Summary: To really be able to understand and immitate Jesus we have to understand His Jewishness and the Jewish time and culture into which He was born.


A. As you know, most religious groups have identifying characteristics.

1. A kindergarten teacher gave her class a "show and tell" assignment of bringing something to represent their religion.

2. The first boy got in front of the class and said, "My name is Benjamin and I am Jewish and this is the Star of David."

3. The second boy got in front of the class and said, "My name is Joseph, I’m am Catholic and this is the Crucifix."

4. The third boy got in front of the class and said, "My name is Tommy and I worship with the church of Christ and this is a casserole." (We sure like our fellowship meals!)

B. Maybe you’ve heard the old story about a Jewish lawyer who was troubled by the way his son turned out, and went to see his Rabbi about it.

1. "I brought him up in the faith, gave him a very expensive bar mitzvah, cost me a fortune to educate him. Then he tells me last week he has decided to be a Christian. Rabbi, where did I go wrong?"

2. "Funny you should come to me," said the Rabbi. "Like you, I, too, brought my boy up in the faith, put him through University, cost me a fortune, then one day he comes and tells me he has decided to become a Christian."

3. "What did you do?" asked the lawyer.

4. "I turned to God for the answer," replied the rabbi.

5. "And what did he say?" God said, "Funny you should come to me..."

6. The Jewishness of Jesus is not something that we give enough attention to.

C. In our series about Jesus called, “Devoted to Jesus,” we are trying to take a fresh look at Jesus.

1. We want to see Him clearly so that we can understand Him and imitate Him.

2. Last week we talked about the fact that the story of Jesus doesn’t begin with His earthly life, but actually begins with His eternal life.

3. Jesus is God and was with God in the beginning and through Him all things were made.

4. Last week we focused on the eternal Jesus; today we want to talk about the earthly Jesus.

D. At one point in history, our eternal God became an earthly man, and that earthly man named Jesus was Jewish.

1. Paul wrote in Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”

2. Think about this for just a moment: Jesus is the only person in history who had the privilege of choosing where and when to be born.

3. And where and when did he choose to be born?

4. He chose to be born into a pious Jewish family living in a backwater region of the Roman Empire at the end of what we call the 1st Century.

5. We can no more understand Jesus apart from His Jewishness, than we can understand Gandhi apart from his Indianness.”

6. The first point that I want to make this morning is…

I. Jesus Was Jewish

A. I realize making the statement “Jesus was Jewish” is not an earth-quaking and eye-opening one for most of us because we study Scripture and talk about OT and NT all the time.

1. But some people are surprised by that statement.

2. They might say something like, “I thought Jesus was Christian, not Jewish!”

3. The confusion comes from the fact that being “Jewish” is both an ethnic and a religious thing.

4. Some modern day Jewish people cherish their ethnic history, but give no attention to the Jewish religion. Some, on the other hand, are very devoted to both.

5. The earliest participants in Christianity were Jewish Christians - Jews ethnically, Christian religiously.

6. Jesus and the family that He came from were proud to be Jewish ethnically and religiously.

7. Jesus lived as a Jew under the OT covenant, He fulfilled it, and then He issued the New Covenant.

B. When we turn to the Gospels, Jesus’ true-blue Jewishness leaps out at us.

1. Matthew’s first sentence reads, “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Mt. 1:1)

2. Matthew opens his Gospel, not as we might be tempted to begin, with a teaser on “How this book will change your life,” but rather with a dry list of names – the genealogy of Jesus.

3. Matthew chose a representative sampling from 42 generations of Jews in order to establish Jesus’ royal bloodline.

4. Amazingly, the peasant family of Joseph and Mary could trace their lineage back to some impressive ancestors, including Israel’s greatest king, David, and its original founder, Abraham.

5. So Jesus, being introduced like that, might parallel an American politician being introduced as “the son of Abraham Lincoln, the son of George Washington.”

C. Jesus grew up during a time of resurgent “Jewish pride.”

1. In a backlash against the pressure to embrace Greek culture, Jewish families had begun adopting names that harked back to the times of the patriarchs and the Exodus from Egypt.

2. Thus Mary was named for Miriam, the sister of Moses, and Joseph was named after one of the twelve sons of Jacob.

3. Jesus’ own name comes from the word “Joshua” (which means “he shall save”) a common name in those days.

4. Jesus was the 5th most common name for Jewish boys, Joseph was the 2nd most common name, and Mary was the most common name for Jewish women.

5. That’s why that recent discovery of a bone box with the names “Jesus, Mary and Joseph” on it is not all that surprising.

