Jesus, Paul, and Ethics

by Andrea J. Graham

The question has been raised, in essence, “Is what Jesus teaches and does the same as what Paul taught?” This is asking if whether the two major sources for Christian ethics are telling the same story. My faith declaration is an automatic, “Well, of course!” But that isn’t enough for an academic paper, so I will have to prove my point. However, there are a few side issues that need to be dealt with first in order to understand the issue.

First, the bible is either the infallible word of God, or it is just a collection of old stories written by men in different cultures over the centuries. If it is the latter, then obviously there is no point in writing this paper. And yes, I realize either or statements are generally considered a fallacy. But there are generally few choices when the issue involves God.

The reasoning is simple. God is good, omnipotent, omniscient, transcendent and eminent. More importantly, God cannot contradict himself. If the bible is the Word of God, then it cannot contradict itself either, and accordingly, neither can Jesus and Paul. This is not to say that it can not be interpreted incorrectly, as that happens all the time.

Another important note to be made comes from the following scripture: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-2, 14). Jesus is known as the Living Word of God, the fullest revelation of the Father. Being one with God, Jesus also shares his qualities.

This goes to say, Jesus is sinless, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21. This is important to keep in mind when discussing Jesus’ attitude towards the law, that the Pharisees allegations of his sinfulness we hold to be false. If he had sinned, then he would no longer be the pure spotless lamb that was sacrificed to save us for our sins. While Jesus may have violated the precious traditions of the Pharisees, he most certainly did not break God’s law. As well meaning as the Pharisees may have been, indeed they were the “religious right” of their day so to speak, to say they have gotten a bum rap is to accuse Jesus of being over critical of them.

Jesus did defend his actions on several occasions, for instance, Matthew records:

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, `Honor your father and mother’ and `Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, `Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to `honor his father ‘ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.

You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “`These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ “” (Mt. 15:1-9)

When accused of breaking the traditions, Jesus responds by pulling them back to the problem they should be concerned about: nullifying the word of God for the sake of their traditions. I would also like to add, however, that it is quite laughable to think Man expects God to play by Man’s rules, but that is precisely what we do! Hence, it is quite hypocritical of us to come down on the Pharisees for doing the things we ourselves do, so this is where the wisdom in the warnings not to be quick to judge the Pharisees harshly lies. While Jesus was in the position to judge them, we are not. What is most important is that here Jesus is explaining why he doesn’t keep their traditions, because, “their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

People, like the Pharisees, often question why Jesus had to cure ailments on the Sabbath that were not going to kill the person within the next twenty-four hours. Of course, who are we to question God’s perfect timing, but there is also a more legal answer for it: Proverbs 3:28, which counsels, “Do not say to your neighbor, “Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow”–when you now have it with you.” If Jesus had said to the ailing person, “Come back after the Sabbath, I’ll heal you then” when he was capable of healing them at that very moment, he would have broken the spirit of this law.

On a side note, Proverbs 3:27 says, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act,” which not only reinforces what is said in 3:28, it also has a serious implications for those who emphasize avoiding what is wrong to the point of deemphasizing sins of omission concerning what’s right.

That said, this moving to the spirit of the law is highly related to the virtue theory nature of Jesus’ ethics. Jesus often, in the Sermon on the Mount especially, took the law and moved from the letter of the law to the spirit (virtue) behind the law.

Some say this sermon is merely a list of unattainable ethical ideals meant only to show us how sinful we are and that any attempts to actually do them would be foolish. While one of its functions is certainly to show us just how sinful we really are, the high standard it sets does not mean we are free to ignore it. Instead, we should be striving to obtain (especially by making room in our lives for the Holy Sprit to endow us with) the virtues that the Sermon preaches and to rid ourselves as much as we can of the vices it warns of.

For the moment, let’s return to the comment I made earlier that “While Jesus was in the position to judge them, we are not.” This statement actually comes from the passage where the Leaders try to trap him by bringing an adulteress woman to him and saying, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” (John 8:4-5) It is here that Jesus says the famous, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7). Of course, everyone leaves and Jesus doesn’t condemn her, though people using this in their arguments have a tendency to ignore the fact that he also commanded her to leave her life of sin.

This has two significant things to note that have to do with Jesus’ ethics. First, while Jesus does not cast the first stone and condemn the adulterous woman who is meek and lowly (i.e., oppressed and humble), he is not at all hesitant to verbally cast the first stone at the Pharisees for their hypocritical questioning, such as how his ethics works. This is just Jesus practicing what he preaches.

