What Jesus Demands from the World, Session 1

Desiring God 2010 Regional Conference

What Jesus Demands from the World

Thank you so much for being here. It’s very encouraging to us at Desiring God that you care enough to join us here and think about important things under the banner of What Jesus Demands from the World. Even though Pat just led us deeply into fellowship with the Lord and closed in prayer, I would like to just say one more word of prayer asking for the Lord’s help for me and for you in this moment of worshiping over the word.

What Jesus Demands from the World

This message is built around this book, and I’m just going to say a word about the way this book came into being. It’s a thick book, and we only have two talks, and I thought, “How do you distill this into two talks?” I wrote this in the summer of 2006 over in Tyndale House in England, while on Sabbatical.

Most of the things I write are built on sermons. I take what I’ve done and then I expand them into books. This is one of the books that didn’t come into being that way. I started from scratch. I read the Gospels from beginning to end, all four of them, writing down, or copying out on the computer, every imperative in the mouth of Jesus. There are about 500 of them if you take the overlapping Gospels. Then, I stared at them for a few weeks trying to group them into some kind of pattern. Then, I began to write, and I just sat there for about five months and did nothing but that.

I haven’t done anything with this since it was published back then, and so, I’m looking at it freshly, trying to distill it for you into a couple of messages, and frankly, I’m just loving it. You’re not supposed to love your own books. This is very arrogant of me. It’s nothing new to the Lord, I’m sure. But what the Lord enabled me to enjoy, sitting in little desk number eight in the library of Tyndale House in the summer of 2006, all sort of flooded back to me. I love the Lord Jesus. I love his commanding, demanding reality. What I hope I can show you is that he has the absolute right to demand of you anything he pleases, anytime he pleases, and you may not argue with him at all, and that’s the sweetest thing in the world.

I hope by the time we’re done that juxtaposition of demand and sweetness will not be an odd juxtaposition for you. That’s one of my goals. Another way to state the goal would be that I would like there to be, among us all, me included, a greater degree of God-glorifying obedience to Jesus.

The Decree of the Great King

Let me start by focusing on why I would even stress obedience, and here’s the reason. In fact, you could open your Bibles if you want. I’ll be jumping all over the place, but the anchor text is Matthew 28:18-20, called the Great Commission.

You need to understand, at least to get inside my head, how prominent this text is in my life and I believe in the church’s life. Let’s just read it first and then we’ll jump in:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Note the word command. That text is very prominent in my own personal sense of calling. I’ve been at the church for 30 years, and I consider it part of my pastoral identity and my Christian identity that I am a mobilizer of young people and finishers, and anybody in the middle who wants, to complete the Great Commission. I do believe it is finishable. The Lord will know when it’s finished. This gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout all the world as a testimony among all the nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14).

The Lord knows when it’s done. We can know what’s left to be done. If you go to joshuaproject.net, you will find 6,446 (just round it off to 6,000) unreached people groups, what Jesus calls nations. He says, “Go make disciples of all these nations.” They’ve got categories like unreached and they’ve got one called unengaged. Unreached means that less than 2% of the population are evangelical Christians, and unengaged means there is no witness at all to Jesus Christ — no missionaries, no church, and nothing on the ground among those peoples. This exorcizes me. This troubles me. This is on me pretty much all the time.

As the Father Has Sent Me

We have family devotions every morning and every evening, and in the morning, we read the Global Prayer Digest from the US Center for World Mission. It’s one page. I’ve got Noël here and my 14-year-old daughter here, and we did this through all my sons growing up. The Global Prayer Digest has been around for a long time, and it’s on a people group every day. Then, we pray for them. This is just in the DNA of my family. It’s in the DNA of my pastoral ministry. I am thinking, how can I be a means to this here in Vancouver? How can I be a means to this in my regular pastoral preaching? How can I be a means of this in pastoral conferences? How can I be a means to this when I go to Passion and talk to all those students?

This is what’s on my mind. I want to recruit martyr-ready people. This won’t be finished without martyrs. It says in Revelation 6:10, “Hold still, you martyrs, under the alter until the full number of your brothers is complete.” Most of the places that are unreached today don’t want you to come. That’s no reason not to go. So, this text is huge to me and was the birth of this effort called What Jesus Demands From The World. As the Father has sent me, from heaven to earth, so send I you from comfort to risk (John 20:21). This is the way it will get done, by following that.