6. Finding a tomb with the names “Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” is like our finding a gravestone with the names Mr. and Mrs. John Smith.

D. Signs of Jesus’ Jewishness surface throughout His life.

1. He was circumcised as a baby, most likely on the 8th day.

2. He was presented to the Lord in the Jerusalem temple, and a sacrifice was offered for Him (a pair of doves and 2 young pigeons) which indicated that the family was not wealthy. (Lk. 2:22-24)

3. One scene included from Jesus’ childhood shows his family attending an obligatory festival in Jerusalem, several days’ journey from their home.

4. As an adult, Jesus worshiped in the synagogue and temple.

5. He followed Jewish customs, and spoke in terms His fellow Jews would understand.

6. Even His controversies with other Jews, such as the Pharisees, underscore the fact that they expected Him to share their values and act more like them; more Jewish.

7. Jesus said this about His relationship to the Jewish Law, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Mt. 5:17)

8. So there can be little doubt about the Jewishness of Jesus.

9. He was born a Jew, raised by faithful Jews, and lived and died as a Jew who perfectly followed the Law.

E. Not only did Jesus choose a race to be born into, he also chose a time and place in which to be born.

1. Why did God choose that particular time and place in history?

2. Have you ever wondered why Jesus didn’t choose to come in modern times, when He could take advantage of mass communications.

3. Think of what Jesus could have done with the power of television or the internet!

4. What was it about the first century that made it the right time to bring God into the world?

F. Every age has its prevailing mood.

1. Think of the 19th century and its sunny confidence after the Civil War as we experienced the industrial revolution.

2. Think of the 20th century and its violent chaos with WWI, WW2, and the conflicts of Korea and Vietnam and the struggle for civil rights.

3. In the era of Jesus’ birth, at the height of the Roman Empire, hope and optimism held sway.

4. Rome kept peace at the point of a sword, but by and large, even the conquered peoples cooperated – except in Palestine, that is.

5. Anticipation soared for “a new order of the ages” at the time of Jesus’ birth.

6. The Roman poet Virgil wrote these words, “A new human race is descending from the heights of heaven,” a change would come about due to “the birth of a child, with whom the iron age of humanity will end and the golden age begin.”

7. Virgil wrote these words not about Jesus, but about Caesar Augustus, the “present deity,” and “restorer of the world,” who had managed to reunite the empire after the civil war sparked by Julius Caesar’s assassination.

8. To loyal Roman subjects, Augustus offered peace, security, and entertainment.

9. The Pax Romana (Latin for the Roman Peace) assured that citizens had protection from outside enemies and enjoyed the benefits of Roman justice and civil government.

10. The Roman Empire was the last and greatest world wide empire.

G. People throughout the Roman Empire dressed like the Greeks, built their buildings in the Greek style, played Greek sports, and spoke the Greek language – except in Palestine.

1. In the words of the writer Philip Yancy, “Palestine, the one lump the anaconda could not digest, exasperated Rome to no end.

2. In the 30 years from 67 to 37 B.C., before the emergence of Herod the Great, over 150 thousand Jewish men perished in Palestine in revolutionary uprisings.

3. The Jews resisted the Hellenization (imposing of Greek culture) as fiercely as they fought the Roman legions.

4. Rabbis kept this aversion alive by reminding the Jews of the attempts by a Seleucid madman named Antiochus to Hellenize the Jews more than a century before.

5. In a terrible act that became known as the “abomination of desolation,” Antiochus invaded the Most Holy Place of the Temple and sacrificed an unclean pig on the altar in honor of the Greek god Zeus, and then smeared the sanctuary with its blood.

6. Antiochus’s campaign failed miserably, driving the Jews to an open revolt led by the Maccabeans.

7. Jews today still celebrate Hanukkah in memory of that victory.

8. It took 30 years for Roman armies to quash all signs of rebellion; then they installed the local strongman Herod as their puppet “King of the Jews.”

H. It was into that kind of world and that kind of context that Jesus was born.

1. Jesus’ hometown in Galilee was far different from the area of Judea and Jerusalem.

2. Journeying from Judea to Galilee is a journey from brown to green, from an arid, rocky terrain to some of the lushest fields in the Mediterranean basin.

3. With fertile land, beautiful vistas, and moderate climate, Galilee had its attractions, and Jesus must have enjoyed his childhood and young adulthood there.

4. During Jesus’ lifetime Sepphoris served as Galilee’s capital, second in importance only to Jerusalem in all of Palestine.

