Jesus, Antagonizer

Some time ago I started a list of words found in the scriptures to answer for myself the question, what is God like? There are quite a few familiar words and phrases. Good. Holy. Just. Love. Eternal. Omnipresent. Omnipotent. Creator. Provider. Merciful. Healer. Rewarder. Mediator. Fighter. Consuming fire. Jealous. Patient. Savior.

A few were not so familiar: Laugher. Griever. Derider. Songwriter. Singer. Dancer. Reading the gospels again recently, I’ve recognized a side of Jesus not noticed before.

Antagonizer. Instigator. Stirrer-up-of-trouble. And Planner. Plotter. Keeper-of-the-schedule.

Life started out pretty normal for Jesus as a citizen of that culture and time. The oldest of several half-siblings, no doubt he helped raise the younger kids in the house. The child of God-fearing parents, he grew up in a religious environment and learned the scriptures at home and in the synagogue.

Family travel to Jerusalem for feast days meant visits with friends and relatives from other towns. Aunts, uncles and cousins, this was a time for everyone to catch up on news and meet new friends of friend.

From an early age Jesus was busy learning the family trade. Carpenters made many things and repaired many other things. Furniture. Tools. Farm implements. Wagons and wagon wheels. Rooftops for houses. And they didn’t just hang out in the workshop all day, they traveled from neighborhood to neighborhood, calling on customers and tradespeople. Sometimes they delivered items, sometimes they took new orders, and always they were involved with people. Jesus became a familiar sight to the people of Galilee.

In addition to everyday goods, the carpenter and his helper shopped for materials and supplies to use in their own occupation. Perhaps they examined the goods and dickered over prices, and once their business was concluded, perhaps they caught up on political news of the day.

While carpenters created and sold some of their hand-finished products, others they made to order for householders, businessmen, trades and craftsmen. One thing they made was fishing boats. Regular calls on the fishermen along the Sea of Galilee would have been part of their routine. And of course, everyone had to pay taxes on things grown or produced. Regular stop-offs to the tax collector would also be routine.

Apprentice and full-fledged carpenter, by the time he was thirty Jesus was well known to people of all walks of life including the ever-present Roman soldiers, teachers of the law, farmers, fishermen and tax collectors. He was well known, and well liked, by almost everyone.

Then one day he traveled south to keep a life-changing appointment with his cousin John, who was preaching about the kingdom of God, gathering disciples and baptizing converts in the Jordan River.

Jesus eventually headed back to Galilee with several disciples of his own and a very different daily routine. As they walked, Jesus taught them more about the kingdom, with an extra show-and-tell dimension: Miracles. Healings. Casting out of demons. Crowds began to trail along as the amazing news spread; many joined the ranks as they continued north to the shores of Galilee and the City of Capernaum.

This was familiar territory with familiar faces, some of whom had heard about the drastic change in Jesus. The young carpenter was preaching now, attracting followers. What’s going on?

There wasn’t much spare time in this new schedule. Preach repentance. Declare the kingdom of God. Heal, deliver, perform miracles, stir up trouble. Then move on to the next town.

Attracting followers on the one hand, Jesus attracted persecutors on the other. He had to have both — because without the shedding of blood, there’s no remission of sins. He knew the followers who acknowledged him as the Messiah would try to crown him King of Israel.

But he didn’t come to sit on a throne as the conqueror of Caesar. Jesus came to die a bloody, sacrificial death as the conqueror of Sin. Some powerful blood-thirsty enemies would have to be stirred up along the way. When God’s calendar said it was time, Jesus set things in motion.

Luke 4:16-30 describes one of those occasions.

Jesus of Naz synagogueBack home in Nazareth, Jesus attended the synagogue on the sabbath as usual. He was given the scroll of Isaiah and began to read Chapter 61, stopping after only a few verses. So far, so good; everyone thought that was great. All eyes were on him. Jesus has been doing miracles elsewhere, surely he’s come to do miracles here, they thought. They expected him to do something spectacular.

Instead, Jesus insulted their beliefs, insulted their dreams and in their mind proved he was a fake. Messiah sent to the Gentiles? No way! Adulation quickly turned to anger and the religious crowd hustled him out of the synagogue, out of the town. They intended to throw Jesus off a cliff. But it wasn’t his time to die yet, not here and certainly not this way. Vanishing from their view Jesus went on his way. Things had gotten off to a good start.

Criss-crossing the length and breadth of Israel, Samaria, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, Jesus preached and taught, trained disciples and chose apostles. He healed all the sick who came to him including blind men, deaf mutes and lepers, cast out demons, raised the dead, walked on water, changed water into wine and multiplied food. Multitudes left their homes and jobs to follow along wherever he went.

