Think about a tree for a moment. How it looks. How it’s shaped. All trees have some kind of central trunk. From that trunk radiate branches above and roots below. Regardless of the type of tree radiating roots and branches can be seen in every tree. That twig on the extreme end of the branch is about as far from the trunk as you can get. That is one way to look at what it means to be radical, on the extreme edge, as far from the center as you can get. This idea of radicalness has been applied to just about everything. Flipping motorcycles over in mid air is called an extreme or radical sport. All sides of the political spectrum have at one time, or another has been called radical. (The 1913 version of Webster’s dictionary links radical with left- leaning socialism while today’s Webster links it with the “radical right.”) That vision of what it means to be radical is going to impact our next seven Wednesday articles as we look at various surprising and even radical statements made by Jesus.
As we examine these statements from Jesus, we need to consider one soul-shaking truth. Who is the real radical? To answer that we have to consider who is really the center. You see, Jesus’ statements seemed radical to his hearers because of their distance from His center. The larger question isn’t whether Jesus was radical but whether we find our center in Him.
Who are you? It’s a simple question which we often answer the same way. We may recite our name, connect ourselves to our heritage, the place we live, or the place we grew up. Or maybe we express our identity through our job or skill. We see these with Jesus as well. Folks identified Jesus with his hometown of Nazareth in Galilee. Other’s identified his family and their occupation as carpenters. It’s interesting though that Jesus never described himself with any of the common ways we identify ourselves. We don’t read any verses where He introduces himself as Jesus, son of Joseph the carpenter from Nazareth.
Jesus tended to use one of two phrases to identify himself. He often used the term “son of man.” (for example Matthew 8:20 and 9:6) That seems pretty innocuous to our 21st-century ears. Aren’t we all sons or daughters of a man? Much of the Old Testament relates “son of man” in the same way we use mankind or humankind. But there was also a deeper meaning in Jesus’ day which related son of man to the coming of the promised Messiah. Daniel wrote, “I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. “And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13–14, NASB95) When Jesus called himself “the Son of Man” he was specifically identifying with Daniel’s vision. Consider for instance Luke 5:24, 6:5, 9:22, 21:27, and that’s just a few examples. Jesus wasn’t just connecting himself with humanity, a son of man. Jesus was radically identifying himself as the Son of Man.
Unlike “Son of Man,” the Gospel writers never give us a clear quote of Jesus calling himself “the Son of God.” Yet, there is evidence that Jesus made and accepted this radical identification. We see Nathanael’s declaration, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:49–51, NASB95) Jesus did not rebuke or correct Nathanael but gave him an even clearer vision of Jesus’ mission. Satan tempted Jesus to prove that He was the Son of God (Luke 4:3) which Jesus never denied although he refused Satan’s offer. Even demons would declare Jesus’ sonship. While Jesus silenced them, He never corrected them. (Luke 4:41) The most direct statement of identification happened during Jesus’ trial before the Jewish Ruling Council. Luke records, ““If You are the Christ, tell us.” But He said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask a question, you will not answer. “But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” And they all said, “Are You the Son of God, then?” And He said to them, “Yes, I am.” Then they said, “What further need do we have of testimony? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.”” (Luke 22:67–71, NASB95) Modern skeptics will point out that Jesus response was literally “you say that I am” and deduce that Jesus didn’t say he was the Son of God. The problem is the council’s response. They didn’t take Jesus words as a denial but as an affirmation of His identity as “the Son of God.”
These two statements were radical then and still are radical today. They equate Jesus with God. John records an incident that underscores the Jewish understanding. The people asked Jesus, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24b, NASB95) Jesus provides an answer in verses 25-29 and ends with this radical statement of identity, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30, NASB95) The Jews responded by trying to kill Jesus. “The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” (John 10:31–33, NASB95) They understood what Jesus was saying about himself and the extreme identification He was proclaiming.
Who do you say I Am?
If our hearts are centered on Jesus than His declarations of being the Son of Man and the Son of God, do not seem radical but a powerful reminder of truth. In a well know scene, Jesus asked His disciples a question that still resonates today – who do you say that I am? A good teacher? A prophet of God? A myth and legend? A liar? A lunatic? All of these have been suggested over the past 2000 years. But what about you? Who do you say that Jesus is or was?
The answer to that one question makes all the difference in eternity. Paul said, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” (Romans 10:9–10, NASB95) Following Jesus means we recognize and acknowledge His claim to be the Messiah, The Son of Man, and The Son of God. Anything less is radical, extreme, and foolish. You see to us, Jesus’ claims, His reality, does not seem radical. But to philosophers, to humanists and atheists, to other religions, and to the world in general, holding such a view is radical and extreme.
The problem is Jesus’ miracles and His resurrection. Anyone can attract a crowd and say outlandish things, but only God can heal the eyes of a blind man with just a word. Anyone could stand in the Temple courtyard and declare being the living water. Anyone could sit on a hillside and teach, but only God can feed 5000 plus folks with a few loaves and fish. Some have tried to remove the miraculous from the Gospels. Thomas Jefferson famously cut out verses he thought were impossible. The end result made Jesus into a fine moralistic teacher but never answered the question of how one man could affect so many or why people were willing to die in His name. The resurrection of Jesus and the miracles are witnesses which proclaim the truth of Jesus’ “radical identification” to be the Son of God.
The question remains – who do you say that Jesus is? Accepting Jesus’ “radical identification” leads to a radical journey which will be the subject of the next six articles. Jesus calls us to a radical obedience from a radical faith with radical priorities built on a radical integrity having a radical life doing radical things. These may seem extreme but for us who seek to follow Jesus, it’s just (or should be) a normal part of who we are.