The Coastlands Wait for His Law

Now, in the middle of that Great Commission, where it says, “Make disciples of all nations,” it also says, “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20). I asked myself years ago, who’s that directed to? Me? How do I do it? This book is my answer. It’s the best I can do. These sessions are another part of my answer. He says, “Teach them to observe all that I commanded you.”

He could have said, “Teach them all that I taught you.” He could have said, “Teach them all that I preached to you.” He could have said, “Teach them all that I revealed to you.” What he said was, “Teach all world everything I commanded you.” That’s not what he said. Did you hear me misquote it? “Teach them all I commanded you” is not what he said. He said, “Teach them to observe all that I commanded you.” There’s a huge difference and it governs the way this book works, the way my mind works, and the way these talks will work. You can teach a parrot all that he commanded — to “Love your enemies, love your enemies.” You can, but that’s not what he said. That’s easy.

But you cannot teach a parrot to observe all that he said. You can’t teach a parrot to love his enemies. How in the world can you do this? He says, “Repent. Worship. Lay up treasures in heaven. Love your enemies. Go out like sheep in the midst of wolves,” and hundreds of other commands in the Gospels. Teaching parrots is easy; teaching people to observe, or keep, his commandments is impossible. How does a pastor, a small group leader, a mom, or a dad, teach someone in such a way that they do the impossible?

Doing the Impossible

Remember the rich man? He said, “What can I do to inherit eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). Well, let’s just boil it down. Jesus said, “Give away everything you have. Give it to the poor and follow me” (Matthew 19:21). He turned away sorrowful because he had a lot of money, and Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). Of course, they’re stunned, and he responds, “With man, it is impossible but not with God, for all things are possible with God” (Matthew 19:26). So, I take him to mean that if I undertake to fulfill Matthew 28:18–20 and teach the rich to renounce all that they have (Luke 14:33) it will be impossible without God.

That’s a command in Luke 14:33. Everybody should renounce all that he has. Zacchaeus gave away half of it, and Jesus said, “Salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9). So, everybody doesn’t have to give away everything. Zacchaeus gave away half. I don’t know what your call is, but you must renounce it all because of the treasure that you found in the field (Matthew 13:44). Be ready to part with anything at any time because you have Jesus as a superior treasure. If I undertake to teach people to observe that, I undertake, Jesus says, the impossible — the humanly impossible.

That’s what he said. I cannot change people’s hearts who are in love with their money, or in love with their security, or in love with anything, good or evil, more than they love Jesus. I cannot make that happen, and yet, I’m told to. He says, “Go make disciples, teaching them to keep observe all these radical commands. Go do that. I know it’s impossible. Go do it.” This affects me very deeply because I want to obey. I want to fulfill all of the Great Commission.

I don’t consider myself a very effective evangelist. I believe God has called me mainly to be the teacher for my people, and anybody else that will listen. But I see that is impossible. Evangelism is impossible. You can’t raise the dead. And teaching is impossible. You can’t cause people to keep these impossible commandments by the way you teach, can you? Or can you?

We’re still responsible, call them impossible or whatever. If you are so corrupt that you can’t obey, you’re still responsible to obey. The impossibility language here doesn’t get anybody off the hook. It puts us more on the hook because we’re so corrupt that we can’t. The can’t is not an exculpation. Do you know that word? It doesn’t get you off any hook, that’s better. You’re still guilty when you can’t obey because the can’t is rooted in corruption. It’s rooted in my corruption. Through teaching, he says we are to bring them to observe all he commanded. So how can we cause people to observe all that Jesus commanded? Jesus says, “Teach them.” That’s what he says in Matthew 28:20. He focuses on teaching. He could have said, “Pray,” and I’m sure he would say to pray if we asked him, “Is there more to it?”

He would say, “Well, yeah, there’s more to it, but I’m focusing on teaching. Love them, exhort them, come alongside them, and be merciful to them also.” There are lots of things in the Bible about how to help people be changed, but right here it’s, “Teach them.”