This leads to the second significant note. Jesus said elsewhere, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save it,” and he lives this out with both the adulterous woman and the Pharisees. This will come as a surprise, as thus far we have only looked at this statement out of context. In length, it is much more interesting:

Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (John 12:44-50)

This is actually a key passage in scripture. For one, it affirms both Christ’s divinity and the authority of his word, which is only vaguely of importance to us at the moment. For another, it contains Christ’s mission statement. He said he came not to judge (nor condemn) but to save, while contending that these same words will condemn those who reject him (and they, the bible tells us, will be cast into the Lake of Fire after the final judgment). This is also, as I said, the very thing he practiced in the situations mentioned before.

Before I’ve rattled on for ten pages, lets move on to juxtaposing this with Paul.

Paul is tied into Jesus initially by his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, in which Jesus speaks to him from a bright light. This is the primary evidence he has for his status as an apostle.

The teachings of Paul and Jesus have many key commonalties. The Sermon on the Mount’s function as revealing the depths of human sin (which is so deep that the standards God sets for us often seems impossible to grasp to us) is easily juxtaposed to Paul’s statement, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Ro 3:23).

Neither are their positions on the law contradictory. Despite not once preaching on the subject, Jesus through out his life made it clear through his teachings that it is impossible to earn salvation through our own righteousness. One particular place is where he says: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20), and the rest of the sermon on the mount only takes the stake even higher.

If ever there was a command in the sermon on the mount that our sin condition makes it impossible to fulfill, it is this one: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (vs. 48) You don’t need to have read Paul’s writings to know that you will never be good enough to deserve Heaven on your own no matter what you do.

Jesus and Paul also have similar positions in this regard: Jesus taught the importance of humility, Paul chastised his readers time and time again not to boast about how righteous they are (not even about how righteous God has made them to be).

Paul is in fact analyzing Jesus’ teachings, the Jewish Law, the sacrifice Jesus made on the Cross and the following resurrection and then concluding what this all means for us. And this is what he concluded: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Ro. 3:23-24) Having drawn his conclusion from his understanding of Jesus, how then can Paul’s position be in disharmony with Jesus’?

Furthermore, as I began our discourse, even if apparent contradictions were found, then either 1) The bible isn’t the word of God—since God cannot contradict himself—and our faith means nothing, 2) Paul’s writings are in fact not actually not true scripture but rather ancient commentary (which would prove nearly as disastrous) or 3) There is some way to reconcile the apparent contradiction that our limited minds are having trouble grasping, or perhaps the problem can be resolved by taking the elements in the context of the bible as a whole.

Copyright 2000, All Rights Reserved. You may not copy this article in its entirety for any reason whatsoever. Plagarism is not only illegal and could earn you a big fat F, it is also a sin. If you wish to quote this article I highly encourage you to find a more authoritative source. If you insist, you can contact me for permission.

Essay on Islam In Response to the Terrorist Attacks on 9/11/01

by Andrea J. Graham

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 brought many issues crashing in on a sleepy America. One of them is the reality that we are not alone on this planet—and our neighbors don’t all consider our opinions to be normative. Now we are left with questions about who are neighbors are and why they don’t seem to like us. It was a fundamentalist group of Muslims known as al Qaeda, sponsored by the ruling Taliban of Afghanistan, that attacked the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the United States, Western Civilization, and everyone else who relies on American prosperity for their own economic growth (this is the number one reason that the world is sending in its sympathies and pledge of support). Arabs and Mainstream Muslims, in the United States and Abroad, are now scrambling (along with the rest of those groups who are scrambling to get out of the path of a rudely awakened Angry Giant, which is the second reason the world is scrambling to cooperate) to put as much distance between them and these Fundamentalists as possible, quite understandably.

There is a bit of a logical problem with some of their arguments, I think, but I can hardly blame them. The United States does not have a history of being able to correctly distinguish their enemies from those who superficially resemble them. Lets not forget the Japanese-American Detention Camps here in the United States—while we were off trying to make the Nazis break up theirs. Does sparing their lives make it okay to take away ones liberty and property? Please. It would of course be inhumane if we repeated that History with the Arab-Americans (most of which aren’t even Muslim).

The brunt of Mainstream Islam’s argument is that the fundamentalist (a.k.a extremist) beliefs of the Taliban and associated organizations is so different from their beliefs that they aren’t really Muslim or Islamic. This is best captured by the cries of the political incorrectness of the phrase, “Islamic Terrorists” that keeps popping up in the media. The Muslims say they find this incredibly insulting because they abhor the actions of the Taliban and that their beliefs aren’t really Muslim at all. I would say that yes, the actions of the Taliban are deplorable and violates both human and Christian wisdom, but I’m still not so sure that the argument of Mainstream Islam follows logical thought lines.

