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Many people in the world today teach about Jesus. Differing religions claim Him as their own. Islam claims Jesus as one of their most important prophets. Mormons say the same. Jehovah’s Witnesses also. Even religions that don’t identify Jesus as their own prophet still give credit to Him as being a teacher of many good things.
This is confusing. How can religions that teach such vastly different things claim Jesus belongs in their group? The simple answer is: Words are cheap. You can SAY whatever you want.
During Epiphany we study Jesus’ life to learn what He was really about. We study Him from the earliest sources available. Sources produced by His closest followers and, we believe, sources inspired by the very Spirit of God as the true testimony concerning Jesus.
If we are to know Jesus accurately, we cannot rely on what religious teachers say. We have to hear from the Bible what Jesus said and did. Today our sermon reading focuses on just that.
Matthew 4:23-25 (ESV)
23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
Recently I’ve been captivated by a certain quality of God revealed in the Bible. You could call it wholeness or perfect-relationship-ness.
The Bible describes God as a single being, but three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These three persons have always existed. Before the world was created, they were. When the world was being created, they did it together. When God communicates to mankind, the three persons of God speak the same thing.
The picture of God that the Bible paints is a three person relationship that is so perfectly tuned, that there is only one being. We might think of words like seamless, unity, wholeness, perfection, balance, harmony. This is the triune God.
When God created human beings on the sixth day of creation, He created them to participate in this relationship. Mankind wasn’t created as a part of God, but mankind was created to be in perfect harmony with God. To be a reflection of the seamless relationships that exist in God. God Himself said,
“Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26 ESV).
Because mankind was created as an echo of God, and to be in a on-going, close relationship with God, mankind would be incomplete without God.
That’s exactly what happened when Adam and Eve chose to break faith with their creator. They made themselves incomplete. They tore themselves away from God by sinning against Him. And no matter how hard mankind tries to sew this tear, or patch it up, or cover over it, nothing we do can restore what sin broke.
When Jesus began teaching in the synagogues of Galilee, He taught about a lot of different things. But one core message prevailed when Jesus taught. Verse 23 says…
“And he went throughout all Galilee teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom…” (Matthew 4:23 ESV).
The message was simple, and familiar to many. God was going to fix the relationship between Him and sinners. He was going to mend the tear that sin had caused.
He would do this through a single man. The promised Messiah would restore sinners to God by absorbing the punishment for their sins.
Jesus’ message was called ‘gospel’ because it was ‘good news’. His message was called the gospel of “the kingdom” because through the Messiah, sinners are welcomed back into God’s spiritual kingdom – into that reflective, intimate relationship with the Almighty.
Jesus’ core message was about restoring wholeness to the human race by restoring people to God.
While Jesus went about preaching the good new of the kingdom, He also healed people. Jesus did this for a number of reasons.
First of all, Jesus healed people to fulfill ancient prophesies. About 700 years before Jesus, Isaiah wrote…
“4 Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:4-6 ESV).
Jesus also healed people of their physical problems to foreshadow what He would do for their souls. When sin first came into the world, it brought death and suffering. By healing some of the damage sin had caused, Jesus gave the people a taste of what was to come – the complete erasing of sin’s power through His sacrifice on the cross.
Jesus offered wholeness of body to foreshadow the wholeness of soul that comes to all who trust in Him as their rescuer from sin.
Our sermon reading brings out the raw power of Jesus’ healings by describing the wide range of things He was able to heal. He doesn’t just treat disease like a doctor, He takes it away altogether. Instantly. He doesn’t just practice medicine in one area, He heals viruses, infections, neurological disorders, and even long standing birth defects! Jesus was healing things that even the most skilled teams of physicians in the most modern medical facilities today STILL can’t do anything about. Jesus even had the ability to cast out demons, spirit beings who had taken over people’s minds and were ravaging their bodies.
Jesus was doing what no other human could do. And that’s a foreshadowing of the way He’d win forgiveness for sinners also. None of us has the ability to erase even a single sin that we have done. We can do nice things for the people we hurt by our sins, but those nice things can’t rewrite the past. Only the sinless Jesus could erase our sins by being punished for them.
Remember that. You can’t do anything to undo your sinful past, but Jesus already has. Each one of your sins, He suffered dearly to absorb and take away. Your sins are gone, in Christ. Believe it!
Jesus’ incredible healing powers got a lot of attention during His early ministry. Our sermon reading says that people were coming from all over, from hundreds of miles away to be healed of their physical problems. Jesus was famous. And this served the core of Jesus’ ministry well. When people brought their sick to be healed, He told them the good news of the kingdom.
Okay, so here’s what we’ve learned about Jesus today. The main purpose of His ministry was to restore wholeness to people by telling them the gospel of the kingdom. By telling them that forgiveness of sins comes as a gift from God, through the Savior.
Jesus also brought physical wholeness to the people. But this healing arm of His ministry existed to serve the gospel. It fulfilled prophecy, showing He was the Messiah. It brought people in to hear Him speak. It mirrored the wholeness of soul offered in the gospel. It emphasized that what man is incapable of obtaining, God can give in an instant – through His Son.
Jesus was a traveler. A teacher. A supernatural healer. But most of all He was a gospel preacher.
And this is what all those other religions that claim Jesus as their own miss. Above all things Jesus taught that forgiveness and eternal life come as a gift from God, through simple faith in the Savior He sent to die in our place.
The religions of Islam, Mormonism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are very different in their individual teachings. But they all have this in common – they teach that heaven is obtained through obedience to commands, not through simple faith in the Gospel of Jesus.
Sadly, some branches of the Christian faith have fallen into this same error. They focus on good Christian living as the way to heaven instead of focusing on the truth that Jesus GIVES forgiveness TO us because we CAN’T earn it.
We can SAY whatever we want about Jesus. But if we are to actually BE His followers, we must draw our teaching from His teachings. The Christian faith is not about clawing our way to God through obedience and good behavior. The Christian faith is about God coming to us to give us the gift of restoration and wholeness.
Jesus traveled to those towns. He went to them.
Jesus healed those people. People who had no other way to be healed. He did it for them.
Jesus preached the Good News, not a message burdening people with the task of saving themselves. A message of rest and restoration.
This is the true Jesus. The preacher of the Gospel. The healer of the broken. The one who declares us forgiven through His cross, and restores us to wholeness and peace with God. This is the Jesus the Bible reveals, and whom we worship and proclaim. All glory be to Him.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.