Not to Us, but to Your Name Be Glory

Now, as I said at the beginning my aim is that I want to fulfill this Great Commission, meaning, I want there to be more and more and more God-glorifying obedience to Jesus all over the world. Why do I stick on that little modifier, God-glorifying obedience? Why do I fasten that on the front of obedience? It’s not in this text. My answer is that Jesus said it. He said it in Matthew 5:16, do you remember?

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Now, I take good works there to refer to him saying, “Do whatever I’ve commanded you,” okay? The good works are all these things, these hundreds of exhortations and imperatives. Do those good works. That will be the shining of your light if you do them in a certain way, and people give glory to your Father in heaven if you’re doing these good works.

So, you see the connection between glory? This is where I’m getting it. God-glorifying obedience is a kind of obedience that calls attention to the glory of God. There is a kind of “obedience” that doesn’t. The Pharisees were experts at it. They stood on the street corners and did what they were supposed to do. They prayed so that they would be seen by men. Guess who got the glory? They did, and Jesus hated that. Oh, he hated the use of religion for that. Nothing made him angrier. It wasn’t prostitution or the love of money that made him that angry. Nothing made him angrier than the use of religion not to glorify God but to glorify self, which means what I’m doing right now is unbelievably dangerous, standing in front of all you people.

The ultimate goal of the Great Commission is not simply that they observe all that he commanded, but that they observe it in such a way that God is glorified because that’s the goal of the mission, that’s the goal of the universe, and that’s the goal of Jesus coming into the world — that the Father would be displayed as beautiful and valuable. So, my question is, here I am, sitting in Tyndale House, or really sitting in life and in the ministry saying, “How do you do this? How do you teach in such a way that impossible, God-glorifying obedience happens in the hearts of sinners? How do you do that?” That’s what drove the way the book is written and the way I’m trying to do these couple of messages.

Great Demands and Great Help

Here’s my answer, or at least the first part of the answer: we do it by keeping the commandments of Jesus intimately, inextricably connected with his divine person and his atoning work. Just get that, because I’m going to spend some time on that. In seeking to promote keeping the commandments, which include hundreds of commandments, many people begin to disconnect them from their redemptive context, from the person who made them in his divine reality, and from the atoning work through which he’s moving them into reality.

If you begin to disconnect the commands of Jesus, you will become a first-class legalist, or you’ll become just an ethical do-gooder who has no connection to Jesus’s person and work. Mahatma Gandhi said he admired the ethics of Jesus, but he didn’t believe anything he said about his person or his cross. He liked all the non-violence and peacemaking teaching, just abstracted them, pulled them out, and disconnected them from the story, the flow, the work, and the person. That’s being done all the time.

It is amazing in the United States anyway how disinclined people are in public to criticize Jesus. Some do, but not many. He still has some capital. So, if you pull the Jesus card on a command or a quote, they might say, “Well, that’s your opinion,” but they’re not going to say, “Stupid, stupid Jesus.” You don’t hear that on public radio. You might hear it on some wacko talk show, but hardly anybody in public in America says, “Stupid Jesus. Nutcase.” No, you don’t. So, the world is inclined to go and gather some commands and make use of them in their parenting, in the boy scouts, and in the business world.

You can write a good, best-selling manager-type thing and say, “Even Jesus said work hard,” or something like that. But it’s so, so disconnected from the reality of his person. So my first and basic answer to the question, “How do I teach in such a way as to bring about this pervasive obedience to the impossible in a way that glorifies God?” is that you keep all the motivations and keep all the content of the commands intimately connected with the divine person and the atoning work of Jesus. Let me say a word about each of those, the person and the work.

Writing with Skeptics in View

Let me slip in a parenthesis here about another agenda I had in writing this. I was writing this in a very, very high-powered academic library. They’re kind of around me, this atmosphere, and I’ve been there. I spent three years of my life studying in Germany, and I spent six years teaching theology and building co-studies, and I feel the stuff — this first quest for the historical Jesus, second quest for the historical Jesus, and third quest. Now, it’s probably dead and someday there’ll be the fourth quest in this constant clawing of liberal, critical scholars to scrape away the incrustations of religious layerings and get back to the original, pristine, historical Jesus, not the one that’s in the Bible.