A professor in the Religion Department at Ashland University said something along the lines of, “Fundamentalists take the tenants of the faith to the extreme. They take things literally.” Indeed, the heart of fundamentalism is a literal reading of whatever book they hold as scripture. I also have an article by Prof. Omar Altalib (also of Ashland University) which, in explanation of the Terrorists actions on September 11, 2001, “A Muslim Fundamentalist may do such a thing because they have misinterpreted Islam along the following lines: Jihad, Shaheed, Kaffir, and Khilafa.”

I see a logical discrepancy here. These two statements together are saying the literal (ie, plain) reading of the Koran is a misinterpretation. But what interpretation do they have in mind? Fundamentalists do as little interpretation as possible. It is Non-fundamentalists that get bogged down in interpretation, striving to pull together seemingly contradictory passages of scripture to make them consistent with the theological views they bring to the text, views that are generally dictated by a unbelieving and morally devoid society, which, if not western or American, is patterned after Western Society! And we wonder why Usama bin Laden and those like him consider us a threat!

Prof. Altalib’s article says, “Usama bin Laden incorrectly considers the US government an enemy of Islam.” I’m not sure that statement is entirely true (though of course Mainstream Islam will be quick to try to pacify the Angry Giant with such statements.) While it is true that we have not actively shown animosities towards Islam, the American culture is both increasingly captivating and antithetical to the beliefs and lifestyle of the morally conservative observant believers of not only Islam, but also Christianity, Judaism, and some Eastern Religions as well. The difference being in the Judeo-Christian faiths, we are taught to respond on our knees in prayer rather than with the sword of jihad.

But combine America’s moral decay with the power (both economic and militant, hence their choice of targets) and love of freedom we have and we are indeed a huge threat to such groups as the Taliban and al Qaeda. I would say it was not merely our economic and military strongholds these men wished to attack, they feared the potent and dangerous combination I detailed above, but it is much more difficult to find the heart of the ooze of moral decay leaking out of this country and destroy it before it reaches their shores.

However, there are a few interesting differences between the Taliban and mainstream Islam. Mainstream Islam, in America, is busy walking a tightrope between the moral codes taught in the Qu’ran (and their cultural traditions and heritage) and assimilation into the majority American culture. This puts American Muslims under certain restraints. It is not a coincidence that there are no openly Fundamentalist Muslims of the Taliban sort in the United States (except of course for aliens who have illegally entered the country to commit acts of terrorism).

Islam in Muslim-majority countries is not under such restraints. It is also not a coincidence that most Arabs in this country are Christians. The Christian Arabs have a very good reason for fleeing to places like the United States—the Islamic States of their homelands are busy persecuting them. It is all well and fine for Muslims to put out the hand of brotherhood to Christians when Christians are in the majority (indeed, this is in their own best interests), but what about when they are the majority?

I would like to believe that Muslims are truly peace-loving people and I do not doubt that most of the Muslims in this country are. But there is still the fact that virtually every country that is currently an Islamic State (except maybe Jordan) is persecuting Christians. In fact, of the 40 or so countries that are known to persecute Christians, only ten are not Islamic States.

Many will, of course, respond, “Those are, of course, the fundamentalists, the extremists. Mainstream Islam is not like that.” Yes, and it is in Mainstream Islam’s best interest to NOT be like that and to interpret their way around the passages in the Qu’ran that call for a very literal Jihad against Jews and Christians and others who have not bowed the knee to Allah. For instance, in one place (009.029), the Qu’ran states, “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” Exactly how else can one read such a straightforward passage, particularly when we realize that the phrase “people of the Book” here must refer to Christians and Jews?

But I know well enough that there are plenty of recourses, for many “Christian” theologians have used diverse interpretive methods to work their way around biblical passages that are politically incorrect and subversive to American culture. And both Mainstream Islam and Mainstream Christianity are striving to please Mother Culture despite clear calls on both parts to stand against Her–Islam with the sword and Christianity with prayer.

But would Islam’s views stay so safe and politically correct if they where in power? I would like to say yes but History indicates otherwise, “Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.” Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of Muslims honestly hold to the peace-loving neighborly version of Islam and refuse to acknowledge any version of Islam that is not politically correct as having any validity whatsoever.

However, that is like claiming that fundamentalist Christians aren’t really Christian because the Government finds their views to be dangerous and otherwise threatening to the status quo when most fundamentalist Christians know the bible better (and more strictly adhere to the teachings of the Lord who’s name we claim) than their Mainstream counterparts. The vast majority of the adherents to any Religion have not closely and impartiality examined what the writings they hold as scripture actually have to say.