Pharisees, Sadducees, teachers of the law and rulers of the synagogues infiltrated the crowds. Some became believers themselves. Initially curious, the others became furious. Worried and unrepentant, they felt threatened. Their way of life was at stake. Their livelihood was at stake! They plotted to do away with this so-called Messiah. While they worked their plan, Jesus worked his. Time was growing short.

A few more passages about Jesus the antagonizer and instigator:

Mark 2:5-6 – Jesus forgave sins
Mark 2:24 – worked on the Sabbath (picked grain and ate it)
Mark 3:1-5 – healed on the Sabbath
Matthew 9:10-11 – ate with tax collectors and sinners
Matthew 23 – insulted the Pharisees over, and over, and over
John 10:18 – said he had the power to lay down his life and to take it up again
John 18:4-9 – Jesus had to help them arrest him

JesusChasesMoneychangersFromTempleMark 11:11, 15-17 – Jesus looked around at everything going on in the Temple one day, then left for the evening. He returned the next day, methodically fashioned a whip and chased the moneychangers and merchants out of the Temple.

He said, “Is it not written: My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.”

This was no spur of the moment temper tantrum. It was a deliberate, premeditated event, a necessary part of his plan.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter described that plan: “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:22-23 NIV)

God’s plan to conquer Sin had worked, and “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (I Cor. 2:8 NIV)

Hungry on the Sabbath

JesusWheatFieldsFramedJesus and the disciples took a walk one day near grain fields in Galilee. Hungry, the disciples began to pluck raw kernels of grain to munch as they walked along.

I always visualized that scene as just a few men out for a walk somewhere, ambling along minding their own business and passing by a farm. But that’s probably not how it was.

I just looked at that passage more closely in context and a different picture began to develop in my mind’s eye.

Everywhere Jesus went, crowds went. Multitudes went. He had spent a considerable amount of time doing miracles in those crowds, then addressing those people, then more time personally instructing his twelve closest disciples, then more time upbraiding some of the towns he had visited in northern Galilee.

He called them by name – Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum – and criticized them for not believing in him. I’m sure in that crowd of listeners were citizens of those very towns. Still, the crowds followed on.

In those crowds were also Pharisees, religious teachers listening to every word he said. Watching every move he made.

Now out here in the grain field, trudging along with the crowd, they spied the disciples picking heads of grain and eating them. Aha! The Pharisees pounced.

They complained to Jesus, criticizing the actions – not of Jesus – he wasn’t picking grain and eating it. But his disciples were, and they were an easy target. It was all Jesus’ fault, he should have stopped them! (Of course, Jesus could have just created a few loaves and fishes for lunch, but I have a feeling he knew full well the Pharisees were trailing behind. He had something to say to them. Time to stir the pot a little.)

It seems it was the sabbath day, and work is forbidden on the sabbath. Picking grain is work. Unlawful. Jesus, taking responsibility for his disciples’ behavior, calmly pointed out the scriptures.

And summing up, he pointed out something else, too. “The Son of Man is Lord, even of the sabbath day.”

I think this is what he wanted them to hear, to really, really hear. Son of Man: me. By this statement Jesus was clearly claiming to be the Messiah.

Of course, son of man was a common phrase, it could be construed to mean just a human man. But saying it to the Pharisees in this context was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Designed to enrage.

Leading them all on from there, Jesus and the twelve went into town, into THEIR synagogue. Whose synagogue? The Pharisees. Inside was a man with a paralyzed hand, no doubt a regular attender and known to the Pharisees.

They saw Jesus looking at that man and his paralyzed hand, I’m sure. By now they knew Jesus didn’t like to leave sick people sick.

So once again they tried again to trip him up. It was still the sabbath, after all. Is it legal to heal on the sabbath, they asked him? Not that they ever could heal anyone, sabbath or not. If they could, that man would have been healed long ago.

Using good common sense and practical everyday logic, Jesus answered, “It is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Jesus didn’t touch the crippled man. He didn’t anoint him with oil, he didn’t say “Be healed.” He just told him to do something he couldn’t do, stretch out your hand. He did, and as he did his hand became normal. Wonderful!

Well, that did it. The Pharisees couldn’t have someone showing them up like this, right here in their own synagogue. They went out and held a council against Jesus, to figure out the best way to destroy him.

Of course Jesus knew it. He always knew what they were thinking, what they were plotting. He simply went elsewhere with the disciples. Of course the multitudes went along too, and Jesus continued doing what he did. Healing the sick. All of the sick.

I have an odd question. What were the Pharisees supposed to be doing on the sabbath? Whatever it was, they certainly weren’t doing it, they were trailing Jesus like religious paparazzi.

And all the time not even seeing the signs and wonders, not seeing the miracles, not seeing the multitudes of sick and afflicted being healed. Not seeing the kingdom coming in their midst.

Matthew 12:1-23