I’m there. I know this. I wrote a chapter on it in the book that I don’t expect any of you to read, but a few scholars might be interested to know, “Does he know what he’s talking about here?” It is hugely important that we recognize that there’s only one Jesus who over the centuries has had weight, force, and reliable clout in the world, only one. And it’s the one spoken of in the Gospels. As soon as you try to recreate a Jesus for atheists — that’s a book I read when I was in graduate school — or a Jesus for Marxists, or a Jesus for peacemakers, or whatever, you’re just being selective and cutting away layer after layer they think were added on, in order to make him more domestic.

What you end up with is a very trendy, domesticated Jesus that will be gone in 20 years. He’ll be gone. Those of you who’ve been old enough and have read books long enough, do you remember books like The Passover Plot? Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of The Passover Plot. Okay good, like two percent of you have. But it was all the rage when I was a junior in college. Everybody read that book, and how it said that Jesus slipped out of the cross and didn’t go to the grave, and went off.

Oh, man, everybody thought, “Whoa, whoa, this is new. This is life-changing.” It’s gone. It’s just gone. Bart Ehrman will be gone. He will be. Take my word for it. He will be. Don’t jump on those bandwagons. There is one Jesus who stays — the Jesus that you can put together from the documents as they stand. I really want to spare you a lot of misery here, I really do, because if you get caught up in the academic effort to reconstruct another Jesus behind the text that we have, it will be fascinating. You’ll just vibrate. You’ll read a lot of cool books. You’ll write about your Jesus who won’t have all these things that this Book says he has. You’d get a little following, and you’ll die and meet him as he is, and your view will be forgotten just like that. So, don’t waste your life. Don’t waste your life on that.

Who was he and what did he do that might make impossible obedience possible? I’m going to get the answers just from the Bible. I’m not going to try to weave my way down into some layering, just beneath the layer to the oral tradition or something, and just beneath the oral tradition through to the pristine, historical Jesus.

Liberal Scholarship

Back when I was studying, Rudolf Bultmann was the man and he thought Jesus said about six things that we can know for sure. He built a whole theology on that. Talk about speculation. He wanted to build a theology on six statements. That’s going to be a lot of creativity, and it’s going to be Bultmann’s creativity, not Jesus’s.

I almost lost my thought here. I was going to tell you a hidden agenda I have. Now, I remember it. The hidden agenda is that I wanted to write a book and give some talks in which I would develop a Words of Jesus and the Gospel Writers, and never once quote any other part of the New Testament.

So, if you go to the index here, do you know how many Scripture quotations there are in the index? There are about 800, give or take 20. Do you know how many there are from outside the Gospels? There are two, and I wish I had left those out, so I could have said, “None.” Because the goal was to unpack Jesus as we have him in the Gospels so that when you’re done you would say — now, this may not matter to you, but it matters to scholars — “My goodness that sounds a lot like Paul.” Which it does. There is such an effort in academia to try to make Jesus different from the apostles. They would say, “He brought the kingdom, and they preached the cross, and they’re not the same.”

If You’ve Seen me, You’ve Seen the Father

First, let’s focus on the person. Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Then, John 1:14 say:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father . . .

Jesus also said:

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do (John 17:4).

Now, the reason I quote those two texts — “we have seen his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14), and, “I glorified you on the earth having accomplished the work” (John 17:4), is to show you that his person and his work have the aim of glorifying God.

That’s the reason for mentioning those two. I’m trying to answer the question, “How can I help obedience happen that glorifies God?” And I answer by keeping them in close connection with his person and work because in Jesus’s mind, his person is the revelation of God. He says, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9), and his work is the revelation of the glory of the Father, as he said, “I glorified you on the earth having completed the work you gave me to do.” So, if I can keep the commandments in close connection with the work and the person, then I’m going to be able to keep glorifying the Father because that’s what Jesus said would happen.

The Person and Work of Christ

I’m going to try to probe the meaning and the motivation of Jesus’s commands in connection with the worth of his person and the effect of his atoning work. So, let’s sketch this — his person and his work.

