But when we have gone shopping at someone else's request, we are under greater obligation to "get it right."
So the disciples of Jesus had been with him for three-and-a-half years, had heard him teach, watched his miracles, seen him die, been assured that he was alive... It was becoming clear to them that he had work for them to do. He would be physically absent - they would do the work!
During this interval - between Resurrection and Pentecost - how important it was that they grasp afresh who Jesus was and why he had come!
Last week we noted, "The disciples began to see Jesus in a new light - and to see the call to follow Jesus in a new light. He is not just a great man and a great teacher, a model and an example. He is the Son of God with all authority in heaven and on earth. Following Jesus means learning from him, but it also means being involved in his life and mission. It is responding to his will, obeying him - 'My Lord and my God!' For when we understand who Jesus is, there are immediate implications for our understanding of who we are and who we are meant to be!"
Over many centuries God had been promising to send someone special. They used to anoint people with oil to set them apart - especially priests and kings. So the Jews were especially looking for "the Anointed One" (in their language, "the Messiah").
Probably most Jews were expecting a King - a King like David. Ezekiel 34 begins with a condemnation of "the shepherds of Israel" - a reference to those who ruled over the people. From v.11 there is a beautiful picture of how the Lord himself will care for his people. And then in vv.23-4, "I will give them a king like my servant David to be their one shepherd, and he will take care of them. I, the Lord, will be their God, and a king like my servant David will be their ruler."
It is easy to see why the Jewish people in troubled days were expectantly looking for a royal Messiah! But there are strands of promise that point to the Messiah being a priest. Part of this is seen when Isaiah speaks about someone simply described as "the Servant". Sometimes the reference seems to be directed to Israel itself or to a faithful remnant within Israel (41.8-10; 43.10; 44.1-2; 45.4; 48.20,21). But at other times it seems to point to a particular person who would come (42.1-4; 49.1-7). The climax is the well-known passage about the suffering Servant who bears the punishment on behalf of all those who have gone astray (52.13-53.12). Here is one who is not just priest but whose "death was a sacrifice to bring forgiveness" (v.10).
In Deuteronomy 18 we hear another promise. The Lord says to Moses, "I will send them a prophet like you... He will tell the people everything I command..." (vv.15; 18).
Prophet... Priest... and King!
As we look back to the Old Testament, we have the wisdom of hindsight and faith. In fact, there were a number of strands of promise that converge on the person and work of Jesus. Of course, it was not possible to put all the story together beforehand!
As we look at the Gospel record itself we note three major reasons why Jesus the Son of God came - Revelation, Redemption and Rule (or Kingdom).
When John described Jesus as "the Word" (1.1ff), he was introducing a major theme of his Gospel. Jesus is the Revelation of God. It is not just that Jesus revealed God by what he said, but that he revealed God by who he was. "No one has ever seen God. The only Son, who is the same as God and is at the Father's side, he has made him known" (1.18). "If you knew me, you would know my Father also" (8.19b). "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me... Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (14.6,9b). "I have made you known to those you gave me out of the world" (17.6a).
As Charles Wesley put it in his hymn (AHB229),
Unsearchable the love
that has the Saviour brought;
the grace is far above
or man or angel's thought:
enough for us that God, we know,
our God is manifest below.
Jesus came into the world to reveal God to us. He was the promised Prophet.
But there is a problem about human beings knowing God. It is the problem of human rebellion, autonomy, sin... And when Jesus came into the world to make God known, we didn't exactly give him the royal welcome, did we? So an important part of the reason he came had to do with Redemption.
The angel reassured Joseph, "She will have a son, and you will name him Jesus - because he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1.21). "Jesus" is a Greek form of the Hebrew name "Joshua", meaning "The Lord is salvation." Jesus himself said, "I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts" (Matthew 9.13b). "The Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people" (Mark 10.45). "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19.10).
