does not mean that Jesus is indicating that we are to be idle. Observe young children, they are active and busy, learning and practicing new skills, soaking up what their parents show them and delighting in each new ability acquired.

Our journey with Jesus is revealed to be one of relationship and discovery as Jesus reveals to us how to live right side up and not upside down. Then, as we learn to live right side up, we become examples for others to follow Jesus themselves. As children we are to delight in our learning to be like him, refusing to assume that our “productivity” gives us any standing in Jesus’ Kingdom.

Paying Attention

After having yet another encounter with the Pharisees, Jesus warned the disciples that they should beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, but because they had forgotten bread they thought Jesus was referring to that error. In response, Jesus again brought up their little faith and reminded them of how much they gathered after the feeding of the five thousand and again how much they gathered after the feeding of the four thousand. Jesus asked them how they could not perceive that he was not speaking regarding yeast from bread. Then they understood that he spoke of the Pharisees’ teaching and not about bread yeast.

How often do we misunderstand what the Holy Spirit is teaching us, because we interpret in the context of a perceived lack that we have in our life? Our little faith leads us to focus on the perceived lacks and needs we have in our life, which Jesus indicates are really non-existent. Twice the disciples had experienced multiplied provision from what they already had; then almost immediately afterwards they were anxious about having forgotten to bring bread with them. They were so concerned that they completely misunderstood what Jesus said to them. How much time and energy do we expend due to what we think we need in our lives, when over and over we have experienced Jesus’ continual care for us? As with the disciples our distraction over the material aspects of our lives, could cause us to completely miss what Jesus’ Spirit is teaching us about even more important areas for our attention. When Satan challenged Jesus to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger, Jesus responded that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. In his parable, Jesus declared the Rich Man with an abundant harvest requiring bigger and better barns, a fool, because he had focused on material things rather than on kingdom gold. That wealthy man illustrated Jesus’ question, what does it profit a man to gain the whole world yet to forfeit his soul? Oh, that we would pursue those words that proceed from our Father’s mouth with even more tenacity than we pursue our daily bread.

Faith & Perseverance

When Jesus retired to Tyre and Sidon, he was met by a Canaanite woman requesting healing for her demonized daughter. At first Jesus didn’t respond. Then he told her that his mission was to reach out to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Later he told her that it was not right for him to give the children’s bread to little dogs. When the woman persisted, Jesus commented on how great was her faith and healed her daughter.

Jesus’ comment to the Canaanite woman that her faith was great, deserves further examination. Typically when we think of having faith in Jesus, we believe that Jesus can or will do something. In this case, I would have thought that Jesus would have commended her perseverance, rather than her faith. The fact that he commends her faith reveals a connection between perseverance and faith. In other words a person’s faith is revealed by their perseverance. This reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18. A widow goes before a judge to get justice against her adversary, but he ignores her. Rather than accepting the situation, the widow kept returning until the judge, who Jesus said didn’t really care about justice, ruled in her favor so that she would stop badgering him. Too often we are distracted by Jesus’ using an unrighteous judge in contrast with God, that we miss the point of Jesus’ teaching. His point was to encourage his followers to keep praying even when circumstances are contrary and often don’t change for an extended period of time.

In both passages Jesus connects faith with perseverance. At the end of the parable of the persistent widow, Jesus made a cryptic statement. “Will the Son of Man find faith on the earth when he comes”. We often do not connect faith with perseverance. At times, we get a negative response to what we are seeking and give up. From both of these passages it is evident that this is not what Jesus is seeking to develop within us. The widow sought justice, the Canaanite woman sought healing and freedom for her daughter. Both are good and worthy requests, that are in line with our heavenly Father’s heart.