The Christ and the Son of God

He claimed to be the Messiah. Remember he asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). And Peter answered, “You are the Christ (Christos, Mashiach), the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). To which Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 16:17). Yes, you’re right. I am the Christos, the Messiah, the Son of God.”

At his trial, in the last part of it, the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Messiah?” (Mark 14:61). Understand that the Greek Christos and the Hebrew Mashiach are the same. Every time you hear Christ, hear echoes of the messiahship of Jesus. He said, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power coming in the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). So, at the very moment, when it was least likely that anybody could believe it, or that anybody would invent it, he said, “I am. I’m the Messiah, and you’re going to see me come in glory someday.” And they killed him.

That was good timing because had he said it too much earlier, you know what would have happened? They would have strapped him up and made him king. So, he was navigating this politically charged atmosphere with titles that were overloaded with dangerous revolutionary effects.

Here’s another one on his messiahship and deity. Do you remember the time in the temple they asked him questions and he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’” (Mark 12:35–37).

Then, Jesus says, “David himself calls the Messiah Lord. So how is he his Son?” (Mark 12:37). They had no answer. What was he saying? He was saying, “Your conception of the arrival of the Messiah as the son of David, and therefore being like David, is a half-truth. There’s so much more. He’s pointing to lordship. He’s the Lord of David. He’s not just the normal human lineage of David. He is so much more — the Lord of David.”

The Son of Man

Jesus’s favorite term for himself was what? Son of man. It appears 82 times in the Gospels and only four outside the Gospels, why? Why wasn’t his favorite term Son of God or Messiah? He dodged terms like Son of God and Messiah, not because they weren’t true and not because he didn’t use them sometimes, but because they were politically supercharged with revolutionary import. Had he gone blowing the horn of his kingly messiahship, they would have done what they almost did in John 6:15, where they wanted to take and make him king.

He meant to be killed, not crowned. So, he had to find a title and he chose Son of Man because it was a double entendre, double meaning. Son of Man is just ordinary. Everybody is a son of man, even women are sons of man, and it’s just human. Yet, the amazing use of the term in Daniel 7:13–14 is important. I’ll read that to you and you can see what he’s hinting at probably:

Behold, with the clouds of heaven
     there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
     and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
     and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
     should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
     which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
     that shall not be destroyed.

That’s one like a son of man receiving a kingdom like that, and yet, in the milieu of Jesus, the term son of man was not broadly considered to be an exalted title. So, he was navigating his way carefully to be murdered. Son of Man caught his humanity and it caught his exaltation in a way that didn’t too quickly result in his acclaim.

The Great I Am

Here are just one or two others on his person. I can remember back in 1977, I wrote a poem about this. The punchline was John 8:58. It goes something like this:

Looking over his shoulder
     Somehow like an ordinary man,
    Said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”

That’s John 8:58. What in the world? He says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” That is a double blasphemous statement if it’s not true, right? Number one, it’s claiming pre-existence, and number two, he is saying, “I am” — the name of God in Exodus 3:14.

Also, John 14:9 says:

Whoever has seen me has seen the Father

Or, John 10:30 says:

I and the Father are one.

So, my comment about his person is that he was the Messiah, which meant he was the King of Israel. He was a Son of God, Son of Man, he existed before Abraham, and he claimed to be the I am, for starters. In other words, Jesus had a very exalted sense of his own being and his mission.

Bringing the Kingdom

Now, what about his work? Let’s go at it this way. Because he was Messiah, he was bringing the kingdom. He said so. The kingdom of God is absolutely huge in the Gospels. The long-awaited kingdom of God is now coming. The Jewish people expected what? That the enemies of Israel would be defeated, sins would be wiped away, diseases would be healed, the dead would be raised, righteousness and joy and peace would hold sway, and the Messiah would reign on his throne in a politically, earthly manifest way. Now, Jesus comes and he says, “It’s here.” Mark 1:15 says:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.

So, the kingdom is arriving. He says:

But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you (Luke 11:20).

What does that mean? It means, “I’m the king and I’m here. The kingly rule of God that you’ve long expected is here.”

Or, Luke 17:21 says:

The kingdom of God is in the midst of you.

But you remember, don’t you, he said to disciples:

To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables” (Mark 4:11).

