How Did Jesus, the Exact Representation of God, Describe Himself and Demonstrate Who He Is?

I find myself contemplating often the words Jesus used to describe his purpose. Jesus gave us description immediately before he launched into his public ministry. This is the way it went down, and this is what he said:

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“’The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

‘And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”

Luke 4:16-21

The famous announcement of his purpose came after John the Baptist piqued the interest of the local people, proclaiming, “Prepare the way for the Lord”. It came after John the Baptist challenged people to repent and be baptized.

The announcement took place after Jesus spent 40 days out in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. Jesus had not yet begun his “public ministry”, when he stood up to read in his home town synagogue from the words of Isaiah, the Prophet – words spoken about Jesus over 500 years before that day.

This was the announcement of what Jesus came to do. The Spirit was on him to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of our Lord’s favor.

It wasn’t just a prophecy to be fulfilled. It was the very purpose for which God emptied Himself and became a man incarnate. God came to reveal Himself in the material world, to reveal His very heart and His love for mankind.

This was the message that He was trying to convey over the many centuries through the one people who inclined an ear toward Him. But, they didn’t completely get it. They wandered and strayed in their devotion to God, and they mistook His law for nothing but a code of conduct that might earn them the favor of God.

They didn’t understand the relationship He desired to form with them. They didn’t understand His love for them or the singularity of His own devotion to them and the purposes He established for them before the foundation of the heavens and the earth.

They didn’t even recognize Him when He came to them, albeit emptied of all that would not fit into human form (Phil. 2:5-7) They didn’t recognize Him stripped of all His power, holiness and glory.

He did not come with pomp and circumstance. He came humbly in the form of a man just like them. His coming was barely a whisper. is arrival went all but unnoticed. Born in a humble setting to poor, common parents, he grew up in an area of Judea that was off the beaten path and not a little “backwards”.

His first 30 years of life were so unremarkable we know next to nothing about them. The first public stir that is recorded is the day he stood up and read from the Isaiah scroll, sat down, and announced, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

People were so unready for anything extraordinary from Jesus that they marveled and asked each other, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22) Then, he seemed to provoke them (Luke 4:23-28), and they burned with anger at his audacity. (Luke 4:28)

It was an inauspicious start to his “public ministry”. He bombed in his hometown synagogue.

What he said of himself, however, is preserved for eternity. It is the key to understanding the heart and character of God revealed through Jesus, “the exact representation of His nature”. (Heb. 1:3) What Jesus said that day and what Jesus did is the best demonstration of God’s heart and character that we, as finite beings, might understand.

Continue reading “How Did Jesus, the Exact Representation of God, Describe Himself and Demonstrate Who He Is?”

How Do We Demand Signs and Miss What God is Doing in the World?

The Gospel records a three year period of time in which Jesus seemingly performed miracles, signs and wonders everywhere he went. Perhaps, the accounts in the Gospels give us an impression that doesn’t correspond to the reality because they recount the many miraculous things he did, but they don’t describe all the times in between.

It seems strange, given all the miracles, signs and wonders that Jesus did that the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus one day to test him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. (Matt. 16:1) Perhaps, they wanted him to do it on command, like a science experiment to prove himself.

Perhaps, they had only heard of the things Jesus did, but they hadn’t actually seen him do anything. Perhaps, they didn’t trust the accounts of the common people Jesus seemed to prefer to hang out with. They were more gullible and less discerning.

Attitudes like that haven’t changed much in 2000 years. The Sadducees and Pharisees were more learned. The Sadducees didn’t believe in supernatural occurrences, miracles or demons. The Pharisees did believe in those things, but they were skeptical. The two groups had very different worldviews, but they were aligned in their skepticism.

When these elite religious leaders asked Jesus for a private performance – “a sign from heaven” – he refused. And, he said this:

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign[i]; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” 

(Matthew 16:4)

The fact that these two groups, one that believed in the supernatural and one that didn’t, were aligned in their skepticism suggests that their “problem” with Jesus was that he challenged their dogmas. They doubted the fact that he did miracles, signs and wonders because of the content of what he was saying.

And, Jesus seemed to revel in provoking them on those differences!

