One of the most effective evangelists in history, Billy Graham, believes, “The central message of the Bible is Jesus Christ.”
But who is Jesus?
Over the next couple days I am going to focus on the question of “Who is Jesus” based on the Gospel of Matthew and my own personal experience with Jesus Christ. After studying the book of Matthew and reflecting on who Jesus is to me, I believe that Jesus is a leader who teaches, equips, and serves through sacrifice.
First, let us see how Jesus taught throughout the Gospel of Matthew.
When reading the Gospel of Matthew, I can’t help but notice that Jesus is a teacher. The Gospel of Matthew quickly moves through Jesus’ family heritage, how and where He was born, His baptism from John the Baptist, and the three temptations He faced. As soon as Jesus finishes his 40 days in the desert facing the three temptations, Jesus hears that John the Baptist has been arrested, and Jesus travels to the Sea of Galilee where Matthew tells us, “From then on Jesus began to preach” (Matt 4:17). Up until this point in time, Jesus has not preached or performed any miracles.
The first action of ministry that the Gospel of Matthew records is that Jesus begins to preach. Matthew gives us a glimpse at Jesus’ first preached message which is only one sentence, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven in near” (Matt 4:17). After this short one-sentence message, Jesus goes out to recruit His disciples. Jesus knows that He will need a group of devoted followers who will carry on His message after He is no longer on earth. We will discuss this topic later in more depth of how Jesus equipped His disciples through His teaching, so I don’t want to go too deep into that here.
We can make five observations of why Jesus is a teacher:
- He teaches large groups (such as the Sermon on the Mount);
- He teaches small groups (such as the 12 disciples);
- He is always alert for teaching opportunities (often using people’s questions as an opportunity to teach about more deeply rooted spiritual issues);
- He teaches individuals (such as the many people who came up to him to ask him questions); and,
- He teaches wherever he goes (such as the top of a mountain, on a sea shore, and from a boat).[ref]Dr. D. Edmond Hiebert, “Jesus the Master Teacher,” in Called to Teach, ed. David Ewert (Fresno, CA: Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, 1980), 22-23.[/ref]
That is the context of where Jesus teaches through his three years of ministry. He teaches many people in many areas with a mission to prove He is God’s son, heal the sick, and teach people how to get to heaven.
Now knowing that Jesus is a teacher who teaches many people in a variety of contexts, we can look closer at what He teaches and how it is structured throughout the Gospel of Matthew.
When carefully studying the book of Matthew we notice how Matthew has carefully crafted his book into five distinct teaching “sermons” from Jesus.
Most of these sermons are separated with “When Jesus had finished giving these instructions” (Matt 13:53) or “When Jesus had finished telling these stories and illustrations” (Matt 11:1). Clearly, the Apostle Matthew is focused on sharing the teachings of Jesus. He is so focused on this that since Matthew is a Jew, writing to Jews attempting to prove Jesus as being God’s son, he might have chosen to group these teachings in five sections as a way to parallel his gospel with the Pentateuch. [ref]The Pentateuch consists of the first five books included in the Bible probably written by Moses.
They are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. They were and still are the five books of laws that practicing religious Jews follow to this very day.[/ref] Matthew is leveraging the cultural heritage of Jews at that time for the benefit of the Jews who are familiar with the five books of law.
It can also be argued that this Gospel of Matthew has been written to add to and possibly replace those five books of law that the Jews so closely studied and memorized at that time. When writing about the five teachings included in the book of Matthew, Christian Hauer and William Young in their book, An Introduction to the Bible, explain, “Clearly this gospel [Matthew] is concerned. . . not only with proclaiming the authority of Jesus as teacher and preacher, but also with giving the content of his teaching. The fivefold division of the gospel seems patterned after the Five Books of Moses in the Tanak.”[ref]Christian A. Hauer and William A. Young, An Introduction to the Bible. 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008), 269.[/ref] As we now can see that Jesus is a teacher, how does his ability to teach related to the Pharisees, Sadducees, Rabbis, and religious teachers of that time?
We can make the assertion that Jesus has an incredible ability to teach simply based on the number of people who followed Him. As He teaches and performs miracles, more and more people begin to follow His teachings and learn from Him. This is evident in the reaction the crowds have after Jesus delivers His famous Sermon on the Mount where Matthew tells us, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law” (Matt 7:28-29).