What was the secret, or the mystery, of the kingdom? This they didn’t get. This they didn’t know. In fact, the disciples didn’t get it until the resurrection. They just couldn’t get this through their heads. The mystery of the kingdom was, “I am bringing the rule of God, the saving, liberating, transforming, sin-forgiving, Satan-defeating rule of God. Fulfillment is happening but not consummation. That waits for a second coming.”

They just couldn’t grasp this. The kingdom arriving in two stages just boggled their mind. The first age was to suffer, die, save, forgive, triumph, and gather a people under the banner of a crucified Messiah. Some day, there will be a white horse, a sword coming out of his mouth, blood flowing everywhere. That was the mystery of the kingdom. First, he comes to serve and to die for sinners. This is his work, his main kingly work. So, when the Gospels say he’s bringing the kingdom, if you let them have their say, it means that the king is heading to triumph at the cross. A massive, authoritative, divine, omnipotent, covenant-keeping, kingly work is going to happen on Good Friday.

A Voluntary Sacrifice

This is not like Albert Schweitzer said: “He pushed on the wheel of history in order to try to make it turn for the kingdom and he missed it, and it crushed him.” So much for Jesus. That’s what Albert Schweitzer taught, and many have similarly said that he tried to bring the kingdom and he couldn’t get it to work. He got killed, and it was all a great tragedy, but his ethic is wonderful. So, nobody calls him stupid in America. That’s not what happened. This thing was planned from the beginning, and as Son of God, Son of Man, Messiah, and king, he knew exactly what he came to do, and he said it over and over again.

Mark 8:31, Mark 9:31, and Mark 10:33 describe this. I remember those just because they’re so easy to remember. He says, “I’m going up to Jerusalem to die. I’m going up to Jerusalem to die. I’m going up to Jerusalem to die. After three days, I’ll be raised.” And they just couldn’t get that the Messiah would suffer like this. That was his central work. So his person is divine, and his work was that he came to die.

Now, here’s what he said about his death, a couple of things, he said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He’s saying, “I have come to lay down my life as a ransom for many. That’s why I’m here. That’s my kingly work. It is ransom paying.” Then, at the last supper, he says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). It’s the new covenant in his blood. What’s the new covenant? It has these three or four elements. One of them is that their sins will be forgiven (Jeremiah 31:34). Their sins will be forgiven. He will write the law on their heart and he will be their God (Jeremiah 31:33). If you pull in Ezekiel 36:27, he will put his Spirit within them and cause them to walk in his statutes.

When Jesus died, that’s what he bought and secured. The new covenant, sealed with the blood of Jesus, was secured at the cross. And there’s the connection with obedience. He says, “I will write my law upon their hearts and I will cause them to keep my statutes.” The atoning work of Jesus is the purchase of the empowerment of the new covenant people. So, Jesus is explicitly linking his divine, saving, atoning work with the achievement of impossible commands, and he’s doing it all for the Glory of God. Now, of course, the mission of Jesus in the first coming, in his kingly work, in the arrival of the kingdom was more than to die.

Blessed Is the One Who Is Not Offended by Me

If you remember, John The Baptist said to Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come?” (Matthew 11:3). He was very confused. Poor John. I just love John the Baptist. I love him because his life is absolutely tragic and he was faithful. Jesus said of John The Baptist, “There’s never been a man born among women who’s greater” (Matthew 11:11). That’s what he said. How did he die? The whim of a dancing girl. Absolutely absurd. He tells the truth just like God wants him to, saying, “You may not live with your brother’s wife,” and they throw him in jail, and he’s sitting there saying, “God, I’m faithful. I kept my conscience. I did what you said.”

Then he hears about Jesus, and he’s not mustering a political following, and he’s confused. He is thinking, “I baptized him and I’m in jail. You don’t go to jail when the Messiah comes. Other people go to jail. I sit in his right hand or his left.” Then the door opens and there’s a man with a sword, and he says, “Bend over.” And he says, “Why?” And he says, “This girl, she danced, and asked for your head.” Can you imagine what must have gone through his head? Have you ever been in a position where you thought the Lord wasn’t paying attention? I love this man.

