Following His Footsteps: “Jesus is for Losers” – Matthew 1, Luke 1 and John 1

introducing_manToday I want to introduce the most important figure in my life. I first heard of Him as a child, but didn’t meet Him until I was in High School. He continues to be my friend, counselor and constant companion through each of the seasons of my life… but He is much more than even those words can describe. He is also my Master, my Sovereign, my King and my Lord. He has no equal – not in my life, and not in the cosmos. There truly is NONE like Him, and there is no real and lasting answer found in any other. I want you to meet Jesus, not just in this lesson, but in a whole series of what the Bible records about Him. I want to look at His life, not in bits, but rather as one story – one harmonized story of the Savior. That is what this new series of lessons is all about. That means, we will leave our normal “book study” method, and be looking at four presentations of Jesus – side by side – the four accounts we call the “Gospels”. In fact, I want to take you to three passages in this lesson – each expressing the beginnings Gospel accounts, and begin to unpack the story of Jesus.

Before I do, I have to admit something. I believe wholeheartedly that Jesus is for LOSERS. A careful study of what He said and did will reveal, I believe, that He did not come for the strong, but for the weak. He did not come for the self-satisfied, but for the bankrupt in spirit – struggling souls who know that they have shipwrecked their lives by their own choices. Those who feel they can navigate life without Him will choose to do so. Some will call them “arrogant”, but the Bible calls them simply “fools”. I am no fool, but I am a loser. I am not a loser because of what I was when I found Jesus – but rather because of what Jesus told me to DO as a result of knowing Him. I was called to LOSE… but more about that a bit later….

Jesus came to change us. He was an example – but that wasn’t His primary goal. He was a helper to the fallen and weakened, the social outcast and the religious flunkie – but that wasn’t His main purpose. Jesus came to wipe out the atonement system – the “kill a goat for God” and replace that whole system with permanent, complete and total justification. He came to set us free from sin – the Bible repeats the claim again and again. In His redemptive plan, He also came to challenge us to surrender to God our lives as He surrendered His for us. He came to move us from where we were when we met Him, to where He intended us to be – in His service. The opening verses of the Gospel accounts will help us see a truth very clearly…

Key Principle: Christianity isn’t merely a belief system, it is a movement. It requires more than mental assent to a list of facts; it requires deliberate opening of my heart to God’s transformation of my life.

The Gospel writers were very open about what they wanted to present. They offered a clear picture of Jesus, and desired to enlist a clear response. Here is the truth: the Biblical notion of faith requires surrender or it is neither faith nor Biblical. That is a fact historic believers recognized that seems to be obscured in our time. Let’s look at how the writers shared Jesus.

First, the record of Jesus was presented with a clear purpose:

Luke: 1:1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write [it] out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Our faith is built on a set of truths that were passed to us, and must be accepted (Luke 1:1-2a). Let it be clear to all who embrace the Bible and its message that our faith is defined by the text, and recorded by our earlier faith family.

Our faith came from eyewitness testimony that followed Jesus from the beginning of the story, not loose rumors and idle imaginings from centuries after the fact (Luke 1:2b). The Bible is clear, and a simple sample makes the demand clear:

• 2 Peter 1:16 says “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty…21 “for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

• 2 Tim. 3:16 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness

Luke reminds us that our faith is rooted in an actual story that had both a progression of events, and evidence that these events were real (Luke 1:3). He was able to interview people, collect accounts, and gain evidences. He did his homework with a surrendered heart and the Spirit’s leading – and we have the product of his work.

Sir William Ramsay (15 March 1851 – 20 April 1939) was a Scottish scholar that undertook careful archaeological research to test the authenticity of the account of the Gospel of St. Luke. He began his work as a skeptic of the Bible, and was educated at the Universities of Aberdeen, Oxford and Gottingen, Exeter College, Oxford, and Lincoln College. In 1885 he was elevated to the position of Professor of Classical Art at Oxford, and in the next year Distinguished Professor of The Humanities at Aberdeen. He was immersed in the skeptical teaching that prevailed in his day, but forced himself to search for primary source materials and evidences that would lead him to a conclusion very unlike his peers of the day. After careful research, Ramsay astounded his fellows with the belief that the Gospel of Luke was actually written by Dr. Luke, and that it shared historically accurate information. After a time, Ramsay further concluded that the evidence he saw led him to believe the message of the Gospel of Luke – that Jesus WAS, in fact, the Messiah and Lord. He began his career as a mocker and skeptic, but closed his career as an ardent defender of the Gospel accounts.

