All that Jesus Did and Said

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There is a remarkably helpful pattern to the books of the Old Testament which finds a parallel in Luke’s description of the Gospel as:

“All that Jesus began to do and to teach“, Acts 1:1

There were two aspects to Jesus, there were the things he did and the things he said. It was the unity of the two that made Jesus such an enigma.  He would mix and connect with the dissolute in way that left them feeling loved and understood, while at the same time espousing the highest of moral standards, without making them feel rejected and judged.

This paradox is captured beautifully in Matthew 19. Jesus sets out a high standard for marriage: it is “one man and one woman” for life, the only grounds for divorce being immorality coupled with our own hardness of heart.

Now the disciples had been shaped in a much more promiscuous society than we sometimes realise. Galilee had been heavily influenced by Greek thinking and Roman practice. So the modern Jew maintained a form of the Mosaic law, but one which allowed polygamy, serial marriage and divorce to live lives similar to gentiles they mixed with. About 30 years before Jesus’ birth the Pharisees had developed the concept of the “Any Matter” divorce which is referenced in Matthew 19:3. An “Any Matter” which allowed a Jewish man to trade-up a wife for any trivial issue, from burning the dinner to nagging him.

Faced by Jesus’ standards clearly spoken out in the Matthew passage, the disciples are at a bit of a loss and one of them blurts out: “if marriage is that strict, I suppose it’s better not to marry,” by which (despite Jesus’ reply) he did not mean better to live a life of celibacy.

The disciples’ words had as plain a meaning in the Roman world as they do in ours. The Roman world saw no moral issue with the provision of sexual services even to a married man by slaves, regulated or unregulated prostitutes. And even waitresses in taverns were expected to provide physical services. The disciples had all the common expectations of free men of the Roman Empire.  If they were to moderate their consumption of the pleasures society gave them for the sake of being married they at least expected to be move on when things suited them… which is what the “Any Matter” divorce gave them.

So when Jesus declared it an illegal divorce, the first thought of the disciples even if in half jest was to make the most of their unmarried status.

But Jesus’ reply beautifully captures how His words and His actions came together to change those that knew Him. Jesus challenged them to live better without ever making them feel bad for their failures, past or present. And so with an affectionate glint in His eye, Jesus responds: “Well not everyone can live to this standard (singleness), it is a gift….but there are those who will live like eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom so if you are able to, then by all means do”, Matthew 19:12.

By cleverly changing the meaning of His disciples’ words, He challenges and changes without the need to crush or humiliate.

As John puts it, Jesus realised “grace and truth”, John 1:14. They way He lived graciously drew men in, the way He spoke never compromised truth.

The best novels might occasionally comment on the inner emotions of a character, but good authors know we believe in the character more when we see their mind worked out in their deeds and speech. And so the gospels do the same with Jesus.

If you divorce  Jesus’ words from His actions, Jesus would represent either a God who is powerlessly judgmental, or one who was powerfully indifferent. And while churches have often espoused and defended one of these two models of God,  He is neither. He cares enough for us that sin matters and He cares so much that sin will not prevent him loving and blessing us.

Now we find this same balance of “Grace and Truth” in “Deed and Word” in the structure of Old Testament. When we look at the books of the Old Testament in the order in which they have come to the Christian Church,  there is a “doing” stream of 17 books which I like to call the “Apostolic” side of the Old Testament; and there is a “preaching” stream of 17 books, the “Prophetic”side of the Old Testament. There is stream that is about the deeds of the people God sent and a stream about the teaching of the people he sent. And they’re all locked to together by a block of writing we call the Wisdom books.

As with a great novel and as we find in the Gospels, Christ is revealed in the Old Testament by some comments on His inner-self but amply illustrated by word and deed.

You can see the shape of the Old Testament in overview here!

Christen Forster

Christen Forster

Christen Forster is widely recognised as an original Bible teacher who brings people into a love of and confidence in scripture.

Christen has planted churches, been a youth worker, mission administrator and church leaders. The author of several books, Christen is now an itinerant minister, helping churches to step into a more deliberately spiritual experience of the Christian life while at the same time firmly rooting their practice in scripture.

© 2000 - 2018 Christen Forster
Christen Forster
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