The Pharisees (who believed in the supernatural) determined that healing on the Sabbath is work and is, therefore, prohibited by the Law of Moses. They demanded that Jesus not heal on the Sabbath, but Jesus did it anyway. (Matt. 12:1-14)

Ironically, this healing that was done right in the Pharisees’ presence occurred four chapters before they came to Jesus and demanded a sign from heaven. They had seen a sign from heaven already and dismissed it out of hand because it went against their beliefs.

Jesus challenged their preconceived ideas and expectations. He challenged their authority to determine what is work in violation of the Sabbath and what isn’t. They watched Jesus heal a man with a shriveled hand, but they dismissed it because of what he taught that was contrary to what they believed.

God showed the Pharisees a sign (the healing of a man with a shriveled hand), but they were too focused on his violation of their understanding of Scripture and religious dogma to notice it for what it was.

This story illustrates the danger of our religious dogmas and preconceived ideas of what God should do and not do. Even when the evidence is staring us in the face, we can be tempted to ignore it, gloss over it, and explain it away in favor of how we interpret and understand Scripture.

Continue reading “How Do We Demand Signs and Miss What God is Doing in the World?”

Jesus Among the Religious and Political Groups of His Time

This is a companion piece to the last article I wrote and published: Why Did Jesus Pick on the Pharisees So Much? The former article was inspired by 40 years of observation that Jesus was harshly critical of the Pharisees. His treatment of them virtually jumped off the pages at me when I first read the Gospels in college.

The Pharisees, though, were only one of the influential groups of Jews in First Century Judea. We see some evidence of Jesus rubbing shoulders with the other groups, but not nearly as much as Jesus engaged the Pharisees.

We might be tempted to assume that the Pharisees were particularly wicked and sinful – far more, perhaps, than the other groups Jesus encountered, but that isn’t so. Jesus was most like the Pharisees, and they were most like him, in their theological leanings and in the social circles in which they operated.

For that reason, I focused in my last article on the question: why was he so harsh towards them? I could have asked: why didn’t he pick on the other groups more?

In this article, I will explore the other groups and the difference between them and the Pharisees. I will send a little time pondering Jesus and the twelve apostles in relation to these groups and, perhaps, provide some insight as it strikes me.

First Century Judea was broadly possessed by two groups: the Jews, of course, and the Romans. The Jews had long lived in this land that God promised their ancestor, Abraham, and the Romans were the newcomers, the recent conquerors in a long line of challengers to the Jewish occupation of the land.

The five Jewish groups represent a spectrum of relational attitudes towards the Romans and each other in their religious and not-so-religious observances, lifestyles and attitudes. I will tackle them in order of their relationship to the Romans and their religious orientation.

Continue reading “Jesus Among the Religious and Political Groups of His Time”

Christmas Thoughts: The Heart of God’s Redemptive Story is Revealed through Mary

The final woman mentioned in the lineage of Jesus is central to God’s redemptive work in human history.

I have written a Christmas series of blog posts on the genealogy in Matthew that sets the stage for the narrative of the birth of Jesus, but I haven’t finished it… until now. The theme is the redemptive work of God in human history through the perspective of the five (5) women mentioned in the genealogy.

If that last statement gave you pause, you may have a hint of the radical nature of that storyline, which is the point of this redemotive story: There are five women mentioned in the genealogy. Five women.  

The Hebrew culture was paternalistic, like all cultures in the Ancient Near East, and almost all cultures down through history (and even now). The oldest male in that culture inherited his father’s estate. Lineage was traced from male to male.

So, what are five women doing in the sacred lineage of Jesus?

That Matthew mentions five women in his genealogy is truly remarkable. We might gloss over it in our modern thinking, maybe even being tempted to sneer that he didn’t include more. That he included ANY women is the the amazing thing.

I described four of those women in previous blog posts. I began with a post that sets out the genealogy in full and links to each of the subsequent blog posts. (Christmas Thoughts: God’s Redemptive Actions Through Women of the Old Testament). The posts continue in the following progression, from oldest to most recent:

  1. Christmas Thoughts: God Redeems the Line of Judah through Tamar;
  2. Christmas Thoughts: Rahab, a Foreign Prostitute & God’s Redemptive Plan;
  3. Christmas Thoughts: Ruth & God, the Kinsman-Redeemer;
  4. Christmas Thoughts: Uriah’s Wife and the Redemption Plan of God

All of the stories I have covered so far are of women from the Old Testament, showing God’s redemptive work leading up to the birth of the long awaited Messiah. The last of the woman is Mary, who gave birth to him.

