12 – When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He withdrew to Galilee.
13 – Leaving Nazareth, He went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—
14 – to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
15 – “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 – the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
17 – From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.”
18 – As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers: Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.
19 – “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”
20 – At once they left their nets and followed Him.
21 – Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them,
22 – And immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him.2
23 – Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
24 – News about Him spread all over Syria, and people brought to Him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and He healed them.
25 – Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed Him.
One of the most powerful movies I have ever seen is Steven Spielberg’s Amistad, which, as you may or may not know, is the true story of a ship full of African men, women, and children who were taken from their homes and sold into slavery in 1839. During the voyage the captives were able to free themselves and, after a fierce battle, take over the ship but knowing nothing of navigation they ended up in American waters, where they were imprisoned until officials could figure out what to do with them. This led to a series of court cases that culminated in their case being heard before the Supreme Court of the U.S. Former president John Quincy Adams defended the Africans in that landmark trial. In spite of the fact that a majority of the justices were from Southern states, with Adams’ help the captives won the case and were returned to Africa in 1842.
The film version of this story showed that while the Africans were awaiting trial in Massachusetts they were held in jail and abolitionist Christians would come frequently to pray for them. One day on the way to court an abolitionist gave one of the men a copy of the Bible.
This particular African man was very angry and bitter—and of course who wouldn’t be after having been taken from your home and sold into slavery!? But he was more angry that the rest—most of whom had given up any hope of freedom. Well, even though this man could not read English, he looked at the pictures in the Bible he had been given—the pictures in the New Testament that chronicled the life of Jesus. In this way He realized that Jesus was no ordinary man. He saw that Jesus’ birth changed everything. He came to understand that Jesus had died on the cross. He saw that He had risen from the dead. And the film infers that this wrongfully imprisoned African man decided to put His faith in Jesus. He became a Christ-follower—just by looking at pictures of Jesus’ life and ministry. Let’s watch a clip of this part of the film where this man shows the Bible to another captive. Interspersed in the captive’s explanation of the life of Christ are scenes of the judge in charge of their trial who has gone to a church to pray for guidance. Watch.
This man saw what millions upon millions of people have seen over the years. He saw that Jesus was no ordinary man. He put His faith in Him and that decision changed his life. He was cleansed of his bitterness and even in captivity he found a caliber of peace that passes understanding.
This has been the experience of everyone who has followed Jesus down through the millennia and it is one reason we can rightfully say that no one has had more of an impact on humanity than Jesus Christ.
In his newest book, Who Is This Man?, John Ortberg puts it this way: “Normally when someone dies, their impact on the world immediately begins to recede. As I write this, our world marks the passing of digital innovator Steve Jobs. Someone wrote that ten years ago our world had Bob Hope, Johnny Cash, and Steve Jobs. Now we have no Jobs, no Cash, and no Hope. But Jesus inverted this normal human trajectory, as He had so many others. Jesus’ impact was greater a hundred years after His death than during His life; it was greater still after five hundred years; after a thousand years His legacy laid the foundation for much of Europe; after two thousand years He has more followers than ever.”
Now, why is this true? Why is it that Jesus has had such an effect on people? Of course the obvious answer is that Jesus was God Himself—God become flesh—God with us. But how did people see that? What was it about Jesus that helped people to see Who He was? I mean, there had been lots of men who claimed to be the Messiah of God. What was it about Jesus that led people to see that He was the genuine article?
Before I answer these questions, let’s back up a bit to get the setting of this week’s chapter from The Story in our minds…a chapter that covers Jesus’ early years of ministry. We don’t know much about Jesus’ childhood. We know of His birth—and of His dedication in the temple eight days later. We know about an incident at the temple in Jerusalem when He was twelve and astounded the priests with His knowledge and understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures. The only other reference we have to Jesus’ growing up years is in Luke 2:52 where it says, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man.” The next thing we read about Him is His baptism and temptation—the events we studied last week. This week we read about how, after winning His battle with Satan, Jesus selected twelve men to be His special followers. Then, He began an itinerant ministry that took Him to Galilee, Judea, and Perea—the region east of the Jordan river, between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. After about three-and-one-half years, during which time Jesus’ conflict with the religious leaders of the day gradually intensified, He set His face resolutely to go to Jerusalem, where He was arrested, falsely tried, and put to death on a Roman Cross. Three days later, as the man saw in that Bible picture, Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of God. We’ll focus on those parts of The Story when we celebrate Holy Week. But understand, Jesus’ earthly ministry lasted only three and a half years—some believe it was much shorter. Yet, in that brief span, Jesus established Himself as the preeminent personality of history. So, what were the marks of His life that led people to see that He was Who He claimed to be? What was it that caused Him to make such an unprecedented impact?