However, as you can imagine, there were lots of teachers at that time. How do we know to differentiate Jesus? What type of authority does Jesus have that allows Him to speak so powerfully and how is that related to the other priests, religious leaders, and rabbis of that day?
Gene R. Smillie carefully articulates how this took place in his article, Jesus’ Response to the Question of His Authority in Matthew 21 when he writes: “By demonstrating Jesus’ superiority of His opponents in rabbinical debate Matthew revealed Jesus’ authority to teach (the particular activity in which He was engaged at the moment they challenged Him, 21:23), that is, to declare theological truth. One after another, the religious authorities of His day came at Him to test Him. One after another, they were defeated.”[ref]Gene R. Smillie, “Jesus’ Response to the Question of His Authority in Matthew 21,” Bibliotheca Sacra 162 (October-December 2005): 467.[/ref]
And it was not just Jesus’ authority that gave Him the ability to teach and influence the people to change their lifestyles, it was the way he communicated His sayings in simple yet profound ways.
Any leader knows the importance of making his message simple and clear. Read any book on vision casting and that is one of the main topics the author will tell you to do.
When commenting on the way Jesus taught parables, Bible teacher Chuck Swindoll asserts, “As you study Jesus’ method of communicating you will find this advice underlying it: make it clear. Make it simple. Emphasize the essentials. Forget about impressing others. Be content to leave some things unsaid.”[ref]Charles R. Swindoll, The Living Insights Study Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 1020.[/ref] A
ny good leader does the hard work to break down his or her teachings into simple principles and stories that anyone can understand, especially the underprivileged, poor, and illiterate, which are the main audiences Jesus is teaching.
However, a leader being a great teacher is not enough to make that person a leader.
Jesus is an amazing teacher, but He also needs to be able to equip others with His message and skills so they can go where He cannot go.
He knows that He could not do everything all on His own—He needs a team to help Him reach as many people as possible. Because Jesus knows this He starts early to develop a team of 12 men who would carry on His ministry and take His message literally to the ends of the earth. Earlier I mentioned that Jesus gives a one sentence sermon as soon as he arrives in Galilee. What I did not tell you is what His first action is after that message.
The first thing that we observe Jesus doing after He is tempted for 40 days in the desert is gathering four disciples. Jesus gets baptized by John the Baptist, He is tempted by the devil in the desert, then He preaches “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matt 4:17, NLT).
Then, we see Jesus start to gather His team before teaching any more than that one sentence or performing any miracles. In Jesus’ time, it was traditional for a teacher to wait for disciples and pupils to come to him, desiring to learn. However, Jesus goes against the common rules of that day (as He did with so many other things) and He goes to men and calls them to Him. He goes to their places of work and asks them to be His disciples.
We can make two observations on the significance of Jesus picking at least some of His disciples at this time:
- To make sure His disciples have as many opportunities as possible to watch Him perform his ministry while learning in that process; and,
- He knows these men will be carrying on His ministry so every moment of time He spends with them is precious.
The book of Matthew does not tell us if Jesus chose all of His disciples at this time before delivering the Sermon on the Mount. We do know for sure, that Jesus at least picked four of His disciples before delivering His Sermon on the Mount. At a later time in Matthew, we see Jesus coming to a key point in his ministry when He can no longer expect his 12 disciples to tag along and watch Him. Instead they need to also be dong the work.
A key part of the Gospel of Matthew is the end of chapter nine until the end of chapter ten. Jesus’ ministry is starting to gain significant momentum as He shows great teaching with authority and heals many people. In Matthew 9:18-21 many people are reaching out to Jesus for help faster than He can help them. Jesus heals a dead girl, a bleeding woman, and as He is traveling somewhere else, two blind men begin following Him asking Him to heal them.
So, Jesus heals them and as soon as the two blind men leave, a demon possessed man who cannot speak is brought to Jesus. People are being brought to Jesus faster than He can heal them, and this is when we begin to see the equipping part of His ministry.
