Jesus Christ is the most famous person ever lived and even in our day when so many forces are orchestrated against religion, and especially against Christianity, virtually every nation on earth and the smallest child in the remotest part of this planet earth knows something about Jesus Christ. All major religions know about Jesus Christ and although the three most important of them, Judaism, Christianity and Islam do not view Jesus Christ in the same way, nevertheless they accord him a significant role in their understanding and chronology of religion. There is so much that is known of Jesus Christ. Were you to consult an encyclopaedia about him you would get reams and reams of information and yet all that information would not tell you some very important things about this man that only a very careful and deeply insightful study of his life will disclose.
Jesus throughout his entire ministry showed that he was a visionary; a futurist way beyond his time to such an extent that even today's generation, some two thousand years later, has fallen short of his ideals for human civilization. This in some ways mimics Confucius' bewilderment as he approached death. Confucius had developed and taught ethics all his adult life, he was highly regarded as the most prominent social philosopher of the East, yet he was mostly ignored by the masses and the warring hierarchy of his day and he lamented his ineffectiveness near his death. In similar vein Jesus' teachings, coming five hundred years after Confucius', were not popular in his day and it took loads of years for the world to come to terms with them. Even today with Christianity so well known many people still do not understand, far less appreciate, the enormous contribution Jesus made to human development beyond the spiritual realm for which he is exceedingly and justifiably famous.
NOTE THAT JESUS CHRIST WAS A RADICAL
To describe someone today as a radical would be regarded in most circles as uncomplimentary. This unflattering expression would go hand in hand with someone whose ideas are not mainstream, mostly harmful and generally too extreme and ill thought out. The general population do not like, and always try to root out, those who are branded as radicals because radicals were always seen as subversive, destructive, wishy-washy and out of touch with reality and therefore people who were of little value to society. A favoured idea among politicians is to always brand your opponent or enemy a radical and hope that by so doing you destroy his chances of success.
In the case of Jesus he was a true radical and instead of running away from that label and seeking acceptance through moderating his teachings he actually became more adamant and forceful. His opponents called him names that were so dreadful to the common man that they infuriated crowds to violence and the rulers plotted to kill him on more than one occasion all because of his irrepressible and in-your-face radicalism.
Jesus' radicalism was shown in a number of ways but was encapsulated and codified by his rejection of the Jews using their tradition to undermine the true teachings of the Bible.
He rejected their eye for an eye tradition because it became a caricature of God's true intention. When the Bible say, "And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot." (Deuteronomy 19:21) it was meant to be compensation for wrong doing to your neighbour or it was retributive justice through the courts. The Jews had turned this scripture into a tradition for personal revenge and so Jesus resorted to radicalism to correct this and so taught, "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:38-39) How radical is this?
He rejected their tradition of public prayers and called them hypocrites. Public non-corporate prayers were meant to be genuine displays of humility, submission to God and divine communication but the Jews and especially their leaders were pompous, arrogant and exhibitionistic in their prayers to the extent that as they were on their way to the synagogue they would stop at street corners and places where they would be seen and pray openly so that people could see how devout they were. Jesus condemned this with his own dose of radicalism and told the people, "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." (Matthew 6:5-6) Jesus pulled no punches here; wollop!
He rejected their tradition of loving your neighbours and hating foreigners and enemies. This notion of Xenophobia is not new and the Jews, with their history of subjugation by foreigners and enemies especially from the north, had taken it to new heights. Jesus knew the danger this contained, like ethnic cleansing for example, and was having none of it. His radicalism once again shone forth when he taught, "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?" (Matthew 5:43-46)
DETECT THAT JESUS CHRIST WAS FOR THE EMANCIPATION OF WOMEN
Women generally were not slaves in Jesus' day, not in the legal sense of being bought and owned by their husbands but the system of patriarchy was massively abused and unjust. Throughout all history and deep in prehistory women were assigned a subordinate role in the home and the community having to do with cooking, housekeeping and raising children. This was to some extent mutually acceptable for it allowed women to manage around the home while the men ventured forth to make a living hunting and gathering and farming. Society changed with time, people developed, became educated, work situations changed but the role of women remained static and in some respects regressed.
