Summary: Third message in the "Who Is Jesus?" Series
Who Is Jesus?
Message 3: Redeemer Jesus
Text: Matthew 20:25-28
Today we wrap up the Who Is Jesus series that’s based in Matthew’s gospel. In our last message in the series we talked about Radical Jesus; about how he proclaimed Jubilee, declared the arrival of God’s Kingdom, and occupied the Temple to demonstrate his authority over it. If you could distill those three events down to their core essence and summarize that essence in one word, that word would be freedom. Jesus proclaimed freedom from debt, from slavery, from poverty, from political oppression, and from religious corruption.
But all the proclamations and demonstrations didn’t make it real. You can proclaim a thing until the cows come home, but something has got to bring that proclamation into reality. There’s usually an event of some kind, or a series of events, that brings a proclamation to life. For example; in 1776 the Second Continental Congress adopted that famous document known as the Declaration of Independence. Yet, the beauty and power of its words notwithstanding, the independence that was declared was made a reality only by the Revolutionary War...the point being that proclamations are made real by actions or events.
In order for the proclamation of freedom that Jesus made to have any force, something had to happen to bring it into reality. That’s what we’re going to be talking about today; how Jesus was not only radical enough to proclaim freedom, but that he was committed enough to do something about it. Today we’re talking about Redeemer Jesus.
Let’s read our text now...it’s found in Matthew 20:25-28...
I. First Century Freedom
Since Jesus kick-started his public ministry by proclaiming Jubilee...by declaring freedom...it’s probably a good idea to start this message by making sure we have a basic understanding of what the concept of “freedom” would have meant in Jesus’ time.
It’s important to point out that the peoples of the ancient world would have had no concept of freedom in the American sense. The freedoms we have guaranteed by the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution (freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly) wouldn’t have even entered their thinking. In ancient times you worshipped the national gods. You spoke carefully to those above you, as you wished to those below you, and were very careful about expressing any opinions contrary to those of the authorities. There was no press, and you could assemble with whom you wanted with the understanding that the government could bust up any meeting at any time with a squad of soldiers. The people of Jesus’ time simply wouldn’t have had any concept of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.
And they most certainly wouldn’t have thought of freedom in the sense of individual liberties. Ideas such as freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and the freedom to do what I want, where I want, when I want, with whom I want, would have been utterly foreign to them.
Freedom to ancient peoples was a very different thing.
First; in a world where life was cheap and slavery was a common condition for untold millions, ‘freedom’ in its most basic sense meant that you weren’t a slave. You could earn for yourself, build for yourself, marry for yourself, and generally live for yourself. In a world where options for most people were very limited, you were at least able to choose among those limited options for yourself. You were free.
Second; in a world of empire that had torn down national leaders, transformed entire kingdoms into provinces of empire, and absorbed countless ethnic and linguistic groups, “freedom” meant you were part of an independent kingdom, and that you were ruled by your own king. Whatever his weaknesses, whatever his predilections, whatever his evils, he was your king. He spoke your language, he practiced your customs, he worshipped your God or gods. He was a product of your culture. So, if you were ruled in your own land by your own king, you were free.
Third; in a world where most common people lived by the whim of the mighty, the ultimate personal meaning of ‘freedom’ was to possess the rare and precious prize of citizenship. Citizenship in those times was a very different thing than it is now; being born in a place didn’t make you a citizen. Living in a place for years didn’t either. In the Roman world, citizenship required a Roman father. Or it could be granted by very high officials...usually at a price. As a citizen you could vote in certain assemblies, become a civil servant, or serve in the military. You may be exempted from certain taxes. And you could travel as you pleased within the Empire, confident of the protection of the Empire. If you were a citizen, you were free.