Luke also made the point that our faith must be grasped from the text of the Scriptures, for they possess the exact truth about Who and what Jesus is (Luke 1:4). This isn’t a “I feel Jesus is this way” kind of faith. Our feelings are subject to the text – because it offers the true view of the Person of Jesus.

It is also worth noting that Luke made clear that our faith leads us to certainty about God and His work in us. Modern “scholarly mysticism” has made uncertainty into a “Zen-like” positivism – as if KNOWING makes one at least weak and at worst bigoted. It seems in the modern classroom, the only person considered a true scholar is the one who claims that “little or nothing can be truly known”. The Biblical message stands opposed to that sentiment. Note that Luke wrote that “you many know” (1:4) to a group of Jesus’ early followers. The purpose of the Gospels was not to offer a string of myths and pithy sayings that may or may not have come from the mouth of Jesus of Nazareth. The purpose of the Gospel record was to document the account and accurately record the history of a real man that walked on the earth, in order that believers would be able to fully grasp the model and meaning of Jesus’ life and work.

In times of trouble, fluffy feelings of camp Christianity won’t hold us together. In persecution, general musings about Jesus just simply won’t do. In times of searing pain, the weightless Hallmark Jesus won’t get us through the tears of the night. God offered SUBSTANCE in the “four windows into the life and work of Jesus” because He knew well that we would need carefully examined structures and principles that will help us when the world refuses the truth and the winds of culture turn coldly in the face of the Christian!

Jesus was truly introduced by the Gospel recorders with A CLEAR PURPOSE in their accounts, but that isn’t all… The record of Jesus was also presented with clear implications:

The record of Jesus MEANS SOMETHING. It isn’t simply the introduction to an ancient mythical hero like Achilles or Ulysses. This record is meant to CHANGE THOSE WHO ENGAGE IT. It forces us to look not only at the FACT of His coming, but the implications of that coming to the way that we conduct our lives. Take a few minutes to consider the ways Jesus was exposed in the narrative, and the implications will become quite clear.

First, Jesus came in the flesh, not as a simple mythical action figure of campfire stories. He is not “man idealized” as German skeptical scholars tried to cast. He came as a child into a real family, birthed from a real womb and suckled by a real woman. This tale was one of cold nights, uncomfortable journeys, near death traps, and nosy shepherds. It was the tale of a real child born into a real cave stable and warmly wrapped in cloth and placed in a pile of hay.

While we introduce Jesus in the records, we have to admit that there are TWO GENEALOGIES of Jesus presented by the evangelists – one in Matthew’s opening verses, and one in Luke 3:23 ff. Side by side, they offer some interesting and important opening notes about the record of the Savior that we don’t want to skip. Don’t flinch when you read the two accounts – Matthew and Luke – and find that they don’t agree. Remember, if the account were “doctored” by the church, every place the accounts didn’t match they would have been “edited” to do so. The fact that two genealogies are left in the text speaks to the veracity of the accounts. At the same time it begs the question: “Is one of them faulty?” Obviously, as one who believes in the historical veracity of the text, I would say a firm “No!” Yet, some explanation is necessary.

Look at Luke 3, and you will read a litany of unfamiliar names – all are offered to carefully demonstrate Jesus came as an Israelite child:

Luke 3:23b “….being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli, 24 the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, 25 the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Hesli, the son of Naggai, 26 the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, 27 the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, 28 the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, 29 the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, 30 the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, 31 the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, 32 the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon, 33 the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Ram, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, 34the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, 35 the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Heber, the son of Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, 37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, 38 the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

His lineage is presented in reverse order of history, moving backward from Jesus’ parent to Adam, summarizing generations. Three important observations are in order:

First, “son” in antiquity was used for “descendant” and could mean a direct son, or a grandson of any generation following the father. Therefore, Luke included forty-two names in the list, while Matthew only included twenty-six names – each are legitimate records of “son ship”. The fact that Matthew omits names can be cross checked in the passages in Kings and Chronicles easily.

Second, Luke makes the point that the genealogy is “unusual” in that Jesus’ legal father was not His actual father. Note the awkward wording of Luke 3:23 “being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph”. Clearly the genealogy, were it to be that of Joseph, had a “legal character”, but did not represent the “physical genealogy” of Jesus – for He will be clearly presented by the same author as “from the Holy Spirit” and not from the “seed from a man”. This led many church historians to believe (as I do) that this genealogy is that of Mary’s line, leading to her grandfather Eli. Early church historians recognized this possibility, though some of them (like Julius Africanus in about 240 CE) that perhaps both were of Joseph’s line – and Eli was Joseph’s legal father while Jacob was his physical father. Before we get lost in the detail of that view, let’s just simply say it this way… If Joseph’s mom married Eli, but he died without leaving an heir, Eli’s brother Jacob could have fathered a child in the place of his brother (what was called a Levirate marriage) to raise up the name of the dead brother Eli). It is nice to know that families were NEVER simple! Some early church historians thought this was the case, but I am not convinced.