Indeed, most people come to the Bible searching for proof of the theology they have already put together as necessary (that is, politically correct) from very unbiblical sources. There is no reason to think that human nature changes when you become a Muslim.

Copyright 2000, All Rights Reserved. You may not copy this article in its entirety for any reason whatsoever. Plagarism is not only illegal and could earn you a big fat F, it is also a sin. If you wish to quote this article I highly encourage you to find a more authoritative source. If you insist, you can contact me for permission at the address below.

Understanding the Ununderstandable: God’s Character.

by Andrea J. Graham

I don’t remember very many sermons preached at University Church, but one I do remember surprisingly well is one I heard last spring, where the preacher informed us that many of the problems he’d encountered in the people he’d counseled were rooted in a misperception of the character and nature of God. Almost exclusively this was due to an unconscious confusion of God with their father or another dominant parental figure.

However, the reasons for this common problem aren’t my concern here. As many of the major blocks to a person entering into a saving personal relationship with God are due to a lack of understanding of who God is, it is his Character that I am here to discuss. The question then becomes, where do we begin? How do you describe a God who himself declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways… as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) How can anyone ever fathom a God that is so higher than us?

There is the approach of taking the best of human qualities and multiplying them by a thousand, but that has been criticized as making God too human. This approach is really an attempt to reconstruct the broken Mirror—as we were created in the image of God; we originally had a close family resemblance to Him. The fall hasn’t destroyed that mirror, but it has cracked it so badly to render it, for all intents and purposes, utterly useless. Considering such reconstruction in this and other fields of study has left many with highly destructive and unbiblical ideas, I would say it is best to avoid this.

We don’t really need it anyways. God has already revealed Himself to us, through the written Word and the Incarnate Word. While the work of Theologians can at times prove to be valuable tools, and I may consult a few here, I believe ultimately our arguments should be grounded in these Self-Revelations from God.

The first and most obvious aspect that scripture reveals about God is the first one that Shirley Guthrie discusses in his theology, “God acts, speaks, knows… can be angry, compassionate, jealous, merciful. All such language assumes that God is not something but someone, not just a “spiritual force” but a person. Biblical-Christian faith is faith in a personal God.” (p. 99) Indeed this is so. Scripture reveals God as a character and not just some cosmic force out of which the world exploded.

From the very first sentence, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” God’s personhood is assumed. God creates, loves, punishes sin, redeems, and enters into contracts and covenantal relationships from Genesis to Revelation.

Having established that God is personal the next question asked is the pertinent one: What is God like?

There are a million places to start. The most logical place to begin, however, is occupation. Our basic and initial understanding of a person is often the pragmatic, what do they do?

God first is Creator. But this characteristic reveals a few more. As God created the universe, he exists outside of it, that is, he is transcendent. And since he created the universe and everything in it, he is the sole ruler over it. All other contenders are part of his creation, and can a creature ever be more powerful than his Creator? And elsewhere in scripture, repeatedly, God is revealed as “The Almighty.”

So, thus far God is the Creator and Sole Ruler of the Universe. We realize another occupation he has when we read how God created the universe: “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Gen. 1:3). God spoke and it happened. The entire universe came into existence because God said the word.

If God’s word created the universe, it stands to reason his thoughts sustain it. Read on into Chapter three of Genesis, and we find another of God’s main occupations: he is the Redeemer of the Fallen. And in the Revelation (and throughout the biblical witness), we see another important occupation: Judge.

To put them all together, we have God as the Transcendent, All-powerful Creator, Ruler, Sustainer, Redeemer, and Judge of the entire universe. The last two occupations, Redeemer and Judge, at first glance seem to point to a contradiction in his character. So where do we begin?

By throwing up our hands and saying, “He’s a mystery!” perhaps? Well, that is true. God can be very mysterious and his nature boggles and confounds our limited human minds. But that seems an inadequate response to an apparent dichotomy at the heart of God’s nature.

On one hand, God is the LORD God Almighty, the Sovereign LORD, who strikes down the wicked nations. The definition of holiness, justice, and righteousness, He is so holy and we are so sinful, no one may see God and live. In fact, in Exodus 33, God tells the Israelites to go on up to the Holy Land without Him because, as He explains, “You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you.” (vs. 5)

But even in that harsh Judgment, there is a hint at God’s other side. The fact is, the Israelites were insolent enough to tax anyone’s patience to the limit and He would have been quite justified in condemning them. That he didn’t just destroy them shows how much He really cares about His people. Despite how sinful, insolent and “stiff-necked” we are, God still loves us and looks on our plight with compassion and mercy.