First, what Jesus SAID was different.
I’m referring to the fact that you can’t study the response of people who heard Jesus TEACH without concluding that He was the greatest teacher of all time. People who heard Jesus and new He was only a peasant carpenter said, “How has this Man become learned, having never been educated?” (John 7:15) Once when soldiers were sent to arrest Jesus, they came back empty-handed and explained by saying in amazement, “Never did a man speak the way this Man speaks!” (John 7:46). The fact is, what Jesus said—what He TAUGHT—was different from that of any other man…and for this reason CROWDS would flock to hear Him.
This week in The Story we read Jesus’ best known teaching—the Sermon on the Mount—-and it got that name because thousands of people came to a mountainside by the Sea of Galilee to listen to Him. There in that natural amphitheater, people were able to hear everything Jesus said—without a microphone. Then again, who would know the acoustics better than the One Who had created that amphitheater! Perhaps that is why God custom made that particular hillside!
An anonymous individual once said, “A mediocre teacher TELLS, a good teacher EXPLAINS, a superior teacher DEMONSTRATES, a great teacher INSPIRES.” Well, by this definition, Jesus was a GREAT teacher indeed because He inspired people as no other teacher has before or since. People were AMAZED at Jesus’ teaching. By the way, the word “amazed” appears 30 times in the Gospels and 27 of those times it is used to describe the people’s response to Jesus.
People could listen to Him teach for hours. One reason is the fact that this Teacher had a powerful sense of humor and He wasn’t afraid to use it. His hearers weren’t used to humor in the teachings of rabbis of that day. Jesus was also uniquely skilled at using illustrations in His teaching…also known as PARABLES, stories that made His “lessons” come to life. Plus—Jesus used the Old Testament Scriptures as a teaching tool and this was nothing new. Rabbis did that all the time. But with Jesus it was different. He taught from the OT with a level of understanding and application that no rabbi had. It was as if He wrote the words of those sacred texts Himself!
Suffice it to say, Jesus was no ordinary teacher. He was unlike any rabbi or teacher the people had heard. This is affirmed at the end of the Sermon on the Mount where it says, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”
Here’s something else about the unique things Jesus SAID. In Jesus’ day rabbis would teach by citing the teaching of other Rabbis. They would say things like, “Rabbi Shammai says…” or “Rabbi Hillel says…” It’s kind of like me when I preach and say, “Bill Hybels says this.” or “John Stott says this.” or “I’m quoting John Ortberg here.” Well, Jesus didn’t do this kind of thing in His teaching. He didn’t cite others. Instead He would simply say, “Truly I say to you.”
You can find this phrase in Jesus’ teaching 75 times in the Gospels. When He did this what Jesus was saying was, “I know how things are. I know. I know about money. I know about economics. I know ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive.’ I know how resentment festers. I know the human heart. I know forgiveness is superior. I know—because I am TRUTH. You can trust what I say. I am the authority on everything.” Jesus had confidence in what He taught—because of course He was not another ordinary man sent from God to teach. No, Jesus was GOD Himself come to teach…omniscient GOD in human flesh.
G. K. Chesterton wrote about how normally the greatest teachers often emphasize what they DON’T know. For example, he said, “Socrates, the wisest man, knows that he knows nothing.”
Well, Jesus never said, “I don’t know.” And it wasn’t that He was arrogant—in fact He was supremely humble. It’s just that Jesus was absolutely confident that His knowledge was absolute—which of course, it was!
In his book, Ortberg points out that the impact of what Jesus said is often taken for granted…but the record of Jesus’ life and teachings…the Gospels…have been translated into 2,527 languages.
The second-most translated book, Don Quixote, has only been translated into about 60 languages. In the academic world, scholars keep score by how often an article they write is cited by other scholars. Well, no one has even come close to beating Jesus’ record in this. According to Harvard professor, Harvey Cox, “…the words of the Sermon on the Mount are the most luminous, most quoted, most analyzed, most contested, most influential moral and religious discourse in all of human history. This may sound like an overstatement but it is not.”