Both women refused to be deterred by an initial and continual negative responses. They perceived the heart of God and insisted that what was good be done. While we may not initially perceive this as faith, Jesus indicates in both situations that perseverance is a reflection of great faith and is what he expects to see practiced upon the earth until he returns. We are not to become discouraged when we do not immediately receive the response we want, or as in the case of the Canaanite woman, Jesus initially and repeatedly told her “no”. What if Jesus’ initial negative response is actually an invitation to persevere, rather than acquiesce? Consider the fact that Jesus’ initial refusal to help the Canaanite woman is oddly out of character for him. He said he had come to seek out the lost sheep of Israel, yet he had already healed the Roman Centurion’s servant. The Roman Centurion was no more Jewish than the Canaanite woman, yet Jesus didn’t hesitate to help him. What is fascinating about the Roman Centurion and the Canaanite woman is that Jesus praised both of them for their great faith. In the case of the Canaanite woman her great faith was revealed because she refused to accept Jesus’ initial negative responses. Now, that is something to ponder! When Jesus gives us a response that seems out of character, then we should assume that his intent is something different than a refusal to assist us. Our response then, should be perseverance, not acceptance.

What if?

On a number of occasions, Jesus referred to the disciples as having “little faith”. He used the word five times in the Gospels, four times in Matthew and once in Luke, always in reference to his own disciples. In the Sermon on the Mount, he addressed their anxiety over what to eat or what to wear, when their heavenly Father feeds the sparrows and clothes the lilies. Later, when Jesus rebuked the storm, he addressed his disciples as having little faith. Again after he called Peter to himself and Peter descended from the boat and walked on the water to Jesus, but began to doubt when he saw the wind and the waves, Jesus referred to Peter’s “little faith”. The fourth time in Matthew, Jesus again addressed his disciples, because they were anxious since they had forgotten to bring bread. In Luke the word was used in the parallel passage in the Sermon on the Mount, regarding anxiety his followers feel about their material needs being met.

Jesus’ multiple usage of the phrase “little faith” indicates a possibly common problem among followers of Jesus. The contexts of provision for our material needs, authority over the creation displayed by Jesus calming the storm, as well as his and Peter’s walking on the water indicates that we, his followers have been severely hampered by what Jesus diagnosed as little faith. On another occasion Jesus told the disciples that they should feed the crowd, even though they had only five loaves and two fish. Although he didn’t use the term “little faith” on that occasion, he implied that they had much greater potential to address the need at hand than they realized. Jesus implied that they his disciples had the solution to the problem, just as he did. Then he proceeded to show them how it was accomplished.

What if the only thing preventing us from doing what Jesus did was merely our “little faith”? That raises a potential question of lies we’ve believed that result in our being creatures of little faith. The obvious lie that Jesus pointed out is that we believe we are incapable and unable to do that which we’ve been empowered to do. A second lie concerns the character of our heavenly Father, who will gladly provide for what we need just as he does the sparrows of the sky and the lilies of the field. What if our limitations are linked to what we believe or possibly what we don’t believe? What if our potential is greater than we’ve ever imagined? What if our theology about God, creation and ourselves has limited us to accomplish what our heavenly Father desires for us? What if what we call the supernatural, is not so much supernatural as it is something that we have not accomplished yet? Consider the fact that much of what we take for granted today because of advances in science and technology would have been considered “supernatural” in the past. Our concept of supernatural is often linked to our inability to explain the occurrence. Often we study to prove what we already believe is true. However, what if we changed our approach and actually questioned and tested to see if what we believe needs to be modified to reach an understanding of an even greater and more clearer truth? How might our lives be transformed if we actually applied what Jesus taught us, as Jesus’ disciples did in the book of Acts?

Powerful Words

In one of his confrontations with the Pharisees, Jesus addressed the evil in the Pharisees by teaching us that our words reveal what is in our hearts. The way we speak, not just the words themselves but the way that we speak reveals who we are on the inside. The Pharisees’ words toward Jesus were intending to destroy him; Jesus responded with very strong language by calling them offspring of serpents. Why did he use that description of them? Their actions reflected the actions of Satan whose intent is to steal, kill and destroy. By their words, the Pharisees sought to condemn and destroy Jesus, they were revealing who they really were and who they were unknowingly following.

On the other hand, a person’s words and communication that reflect love, joy and peace reveal all that the apostle Paul identified as the fruit of the Spirit. That form of communication identifies an individual as being a child of God. We often don’t think of how important and revelatory our words and communication are. The proverb, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is actually a lie. Words can devastate an individual, even though they may never break a bone. On the other hand our words can impart life to an individual who sorely needs it. Have you ever considered that Jesus, and later the early church, used primarily words to bring healing and even life back to people? Our words carry both great power to help others, while at the same time they also reveal what is in our heart.