Even though He is the all-powerful, all knowing, Sovereign above and beyond all, who exists outside the universe and time, God does not stay there but enters into it, for what is History but the story of the interactions between God and Man? Indeed, God intensely desires to enter into a close, personal, meaningful relationship with each of us.

One of the keys to a proper understanding of God’s character can be explained by the tight rope image. That is, the trek to an understanding of God and Christian doctrine begins by walking the tight rope of his character and not falling off to the left: Guthrie’s “Great heavenly Granddaddy…. God, who was there to answer all our questions, solve all our problems…. The god who made no demands of us but was there to do everything for us and give us everything we want. The God who automatically forgave us, no matter how we disobeyed that god and ignored or hurt other people.”

Or to the right: Guthrie’s “Great Heavenly (male) Tyrant—the “sovereign” god who could do anything he wanted and arbitrarily being sometimes cruel and sometimes kind, loving some people and hating or simply ignoring others, according to the whim of the moment.”

But how do we keep our balance? By holding together the two seemingly contradictory sides of God’s personality: His Justice, Holiness, Sovereignty, and Wrath on one side, His Mercy, Compassion, Love, and desire for relationship with us on the other. We must recognize and equally glorify both sides of God’s personality, realizing they are not two different sides as it appears to us but one unified whole that works together. We must not read God’s Love by God’s Justice or his Justice by his Love, but allow each to exist as what they are, yet in communion together as one unified whole. God’s character, as such, reflects His mysterious Triune nature.

Both sides are clearly shown throughout scripture, and there are many vivid examples, but in the Person of Jesus Christ, some of the best examples are to be found, particularly in the pertinent application of God’s relations with us. God longs to have a relationship with each of us, to walk and talk together face to face as he did with Adam and Eve in the Garden, but this is not possible as we are now because of our sinfulness.

This is ultimately why Jesus came, to restore us to that relationship. An integral part of that restoration is his witness here on Earth to God. While on Earth, Jesus stood to reveal to us through His example what God is like and what Man should be like. He Himself has become the bridge between Man and God. In the time of Jesus’ earthly Ministry, God once again walked with Adam and Eve and talked with them face-to-face, a mere teaser of the relationship to be fully restored at his Return.

One of the important scriptures where Christ reveals God’s Character and Heart for his people: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, `Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'” (Matthew 23:37-39)

Here Jesus’ sorrow almost screams off the page, and we see the face of His Father. He has sent hundreds of messengers to plead with Israel to come back into relationship with Him, and they have killed all of them. His desire to bring blessing and restoration to Jerusalem is almost flowing off the page. But there is that last phrase, “but you were not willing.”

God wants a relationship with us, but He does not want it under compulsion, but rather He desires a relationship with us where we have freely entered into it. He offers us Grace and has already paid the penalty for us, and has taken the first step in initiating a relationship with us on the Cross, but he will not force us to enter in, for he desires that we willfully enter into fellowship with him, to obey and worship him freely, not by force or compulsion.

God has done all the work to make this possible and paid all the penalties we owed for us. He has issued us an invitation to the Banquet, now all we have to do is enter in and let Him transform us. But we must do so, not by our strengths and merits, but His, lest we be like the man who was not wearing wedding clothes, and hear the King say of us, “Tie him hand and foot and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 22:14)

Copyright 2000, All Rights Reserved. You may not copy this article in its entirety for any reason whatsoever. Plagarism is not only illegal and could earn you a big fat F, it is also a sin. If you wish to quote this article I highly encourage you to find a more authoritative source. If you insist, you can contact me for permission.

The Faces of Jesus

  by Andrea J. Graham

Many have set about to write about the life and person of our Lord Christ Jesus, and as one destined to do so, I have decided to write down for you this short summary in hopes that I shall be able to produce for you a more in-depth look at a future time. Since I have but a short time in which to write, I must limit myself to primarily focusing on just one of the four gospels, and I have chosen Matthew. We see in Matthew as he details for us the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of our Lord Christ Jesus, several faces of Jesus that come together to form a more complete portrait of our Lord. Let us begin, as is often best, at the beginning.

The primary purpose for Matthew’s writing in the first place is that he wished to show skeptic Jews that our Lord Christ Jesus truly is the promised Messiah, and accordingly in every portrait and event encompassing the mosaic, he relates it back to old testament prophesy. He also begins for that reason with the genealogy of Jesus, showing him to be the true heir of King David, a face in the mosaic to be discussed in a moment. This purpose is also why he stresses Jesus’ virgin birth in Bethlehem, the visit of the Magi, the subsequent escape to Egypt and return to Nazareth. All of these fulfilled prophesies that Matthew quotes for us.