One thing that was so special about Jesus’ teaching is seen in its PURPOSE. You see, most teaching is defined as the transfer of information. When I would start a college or seminary class the question on my mind—and the minds of my fellow classmates on that first day would always be, “What will be on the test?” In other words we wanted to know what information we would be held accountable for….what information would we be expected to get from the teacher or from the reading he or she assigned. But in His teaching, Jesus wasn’t aiming at mere information transfer. No—His goal was to change lives…and He did that. Look at the difference in the lives of those first disciples after they sat under Jesus’ teaching for three years! Think of the difference in the life of people like C.S. Lewis, who was an atheist until J.R.R. Tolkein led him to faith in Jesus. That encounter changed his life and Lewis became a powerful Christian apologist. I know of no one who has led more atheists to faith in Jesus than Lewis. Another thing special about the impact of Jesus’ teaching is that He would teach anyone who would listen regardless of gender, status, or age. In fact, the last thing He told His disciples, male and female, was that they should keep on teaching ALL peoples the life-changing message He had given them. They took Him seriously. Acts 5:42 says this about Jesus’ followers after His ascension, “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching…”
In the Greco-Roman world, formal education was reserved for the male children of wealthy families…but the leaders of the church—the followers of Jesus—changed that. They remembered that Jesus had told them to teach ALL PEOPLES…so they did. They taught men, women, slaves and free. They have taken His teachings all over the world. In fact, Jesus inspired them to start what, for want of a better word, I would call the modern educational movement.
Early Christians started things called monasteries which were basically places of learning. This gave birth to universities. Ortberg writes, “They were called ‘universities’ because they reflected the idea that in the beginning God created all things. Reality is not just this random cyclical accident. God is supremely rational so that means there is a reality that can be studied. So these were made not multiversities, not random chaos, but rather a university to study a universe.” People who came to teach at universities were called “professors.” Why? Because they believed truth could be known…they had something to PROFESS. By the way, did you know that 92% of the first 138 colleges and universities founded in American were begun for followers of Jesus—Jesus, Who never even wrote a book.
In America, the first law to require education for people was in Massachusetts in 1647 and it was called, “The Old Deluder Satan Act.” Believers explained the rationale behind giving the act this name and said, “It being one chief product of that Old Deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures…and to the end that learning may not be buried in the graves of our forefathers.” This is a beautiful reflection of the fact that everyone should learn and that ignorance is the devil’s tool and that God is the God of truth.
In 1780, a Christian in Great Britain named Robert Raikes could not stand the cycle of poverty and ignorance that was destroying little children. He said,“The world marches forward on the feet of little children.” So he took children who had to work six days a week in squalor; Sunday was their free day. He said, “I’m going to start a school for free to teach them to read and write and learn about God.” He did and SUNDAY SCHOOL was invented. Within 50 years there were 1.5 million children being taught by 160,000 volunteer Christ-following teachers who had a vision for the education of a generation.
Speaking of vision, a Methodist missionary named Frank Laubach said that God gave him a vision to lift the world out of ignorance and he began a worldwide literacy movement. The phrase “each one, teach one” came from his work. Laubach traveled to more than a hundred countries and led to the development of primers in 313 languages. He became known as “the apostle to the Illiterates.”
All this happened because people were inspired by the greatest teacher Who ever lived—Jesus, the Christ…God in the flesh come to teach. The things Jesus said and taught had an amazing impact on our world. But that’s not all that singles Him out.
2. What He DID was different.
Jesus did amazing things—things beyond explanation that could only be called MIRACLES.
He healed the sick. He raised the dead. He cast out demons. He changed water into wine. He even commanded the elements and they obeyed. Once while Jesus and His disciples were on a boat in the Sea of Galilee a huge storm blew up. It was so bad even the seasoned fishermen feared for their lives. Jesus stood up and commanded the sea and the wind to cease and it did.
The men were understandably amazed and asked, “What kind of Man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey Him!” (Matthew 8:27) The Gospel tells us of 34 specific miracles performed by Jesus but He apparently did much more than that because there are 15 other times in the Gospels where His other miracles are talked of in a general sense. It was obvious to the people who saw these things that Jesus was more than a great teacher—He was more than a man. Somehow in a way they could not explain, He was God AND man…omnipotent God become flesh. And this was seen not just in Jesus’ miracles—things only God could do…but in the fact that Jesus had an unswerving commitment to do the will of God, every minute of every day. Do you remember when His earthly parents accidentally left Him at the temple when He was a young boy? When Joseph and Mary scolded Him for remaining behind Jesus said, “Did you not know that I had to be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49) To the crowd of Pharisees who confronted Him in John 6, Jesus declared, “For I have come down from Heaven not to do My own will, but the will of Him Who sent Me.” (John 6:38) To the disciples who returned from the city of Sychar with food for Jesus’ nourishment, He said, “My food is to do the will of Him Who sent Me, and to accomplish His work.” (John 4:34) When He agonized in the Garden of Gesthemane on the night of His arrest Jesus cried out, “Not as I will but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39) So, whether living as a boy in His mother’s home or working as a man in Joseph’s shop, whether going to the Jordan for baptism or facing the temptations in the wilderness whether preaching to the crowds or ministering in love to the individual, the life of Jesus was absolutely devoted to doing the will of God.
