In Chapters 23-24 of The Story, Jesus’ mission is one of creative destruction. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he starts with a blank sheet of paper and reinvents the notion of a Messiah, a Deliverer. But it turns out that was just one of his two missions. As He makes his entrance on the scene, there were two critical missions that Jesus had to accomplish.
So today, we want you to hear everything in Chapters 23 and 24 in the context of the dual missions that Jesus had. Everything that happens in these chapters falls under one of two key objectives:
- Shatter the notion of the long-awaited Messiah.
- To authenticate His dominion and authority over all other forces.
Both of these were absolutely critical.
Recalibration, Part One
First, at the outset of his ministry, everyone was looking in the wrong direction. Israel was anticipating the Messiah would be a world leader, a military force, a revolutionary to restore political power and prominence as in the days of Solomon. The Messiah had been anticipated, promised, and prophesied about for ages, so that now, the expectations for this Deliverer were huge.
But Jesus’ mission was so radically different, so counter-intuitive, he found, just like the executive at Hallmark, that he had to effectively start all over, first by destroying these popular characterizations of a man with a cape and a big “S” on his shirt. He had to shatter and then recast and re-purpose this Messiah concept toward his true mission.
Second, he had to validate this new model by demonstrating his power over all obstacles, to authenticate that his absurd claims were actually true.
So, as we go through the events of these chapters, see everything through these lenses. Watch as he simultaneously goes about these two goals: authenticating and shattering.
First, we see John the Baptist, who definitely marched to a different drummer and, shall we say, lacked a sense of tact or a balanced diet. John was the herald of the Focus of human history – but we have to ask, “Hey, where did they get this guy?” Why him? John answered their question: “…the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” In other words, I serve as a directional arrow, a sign pointing to the One whose sandals I am unfit to tie.
Now, if you were going to pick some sort of beacon to point people to Jesus, wouldn’t you want a very conspicuous one? John was that hard-to-ignore eccentric that signaled Jesus’ presence – sort of like those people you see on the side of the street dressed like a mattress and waving a sign about a sale. There’s someone close to our home that’s dressed like the Statue of Liberty that is this crazy person, doing calisthenics on the side of the road to advertise a tax preparation business.
That was John the Baptist – and for that matter, that’s what we are called to be: a flare, a flag, a flashing yellow light, a semaphore that signals that the presence of Jesus is in whatever room we occupy. If we are literally the body of Christ, then when we enter a room, it is as if Jesus entered the room. John the Baptist’s mission was to never fail to point to Jesus.
And so right up front there’s Today’s Equipping Point: Never fail to point people to Jesus. Because when you walk in a room, He walks in a room.
Next we see his first miracle: turning water into wine at a wedding. This wasn’t an especially flashy first miracle…you’d think he’d have picked a more public, showy miracle that would at least elicit a golf clap from the crowd. But instead, it was a behind-the-scenes, how-did-that-happen kind of miracle.
I can’t help but wonder why. We’ll likely never know for sure, but my guess is that this is part of the shattering mission. I think this miracle was the first attempt to recast the Deliverer not as a political animal, or even a party animal, but as the gracious and eternal bridegroom of the church – the One who provides even the wine, the One who watches over. I believe this miracle was a significant symbol of the role that Jesus will play forever at the marriage feast of the Lamb when He gathers His bride, the church, to Him, and the relationship is consummated by drinking the last cup of the Passover in His presence. Jesus the Messiah, recasting Himself as the husband and provider for His church, turns water into wine.
The next two events are very significant because they happen back-to-back. First, Jesus meets with an expert in the Law, the religious elite, the well-educated Nicodemus. Jesus used a lot of confusing language, especially the part about being “born again.” But his point was this: whoever believes in Him is not condemned. In other words, blessed is he who can look past the unexpectedness of a non-political Messiah and believe he is who he says he is. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” This is what John the Baptist was saying…this was the Upper Story: everything points to Him.
Then, the very next conversation could not have been more different. It was not at night with a scholar, but in the daytime, in Samaria, with a woman. Jesus moves from esteemed professor to half-breed female in a foreign land. And this time, instead of being “born again,” he speaks of “living water.”
These two consecutive events very clearly shatter the myths and preconceptions of a Superman Messiah. He could not bookend two sequential conversations whose audiences were more different. Jesus is deconstructing the Messiah complex and demonstrating that He is Lord of all, Savior of all: the aristocracy and the riff-raff, male and female, Gentiles AND Jews, Democrats and Republicans, everybody. He wastes absolutely no time in confounding expectations: to Nicodemus, he says all there is, really, is faith – just believe. To the woman, his message is essentially the same: it’s not about worshipping on this mountain, or in Jerusalem – it’s a matter of the heart. Just worship in Spirit and in truth. That’s all – just believe. Two very different conversations, one essential message.
But these two meetings do more than flabbergast their Messiah image – they also demonstrate His Lordship over Jews and Gentiles alike, and there are the first two blanks in the next section on your outline. Jesus seamlessly transitions into His authenticity mission: He is Lord, Ruler and Authority over the Jewish elite and Gentile outcasts.
Next, he demonstrates his authority over the god of this world. The third proof of His Lordship was key: even demons obeyed Him.
Next we see the fourth proof of his power and credibility: Lord, Ruler and Authority over not just people and spirits, but also of illness. From the fever of Peter’s mother-in-law, to the next man with leprosy, to the paralytic lowered through the roof, Jesus demonstrated there was no physical infirmity he could not overcome.
But then He went a step further. As they lowered the paralytic through the hole in the roof, Jesus said to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now we have the fifth realm over which Jesus had authority: spiritual sickness. It’s one thing to heal a fever or leprosy – it’s quite another to speak what was considered blasphemy and presume to forgive sins…to heal those with spiritual fever.
And then what does he do next, but broaden his social circle once again, this time having dinner with a tax collector.
Do you see how he is systematically sabotaging every presupposition about this whole Messiah paradigm? Remember again the dual missions:
- To authenticate His dominion and authority over all other forces; and
- Shatter the idea of the long-awaited Messiah.
Jesus is brilliantly accomplishing both missions concurrently: He is cherry-picking the sacred cows over which he has power, while at the same time showing Himself to be a Messiah who was novel, unexpected, and extraordinary.
Chapter 23: Small group; Adult Sunday School Class (PDF); Family Pages; Audio; Little Ones/Preschool ( Take Home Page, Trading Card Poster, Activity Sheet); Early Elementary (Take Home Page, Trading Card Poster, Activity Sheet); Kids (Take Home Page, Activity Sheet)