At this time, Jesus is traveling throughout towns and villages (by foot I might add) teaching in synagogues. (A synagogue is a type of community center where children attended schools, special events were held, where people came to hear the Bible read publicly and talk about it together.) This is when we see Him start to lead His disciples. Jesus is doing as much of the ministry on His own that He can, but He needs help. This is a turning point in Jesus’ ministry because He now equips His disciples to go out. They have seen Him do His ministry of teaching and healing people.
Now it is their turn to give it a try and do their best to multiply Jesus’ efforts. Jesus describes this scenario when He says, “ ‘The harvest is great, but the works are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.’ Jesus called his twelve disciples together and gave them authority to cast out evil spirits and to heal every kind of disease and illness” (Matt 9:37-10:1). After this, Jesus gives His disciples advice on what to do, who to stay with while on their trip, how to rely on their faith, who to serve, what to take with them, what to expect, and what to beware of. Leadership expert John Maxwell comments on this passage of scripture observing, “Leaders must develop others to reach their potential. No one did this better than Jesus.
Even though He has not finished training His disciples, He sends them out to exercise their gifts. At some point we need to end the lecture and send them out to try what they have learned.”[ref]John C. Maxwell, The Maxwell Leadership Bible, 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 1191.[/ref] Jesus makes a strategic move by sending out His disciples to begin doing their work before He died. This gives them time to practice with their teacher and mentor watching, while they can perfect and hone their ministry with Jesus’ help.
The disciples have watched Jesus do His ministry, and now it is their time to go out and do it. And based on the text of Matthew, Jesus does everything He can to include His disciples in the ministry He is doing through teaching and healing so the disciples can observe and learn. Then Jesus takes additional time to equip them for the work they were about to do.
At the end of the Gospel of Matthew we see Jesus’ last words which are often called the “Great Commission.” In the Great Commission, Jesus encourages His disciples to take what they have learned and share it with the entire world. Jesus wants them to disciple others just as Jesus had disciple’d them: to baptize people in Jesus’ name and to teach the new Christians to obey all of Jesus’ commands. Jesus’ focus of equipping His disciples to go out and do great works is a key part of His leadership, but it is not the only part because He also is a servant through sacrifice.
Ultimately, leadership is sacrifice.
The size of a leader is often measured by the amount of sacrifice given for the benefit of his or her followers. Jesus meets this standard in a way no one else ever has because He sacrificed Himself for us. He came and died on the cross for our sins so that we could be made holy and join Him in heaven.
Nowhere else throughout the Gospel of Matthew is this more clear than when Jesus is giving a prayer of Thanksgiving: “Come to me, all of you where are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matt 11:28-30, NLT).
This is something very different than the things at that time.
Throughout most of Jewish history political leaders put more and more burdens on the people. Even religious leaders at that time put burdens on the people telling them religion was about laws and laws on top of the laws that they needed to follow to be holy and go to heaven. Yet, here is a man with no official title offering to give the people rest if they would only bring their burdens to Him.
Jesus was here to serve through sacrifice, to carry the load they could not carry on their own. Billy Graham hammers this point home when he writes, “Jesus, by example, tells us that every true leader should be a helper, a servant, or even a bondslave. This is a command, not a suggestion, and applies with special force to leaders.”[ref]Billy Graham, The Holy Spirit (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1978), 202.[/ref]
Now that we know Jesus is a leader who teaches, equips, and serves through sacrifice we need to see how that applies to our lives. What are we to do (regardless if we are a Christian or not) in response to the fact that Jesus works hard to teach, equip others to carry on ministry, and serves us through the sacrifice of Himself on the cross? How do we respond to that in a way that honors Him and teaches, equips, and serves others through sacrifice? For me personally, I seek to teach others just as Jesus did through my blog where I post articles six days a week.
While at work at United Way, I have worked hard to equip a new co-worker in our department on how to fundraise efficiently from companies in our area. And I serve through sacrifice with my girlfriend, Jen, by seeking to meet her needs of love, respect, and time on a daily basis. None of these are easy, but when it comes to following Jesus as a teacher, equipper, and a servant through sacrifice, it calls for a strong person dedicated to that process.
Because Jesus sacrificed for us, the least we can do is return the favor by doing the same things He did to teach, equip, and serve others through sacrifice.