Christ fills many roles as he guides followers
By Tony Franks
Who is Jesus to us? These lessons show Jesus as teacher, healer, servant and messiah. As we follow these narratives, we may ask ourselves, “Who is Jesus to me?
Christ as Teacher
Focus: Jesus’ authority to heal and to teach, and the people’s reactions to this authority.
Scripture: Luke 4:31-37; 20:1-8
Key Verse: “They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority.” — Luke 4:32
Luke opens his gospel by indicating that his purpose is to write “an orderly account” so that “you man know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed” (1:1-4). In the lessons for today, Luke shows Jesus as he begins to teach, and as he follows this teaching with action. Luke adds in his account the inability of the elders to understand whence Jesus’ authority comes.
Not only does he teach with authority, but with the same force he casts out a demon. Luke points out that the demon recognizes this Jesus of Nazareth as the Holy One of God. Others ask “What’s going on here? Someone whose words make things happen?” (The Message).
In the preceding verses, Jesus has outraged some of those in his hometown by reading from the book of Isaiah in the meeting place and claiming that he is the one about whom the prophet was writing, the one who will “bring good news to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” They are so outraged, in fact, that they try to hurl him off the cliff outside of town.
The second narrative (Chapter 20) is preceded by Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. He is now on someone else’s ground, and the priests don’t like it. They don’t like his cleansing, and they question his authority to teach in the temple, their place for teaching. They may have been within their right to ask, but we who read Luke’s account know the answer they didn’t know.
Jesus’ response is to ask them about the baptism of John and whether it was “authorized by heaven or humans” (The Message). If they didn’t recognize the prophet John, who foretold the coming of Jesus, they would be in danger of angering the people. If they did acknowledge John’s prophecy, they would have to acknowledge Jesus’ authority. So they are stumped.
If we had been present, how would we have responded to Jesus and his teaching? Would we have closed our ears to anything new, or would we have listened to the “good news” he was teaching?
Christ as Healer
Focus: Jesus’ compassion (pity) as he goes about his ministry of healing and bringing good news.
Scripture: Mark 1:29-45
Key Verse: “Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Mark 1:41
Last week’s lesson narrated the responses to Jesus’ teaching and healing and showed that his authority to teach was supported by his ability to heal. This week’s lesson continues the same theme, but focuses on two acts of compassion, or pity.
In the first one, Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law. We are not told of any request for her healing, just that they told him about her and that he went in, took her hand and “lifted her up.” Mark’s account is almost matter-of-fact, but we learn that after she was healed “she began to serve them.” Her response to healing is service.
Later in the day, other people are brought to Jesus for healing and relieved of their demons. Again, we learn that the demons recognize Jesus and respond to his authority.
At prayer, Jesus is interrupted by Simon and the others, who tell him he is needed because people are searching for him. They know that Jesus has the power to heal, but Jesus came to proclaim the message as well. “That is what I came to do,” he says (v. 38).
Jesus’ second act of compassion offers a contrast to the first. A leper, one who is so unclean as to avoid contact with others, asks whether Jesus will heal him. He knows that Jesus can do so, but he says, “If you choose, you can make me clean,” (v. 40).
Jesus does, indeed, choose to heal the leper. But more than that, Jesus actually touches the leper, an act that would have been taboo for any other Hebrew person, according to Levitical law. Doing so would have made another unclean.
Jesus tells the healed man not to tell what has happened, but to go and show himself to the priests, so that he might be able to worship. But he goes out and tells, and begins “to spread the word” (v. 45).
These two narratives show us the healing compassion of Jesus, for those who don’t ask as well as those who do. They demonstrate the wideness in the mercy of Jesus, as it reaches even to an outcast.
And they show the happy reactions to those who have been healed, service and witness to the truth.
Christ as Servant
Focus: Jesus’ last hours with his disciples, as he teaches them a lesson in serving others.
Scripture: John 13:1-8, 12-20
Key Verse: “Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them” — John 13:16
For John, this lesson in servanthood is more important than the meal we call the “last supper.” It is important to note that Jesus is sharing hospitality with his disciples, even the one who will betray him. He eats with sinners, even in the last hours of his life on earth.
Ministering to the lowly is part of what Jesus came to do, and in this scene, he will perform an act that the disciples don’t quite understand. This task is one which they must learn to do, though, if they are to become true disciples of Jesus.
After the meal, Jesus prepares to wash the disciples’ feet, an act that symbolizes hospitality, respect and sometimes preparation. Generally, however, it is the duty of a servant, certainly not one whom the disciples have learned to call master. So when Jesus kneels before Peter, Peter begins to protest. This is inappropriate! He doesn’t understand, but Jesus reminds him that it is necessary if Peter wants to be a part of what Jesus is doing. Then he adds that if he can wash their feet, they must also wash “one another’s feet” (v. 14). Later he — and the others — will understand.
Jesus has demonstrated hospitality, and in doing so seeks to prepare his disciples for a ministry of servanthood.
The servanthood of Jesus is to do his father’s will, to become a sacrifice for all people in his death and resurrection.
In the meantime, it is the duty of all people who call themselves disciples of Christ to serve others, to show to the world that they can have a meal with people who might be unloved by others, sinners. It is the duty of servant disciples to welcome into fellowship even those people who hate them, their enemies. It is the duty of servant disciples to be willing to do the most menial tasks for each other and for others.
To do so is to receive a blessing.
Christ as Messiah
Focus: The disciples as they affirm that Jesus is the Messiah and what this truth will mean for Jesus.
Scripture: Matthew 16:13-23
Key Verse: “Who do you say that I am?” — Matthew 16:15
Jesus has once again gone to a place away from the crowds to instruct his disciples, to reveal to them what will ultimately happen. But first, he pulls from them the affirmation of who he is. First he asks them who people say he (the Son of Man) is. They answer that some say he is John the Baptist, but others say he is a prophet, perhaps Elijah or Jeremiah. People know he is not an ordinary man. Then he asks them who they say he is.
Peter makes the confession that is central to Christian thought: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v.16). This truth, revealed to Peter, to the others and to us by way of the Holy Spirit, is the foundation of the Church. Also revealed by the Holy Spirit is the wisdom and discernment to proclaim the message of salvation to others.
Peter knows who Jesus is, but he and the others do not know what being the Messiah means. Jesus explains that he must suffer under the church leaders, be killed, and then be raised from the dead. And when Peter protests, Jesus answers him in the same way that he answered the tempter in the wilderness, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Peter’s rebuke of Jesus is a temptation; however, it is a temptation to which Jesus will not fall victim.
The coming to earth as Messiah, the subsequent suffering, death, and resurrection are from God, a part God’s plan. They are not the plans of humankind, but Jesus once again shows that he is not in the world to be like the world. He has come to save the world.
Peter’s confession and his blessing from Jesus enable him to be a leader, but his leadership is effective only so long as he keeps his mind on divine things and not human things (v. 23).
Franks currently fills the pulpit at First Presbyterian Church (USA) in Grenada. He has recently led workshops for the Alabama-Mississippi Presbyterian Women and the South Carolina United Methodist Church. He regularly teaches at Lay Speaking schools. Discipleship Resources has recently published the book “From Your Heart to Theirs: Delivering the Effective Sermon” he wrote with the Rev. David Carroll.