In Jesus' day women just did not count. Literally. In the Gospels when you read of Jesus' miracles of the feeding of the five thousand you read these words, "And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full. And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children." (Matthew 14:20-21) You see they never even counted the women and this miracle is universally called the feeding of the five thousand. Because women did not count, neither literally nor figuratively, the Apostle Paul could tell the early church not to let the women speak in church for it was not permitted, "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." (1Corinthians 14:34-35) We could deviate here and go into the contentious issue of whether women should speak in churches, whether they should preach in church and such like but it would serve no useful purpose in the present context. Just remember that in Jesus' day women just did not count.
You will not read anywhere in the Bible where Jesus pushed for the emancipation of women, he never did a Martin Luther King, he was no militant abolitionist a la Frederick Douglass, he copied nobody's style of protest and persuasion. Wherever in the Bible you read of Jesus' interactions with women, and they were many, he showed the most powerful rejections of the unjust traditions of the times.
Take his interaction with the woman caught in the act of adultery. This woman was caught having illicit sex with a man yet the Jews dragged this terrified woman before Jesus asking for her to be condemned so that they, in the eyes of two or three witnesses, could execute her by stoning. The law was crystal clear; the penalty for adultery was stoning to death. But where was the man? Jesus bristled at their sexism and he might have taken a different track if both guilty persons were present. Jesus stooped, wrote something excoriating on the ground and when the woman's accusers read it they walked away one by one. Then Jesus stood and responded, "When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." (John 8:21-22)
Take his interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well (John chapter 4). This woman was an outcast, a woman scorned and of ill-repute. The reason she came to the well in the middle of the day when the sun was at its hottest was because she dared not mix with the proper ladies who came at cooler times; early morning or late afternoon. Jesus showed what he thought of her exclusion and her inferior status in a number of ways.
He talked with her on an equal footing; absolutely despicable to his fellow Jews
He asked her for a drink; this was like eating pig's swill and regarded as highly treasonous.
He offered her assistance; to Jews this was fraternization with the enemy.
He used her as a messenger; thus demonstrating her new-found status.
Finally he gave her salvation and equal standing with all believers; men and women.
Take his interaction with the women after his resurrection. It was women who stood by Jesus at his crucifixion and the same women who were the first to witness events after his resurrection. The first person Jesus met after his resurrection was a woman and note how he elevated her status to that of first messenger of the resurrection, "Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not." (Mark 16: 10-11)
All the other interactions between Jesus and women were of similar vein and he made it abundantly clear, by his example, that he in no way accepted the mindless strictures placed on women. He never discriminated against women in any way and saw them as people of equal worth. This does not mean and should not be taken in any way to show that Jesus endorsed militant feminism the likes of which exists today for that is something entirely different.
EXAMINE THAT JESUS CHRIST WAS FOR TOTAL LIBERATION
Liberation is a word that has been bandied about to suit the mores of the day and used as a fig leaf for a number of unjust adventures. History is littered with the accounts of campaigns of liberation which were nothing more than crude attempts for stealing and domination. With Jesus Christ we meet someone entirely different, someone who stood for a kind of liberation that was unknown before his arrival, a liberation that set the individual free from any external or internal domination and delivered the human being totally at ease with himself and at peace with God. This total liberation, taught and practiced by Jesus Christ will find perfect fulfilment only at the commencement of the Millennium but echoes of it was seen at the start of the church.
When we think of liberation we think exclusively in terms of politics and the answer lies in people being free to live their lives as they please, free elections and adult suffrage and all that. This kind of liberation is very desirable but it falls far short of the total liberation that is needed if humans are to gravitate to the superb model that God intended when he created man. Jesus was for the kind of liberation that frees men from spiritual dysfunction and here we are talking about everything to do with sin, sin that traps men and warps their minds in a stranglehold of domination that keeps them in perpetual servant-hood but this was by no means his only concern.
Check the Bible carefully and you will not find a single instance where Jesus approved of one social class being dominant over another. In truth the early church abolished social classes and were living the kind of communal life where they had all things in common. The very rich Barnabas, probably the first Christian billionaire, sold all he had, threw it into the communal coffers and lived just like all the other Christians. Jesus never accepted the patronage of the rich except to use that patronage to teach valuable spiritual lessons to his host and followers. His was an example of living his teachings and values unlike so many liberators who live like pampered lords while teaching and agitating for equality.
To conclude this article on the remarkable, liberating, radical Jesus let me quote a seminal scripture, " If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed " (John 8:36) and here we are talking total freedom; freedom mentally, spiritually, socially, attitudinally and emotionally. Did you know that Jesus was this kind of total liberator? Don't just think about it just try him and see.
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2013
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