This brings us to the first face of Jesus that Matthew reveals: Jesus the King or Jesus the Son of David. This face is explored first and is reflected on throughout his gospel. Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist at about thirty doesn’t merely mark the beginning of Christ’s ministry, it also marks Him as the true king, as the words “this is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17, NIV) are reminiscent of the words spoken by a priest at a King’s coronation. It is also why Jesus is driven out into the desert to be tempted: He is being tested to see how he plans to govern. His princehood is alluded to when He humors the pharisees by paying His own temple tax, one of the rare instances where He bothers to avoid offending someone (17:24-27). We are also reminded of his princehood every time a beggar cries, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” and we see also that the multitude in Jerusalem receives Him as a conquering King on Palm Sunday (21:1-11).

The next face of Jesus we see is Jesus the Teacher. In many ways, Jesus the Teacher is almost a Moses figure in Matthew as He once again gives the law to the people (5-7). Jesus the Teacher never (or very rarely) stops teaching; everything from His choice of apostles to His choice of transportation on Palm Sunday has a lesson in it for us to discover. His enemies can never outsmart Him no matter how hard they try, as He is too busy dumbfounding and infuriating them with His teachings to be outdone. Of course in Matthew, the tension between Jesus and the pharisees doesn’t really escalate until the final week. However, Jesus the Teacher is patient with His friends though He is confusing with the masses as He speaks in parables to the volatile multitude. Jesus the teacher, it is important to note, however, does not teach as a scribe or teacher of the law taught, but as one with Authority as the masses note to their amazement (7:28,29).

Related to Jesus the Teacher is Jesus the Miracle Worker. Jesus the Miracle Worker heals the sick, raises the dead, makes the blind see, the deaf hear, the crippled walk, the mute speak, commands the storm, walks on water, drives out demons (half of which we now suppose had epilepsy), and so forth (it would take too much time to note them all). Jesus the Miracle worker testifies to the identity of the mosaic of our Lord Christ Jesus. Oftentimes, the miracles are laced with teachings, so we often see both faces–Jesus the Teacher and Jesus the Miracle Worker–at the same time. It is interesting to note that Jesus often warns those He heals not to tell anyone who He was. Many suppose that this may be because of what the Pharisees would (and eventually do) do when it reached their ears. Matthew, however, does not emphasize this point, but instead tells us He did this to fulfill the prophesy: Isaiah 42:1-4 to be precise.

In this midst of all this, we receive a portrait of Jesus Among His Kin. We receive a glimpse of Jesus as the son of Mary and her husband Joseph, a carpenter. We are introduced to His four younger brothers when they accompany their mother to speak with Jesus outside where He is teaching, and we are told He has a few sisters, too. His response to their interruption of His teaching could be seen as hostile, or at least I am sure that I if I said to a crowd, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” and then said that my friends were, my family would be very upset with me (12:46-50). I also note that the only other time He is mentioned returning home, Jesus sadly notes, at the offended incredulous of His neighbors, “Only in his hometown and among his own house is a prophet without honor” (13:57).

On a side note, the other gospels make important notes on this subject. Luke notes that following this last event, the people of Nazareth then make a failed attempt to toss Him off a cliff (Lk4:28-30). Mark notes, ten verses before his version of the “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” scene, “Then Jesus entered a house and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”(Mk3:20,21). John also makes a note on this, “Jesus’ brothers said to him, ‘You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world’ For even his own brothers did not believe in him.”(Jn7:3-5). So, I think it is fair to say that He was not on the best of terms with his kin folk, and I am fairly certain they did not understand Him, the clear exception being John the Baptist whom Luke reports to be a distant cousin of Jesus.

The last four faces we shall deal with are Angry Jesus, Jesus the Suffering Servant, and the two difficult-to-separate faces: Jesus of Power and Jesus the Son of God.

Angry Jesus is the most elusive face of Jesus in the gospels, though it is still present. It is in the background during every clash with the religious authorities of the day, and every time He offends someone. This, however, is not mere fleshy anger, but Righteous Anger reminiscent of the Father’s Holy Wrath. Angry Jesus, accordingly, is a testimony to Jesus the son of God, as this face is all too likely a child of that face. Angry Jesus shows up very clearly only twice in this gospel and then on the same Jewish day: the evening following Palm Sunday, turns over the benches and tables of those people selling in the temple and drives out both seller and buyer, chastising them, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves!” (21:13, Is 56:7, Jer. 7:11) Yet He then slips on the face of Jesus the Miracle Worker over the face of Angry Jesus and begins healing the blind and the lame (vs. 14). The following morning, we see angry Jesus again: He withers a fig tree for not bearing fruit to Him, but again that face is quickly hidden by another as Jesus the Teacher takes over.

