Jesus of Nazareth: Rebel, Messiah - or Both?
Gods' Promise To Abraham
"'Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Gen. 12:1-3)
During the days of Abraham people believed that their lives were governed by powerful spirit gods. In recognition they made models - or idols - of these spirit gods out of gold and silver – and these gods were given names and earthly dominions. The people were fearful of these gods, and made sacrifices to them. They thought that by making animal sacrifices, and in some instances, virgin child sacrifices that these gods would be pleased and bring forth a good harvest.
The people that God talked to Abraham about in Genesis 12 however would be different. These people would not have idol gods, or spirits, or superstitions because God Himself would be with them and be their King. They would be called the ‘Chosen People’ because through them God would bless the entire world and it would be a blessing to last generations after their time. Abraham, being a man of faith took God at His word in Genesis 12 and trusted Him and as a result Abraham’s decedents increased until there were twelve tribes – or clans. Fast forwarding through biblical history these twelve tribes became a small nation, and the nation was called ‘Israel” named after Abraham’s grandson who was the father of the twelve tribes. You recall the story of Isaac and Jacob, and how Jacob wrestled with an angel late in the evening until the break of dawn. The angel turned out to be God Himself who, because of Jacob’s persistence renamed him “Israel”.
These twelve tribes, or this nation became known as Jews (The name Jew derived from Yehuda (Judah) who was one of the 12 sons of Jacob among Reuben, Shimon, Levi, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Yisachar, Zevulun, Yosef, and Binyamin. So, the names Israel, Israeli or Jewish refer to people of the same origin). The special thing about these ‘Jews’ was that they were given laws by Moses who received them directly from God atop Mount Sinai in the form of inscribed tablets. These laws became known as the Ten Commandments and the first commandment was that the people should love God and make Him first in their lives. These commandments were for their care and protection. In addition to these laws they had customs which included a provision for people called ‘Priests’. These Priests came from one tribe which was the tribe of Levi, known as the Levites, and their only job was to act as a mediary between God and the people. These customs also allowed provisions for people called Prophets who were chosen by God. These prophets were both men and women who would become the mouthpiece of God – delivering His message of future happenings and warnings to all mankind.
Unfortunately, these so called ‘chosen people’ on every occasion of doubt and despair rejected the very God that chose them. Even when Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments at the top of Mount Sinai these "chosen people" was already creating a new idol god out of gold and silver – and they gave this idol god a name and worshipped it. Time and time again these ‘chosen people’ would turn their backs on God and God would speak through the prophets to warn them to return to Him – and again the people would refuse. The problem was that the hearts of the people was cold, unforgiven, ungrateful, and full of doubt. One could call it by many names but God identified it as sin, because it cut them off from a relationship with Him. As a result God would withdraw His blessings from them and they would lose battles against their enemies.
However, despite the people’s neglect and ungreatfulness God made it very clear that the relationship can be restored – IF – the people would do two basic things; first, they would have to change their hearts and attitude by repenting and second – they had to sacrifice an animal. These two things were very important in rebuilding the relationship as God felt that a broken relationship with Him was cause for death. But, by killing an animal He would instead accept that death as a blood sacrifice for repentance. The animal would become the substitute. The animal sacrifice would consist of a Bull or a goat. However the preferred animal was a lamb. In a special ceremony hands were laid on the lamb by the Priests. This transferred the sins of the people to the lamb and then the lamb was killed with as little pain as possible. The lambs’ meat was then cooked and eaten at a special feast within the HolyTemple. God witnessed the blood sacrifice of the lamb and restored the relationship with the people and His blessings began to flow upon them once again.
From a modern day perspective this was a very barbaric act. However, for the Jews this was a critical aspect in restoring a broken relationship with God and avoiding His wrath. However, it appeared that after each animal sacrifice the people would return to their sins thereby continuously breaking their relationship with God leading to the unnecessary sacrifice of innocent animals who incidentally were not voluntary candidates. After a while even God Himself saw this as redundant. So He began to speak through the prophets about another type of sin sacrifice which would take place in the not so distant future - and it would not be an animal. This sacrifice would be the blood sacrifice of a man, and this man will offer himself willingly as a sacrifice for sins – and not just the sins of the Israelites/Jews – but the sins of all mankind – whether they accepted Him or not. He would not be the lamb of man; he would be identified as the ‘Lamb of God’. Resulting from this revelation were literally thousands of prophecies written about this man - or messiah. The most memorable one is from the prophet Isaiah “But because of our sins, he was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received. All of us were like sheep that were lost, each of us gone his own way. But the Lord made the punishment fall on him, the punishment all of us deserves.”
So the people of Israel began waiting for this man labeled the “Messiah” and they were given many ways to recognize him upon his arrival. For an example the prophecy identified him as being born in Bethlehem and his birth would cause great sorrow to the people of that particular region but, he would be coming out of Nazareth. Therefore, after hundreds of years of waiting for the prophecy to be fulfilled the people were excited to see a strange looking man coming out of the hills telling them to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. This strange looking man turned out to be John the Baptist who was a prophet and lived in the wilderness eating, as a main part of his diet locusts and wild honey. He would be the prophet that God chose to tell the people about the coming of the messiah. The people were so excited that they came from all over the region to the River Jordan to hear this prophet speak of the fulfillment of this long awaited prophecy. John instructed the people to change the way they lived and repent of their sins to prepare for the way of The Lord. Those who accepted the message were baptized, immersed in water as a sign that their sins were washed away and they were made whole again. John made it clear that he was not the one they were waiting for, as many thought he was. John’s message was consistent in that he always informed the people that someone more powerful than he, would come and cleanse them of all their sins and prepare them for the Kingdom of God.
So the people waited, and waited, and waited, and watched – and one day as John was baptizing people in the river it happened! The Messiah appeared in the flesh and John shouted “There’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This is the one I was talking about when I said a man would come after me who’s greater than I am because he existed before I was born and I didn’t know who he would be” “I came baptizing with water in order to make him known to the people of Israel” (John 1:29).
The people were stunned and amazed and many fell to their face while others were frozen in their tracks. It was unbelievable!! Jesus, the "Lamb of God', the "Messiah" who would voluntarily give his life as a sin sacrifice for all people had finally arrived - but was He the Messiah spoken of in the Old Testament? Why was His time so short on this earth and if He was the true Messiah why then hasn’t He returned, as promised?
To be continued.......