And this made another thing Jesus did special…because in this way Jesus showed that God loved ALL people. I mean, Jesus, the miracle Worker, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords actually befriended sinners—social outcasts. In fact, He seemed to prefer their company to that of the “good” people—the “religious” people. Usually those people who are the most virtuous are impatient, even judgmental, toward those whose lives are full of sin. But not Jesus. No—He Who was the wisest in His teachings about life was at the same time the most sensitive to those who did not understand the truth about life. This Man Who was without sin was the most patient with those who were the most sinful. Because of this Jesus’ critics called Him “a friend of sinners.” (Matthew 11:19). That phrase, hurled at Him as an accusation, is actually the finest testimony of His life. All that He did while on earth, all that He accomplished in life and in death, was summed up in that phrase, “friend of sinners.”
Read the story of His life and you will see that Jesus had a seismographic heart because like the instrument that measures the rumblings of the earth, Jesus’ heart measured the rumblings of the human soul—the disasters, the catastrophes, the turmoil, the fears, the pain…the grief. He had a Godly compassion for mankind. He never turned anyone away who came to Him for healing or help. It was obvious that their cares were His personal concern. I mean, He helped Roman Centurions, lepers, tax collectors, harlots, lepers. He really loved people—all people.
In 1962, the great theologian Karl Barth was at the University of Chicago as part of a lecture tour. After his lecture, there was a Q and A time and a student asked if he could summarize everything he had learned in life in his study of Christian theology in one sentence. The old professor paused, seemingly deep in thought. Finally he said, “Yes I can…by using the words to a song I learned as a child on my mother’s knee: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so.’” That is the predominant message that emanated from the life of our Lord—Jesus loves us. He has a “God-is-love passion” for sinners like you and me.
So, what Jesus said was different…and what He did was different…but that’s not all that made Jesus stand out. As I already alluded…
3. What He DIDN’T do was different.
Jesus was unlike any human being who has ever lived in that He didn’t sin. Not once. He never disobeyed God in thought, word, deed, or inaction. And this is the testimony of the Bible…a Book that does not whitewash its heroes. As we have learned in our reading of The Story, throughout the Bible, the writers were very honest in their portrayal of the shakers and movers of God’s kingdom. They did not cover up their human flaws.
- Read the Bible and you will read about the drunkenness of Noah (Genesis 9:21)
- The fear of Abraham (Genesis 20:10-11)
- The pride of Moses (Numbers 20:7-12)
- The weakness of Samson (Judges 16:16-17)
- The lust of David (2nd Samuel 11)
- The self-pity of Elijah (1st Kings 19:4)
- The self-centeredness of James and John (Mark 10:35-41)
- The inconsistency of Peter (Mark 14:66-72)
- …and the impatience of Paul (Acts 15:38-39).
The Bible reveals ALL the sins of ALL its saints. But in telling the story of Jesus, the Biblical writers didn’t even tell of a shadow of sin. They talked about His temptations (Matthew 4). They told of His troubles (John 11:47-53). The depicted His trials (Mark 3:21). But they never told of any sin. Instead the Biblical writes indicated a flawless character unstained by the presence of any wrongdoing. The testimony of Jesus’ enemies was given by one of the criminals on the cross, a man who looked at Jesus and said: “This Man has done nothing wrong.”(Luke 23:41)
The centurion standing near the cross looked up and testified, “Certainly this Man is innocent.” (Luke 23:47) In his gospel, Mark said “Now the chief priests and the whole council kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus to put Him to death; and THEY WERE FINDING NONE.”
(Mark 14:55) The enemies of Jesus sought to eliminate Him not because of His faults but because of His perfection. He intimidated them with the purity of His character. The testimony of Jesus’ sinlessness was also given by those who were closest to Him. For three and a half years those disciples walked with Jesus. They saw every reaction. They heard every word. They shared every trying moment. Yet, listen to their testimony: Simon Peter called Jesus, “…a lamb UNBLEMISHED and SPOTLESS.” (1 Peter 1:19). In his epistle John said, “And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.” (1 John 3:5) No other man ever lived with the kind of purity and perfection that characterized the life of Jesus.
So, the title of my message is an understatement. To anyone who has studied His life and work, it is obvious that Jesus WAS—Jesus IS—no ordinary man. He was God become man. But, I don’t want to put words in your mouth. After our study this morning, what is YOUR conclusion about Jesus?