Third, the simpler understanding may be that Luke presented the PHYSICAL line of Jesus through the line of Mary, while Matthew presented the LEGAL line of Jesus through Joseph – His LEGAL dad. The reasons for this view are carefully documented in Thomas and Gundry’s Harmony of the Gospel (pp. 316-317), and need not be dissected in this summary.

The bottom line of the two accounts is this: Jesus was a Jewish little boy, a son of the tribe of Judah, born through the womb of a young woman. Though conceived through a miraculous act of the Spirit, His birth was conventional and physical. This fact will be explained again and again in places like Hebrews and Galatians – because it is necessary to understand the story.

In Matthew’s account, the baby was not simply a Jewish child – but Jesus came as an heir to the Judah’s throne:

Matthew 1:1 The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham: 2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. 3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. 4 Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. 5 Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. 6 Jesse was the father of David the king. David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah. 7 Solomon was the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa. 8 Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah. 9 Uzziah was the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah. 10 Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, and Amon the father of Josiah. 11 Josiah became the father of Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. 12 After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel. 13 Zerubbabel was the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor. 14 Azor was the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud. 15 Eliud was the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob. 16 Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. 17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

At least fifteen names off the Matthew’s list are easily identifiable as ancient kings of Judah. In the midst of the account, the claim was made three times that an even span of “fourteen generations” existed between Abraham and David, David and Babylon, and Babylon to Jesus – a claim that a modern student may find difficult because it is simply not true to the account of the Hebrew Scriptures. The issue was the indicative devise from first century numerology, common to the ancients, but lost in modernity.

In the ancient near east, much was made of the juxtaposition of names with their “numerical equivalents”. In Revelation 13:18 the “Antichrist” had a name that was numerologically determined as “666”. In Matthew, the name DAVID is the number fourteen – and the issue Matthew was driving at was that Jesus was of DAVIDIC ROYAL DESCENT. Matthew consciously chose the numerology and it was significant to early believers in Jesus, but the devise has been lost in modern generations.

Here is the point: Jesus came as KING. His was the position of RIGHTFUL SOVEREIGN – not a simple and humble teacher from the Galilee hills. He was a promised ruler, and will one day show exactly what that position means – but you must stay tuned for the Second Coming of Messiah.

Jesus came as an Israelite priest:

When we cited Luke 3, we skipped the first few words… Yet, in them is another piece of the story line…Note in Luke 3:23 the words: “When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age…”

Jesus began a “ministry” or “priestly work” when He was the age of inauguration of service for that purpose – age thirty (2:23). If He began His work at the time of a priest, could it be that His work was intended to be seen as priestly? Of course it can…

The point of all this information is this: Jesus was real child, born to a real mother, in a real village. He came as a promised king, and did the work of a Temple priest. All these truths have implications for how we respond to Him.

• If He is a King – I am not his equal.
• If I am His subject – than His desires and direction for my life are more significant that my own.
• If He came as man – than God literally poured Himself into the form of human flesh for my salvation – a fact that should stop me in my tracks. The God of Wonder, the Master of Heaven cares about my lost state, and wants me to know Him!
• If He came as a priest – I have One that can take me by the hand and lead me into God’s presence and full acceptance.

It is true there was a clear purpose in the story of Jesus, and that His positions have clear implications for us, but that is not all…The record of Jesus offers a clear portrait:

Look at the rich words of John’s introduction to Jesus. The text alternates between words about John and about Jesus. I am selecting out the verses dedicated to the introduction of the Savior in 1:1-5; 1:10-18

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, [even] to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.'” 16 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained [Him].

Look carefully at the portrait of Jesus, because John knew Him very well. John followed Jesus, sat in warm rooms and listened to the Master’s teaching for hours on end. He stood horrified at the Cross, watching his mentor breathe His last breath. He was qualified to offer a close-up view of Jesus… Here is what he carefully shared:

First, John said that Jesus already existed before the creation of the physical world with His Father – the Creator God. He was the Word (1:1,15) for He was the One that came “and dwelt with us” (in 1:14).