If I ever in my ministry enter a phase where it feels like everything is absurd, I hope I’ll remember John, because Jesus said that he was the greatest man that ever walked the earth, and he also said, “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” That’s you. So Jesus sent back these words to John, “And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them (and then he probably softened his voice). And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:4–6).

He meant, “I’m not leading a political following. I’m just on my way to the cross like you, John. You and me. Don’t be offended. This is what I came to be.” But the healings were real and three resurrections were real. The blind saw, the deaf heard, the lame walked, and good news was preached to the poor. That’s all kingdom work, and it was all foretaste of what’s going to happen at the end of the age. They’re all pointing in signs toward the day when he comes on that horse and the whole world is made new, and there isn’t any more blindness, or deafness, or disability, or depression, or sin anymore. That’s what he’s pointing to.

Then, he died and he was raised on the third day, and he spent 40 days vindicating his resurrection by doing things like eating fish and saying, “Ghosts don’t eat fish.” That’s what he said, in order to convince them. The point is, “Don’t call me a ghost. Touch me. Put your hand in the wound. Give me a piece of fish.” All that is showing the kind of body we would have someday. According to Philippians . . . I’m not going to quote any text outside the Gospels. I almost slipped. I’ve tried to paint a picture of what Jesus thought about his atoning work and his divine person. That’s just a sketch from his own words and from the Gospels.

New Covenant Obedience

Now, we connect it to obedience, on the basis of who he was. On the basis of his atoning work and his rising again, he makes demands, and they cannot be separated from who he is and what he did.

For example, let’s take Zacchaeus. Jesus says, right after commenting on Zacchaeus, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” That’s Luke 19:10, and it’s two verses after he had gone into Zacchaeus’s house, and Zacchaeus simply, because Jesus identified with him and offered him his fellowship, said, “Today, I give half of what I owned to the poor and I restore everything I’ve stolen four-fold” (Luke 19:8).

Jesus says, “Salvation came to this house today, for I came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9–10). So, how does it connect? Here’s a rich man who didn’t turn away. Here’s a rich man who didn’t say, “I’m leaving because I’m very rich.” He just began to give things away. He was transformed and the comment Jesus makes is, “I came to save.” He’s connecting his own saving work and this financial transformation of a human heart. Zacchaeus is not depending on his riches anymore. He’s not stealing from people anymore. Something radical, new, and impossible has happened to Zacchaeus.

Jesus interprets it, “I came to save. This is why I die. This is why I go to the cross. This is what I am in the world for.”

All Authority in Heaven and on Earth

Let me draw all of this to a close. This is all a big-picture stage setting for tomorrow’s particulars of commands. But let’s close with a few thoughts regarding the title of the conference and the title of the book, What Jesus Demands From the World. You should ask, and many have, “Why did you choose the word demand? Why not command?” I’m aware, and I thought long and hard about this. Maybe I made a mistake. Some people say I have. But I thought long and hard that the word demand has for some, most maybe, connotations of being harsh, severe, strict, stark, austere, and abrasive.

The reason I chose it anyway is that I wanted to confront forcefully the underlying feelings or convictions that make people resistant to Jesus’s authority. Because I think, I hope I don’t offend anybody, that a person who has really come to terms with the absoluteness of Jesus’s authority — as Matthew 28:18 says, “All authority in heaven and in earth has been given to me” — will not stumble at this word. And the second reason is that I hoped by choosing an offensive word in the title that by the end of the book I could make it sweet.

I want people to see that even the word demand from this person on the basis of this work would be sweet. That’s the reason. I think it would be a cheap spin to try to give the impression Jesus wasn’t abrasive or severe. To his adversaries, he said things like, “Children of hell” (Matthew 23:15), “fools” (Matthew 23:17), “blind guides” (Matthew 23:17), “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27), a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 12:34, Matthew 23:33) — that’s abrasive. That’s more abrasive than this little word. And to his friends, he said, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children . . .” (Luke 11:13). Can you imagine me standing up and saying that on a Sunday morning, “If you all, this Bethlehem family of mine, are evil . . .” Well, they’d take it, but it’s not sweet, it’s not gentle. It’s blunt and kind of in your face.

