I have been doing a lot of reading lately on things related to the world that Jesus lived in… and something that has struck me is how turbulent and down-right volatile things where in 1st Century Palestine. I know that we live in a time where we are all wondering about the divisiveness and the unpredictability of things, but after what I’ve read about those days it seems to me that that we are living in a time of relative peace compared to what was happening in Jesus’ days. And we know that those days were volatile because there were historians who kept records of what was happening then… records that we still have… records that tell us that when Jesus came on the scene, when he began his ministry, he wasn’t the only ‘Messiah’ stirring up the restless, anxious Jewish people. No, he was just one of any number of men who were claiming to be ‘The Messiah,’ claiming that they were the one who would finally free the Jewish people from the Romans and bring peace. One historian, a man named Flavius Josephus, possibly the best-known historian of that day, summed up that time-period like this: “Before the destruction of the Temple… (that would be 70 AD) a number of Messiahs arose promising relief from the Roman yoke and finding ready followers. A body of wicked men sprung up, cleaner in their hands, but more wicked in their intentions… they destroyed the peace of Jerusalem… they were deceivers and deluders of the people, and, under pretense of divine illumination… they prevailed on the multitude to act like madmen, and went before them in the wilderness, pretending that God would there show them signs of liberty" (Josephus, "B. J." ii. 13, §; 4; idem, "Ant." xx. 8, §; 6). Clearly Josephus had made up his mind as to whether these other so-called Messiahs were reliable messengers from God! Two of these other ‘messiahs’ are actually mentioned in the Bible in Acts 5: first, is a man named Theudas, then there is another named Judas the Galilean… and then later Menahem, the son of Judas the Galilean, also claimed to be the Messiah… they all claimed to have special, miracle-working power from heaven and a mandate from God to overthrow the Romans. Why, another man, who is simply known to us as ‘The Egyptian,’ even summoned 30,000 of his followers to the Mount of Olives, which is just opposite Jerusalem, and he promised that at his command the walls of Jerusalem would fall down, opening the way for his 30,000 followers to rush into the city and throw out the Romans. Well, let’s just say the walls didn’t fall… but the weight of Roman displeasure sure did… in the worst of ways! Now, the reason I am telling you about these men is this: pretty much all we know about them is that they showed up on the scene, they created some commotion and then they disappeared. That’s about it! And while I’m certain that they must have been good at inspiring people to action, we don’t have very much of what they actually said that motivated so many people. And while it is true that there were many religious teachers… or as they were called, rabbis… in Judea and Galilee at that time, the vast majority of people weren’t looking for a teacher… they were looking for someone more powerful than a teacher… they were looking for someone who lived up to the prophecies in the Old Testament and could bring about a huge, political and social change… someone who would overthrow the Romans and ultimately set up ‘The Kingdom of God.’ Here’s the bottom line: Jesus did not need to be a teacher… he had miracle-working power and that in-and-of-itself would have drawn huge crowds. Truth is Jesus could have fulfilled all the Jewish people’s dreams for the future and never once given a sermon. He could have simply shown his power over demons and disease and people would have followed him in great confidence that if he could control the weather, he could certainly conquer the Romans. But can you imagine how different our world, and I mean this literally, our entire world would be, if Jesus hadn’t been a teacher? I can’t even imagine what the world would be like if we only had records of some of Jesus’ miraculous acts, his followers gathering to support him and then a record of how the Romans tried to get rid of one more Jewish man claiming to be the messiah? What I want us to think about today is how different our world would be if Jesus hadn’t taught… what if he hadn’t come with a message… what if he hadn’t come as a teacher. My first thought is that Jesus probably wouldn’t be anything more than a footnote in history just like Theudas and Menahem. Just try to imagine for a moment how different it would be if Jesus had never given the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was born into a Jewish religious system that put almost all its emphasis on obeying rules and regulations… and almost everyone believed that God only showed his favor to those that best obeyed the Old Testament law. In fact, the common wisdom of the day said things like this: ‘Blessed are rich, for God is rewarding them with riches because they are best at obeying the law.’ Or ‘Blessed are the happy, those without any problems, for God is making their lives easy because they are truly righteous!’ And even, ‘The Blessed can be proud because God is showing the world that they are truly his most favorite of people’ And yet, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ first important sermon, he turned all this kind of thinking on its head! Just think what our world would be like if the common thinking of the 1st Century Jewish world was still in vogue… can you imagine what it would be like if Jesus had never taught, ‘God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.’ Or ‘God blesses those who mourn for they will be comforted.’ Or ‘God blesses those who are humble for they will inherit the whole earth…!’ Or try to imagine a Jesus who never said, as he said in this sermon, ‘You have heard it said that you must not murder, but I say if you are even angry with someone you are subject to judgement.’ Truth is, we would all have very different ideas about how God shows his love to us, how we are to show our love for God to him and how we are to love one another if Jesus hadn’t taught us these truths. Or just try to imagine what it would have been like if Jesus had never taught anyone the Parable of the Farmer Scattering Seed. Why in this one parable Jesus tells us how much God longs for us to listen to him and how much he wants our lives to be fruitful and meaningful. Or just try to imagine a world where Jesus had never told anyone the parable of the Mustard Seed… in this simple parable Jesus tells us that God knows all about how hard it is to have faith in this world, but that he still wants to bless even our smallest efforts at holding on to faith. Or just try to imagine what it would have been like if Jesus had never told the anyone the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this teaching he tells us not only how important it is for us to care for one another, but how God wants to care for us in our times of trouble. I know that just not having these 3 simply teachings of Jesus would have changed all of our thoughts about how much God loves us and all that God is doing in the world to show us his love. And I really can’t imagine what our thoughts about God would be if Jesus had never taught this: ‘If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish. (Matt. 18:12-14).