Take to heart what Jesus teaches and reflect on what your communication with others reveals about yourself. What impact does your communication have upon those who receive it? Does it build others up and impart life, or does it tear others down and seek their downfall?

Addressing Opposition

It is interesting to observe the opposition rising against Jesus. As the crowds increasingly came to the conclusion that Jesus was the long expected Son of David, their Messiah, the Pharisees became more radical in their opposition. Since Jesus demonstrated that he had power and authority over the demonic spirits, the Pharisees literally demonized Jesus by declaring that he did so by the power of Beelzebub, which was one of the names for Satan. Of course, Jesus easily refuted such a claim, by demonstrating that no kingdom or household that was divided against itself could long survive. In other words, if Satan were casting out Satan, his own kingdom would fall. Jesus even went further to show the absurdity of their claim, because some of the Pharisees own also cast out demons from individuals. Did their own also cast out demons by the power of Satan? Of course they would not make that assertion. So, the authority that Jesus possessed was also being demonstrated by some of the Pharisees themselves. They couldn’t have it both ways. Jesus pointed out that rather than Satan casting out Satan they were witnessing a demonstration of the advance of God’s kingdom.

The deeper question was why the Pharisees were in such opposition to Jesus. There could be many reasons for their opposing Jesus, but we see that Jesus challenged their belief system. He demonstrated their own failures and mistakes, which for those who have obtained some measure of status and power can be quite irritating. The fact that Jesus was right and could clearly demonstrate it became beside the point. The Pharisees entered into a mission to maintain their own positions of status and power as teachers and guides of the people. Jesus challenged their role in society and so they reacted against him.

In their opposition against Jesus, the Pharisees demonstrated their own hypocrisy. This is what can happen when we become so attached to our own position that we become blinded to the valid points someone from an opposing view makes. Since we cannot refute their position, we resort to attacking their character and the character of those who align themselves with them. Such opposition also blinds us to the hypocrisy of our own position when we condemn others, while we may practice something very similar to what we are condemning in others. We see such behavior in many areas of our society: in politics, in religion, in any area where people hold strong opinions. We see it when people raise their own opinion or position over the importance and value of relationship with others, even those who disagree with us. On another occasion, Jesus pointed out that we should address our own issues before trying to correct someone else. Like the Pharisees, our desire to be proven correct can drive us to making absurd statements, which are really lies, that we cannot back up. So we become louder and more energetic in our opposition. Eventually the absurdity of what we have said and done comes to light to our own regret. This is why Jesus’ instruction to us to be very cautious in our condemnation of others is so powerful and practical to us.

Living Consistently

It seems strange that Jesus and his disciples were traveling through grain fields and the Pharisees saw his disciples eating the heads of grain on the Sabbath. Were the Pharisees constantly around Jesus? Were they traveling with him? How would they have seen what the disciples were doing traveling along a footpath through the middle of a field? What it does show is that someone is often watching what we do and will point out any inconsistencies they see, particularly if they disagree with what we believe.

Jesus had an answer to those who criticized his disciples. He pointed out inconsistencies in those the Pharisees looked up to. King David and his men ate bread that was reserved for the priests because they were hungry. The priests themselves work in the temple on the Sabbath yet are innocent of breaking the Sabbath laws. Then Jesus concluded with God’s value. He desires mercy over sacrifice. If the Pharisees had practiced that value, they would not have condemned the disciples’ action. We too, are to have an answer to explain our actions and why we act in a certain manner. How do we do this?

Our actions should be reflect our being intentional and consistent with our values. This requires forethought on how we are to act and a consideration for the implications of our actions. Can we give an explanation for why we did something, or why we didn’t do something? It also means that we say and demonstrate that our values impact our behavior. If our behavior does not coincide with our stated value then we need to re-evaluate what our values are.

We should assume that someone may disagree with the approach that we take, not because they do differently, but because they disagree with us. We must recognize that we are in a conflict and those who disagree may point out things to discredit us. Jesus said we are to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Jesus always had an answer for his actions; with his help we should do the same.