5. Yet, not once, do the Gospels record that Jesus visited or even mentioned that city.

6. For all its prosperity and political activism, Galilee got little respect from the rest of the country.

7. It was the farthest province from Jerusalem and the most backward culturally.

8. Rabbinic literature of the time portrays Galileans as bumpkins, fodder for ethnic jokes.

9. Do you remember in John 1, when Philip told Nathaniel that he had found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, Nathaniel replied, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”

10. Many Jews regarded Galilee as lax about spiritual matters as well.

I. The Jews of Jesus’ day were splintered into parties that followed different paths of collaboration or separation from Rome.

1. The Essenes were the most separate of all.

a. They were pacifistic, and withdrew into monkish communities in the caves of the barren desert near the Dead Sea.

b. They hoped their faithfulness would encourage the advent of the Messiah.

2. The Zealots represented a different strategy of separatism.

a. They advocated armed revolt to throw out impure foreigners.

b. Jesus included one man of this bent in His cast of apostles – Simon the Zealot.

3. At the other extreme there were the collaborationists who tried to work within the system.

4. The Romans had granted limited authority to a Jewish council called the Sanhedrin.

a. It was a legal body composed of the High Priest, chief Sadduccees, Pharisees, and elders.

b. In return for their privileges, the Sanhedrin cooperated with Rome in scouting out any sign of insurrection.

c. It was in their best interest to prevent uprisings and the harsh reprisals they would bring.

5. The Sadducees were the most blatant collaborationists.

a. They had first Hellenized under the Greeks, and then cooperated in turn with the Maccabeans, Romans and now Herod.

b. Their theology was humanistic. They did not believe in an afterlife or divine intervention on this earth.

c. That’s why the Sadducees were sad, you see!

6. The Pharisees were the popular party of the middle class.

a. They often found themselves on the fence, vacillating between separatism and collaboration.

b. They held to high standards of purity, particularly on such matters as Sabbath observance, ritual cleanliness, and the exact time of feast days.

c. They treated nonobservant Jews as “Gentiles,” shutting them out of local councils, boycotting their businesses, and ostracizing them from meals and social affairs.

d. Although they believed passionately in the Messiah, Pharisees hesitated to follow too quickly after any imposter or miracle worker who might bring disaster on the nation.

J. Try to put yourself in their shoes. How would you have felt as a Jewish believer in their time and place?

1. How would you have responded to Roman oppression?

2. Would you have striven to be a model citizen who kept out of trouble?

3. Would you have been tempted to join the fiery insurrectionists like the Zealots?

4. Would you have fought back in more devious ways, like avoiding the paying of taxes?

5. Or would you have thrown your energies into a religious movement and shunned political involvement altogether?

6. As I think about myself, I realize that I probably would have ended up among the Pharisees.

K. Would Jesus have won you and me over?

1. Would you or I have believed in Him if we were living in that time and place?

2. As much as I wish I could say, “Yes, of course.” I cannot easily answer that question.

3. For all their differences, the Essenes, Zealots, Pharisees and even Sadducees shared one goal – to preserve what was distinctively Jewish.

4. To that goal, Jesus represented a serious threat.

L. This was the culture that Jesus grew up in, a Jewish culture.

1. Yes, He came to change it, and He certainly did.

2. But every change that Jesus brought, came from this starting point of Judaism. So Jesus was Jewish.

II. Why Was Jesus Jewish?

A. Jesus had to be Jewish because God had made the decision that He was going to bless the world and bring salvation through the Jews.

1. In Genesis 12, God called Abraham and set up a covenant with him saying, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 2 ‘I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’” (Genesis 12:1-3)

2. But why was it Abraham and the Jewish people that God had chosen? Why not some other person or group?

3. In Deuteronomy 7, Moses explained to the Jews, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. 7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.” (Deut. 7:6-9)

B. God put in place a Law and a Covenant that only a perfect person, God himself, could keep and then set aside.

1. Jesus came and lived under that Law and fulfilled it.

2. Becoming the perfect sacrifice under the Law, He then issued a new covenant.

3. Jeremiah prophesied about that New Covenant, saying, “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. 33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33)

4. Paul explained it this way, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” (Rom. 3:21-25)

5. And so, “…when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Gal. 4:4-5)

6. When speaking to the woman at the well in John 4, Jesus said, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” (Jn. 4:22)

7. How wonderful – We are the recipients of God’s saving activity through the Jews; thru Jesus!

C. As we get to know Jesus, we must understand the Jewish background and Law that Jesus chose to be born into.

1. We don’t have to be Jewish to be saved, but Jesus had to be Jewish to save us.

(This sermon is based on chapter 3 from The Jesus I Never Knew, by Philip Yancy.