Second, John claimed that His Savior was the very CREATOR of all that existed (1:2-3). John was not unaware of Genesis 1, but rather agreed with Paul’s words to the Colossians 1:16: “For by Him all things were created, [both] in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” John even adds that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING exists that He didn’t create (1:3).

Third, John made the case that Jesus brought the light of truth to a deceived mankind, and that light burned their eyes.

Max Lucado tells the story about a tribe of people who lived in a dark, cold cave. The cave dwellers would huddle together and cry against the chill. Loud and long they wailed. It was all they did. It was all they knew to do. The sounds in the cave were mournful, but the people didn’t know it, for they had never known joy. The spirit in the cave was death, but the people didn’t know it, for they had never known life. But one day they heard a different voice. “I have heard your cries,” it announced. “I have felt your chill and seen your darkness. I have come to help you.” The cave people grew quiet. They had never heard this voice. Hope sounded strange to their ears. “How can we know you have come to help?” “Trust me,” he answered. “I have what you need.” The cave people peered through the darkness at the figure of the stranger. He was stacking something, then stooping and stacking more. “What are you doing?” one cried, nervously. The stranger didn’t answer. “What are you making?” another shouted even louder. There was still no response. “Tell us!” demanded a third. The visitor stood and spoke in the direction of the voices. “I have what you need.” With that he turned to the pile at his feet and lit it. Wood ignited, flames erupted, and light filled the cavern. The people turned away in fear. “Put it out!” they cried. “It hurts to see it.” “Light always hurts before it helps,” he answered. “Step closer. The pain will soon pass.” “Not I,” declared a voice. “Nor I,” agreed a second. “Only a fool would risk exposing his eyes to such light,” said another. The stranger stood next to the fire. “Would you prefer the darkness? Would you prefer the cold? Don’t consult your fears. Take a step of faith.” For a long time no one spoke. The people hovered in groups covering their eyes. The fire builder stood next to the fire. “It’s warm here,” he invited. “He’s right,” one from behind him announced. “It is warmer.” The stranger turned to see a figure slowly stepping toward the fire. “I can open my eyes now,” she proclaimed. “I can see.” “Come closer,” invited the fire builder. She did. She stepped into the ring of light. “It’s so warm!” She extended her hands and sighed as her chill began to pass. “Come everyone! Feel the warmth,” she invited. “Silence woman!” cried one of the cave dwellers. “Dare you lead us into your folly? Leave us. Leave us and take your light with you.” She turned to the stranger. “Why won’t they come?” “They choose the chill, for though it’s cold, it’s what they know. They’d rather be cold than to change.” “And live in the dark?” she asked. “And live in the dark,” he replied.

Now we return to our opening… we who are called to Jesus are called to be LOSERS. We LOSE our own vision, and grab the hand of the Master of light. We lose self-determination of our life’s course, and we allow Jesus to take the lead. We do it because He is our KING. We do it because He is our CREATOR. We do it because HE UNDERSTANDS what life here is all about. We do it because the record concerning Him is the TRUTH!

The world persists with the claim that we follow “cleverly devised myths”. Jesus was a fake and there is no God. When we die, there is nothing else. God is a creation of the human mind. A hapless accident caused the world you see, the heavens in their expanse. Planets spin and whirl according to no particular design. The delicate web of cells that make the flowers of the field such a wondrous beauty are a cosmic fluke. There is no plan. There is no future. Man is an animal among the evolved DNA strands of the universe… yet you should behave and try to find meaning. You should do things to benefit others. You should care about how poor and suffering people live. You should try to keep the planet green. We should advance the knowledge of the species. We should live well and seek a meaningful life where – we essentially agree – there is none. Why?

The unbeliever offers a sad picture, but without a personal experience with God it is not hard to understand. One cannot see God by looking at RELIGION. In fact, religion more illustrates man’s hard heart and ego filled soul than the goodness of God. In the name of religion wars rage across the planet. One cannot see God by looking at MORALITY and CONSCIENCE for these change with the tide of public opinion in the age. No, to really understand God, you must MEET Him and have His eyes pierce your heart.

I titled this message “Jesus is for Losers” and I meant just that. We who follow Jesus are called to “lose our life” to Him. We are called to recognize that this Jesus was shared with a clear purpose, with clear implications concerning His holy work. We possess a clear portrait – but none of that makes any difference unless it transforms who we are. Mental assent acknowledging the existence of God won’t change my destiny – deliberate surrender of my life choices to Jesus will. Why? Because…

Christianity isn’t merely a belief system, it is a movement. It requires more than mental assent to a list of facts; it requires deliberate opening of my heart to God’s transformation of my life.