This piece is inspired by Craig Keener, who has a Ph.D. in New Testament and Christian Origins from Duke University and is a prolific writer of scholarly works on the New Testament, among other things. He was interviewed recently by Preston Sprinkle on Theology in the Raw as part of a series on Christmas.

He contrasts the appearances of an angel to Zechariah (Luke 1:8-22) and to Mary (Luke 1:26-38). The passages are parallels, announcing the birth of the Messiah, but the response of the two are different. The contrast is intended, no doubt, to catch our attention: Zechariah responds with unbelief, while Mary responds, “May it be according to you word!”

The parallelism of the two passages is striking, so the difference in the responses stands out. It is meant to stand out.

Zechariah is an aged man, a priest operating at the center of the life and culture of his people, serving in holiest place in Hebrew culture: in the temple. He is male of course. Zechariah, of all people, might be expected to recognize and embrace God’s great entry into human history and the fulfillment of the long-foretold Messianic prophecies.

Contrasted to him is Mary, a young female (probably in her mid-teens), a relative nobody in a nowhere place in the eyes of that culture. She would not have been privileged to know Scripture like Zechariah She would have no stature, no power, no influence nor importance.

The contrast in status would be more evident to First Century Hebrews, but we can understand it even today. Despite the elevated stature of Zechariah, Mary is the hero of this story. She embraces what the angel says, while Zechariah hesitates in doubt at the threshold of God’s entry into the world.

Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-55) is one of the most eloquent and poignant responses to God’s redemptive work in all of Scripture.[i] Mary is glorified over the venerable old priest in the story. The spotlight is on her, and

Mary’s words also set the tone for the coming of the Messiah. She says God scatters those who are proud, but He lifts up the humble. He fills the hungry, but he empties the rich.

Leading the way to God’s appearance human history are five women who stand out in Matthew’s genealogy by the very fact that they were included at all. Their stories are at the center of God’s redemptive work and plans for mankind that He envisioned from before the foundations of the world.

The mention of five women in the genealogy of Christ, the Messiah, is no accident. In our western minds, we might tend to gloss over genealogy as a mundane recitation of historic fact. For Hebrews, the composition of a genealogy is not just about fact, but an emphasis of key facts.

The genealogy with the mention of five women sets the stage for the appearance of God. It is foundational and a central a part of that story. Take a moment to consider how utterly unusual that genealogy would have seemed at the time, and it’s significance in story of Jesus. Consider Mary’s grand response to God, and take some time to read the stories of the other women in the lineage of Jesus.


[i] And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

Jesus, Justice and Bruised Reeds

God’s justice is characterized by His preference for mercy.

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (Matthew 12:18-21 ESV)

These are the words of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 42:1-4) that Jesus fulfilled according to the Gospel of Matthew. They are echoed in the baptism of Jesus when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven spoke and said: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17)

Of particular note to me is the statement that Jesus came “to proclaim justice to the Gentiles”, and he will “bring justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope!” For the past two years, I have read through the Bible from start to finish focusing on the theme of justice (among other things).

The theme of justice is everywhere in scripture when you look for it! Justice is particularly embedded in the messianic prophecies and promises. The coming, the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus is all about righteousness and justice.

I believe that modern Americans have a warped view of what justice means, biblically. We tend to view justice as retributive and punitive. Justice in a popular sense tends to mean people getting their just desserts, but that isn’t what we see in Scripture.

The prophets warned God’s people about two main things: idolatry and failing to do justice. Obeying God’s commands fit more or less into these two broad categories of worshiping God alone and doing right by people.

These are the two great categories of the ten commandments. Thus, the law is summed up this way: love God and love your neighbor.

When God executed judgment on His people in the OT in keeping with the warnings spoken by the prophets, He always did so in hope that His people would turn from their wicked ways. Judgement as a subset of justice was redemptive. It’s aim was to guide people back to right relationship with God and to each other.

Overarching God’s justice is His preference for mercy, because His ultimate desire is for relationship with us. He desires also that we would have healthy relationships with each other (love your neighbor) in the same way. A right relationship with God and with our other human beings (and the world we live in) is the essence of what it means to be righteous and just.

Continue reading “Jesus, Justice and Bruised Reeds”