Consider what he said to his really good friend Peter, who stuck his foot in his mouth as much as Martin Luther did, “Get behind me, Satan” (Matthew 16:23). I don’t know if he used that tone of voice, but he said, “Get behind me, Satan . . . For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” He could have said that softer. He’s your friend, and you’re calling him satanic? And the response would be, “Well, he’s acting satanic in trying to keep me from going to the cross.”

Or, consider how at the end of his life, as he’s ready to go back to heaven, he says to Peter, referring to John’s destiny, “What is that to you? Follow me” (John 21:22). Jesus was a no-nonsense, blunt communicator.

Tender and Tough

I did a study of the Gospels one time. I took my Greek New Testament back in 1980 and 1981, and just slowly read through the Gospels putting TE and TO in the margin. TE stood for tender, and TO for tough. Everywhere he sounded one or the other to me. You should try it sometime. There were a lot of *TO*s — way more *TO*s, at least given Western sensibilities. I don’t know that for centuries sensibilities were as vulnerable as we are emotionally, thinking, “Oh, don’t talk to me that way. You hurt me. I have to go to a counselor because you’ve hurt me so bad.” It could be that their skin was a good deal thicker in the first century so that Jesus didn’t come across as blunt as he comes across to us, but you should just try that sometime, and then it would grow you up out of the 21st Century into a more whole condition.

My aim is to take all of that toughness and so understand it in his commands (which we’ll tackle tomorrow) in the light of his work and person and make all that bluntness, all that forcefulness, and all that abrasiveness be, “That’s my friend. That’s my Jesus. That’s my Savior. That’s the one who loves me more than I could ever dream of being loved. I will let him address me with every possible command he thinks is good for me, and I will trust every one of them.” He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” and, “Behold, I am with you to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).

So, the command is, “Go teach them everything, teach them to observe everything,” and that is preceded by, “I have all authority.” I’m using that tone of voice to capture the demand forcefulness of it. And at the end, I change my tone and say this promise in a tender voice. They’re kind of nervous. He’s leaving. He just shook them with his statement, “You’re going to go into these really hard (let’s be anachronistic) Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist places where they don’t want you to come. You’re going to go there because I have authority there. I want disciples there. I want them in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and all over the world. I’m laying claim to the nations.” Then, he changes his tone of voice and says, “Behold, I’m going to be with you. I will stand by you.”

How sweet that has been to thousands of missionaries over the centuries in crisis. If nobody else is there in this dank prison, there’s one person here because he whispered in my ear years ago, “I will never leave you.” That’s sweet. So, the tough and the sweet are there, sandwiching, “Teach them to observe what I command, everywhere.”

King of the Nations

The last thing I would comment on is the word world in this title, What Jesus Demands From the World. Dare he? Did he dare to say this was for all the world? He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”

Yes, he did. All people groups, everywhere. Just think of it. It’s breathtaking. Everywhere you go on the planet, wherever you would walk into an absolutely strange, culturally and ethnically different place, where you don’t know how you could live, you can hardly breathe because of the way it smells there and the way it looks here, and it feels so demonic, so dark, and so foreign, Jesus says, “I have total authority here. I mean for you to make disciples here.”

So, my answer is, absolutely yes, he has a claim on the world. You might ask this question, “When he makes all these commands, hard commands, are they commands just for his disciples, or are they commands for the world? It’s a trick question because the answer would be, “Yes, it’s just for his disciples, and he says to make disciples everywhere.” There’s nobody in the world who can say, “These commands don’t count for me because I’m not a Christian,” because Jesus would say, “You should be a Christian. You should follow me. So, follow me.” If Jesus said it, they would, because Matthew just stood up and did it. We say, “Follow him,” and the net is drawn, and the elect come.

So, tomorrow, here’s what we’re going to do. On that foundation, that broader big-picture understanding, we’re going to just jump right in and take a cluster of commands and try to see how it really works. How does the work of Christ and the authority of Christ, together with the demands of Christ, begin to produce not a slavish, burdensome lifestyle of, “Oh, I have a commander who just says, ‘Do, do, do,’ all the time,” but rather, a liberating, transforming, powerful, impossibility-producing life of obedience to the glory of God.