If Angry Jesus is the most elusive face of Jesus, then Jesus the Suffering Servant was the most misunderstood. We have already seen how most of His own kin didn’t understand Him, but neither did the masses nor even His own disciples understand the “Jesus the Suffering Servant”face. Once Jesus tried to explain this role, “Jesus began to explain to His disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, ‘Never, Lord!’ he said, ‘This will never happen to you!’” (16:21-22). Even His own disciples were hung up on the idea of the conquering Messiah who would sit on the throne of David and banish Israel’s enemies. They did not know that the enemies He came to destroy were Death and Sin, and to do this He would suffer.

It is also important to note that the same masses that greeted Christ on Palm Sunday as a conquering King with shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (21:9) were the same masses that shouted “Crucify him!” (27:22) not more than five days later. This leads us to ask ourselves, why? They, too, were looking for the conquering messiah to come and save them from Rome. Just as the disciples didn’t understand the enemy He had come to conquer, they too couldn’t grasp the fact that their King had come not to charge into battle, but to surrender His life and take our place on the cross.

It is rather ironic when the masses answer Pilate, “Let his blood be on us and our children,” for it was this that Jesus came, but they rejected the blood spilt for us all. They said to him, “come down from the cross if you are the Son of God” (27:40), not realizing that He could do that very thing; as he said to the disciple brandishing a sword at his arrest, “Do you not think I cannot call on my Father and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (26:53-4). We see on the cross the same Jesus we see in Gethsemane: a Jesus surrendering to the will of his father, a Jesus who is not killed but instead surrenders His life for both His friends and His enemies.

Interlocked with Jesus the Suffering Servant, are our last two faces: Jesus of Power and Jesus the Son of God. Jesus the Miracle worker testifies to Jesus of power, and Jesus of Power testifies to Jesus the Son of God. Jesus of Power is also Jesus Triumphant, for it is Jesus of Power at the Resurrection(28), as it is Jesus of Power that Peter, James, and John tremble before during the transfiguration on the high mountain (17:1-8), and it is Jesus of Power that says to the eleven, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (28:18-20). Jesus of Power stands behind both Jesus the Miracle Worker and Jesus Angry, fueling them both. Jesus of Power in turn is powered by Jesus the Son of God, whom we get glimpses of throughout the book of Matthew of its own accord and through the other faces of Jesus, all of which in one way or another testify to this one, which is no small wonder, for it was this face that Matthew was trying to show us all along: Jesus, the Son of God, the King who gave His life for all God’s people, this is the portrait the mosaic comes together to form.

So now I have written what I set down to write to you. May the peace, love, joy, hope and grace of our Lord Christ Jesus be with you always and to Him be the glory and the power and all praise forever and ever. Amen.

Copyright 2000, All Rights Reserved. You may not copy this article in its entirety for any reason whatsoever. Plagiarism is not only illegal and could earn you a big fat F, it is also a sin. If you wish to quote this article I highly encourage you to find a more authoritative source. If you insist, you can contact me for permission.

Responding to Religious Diversity

  by Andrea J. Graham

Some days it seems the only thing we humans can agree on is that we disagree and how we respond to that disagreement is another point of disagreement! This disagreement is often colored in nice terms like “plurality” and “diversity”. Though Diversity makes for interesting dinner conversation (sometimes), and it can often be a very good thing (for instance, cultural diversity), but that isn’t a universal. Again, this is another point of disagreement among people. When it comes to religious diversity, suddenly, the fighting gloves come on—even among those who welcome Religious Diversity!

There are two main points that while making religious discussions an interesting sport (spectator or otherwise), also contributes directly to the problems that make it so interesting in the first place. First, most religions make a claim to absolute truth. This is because one of the deep-set needs that religions fill is a desire to understand the truth and the nature of reality. Even those who claim there is no absolute Truth have this need—they have come to the Absolute Truth that there IS no Absolute Truth (which is why logically these religions make no sense.)

But of course, religion, when you put away all your college text books, is merely Man’s attempt to put God in a box where he either dissects and studies him or tries to remake the Creator in the image of the Creation—or tosses Him in the incinerator and when that fails to destroy Him, hides Him under the bed or in the back of the closet.) Now, I do not consider my faith (Christianity) to be a religion, however, for convenience sake, I may use the secular terms even when referring to it from time to time.

