Summary: First message in the "Who Is Jesus" Series
Who Is Jesus?
Message 1: Rabbi Jesus
Text: Matthew 7:24-29
Matthew is the Jewish Gospel; it was likely written specifically for Jewish Christians, and as an apologetic to the Jews...as an evangelistic tool. Like the other synoptic Gospels of Mark and Luke, Matthew doesn’t pretend to tell the entire life story of Jesus. That’s not the point. The point of the story is to introduce his Jewish brothers and sisters to Jesus, and to provide evidence that Jesus was the expected Messiah of the Jewish people.
The Book of Matthew starts off immediately by emphasizing the Jewishness of Jesus, and lays the foundation for his being considered the Messiah of God...Israel’s saviour and deliverer. Matthew does this by tracing the lineage of Jesus through his step-father Joseph to King David, and from there to Abraham. In doing so he kills two birds with one stone. First, that Jesus is Jewish is settled unequivocally. You simply can’t get any more Jewish than having a documented genealogy that traces your ancestors in a straight line back to Abraham. Second, it establishes Jesus’ royal bonafides as a direct descendent of King David’s ruling dynasty. What about Jesus not actually being Joseph’s son? No problem. He was accepted by Joseph, named by Joseph (which indicates adoption), raised by Joseph, and understood by the villagers to be the son of Joseph.
So, the Jewish readers of Matthew’s Gospel would immediately be thinking of Jesus in the context of their own culture and history. Immediately Jesus is established as one of their own in a very real sense.
What this tells you as a 21st century reader of Matthew’s Gospel, is to expect Jesus to be presented in the context of Jewish culture and belief. If it seems as you read that Jesus is “foreign” to you...that he speaks a foreign language, practices foreign customs, and teaches foreign concepts using foreign methods...it’s because he is. Jesus is presented in Matthew’s Gospel in the context of the first century Jewish world of Roman-occupied Israel, so expect it to seem strange.
I. Rabbi Jesus: What That Doesn’t Mean
We’ve titled this first message in the series as “Rabbi Jesus”, and it’s important now to clarify what we mean by that. However, it’s far easier to start by telling you what we don’t mean.
A. First, we don’t mean that Jesus was ordained officially by any of the several Jewish religious schools that existed at the time. He most likely was not officially “ordained” as a rabbi.
B. Second, we don’t mean that Jesus teachings aligned him with any particular sect or faction of Judaism that existed then. While from time Jesus’ teachings seem to align with one group or the other, at other times he contradicts their ideas. Jesus’ teachings do not consistently place him within any first century group...he is quite by himself, in his own category.
C. Third, we don’t mean that Jesus submitted his teachings to the authority of the rabbinical leaders of the time. An ordinary rabbi had every word scrutinized by councils and groups of peers and elders within his sect. If he said something out of line with the group’s philosophy and belief, his feet would be held to the fire. He’d be expected to line up to the official teaching in order to stay with the group.
However, Jesus taught with authority, as if he spoke directly for God...on behalf of God. Rabbis, on the other hand, based their teachings on the authority of Scripture. Jesus didn’t. He spoke with the authority of God. Matthew presents Jesus this way; Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, with authority higher than that of any Rabbi. He speaks for God.
II. Rabbi Jesus: What That Does Mean
So, now that we’ve established what we don’t mean when we speak of “Rabbi Jesus”, maybe we should talk about what we do mean.
A. First, when we refer to Rabbi Jesus, we mean that Jesus was recognized as a teacher among his own people, and that he was generally given the appropriate honor that accompanied that recognition.
B. Second, we mean that Jesus used the methods appropriate to the teachers of the time. He called disciples, had his followers baptized, and taught them using object lessons, Q &A, and exposition. And, he sent his disciples out to teach others.
C. Third, we mean that Jesus had the expectations of his followers that were common to the teachers of his time. He expected them to;
i. Hear. Literally, to hear, but also to seek to understand what he taught them. And he expected them to...
ii. Obey. He expected his followers to actually do what he taught them to do, to actually live according to the principles of life that he laid down. Jesus fully expected that his followers would submit to the authority of his teaching.