We began last week with Peter’s powerful statement to the thousands who were gathered there in the Temple courtyard on the day of Pentecost that “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” And last week we spent our time talking about what it means that Jesus is Lord – that he has absolute, sovereign rule over our lives, that we surrender everything we have and everything we are to his control.
This morning, I want us to think about what it means to call Jesus the Christ.
Some of you will be surprised to learn that “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name, though it would be an easy mistake to make. Often in the NT he is referred to as Jesus Christ. Christ, though, is not a last name, but a descriptive title meaning “the anointed one.” And of course you might also know that Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, and it is primarily out of those Hebrew roots that our understanding of what it means to call Jesus the Messiah or the Christ comes.
“Messiah” when it was used in the OT, had a much more earthly application, as it was used to describe the kings of Israel. You’ll remember how, when Samuel made Saul the king over Israel, he said, “Has not the LORD anointed you leader over his inheritance?” (1 Sam 10:1) The word “anointed” is the verb form of the word “Messiah”. [Picture – David’s anointing] Later, when Samuel selected David as the king to take King Saul’s place, Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power. (1 Sam 16:13)
Later, when David had the opportunity to kill Saul, he said, “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD'S anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.” (1 Sam 21:6) “The Lord’s anointed” is literally “The Lord’s Messiah.”
In Psalm 2, the Lord speaks and says: “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One.” (Ps 2:2) In that context, “his Anointed One” is Solomon, though in Acts 4, Peter will quote this very passage in applying it to Jesus.
“Anointed” was also used to refer to the priests in their role in serving God in offering sacrifices in the Tabernacle and the Temple; and it was also used of the prophets as they spoke the word of God to the people and called them back to God.
In the long dark years that followed David, there arose in Israel an expectation that God would one day send a new “anointed one” or Messiah to lead the people back to God and rule over them with authority and justice. This Messiah would redeem the people and save them from their enemies. He would reign as king upon the throne as David had, and his kingdom would last forever.
Jesus came in the middle of this fervent messianic expectation in Israel. They longed for someone who would come and rescue them from Rome’s oppression; they prayed for a leader who would take the throne and rule justly over his people and bring peace to the land.
You hear it in the words of the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar: “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” (John 4:25)
Once, when Jesus fed the 5000, the people were so amazed they were convinced he was the one, and John tells us, Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (John 6:15)
That expectation reached a crescendo as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey’s colt: This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ” The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” (Mt. 21:4-9)
Tragically, their expectations were nothing like the reality of God’s Messiah. They expected a conquering general, Jesus came in weakness, in the form of a servant. They expected a royal king who would come with power and authority and exalt Israel to its former glory, but Jesus said the kingdom belonged to little children. They expected that he would come as a high priest who would restore the glory of the Temple and rule over their council, instead Jesus made friends with prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners.
Everything they expected in the Messiah, he was not. He didn’t look or act or talk like the Messiah they had hoped for.
With all the mistaken expectations and all of the dangers of having his ministry co-opted by those who would use him for their own gain, Jesus, rarely said “I am the Messiah.” He said it once to that Samaritan woman at the well, and when Peter proclaimed, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God” he acknowledged it, and once when he was on trial before the Sanhedrin and the high priest asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. (Mark 14:61-62)
It’s not that he rejected the title or denied his identity, but he would have had to spend the majority of his time going around explaining, “I am the Messiah, but let me correct what you think that means.” Instead, when others would guess his identity, he would immediately warn them, “Tell no one.”
There were those who tried to capitalize on this popular expectation. At one point Gamaliel, a respected member of the Sanhedrin told the council that others had arisen before: Theudas, and Judas the Galilean, and people flocked to them, but when they died their followers were scattered and their movements died out. Even Jesus told his followers “that false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles.” (Mt. 24:24)
It would seem, if Jesus were trying to ride the wave of popularity and success to the throne, he did everything wrong. But then, that’s no surprise. Paul says that God never chose the way that makes sense: For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1:18, 21-24)
We’ve talked about what the Christ isn’t, but what does it mean that Jesus is the Christ?
When Jesus was brought before Pilate, Pilate asked him the key question that concerned Rome: “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:36-37)
Central to the idea of Messiah is kingship. In claiming to be the Christ, Jesus is saying he is king. But he did not come to claim the throne in Jerusalem and reign over an earthly kingdom. As he told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Jesus’ kingdom cannot be located on a map with geographical borders – you won’t find it on your GPS. The kingdom of God is in the hearts of men – its citizens are those who give their allegiance to the King of kings. Wherever a man or woman has given Jesus the control of their life is where you will find his kingship.
Jesus rules even now – it is not some future event – Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords. When he rose from the grave and ascended to the Father, he assumed his position on the throne. Paul writes: Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9-11)
Jesus often identified himself as the son of David - and though he was actually of the lineage of David, it was more than that. God had made a promise to King David that his throne would last forever: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” (2 Sam 7:16) Jesus was the fulfillment of that promise. His kingdom will be forever; his rule will be absolute.
Being the Messiah involves more than him being king. The Messiah also came to bring redemption to his people. He will be both the perfect sacrifice and the priest who offers it.
There in the garden, when Adam and Eve sinned and broke their relationship with God, that brought spiritual separation and death into the world. With each passing generation that separation grew more severe and that chasm between people and God grew broader and deeper – until God despaired that he had ever made mankind. But he did not give up on us. In fact, God had made a plan even before the creation of the world for our redemption. In Galatians 4:4-5, Paul wrote: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” Peter wrote that we would be “redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18-19)
“Redemption” is one of those words that we hear and use a lot in our religious language, but we don’t use it much in our normal conversations. I remember years ago redeeming S&H green stamps for household items at a redemption store. It basically meant you purchased something. It usually means purchasing back something that you have lost ownership of.
In the OT, redemption was a very important part of the lives of the people. Leviticus gives rules for redemption – if you sold your house you could redeem it back within a year, if you brought an animal for sacrifice, or devoted your son to the Lord, you could redeem them for a certain amount. If you sold yourself into slavery, you could redeem yourself for the fixed price of a servant. In other words, you could get back something for the price of redemption.
On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Israel would gather at the Temple and the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies with the blood of a goat and offer the sacrifice for the sins of the people. And once a year they would be redeemed from their sins.
And of course, you can see how this comes into the NT, that we are redeemed, not by the blood of bulls and goats, but the blood of Jesus Christ. Paul writes: In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. (Eph. 1:7-10)
There is a third dimension of the Messiah. You remember the Samaritan woman at the well, to whom Jesus revealed himself as the Messiah? What did she say in response to that? “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
When Jesus taught, there was a distinctive difference between his teaching and that of the teachers and scribes. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, listen to the reaction of the people: When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (Mt. 7:28-29)
And the reason being that Jesus perfectly represented God’s will. In John12, Jesus said, “For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.” (Jn 12:49)
As the Messiah, Jesus came to reveal God to people in a way that no one else could. The prophets could represent God and speak his word, but only Jesus could say, “I and the Father are one…. If you have seen me you have seen the Father.”
As the Messiah, Jesus came to establish his kingdom and rule his people with justice and mercy and grace. He was in every sense, the fulfillment of God’s promise that the son of David would rule forever. But he is more than a king on a throne – Jesus comes as the perfect redemption of God’s people, sacrificing himself and taking our sins upon himself. And Jesus reveals God, not just as a distant, unknowable deity, but as one who came in the flesh and lived among us. He was and is the perfect prophet, priest and king.