Speaking of such, the clearest claim of Absolute Truth was made by my Lord and recorded by John 14:6, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No One comes unto the Lord except by me” (quoted from memory). I, naturally, stand by this scripture wholeheartedly. The problem is there are many other religions that (falsely in my opinion) make these same claims. This is very confusing for many people, 3 million religions (unfortunately this is probably not much of an exaggeration) all claiming to be The Truth. The possibilities seem to boggle the mind: Are they all the Truth? Are any of them the Truth? If not, which one is? How could they ever pick just one?

The second point is related to the first, that is the culture of plurality and diversity in the United States, which encourages us to respect all religions equally and whole l and embrace our differences with open arms. Now this to me seems to require that either all the religions that claim to be The Truth are lying or that they are all telling the truth and some how all are the only way. But how can they all be the ONLY way? At the least you have them misguided. The two claims contradict each other and are irreconcilable.

People’s responses to diversity generally fall into one of five categories:

Firstly, some people respond that their religion is telling the truth—that it is the exclusive way and that all other religions are false. This tends to be a mostly Judeo-Christian perspective.

Being a Christian, I myself back my Lord’s claim that he is the Only Way, to even the exclusion of Jews that reject Him. I believe wholeheartedly that only Christianity is true and only Christians go to Heaven. In fact, I believe, as my Lord said, that there are many that call on his name (i.e., those who call themselves Christians) who do not truly know him and will be sent away from his presence at the final Judgment. I also believe there is a way to test the Spirit in someone claiming Christ to see if they truly have a Christian spirit—”By their fruit, you will know them” Jesus advices us.

I also believe that all other religions are authored by the Devil and that he crafted so many false religions to claim that they are the only Truth for the express purpose of confusing us and leading God’s people astray. Why do I believe this? Because I have studied the bible and found that this is what it says. And in my short years Jesus has already more than proved Himself to me. He is unlike any of the other false religions and has given me no reason to doubt His Word.

The second category people fall into is the logical end result of the juxtaposing the two earlier stated facts after rejecting Christ: No religion is exclusive and no religion can rightfully claim absolute truth—the “there is no Absolute truth” claim I mentioned earlier. They generally go in two directions: All religions are wrong and society should be secular (this would be the group that claims to be the absolute truth while holding that there is none), the second says that while some religions may misguidedly believe they are the absolute truth, they are all equally valid and that the choice is up to the individual. This sure sounds nice, but it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Thirdly, some believe that while their religion is the one true way, most other religions have some degree of the truth, but that truth has become distorted. Hindus and Muslims are prime examples of some people that believe this.

To me, this view point both makes sense and does not. It makes sense in a way. I may even partially agree, at least to the point that unconsciously most do believe in the One True God and know subconsciously what he requires, but have chosen to reject Him. Points of agreement tend to relate to that. More pertinently, the bible warns that the Devil can counterfeit anything (which would include the truth), and tradition warns that the most dangerous lie was half-true. Logically, however, the belief of the third group itself doesn’t make much sense to me, though I see how one might come to this conclusion.

Fourthly, some believe that all religions are on the same mountain climbing towards unity, towards the absolute truth. Of course, their religion is generally the fulcrum at which the religions will meet. This dangerous stand point is partially true. I tend to view this as the Devil giving his game plan away. My reading of the apocalyptic literature of the bible indicates that the religions are in fact destined to be united under the reign of the coming AntiChrist, so I generally view this group, among others, as a sign of the times.

Lastly, we have the affirmationists who try to cling to their own religion being the absolute truth while attempting to stay open to the possibility that there might be another way. They intend to hold onto their own identity while celebrating each others’ differences. With all due respect, while their intentions are very noble, either one’s religion is the absolute truth and the only way, or it is not.

I agree that, to a point, diversity is a good thing. The Body of Christ is the most diverse organism that I know of and we should by all means stop picking at one another and start celebrating our differences, but not at the sacrifice of Truth. I agree also that we have the right to choose when it comes to religion and would not dream of denying any one that right. But God retains the right to punish those who choose to rebel against Him.

I tend to try to understand other people and why they believe as they do, though I do have a moral obligation to speak the Truth to them, I seek to leave the choice of what to believe up to them. I protest the idea that exclusivists view nonbelievers as objects of conversion. I believe this is unbiblical. I see why one might think that we see people this way, and some may mistakenly do this, but that is not the gospel to which we are called.

I personally view nonbelievers as human beings who have a choice to make and understand that it is my duty to love them even as I shun any evil practices and beliefs they may hold to in my own walk.

Copyright 2001, All Rights Reserved. You may not copy this article in its entirety for any reason whatsoever. Plagarism is not only illegal and could earn you a big fat F, it is also a sin. If you wish to quote this article I highly encourage you to find a more authoritative source. If you insist, you can contact me for permission at the address below.