5. Jesus the Messiah
When Christ began His ministry, a critical element in what He did was to call His people back to the ancient Hebrew understanding of the Covenant. A great deal of what He had to say is hard to grasp unless you understand that. Every debate He had with the Pharisees and scribes was based on this call back to what Moses actually wrote, and the cultural traditions of the ancient Hebrew nation.
If you and I don’t take the time to understand this tug of war, particularly what the ancient Hebrew way of thinking was, we cannot understand Jesus the man. What had the Jews forsaken? What were the key differences between the Pharisees and the forefathers?
First and foremost is the Fall. You can call it what you like, but the entire Ancient Near East took for granted that humans were inherently broken, incapable of much good on their own. Without divine intervention, people only rarely aspired to anything of importance. Right next to this was a critically different interpretation of what was important. Conquering and building empires wasn’t that important; what really mattered was lasting moral influence.
In their minds, mitigating the rotten human nature was of paramount importance. While all of these civilizations varied in how they sought for answers to this problem, they all shared a perception that the universe around them was a living thing that wasn’t fallen, and that it spoke with a thousand voices on how we humans could do better. So the underlying issue was how to hear and translate those voices. There was always some very real life force out there that held the answers.
But they were deeply convinced that our sensory inputs, and our ability to reason, were totally insufficient to access those answers. They relied on some other faculty, something we could use if we chose to activate it. Within the vast range of civilizations in the Ancient Near East, virtually all of them shared this basic orientation, this fundamental assumption about reality. The Hebrew people were no different; it’s quite discernible in the way the Bible was written.
So in the Bible we can detect a thread of thinking that the heart was the seat of this higher faculty. Scripture presumes you understand that your heart is a sensory organ of itself, capable of hearing those hidden voices in the universe. The books of the Old Testament counsel us to get our hearts right, to commit to God as our feudal Master and Lord. In Hebrew literature, He is the single Person behind those thousand voices of Creation calling out to us in His name. The trees clap their hands in celebration of His greatness; the mountains and the hills sing deeply His praise; the sun, moon and stars shine His glory. There is a sense in which they meant this quite literally. Your senses and mind can’t pick it up, but your heart could if you chose to invest the focus of your conscious awareness there.
This is the very thing destroyed by Hellenism. Alexander’s tutor from his youth, Aristotle, flatly rejected this mystical heart-led awareness. He insisted that the human intellect was superior to all other human capabilities. This was the driving force in what we now call Aristotelian logic: To destroy the mystical awareness that had guided humanity from Eden all the way up to the time Alexander’s father began building an empire his son would spread across the world.
Why did God not protect His people from this complete shift in orientation? Because they had already left behind the ancient Hebrew ways God Himself had designed for them. If they were determined to leave it, then it would flee from them first. So with the invasion of this Hellenistic approach into the Land of the Bible, the leadership of Judah not long after their return to the land, bought into this massive lie and gave birth to the materialistic legalism of the Pharisees. This is the very shift in orientation that Jesus condemned in His debates with the scribes and Pharisees.
Jesus was determined by His Father’s commission to rebuild the nation on those ancient Hebrew traditions. The nation had this one last chance to get it right, and they murdered Him instead. Jesus saw that coming. He warned His disciples repeatedly that this was not going to work, that the business of the Messianic Kingdom was not with the earthly nation of Israel, but would become a kingdom of hearts. He was determined to restore what His Father had given as the rich gift of redemption by a change of heart, by a heart-led commitment to the covenant God of Abraham.