The Jesus Story
Matthew’s begins his story about Jesus with a family tree that any first century Jew would have been pretty impressed with. It includes heroes such as Abraham and David, but also some surprise inclusions such as Boaz (son of Rahab the prostitute) and Solomon (born out of the adulterous relationship of David and Bathsheba), hinting at the unexpected ways God often works. Jesus (a popular boys name, similar to Joshua, which means “the Lord saves”) came to “save his people from their sins (Matt.1:21-23).” Jesus would rescue people not from slavery in Egypt (like Moses did) but from the slavery of sin.
John the Baptist then appears as the forerunner to Jesus, preaching a message of repentance (which literally means to “turn to God”) and the coming kingdom of God (Matt.3:1-3). When Jesus arrives on the scene, he turns out to be much different than expected, even surprising John by asking to be baptised and, in doing so, identifying with God’s people. Jesus then began his own ministry, preaching a similar message of repentance and the soon-arriving kingdom of God (Matt.4:17). Two themes emerge immediately as we read the Jesus story – salvation and kingdom.
Salvation – a Cross
Jesus came to save people from their sins. This mission fits within the larger story of history that includes creation, fall (sin) and redemption. The Jesus story climaxes with his death, burial and resurrection. Jesus is not just a teacher of ethics or a social reformer. Jesus understood that humans have a sickness of heart, which all attempts at improvement cannot fix (see Jer.17:9). That sickness had to be dealt with and Jesus came as a doctor with a cure for the deadly disease of sin. He came to offer us forgiveness and a way to become children of God. This is the good news (‘gospel’). However, saving us from our sins was designed to serve a larger purpose, the purpose of God’s kingdom.
Kingdom – a Throne
The ‘kingdom of God’ was central to everything Jesus was and did. This term is dynamic and refers to the activity or rule of God. For Jesus, the character of this kingdom was much different than most people expected. It was revolutionary but not in a violent military sense. It was a kingdom of peace, healing, and forgiveness. God’s reign looked very much like God himself.
Jesus didn’t see this kingdom coming all at once. From its small beginnings in Jesus’ own teaching and activity, the kingdom would ultimately blossom into a universal reality. In one of his parables, Jesus compared the kingdom to a mustard seed, which was known as the smallest of seeds. With his customary hyperbole, Jesus said that it eventually grows into the ‘greatest of all shrubs.’ In Jesus’ own ministry, insignificant though it might seem in the grand perspective of world history, God really was sowing the seed of his coming kingdom.
Salvation and kingdom must be kept closely together. To focus only on forgiveness and going to heaven in the afterlife can lead to escapism and a neglect of the work that God desires to do through us on earth right now. To focus only on the kingdom now can lead to utopianism, forgetting that the ultimate consummation of the kingdom will occur when Jesus returns for the second time. Today, we live between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ – what Jesus has already done and what he is yet to do. The kingdom comes in two stages, just as Jesus does. Jesus is already ruling the world but this does not mean that the world is already completely as Jesus intends it to be. We live between Election Day and Inauguration Day, between D-Day and V-Day. In the meantime, we are called to carry the kingdom project forward as God’s ambassadors.
Jesus frequently used ‘parables’ in his teaching (Matt.13:1-3. Mark 4:33-34). A parable is not just an “earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” In fact, parables are more about life here and now than they are about heaven. Through parables, Jesus’ goal was to teach people what God and his kingdom are like, as well as what God intends for his people. Stories are interesting. They capture people’s attention and take them out of them own world, often causing them to see things with fresh eyes. Jesus’ intent was to motivate people to feel differently, think differently and then to live differently. He wanted them to stop, to reconsider their ways, and to change their behaviour. The question for each parable is: “How did Jesus seek to change attitudes and behaviours with this parable?” The material for Jesus’ parables came from everyday life in first-century Palestine, making them accessible and meaningful to ordinary people. Through his teaching, Jesus was preparing his people for life in his kingdom through the new life of God’s Spirit.
Our Response to the Jesus
Seeing our own sin and our need for forgiveness leads us to repent, which means turning to God with all of our hearts, not just feeling bad for ourselves. We move beyond excuses, comparisons and out of denial. We come to Jesus as our SAVIOUR, confessing our sins and asking for forgiveness. We also come to Jesus as LORD. He is the King and ruler of this world but also of our own hearts and lives. We allow him to be in charge of our lives. He becomes our leader and we follow him each day as his disciples.
Our Vocation: Kings and Priests
So what now? The Jesus story simply gets us back on track with the larger story of what God is doing in history. From the beginning, God created humans to be in relationship with him and to reign over His creation (Gen.1:26-28). In the end of time, we will worship God forever and reign over his universe (Rev.22:3-5). We will be kings and priests to our God, which has always been God’s intention for us right from the beginning (Exod.19:4-6. Is.61:6. 1 Pet.2:5,9. Rev.1:5-6; 3:21; 5:9-10; 20:4,6). This is our vocation.
Through Jesus Christ, the human project is back on track – right here, right now. As priests, we are to represent God to people, declaring his loving forgiveness towards them and represent people to God, praying for their ultimate good. As kings, we are to represent God’s nature and character to our world – displaying his love, peace, and justice through everything that we do. Jesus fulfilled the roles of King and Priest and he calls us into those vocations here on earth, modelling how we are to carry them out, in loving, sacrificial service for God and others. Right now, God has you training for reigning.
Sample Reflection Questions
- Reflect on the first time you heard the Jesus story. What surprised you about Jesus?
- Matthew begins with Jesus’ family tree (Matt.1). Why is this important? What insights are there?
- Jesus was baptised and in doing so identified with us. Why is water baptism important for followers of Christ? What is its significance?
- Discuss the two themes of Salvation (Cross) and Kingdom (throne). What are the dangers of focusing on one message while neglecting the other?
- What is your favourite parable? How does it impact or inspire you? What does it tell you about God?
- Discuss Jesus being SAVIOUR (forgiver) and LORD (leader). In what ways have we neglected the latter?
- Jesus taught us to pray, “May Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” In what ways can we become the answer to this prayer?
- Reflect on God’s intended vocation for us of being kings and priests. How does seeing ourselves in this way affect how we go about our daily lives?