Now, there have been plenty of philosophers and moral teachers over the centuries, even religious teachers who were living at the time of Jesus, who said important things about being kind to one another and getting along with one another and how vital it is to be honest and generous with one another. These aren’t necessarily ideas that grow out of the teachings of Jesus. But I am 100% convinced that the reason that there was such an effort to record and save the teachings of Jesus is that he didn’t make nice suggestions about how we should all get along… no, what Jesus did through his teaching was introduce the radical and world-transforming message of self-giving love. Only Jesus taught about a coming kingdom which completely upends purely human values and shows us an entirely new way to live. I can’t even imagine what our world would look like today if Jesus hadn’t put an emphasis on teaching, because what Jesus came to teach wasn’t simply good advice… or helpful wisdom… it was the very pathway to what we now know to be the abundant life.
But of course, Jesus did teach! Boy did he ever! And here is an interesting note about our records of his teaching: most scholars now believe that Mark’s gospel was the first of the four gospels written and that both Matthew and Luke used Mark’s gospel as their templet to write their gospels. But when you read Mark’s gospel you will notice that even though he says over and over that Jesus taught the people… oddly, Mark never gets around to giving us much of Jesus’ teaching! And so, it’s my thinking that when Matthew and Luke started writing their books about Jesus, they both made certain that they included tons and tons of Jesus’ teaching to make up for Mark’s omissions! And am I glad they did! And later, when John wrote his gospel, it looks to me like John went to great lengths to include a bunch more of Jesus’ teaching that he knew Matthew, Mark and Luke had left out. I’m sure you all know that the original gospels weren’t red-letter versions, you know, versions where all of Jesus’ spoken words are in red. But if you do have a red-letter edition, you’ll quickly see that a huge portion of John’s gospel is red letters! It’s clear that John wanted to make sure that we had as much of what Jesus said as was possible to fit on a scroll, because almost everything Jesus said teaches us something important about the heart of God. Why, John even tells us that Jesus made certain that we knew that he wasn’t just teaching things that he happened to think up as he went along… no, John made certain that we know that Jesus said straight up that he came with a specific message from someone specific… Here is what John records Jesus as teaching, “My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me. Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own. And he went on to say this, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I come from. But I’m not here on my own. The one who sent me is true, and you don’t know him. But I know him because I come from him, and he sent me to you.” (John 7:16; 7:28-29) And what is it that Jesus heard from his father? Well, I think John also summed up fairly well what Jesus had heard from his father when he wrote this, ‘God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgement against anyone who believes in him. (John 3:16-18).
Now, I know that some scholars will make a big point of the fact that Jesus taught in a specific time to a specific culture to address specific issues of his day… and that the gospel writers were recording the things that Jesus taught because they were so relevant to the situations that existed in the 1st Century. I get that. But I can’t shake the reality that possibly one of the greatest works of the Holy Spirit through the centuries is that these books that tell us the things that Jesus taught then were copied and saved and preserved in such careful ways that here we are, 21 centuries after Jesus did his original teaching, and we still can be certain that we know pretty much exactly what he said. I don’t have time to go into all the apologetics related to this, but take my word for it, the evidence is very, very strong that we can be certain that what we have is what Jesus said… And the Holy Spirit has worked this hard to make sure that we still have it today because it is still important to God that Jesus is able to teach us today! And what is it that Jesus wants to teach us today?
Well, if you are feeling lost and unimportant today, listen to what Jesus is still saying directly to you. What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So, don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. Jesus came from heaven to teach this message: you are more valuable to God than you can imagine!
If you awoke this morning and you found that you are worried about tomorrow and you’re wondering if God cares about your life listen to what Jesus is still saying directly to you, I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? … And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.’ Jesus came from heaven to give you this message from God: God loves you, you are valuable to him, he is paying attention and he will take care of you.
Or if you have a lost sheep in your life… a child, a parent or a friend who you long to see coming home to Jesus, I am going to reread what Jesus is still saying directly to you about your lost ones, “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish. (Matt. 18:12-14). Jesus came from heaven with this message from God… the God of the universe loves your lost lamb more than you will ever know and he too, is diligently working to bring your precious one home.
I want to finish by talking briefly about why we feel it is so important to continue teaching the things of Jesus here at Grace. First, Matthew 28:18-20 tells us that Jesus said this straight up: “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth so, as you are going, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” This is a commandment that we cannot ignore… and so here at Grace we will continue to major on teaching the things that Jesus taught. And here is what the apostle Paul said will happen in our lives if we major on teaching the things that Jesus taught, ‘And now just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.’ Colossians 2:6-7. We will continue to teach the truths from Jesus because we all need deep roots, we all need strong faith and we all need hearts overflowing with thankfulness… and so we will teach the truth. And finally, we agree completely with Jesus’ disciple John when he wrote this in his first letter to the church, ‘This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. 1 John 1:5. Jesus came teaching because all of humanity needs to hear the hopeful message that there is light that overcomes all darkness! And our prayer is that we will be a community that both listens to Jesus’ radical and world-transforming message of self-giving love and then lives out his message in ways that floods our divisive, unpredictable, dark world with the unifying, constant light of our father’s love.