ST ANDREW’S OCCASIONAL PAPERS
JESUS CHRIST – THE YEARS OF MINISTRY
Whenever one has a story to tell or a report to write, the opening sentences are very important, as they must catch the reader’s attention. So the choice of where to begin is crucial.
Did you realise that in telling Jesus’ life story, each of our four Gospel writers chooses to start at a different point? Mark knows nothing before John the Baptist appears on the scene and baptizes Jesus. Luke, on the other hand, records both the birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus and tells of some of the wonderful “Christmas” events. Matthew also tells us of events surrounding the birth of Jesus, but starts his account many hundreds of years before with the outline of the descent of Jesus from Abraham, the founding father of the Jewish nation. John looks back into the mists before time began, to the origin of all things, to glimpse the eternal purposes of the Godhead.
Jesus was…in the beginning.
- Does this matter?
Does it matter that we have these four different “beginnings”? Not at all – because each has something to say. John’s more mystic approach firmly underlines from the very first that Jesus was God who became man. Matthew firmly links Jesus with the history of His nation and makes it clear that He was a member of the tribe of Judah. Both Matthew and Luke emphasise the reality and the marvel of Jesus’ human birth. Mark shows us that Jesus’ ministry began with His baptism at the hands of His (distant?) relative, John the Baptist and to that we now turn.
Jesus was… at the start of the Gospel.
- John the Baptist
John was a prophet (one who spoke out God’s message) in the style of the great Old Testament prophets like Elijah and Elisha. He began preaching in the desert, calling for a new beginning, a moral awakening, so that people would turn away from their sins. As a sign of this repentance the people were baptised in the River Jordan. John was well aware that he was the forerunner of someone much greater than himself, “the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:27). When Jesus came to him for baptism, John was reluctant to proceed because it was revealed to him that Jesus was the one to whom he was bearing witness, “I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” (Matt 3:14).
So why did Jesus, who, we believe, was without the slightest trace of sin, come for baptism – the symbol of repentance and forgiveness of sins? It was an act of identification with the people Jesus had come to save, to show His oneness with the human race of which He had become part. His action was confirmed by His Heavenly Father who sent the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and who uttered the momentous words, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22).
Jesus was… preceded by John the Baptist
The fellowship of the Trinity – The Father’s words and the Spirit’s visible descent at Jesus’ baptism was a high peak, from a human point of view, at the start of Jesus’ ministry. Then, again from a human point of view and in common with many, many folk’s experience, there followed a low point. On His own in the wilderness, Jesus was tempted by the devil to turn stones into bread, to throw Himself from the top of the temple and to worship the devil instead of God. Jesus resisted, quoting scripture, thus both giving us an example and maintaining His sinlessness. His victory over the devil also turned a “low point” into a high one.
Jesus was… tempted like us but without sin.
- The Disciples
Jesus knew that He had only a short time to “get His message across,” because He was aware that the authorities would kill Him in order to try and silence His message which threatened their way of doing things. So He chose a group of followers to whom He could pass on His message. They were unlearned men, predominantly fishermen, who were transformed by contact with Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Even the authorities, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). These twelve men, some of whom (like Peter and John) were prominent in the early church and others about whom we hear virtually nothing, are the first link in the chain which leads from Jesus to the present day.
Jesus was… the leader of men.
- Teaching and Preaching.
As Jesus walked with His disciples through the towns, villages and countryside of Israel, He constantly spoke to the people, people who were eager to hear Him. Often He taught by means of parables, some forty of which are found in the first three gospels. These were stories based on the everyday life of the time, which contained a deep message, to which message His listeners seemed to have sometimes turned a deaf ear. Even His disciples asked at times for clarification (Mark 4:10), and Jesus’ explanation helped both them and us. At the heart of His words was the idea that in Him God was active in a new way, seeking to save humankind that had become lost, and calling for a response from each individual to whom he ministered.
Jesus was… both teacher and preacher.
- Miraculous Signs
Jesus reinforced His teaching by performing many miracles, signs of His power and evidence of the truth of His words. Some thirty-five miracles are recorded in the four gospels, most being miracles of healing, but nine of them demonstrated His authority over natural forces [like calming a storm or walking on water (Mark 4:37-41; 6:48-51)]. On three occasions Jesus brought the dead back to life, Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:22-24;35-43), the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-15) and Lazarus (John 11:1-44).
Having related the details of Jesus’ first miraculous sign, that of turning water into wine at the wedding (John 2:1-10), John writes, “This, the first of His miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed His glory, and His disciples put their faith in Him.” So the glory of God was revealed and the faith, albeit somewhat shaky, of the disciples was stimulated.
Jesus was… a worker of miracles.
Jesus was a man of prayer. Throughout eternity He had known the fellowship of His Father and the Holy Spirit, and He needed it just as much (perhaps even more as we see it) during His years on earth. Having fed the five thousand, He sent the disciples on ahead and “He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray” (Matt 14:23). We can also think of His prayer for His disciples and for all those who will come to believe on Him, which takes up nearly all of chapter 17 of John’s Gospel; and of His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before his arrest, when, “He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
Jesus was… a man of prayer.
- Meeting People
Jesus was rarely alone. He was often surrounded by people, talking, teaching, healing and generally meeting their needs, but also, on occasions, relaxing with them. His first miracle (see 7 above) took place in the setting of a wedding feast to which He and His disciples had been invited (John 2:2). Jesus dined with both Pharisees (Luke 7:36) and tax collectors (Mark 2:15,16). He cared about women and children (Mark 10:16) and the poor and needy, for example praising the widow who put “all that she had to live on” into the temple treasury (Luke 21:4). Yet Jesus knew the importance of rest, both for Himself and His followers (Mark 6:31). So He sets us an example of balanced “work, rest and play.”
Jesus was… a friend to all.
- So who was this man?
Once Jesus asked His disciples “Who do people say I am?” and He was given a range of answers. “But what about you” He continued, “Who do you say I am?”
Peter spoke for the band of disciples. “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:27-29). Peter, perhaps not fully aware of the significance of what he was saying, had recognised Jesus as the anointed One [the literal meaning of Christ (Greek) or Messiah (Hebrew)], the One promised of old who would reveal God to the people in a new way. Peter had still much to learn (Mark 8:32-33) about Jesus Christ, how He must suffer, die and rise again. [Ideas which I hope will be pursued in the next two pamphlets in this series.] He also had to learn, as each of us has to learn, that Jesus was not only the One who would reveal the things of God, but that He was God incarnate, God come in human form to seek and to save lost humanity and to bring folk back into fellowship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Jesus was… God.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. © 1973,1978,1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. All rights reserved.