This seeking and saving love makes him the shepherd in the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15 as well as the true "good Samaritan" who, at risk of his own life, goes to the aid of the wounded traveller (10.25-37).
At the point in his ministry when Peter, on behalf of the whole group, has confessed him as "the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16.16), "Jesus began to say plainly to his disciples, 'I must go to Jerusalem and suffer much from the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. I will be put to death, but three days later I will be raised to life'." (v.21) He spoke about his dying and rising again on a number of occasions after this (e.g. 17.9,22-23; 20.17-19). But when he rode into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday (21.1ff), they were so caught up in the euphoria that they put all thought of his death (and rising!) behind them. And on the night when he was betrayed, he celebrated the Passover with his disciples and added to it what we call the Lord's supper. This focused on his coming death and "my blood which seals God's covenant, my blood poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (26.26-29).
It is striking that about a third of the Gospel records (29 out of 89 chapters in all) are devoted to Jesus' last week, his death and resurrection.
As we seek to understand the meaning of the Cross of Christ, we firstly see the great Love of God, the great desire of God to rescue sinners and to bring them back into a positive relationship with himself (John 3.14-16; Romans 5.8; 2 Corinthians 5.19).
We also see the seriousness of human Sin. We assume that all we have to do is sin and all God has to do is forgive us - "to err is human, to forgive divine." But in the absolute sense there cannot be this kind of cheap forgiveness, or the whole moral order of the universe is called into question. God is the moral Ruler and "sin pays its wage - death" (Romans 6.23a). The holy God who is also the loving Father can only forgive us on the basis of an offering he himself has made in the person of his Son (Romans 3.21-26).
To understand the Cross requires an appreciation of Jesus as the God-Man. Redemption is what God has done, not an appeasement offered by sinful men. Yet Jesus stands also as a representative of the whole human race, the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15.22,45) who lived a sinless life (John 8.46; Hebrews 4.15).
So, again and again, the New Testament writers restate the theme that Jesus took the consequences of our sin. The sinless one identified himself with our sin (2 Corinthians 5.21), experiencing, not simply physical death, but separation from the Father (Matthew 27.46).
For us forgiveness is a very small matter. In reality, forgiveness involves accepting the hurt, pain, loss... These don't just vanish somehow. Reflect on Matthew 18.21-35 - the huge debt is either held against the servant or accepted by the king. By the death of Jesus, the God-Man, God has accepted the huge debt of human sin himself, and now offers forgiveness to all who will believe in him.
Jesus came to die for our sins, to die the death that was our due - the promised Priest.
As Cecil Frances Alexander put it (AHB266) -
There was no other good enough
to pay the price of sin,
he only could unlock the gate
of heaven and let us in.
But the Kingdom was not just about to come, it was "at hand," already present in the person and ministry of Jesus. It was visible when he cast out demons (Luke 11.20) and in his many wonderful works (Matthew 11.2-14). The willingness to receive Jesus was an opportunity to respond to the Kingdom (Luke 10.1-12). In fact, believing in him we are "born again" and both see and enter the Kingdom (John 3.1-17).
Yet there is a sense in which the Kingdom is hidden in this era. It is like a seed being sown (Matthew 13.1-9,21-30,31-32), yeast in the dough (v.33), a treasure that is discovered (v.44)... At the end of time when Jesus returns, the Kingdom will come in visible power and judgment (Matthew 25.31-46).
In the words of Isaac Watts (AHB224) -
So why did Jesus come? He came to reveal God, to redeem sinners and to bring in the Rule of God.
That is why the eternal Son of God "became flesh and dwelt among us". That is why he died for us on the Cross. And he is alive and by his Spirit he wants us to be his Body in this world! As he said in those final instructions, "This is what is written: the Messiah must suffer and must rise from death three days later, and in his name the message about repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things..." (Luke 24.46-49).
This is why I came! This is what I have done! Now you have your task to do!
Hallelujah! What a Saviour! What a Lord!
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