Summary: The second in the "Who Is Jesus?" Series
Who Is Jesus?
Message 2: Radical Jesus
Text: Matthew 4:12-17
Today we continue the Who Is Jesus series that’s based in Matthew’s gospel by examining Radical Jesus. We’re going to be taking a look at the radical nature of Jesus’ message, and as with many of the sermons delivered here, we like to begin with a definition of terms.
Now, I know that the word “radical” can imply different things to different people, and I’d like to find out what the word suggests to you. So, if you hear Frank Babbage described as a “radical”, what does that say to you? (solicit responses) When the word radical is used to describe a person, it usually means that the person advocates complete social and political reform. The more radical the person is, the more thorough the reforms they suggest will be.
Jesus was a radical. I know that it’s not something we usually consider; we’re so immersed in the message of the spiritualized Jesus, the Jesus who cleanses the soul, who transforms the life, who is ascended, glorified, and coming again, that we rarely, if ever, consider the human Jesus. We don’t think of the Jesus with dusty feet, the bearded Jesus, the Jesus with a throat hoarse from preaching on mountainsides to multitudes. Our thoughts of Jesus tend to place him in a rarified heavenly atmosphere, and usually we fail to recognize that he was an actual, historical person who really interacted with the society and culture he was part of. And, that the Jesus the people of the day responded to was to them a very real and very human person.
I know that some of you might consider it strange to say that Jesus was a radical, but consider three things:
I. RESET: Proclaiming Jubilee
First, when Jesus came out of the wilderness to inaugurate his public ministry, he went to synagogue...which would be akin to us going to church...and made a very public proclamation. This event occurs between verses 12&13 of Matthew four, and is recorded in Luke 4:16-21. (Have Bro. Hughes read)
As Luke mentions, this was a selection from the Isaiah...specifically, it’s from Isaiah 61:1-3. But I want to remind you of how real and concrete this was to them. They didn’t know the spiritualized Jesus. The only Jesus they knew was the other guy, the one with the dusty feet, the beard, and the hoarse voice. So, when Jesus made this declaration, they didn’t immediately spiritualize it as we do. To them, Jesus was making a radical, public statement about his intentions and his mission. This was real.
To help drive the radical nature of his proclamation home, it may help you to understand that his audience would likely have understood this particular selection from Isaiah to refer to the Jubilee Law contained in Leviticus 25. We don’t have time to either read the text or discuss it in detail, so here’s a quick summary of what the Jubilee Law established. Every 50 years;
• All debts were forgiven, no matter how large or how small.
• All slaves were freed, and given enough money to start a new life with.
• All land that had been sold during the previous 50 years was returned to its original owner, or the owner’s family.
Basically, the Jubilee was God’s way of pressing the “reset” button on the Israelite economy and society. It prevented a permanent underclass from developing. It prevented a handful of people from getting a choke-hold on economic power. It controlled bad lending and bad borrowing. It prevented a handful of people from becoming giant landowners at the expense of creating a class of landless peasants. Jubilee gave Israel a giant economic and social “do-over”.
When Jesus declared that he was here to bring freedom to everyone, and that he was pushing the “reset” button, this was interpreted by his listeners as real world stuff! And it was incredibly radical! So, Jesus kicked off his public ministry by referencing ancient Israel’s radical Jubilee Law.
II. Declaring Kingdom & Constitution
The second thing I’d like you to consider is this: Matthew 4:17 describes him traveling through the region preaching that the kingdom of Heaven was at hand...it will be established presently, and not at some distant future point. Now, keep in mind that Jesus’ preaching about the immediate inception of the Kingdom of Heaven is set against the backdrop of him being a Galileean holy man who has just proclaimed that he’s hit the “reset” button on Jewish society!
This is real to them...not spiritual or theological. When Jesus preaches about the Kingdom of Heaven, they’re not hearing him as we hear someone when they preach about the Kingdom of Heaven. “Kingdom” to them was the primary national political construct of the time. It was as common to them as the idea of “republic” is to us. To understand how his listeners would have heard him, try to imagine what you’d be thinking if you heard that some blue-collar prophet was making public appearances all over New England declaring that a “new republic” was about to be established. The Kingdom was real!