Beginning of Ministry
In the last chapter we began with the first major section of Jesus' life – the period from just before His birth to a time when He was twelve years old.
There is much speculation about the period after this until His 30th year, but the Bible simply states that He returned to be with His parents.
Since the Bible states that His turning water into wine was His first miracle performed and subsequent visits to teach at His hometown synagogue was met with surprise, we can conclude a few things about this period:
- He did not perform miracles and use His divine powers during this period.
- He did not teach or proclaim His person or mission before this time, but simply attended and participated in worship like His fellow Jews.
- He moved out from His family's home and headed for Jerusalem at the age of thirty.
His obscure life came to an end however when His ministry to the Jews began at the river Jordan with His cousin, John the Baptist.
Beginning of Public Ministry
There are seven events in this section on the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. These follow the first 15 events we've discussed so far.
16. The preaching of John the Baptist
In its discussion of the future Messiah, the Old Testament prophets described a person who would appear on the scene as a forerunner to introduce or prepare the way for the Messiah (Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1). With his appearance and preaching, John fulfilled this prophecy. John's message was twofold:
- Repent of your sins and be baptized in order to symbolize the cleansing of your souls and the coming of the kingdom of God.
- His successor would come to baptize these people not with water but with the Holy Spirit.
His preaching was accepted by two groups and rejected by two groups:
- Those who recognized their sinfulness saw a chance to be right with God (even pagan soldiers).
- Those who were anxiously awaiting the coming of the Messiah saw in John the one who was preparing His way.
- Those who felt confident in their Jewish heritage and rejected any call to change.
- Those who loved their sins refused to believe, especially in a Jewish Messiah.
Whatever the response, John got the nation's attention concerning the coming of the Lord.
17. The baptism of Jesus
Baptism was a familiar religious rite among the Jews. The priests would wash completely before becoming priests or before putting on ceremonial robes. New converts to Judaism were required to be cleansed with water in addition to being circumcised and offering sacrifice at the temple.
We know John baptized with water and by immersion because the Jews required a cleansing of the entire body in their purification rites. Like circumcision, John's baptism was an expression of faith in response to God's offer. In circumcision the offer was to be counted among God's people. In John's baptism the offer was to have one's sins forgiven. Later in Jesus' baptism it was the triple offer of forgiveness of sins, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and entry into the church.
Jesus signals the beginning of His ministry by accepting to be baptized by John. Why?
- To fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). To respond to God's command with obedience.
- To identify with sin – Jesus had no sins Himself but He took on the sins of others so with this act He acknowledges sin, He identifies with sinners.
- To separate Himself from His old life. Baptism signifies death (Romans 6:3), separation of the spirit and the flesh. Jesus at age thirty is separating Himself from His old life of submission and obscurity and taking up his new life of public ministry, Lordship and finally death and resurrection.
- To fulfill prophecy (Isaiah 11:1-2, the dove; Isaiah 42:1, the voice). The prophet said the Messiah would have the Spirit on Him (11:1-2) and would be pleasing to God (42:1).
This new life, this inauguration of His public ministry is confirmed and witnessed by God in two ways:
- The heavens open and the Holy Spirit appears as a dove. This shows that Jesus received the gift of the Holy Spirit at this time, as it came and rested upon Him. In His divine nature He was equal and similar to the Father and Holy Spirit, however His human nature received the gift of the Holy Spirit in order to enable Him to carry on His ministry.
- God the Father speaks to confirm that Jesus is indeed the divine Son and the one who is sent (Messiah).
This is the only time in the Bible that there is a physical manifestation of the Trinity (Father/voice; Son/Jesus; Holy Spirit/dove). Also, this scene is a strong example for those who reject the "Trinity" idea in the Bible (IE. Jews, Muslims, Jehovah Witnesses).
18. Jesus is tempted in the desert
Satan tempts Jesus while He is fasting in the desert. The word tempt can mean to "test" or "examine" rather than appeal to some lust or evil. Since Jesus had no sin, the devil's "test" was to create sin in Him in some way.
- He tempts Jesus to pride by asking Him to do a miracle to prove His lordship. (Making the stones bread.)
- He tempts Jesus to idolatry by offering Him something in exchange for worship. (All kingdoms of the earth if He would worship him.)
- He tempts Jesus to presumptuousness by asking Him to test God. (Throw Himself down from the tower to see if God will save Him.)
The Father had already given Jesus all of these things. He called Him the beloved son, no need to confirm this with a miracle. The Father had already promised everything to His Son (Psalms 2:8). Satan was offering something that wasn't his to give. The Father had promised in the word (quoted by Satan) that He would care for the Son, no need to test God's word for accuracy.
After this event, the angels minister to the Lord.
19. John's witness concerning Jesus
John's gospel provides a detailed summary of John's preaching and the reaction of the people, especially the leaders. John 1:15 shows that the Baptist was aware of and preached that he was preparing the way for the Messiah. There is no ambiguity – it was a clear message. John testified about Him and cried out, saying,
"This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.'"
- John 1:15
This also shows that he shared in the experience of the voice of the Father and the settling of the dove. This was the way that John knew that Jesus was indeed the one. He had an impact on the people because even the leaders were curious about who he was. Some thought he was the Christ. Some thought he was Elijah. Some thought he was Moses (people believed that the great prophet Moses would resurrect at the coming of the Messiah). John denies all of these and responds that he is simply a "voice" sent to prepare the way.
20. Jesus' first apostles
John has introduced Him and also encourages his own disciples to follow after Jesus. The Lord did not select all of His Apostles in one day or week. They came in twos and threes over a period of months. Some, like Peter, began to follow Jesus while still maintaining his fishing business, but after a while Jesus called him into full time ministry and he left all to follow the Lord. In this event Andrew calls his brother Simon to come and meet Jesus – the one whom he believes to be the Messiah. It is during this first meeting that Jesus gives Simon a new name – Peter.
21. More disciples in Galilee
Andrew and Peter were probably in the region to hear John preach and that's how they meet Jesus. After their meeting (in Jerusalem area) Jesus returns up north to the area of Galilee around where He he grew up, and where Peter and Andrew come from. While He is there John says that He finds Philip and in turn Philip finds Nathaniel. These men initially follow Jesus because they believe that He is the Messiah (Nathaniel says so after Jesus reveals something about him that no one else could know). At this point their concept of what the Messiah is supposed to be is not fully developed, but Jesus through His miracles, teachings and especially His resurrection will open their eyes and hearts.
22. First miracle at Cana
It is interesting that John is the one filling in the details of this early part of Jesus' ministry since, as the cousin of Jesus (His mother Salome was Mary's sister), and as one who was included in Jesus' inner circle, he had access to the early information within the family and was probably present at many of these early events. His family relationship to Jesus also explains why he was given the care of Mary and not Peter.
John describes a wedding feast taking place in Cana which is in the northern country just west of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was there with His family including His disciples, many of whom were related to Jesus and each other.
There is a question about Mary's attitude concerning what Jesus was to do to intervene when the wine ran out. She was confident that Jesus could do something and goes to Him for help. Jesus responds that His hour has not come in the sense that it isn't time to be fully glorified (His death, burial, resurrection). What He says to her is that the matter is not her concern but His. If He does something it will be directed of the Father and not by the pleading of His mother. And so we see Mary understand that He will do something, but only because it is given by God and not her – and she prepares the servants to follow His instructions in anticipation of His actions.
Jesus transforms water into wine and launches the miraculous portion of His ministry within the circle of His own family, friends, disciples and region. John says that at this point His disciples believed in Him. After the wedding feast Jesus, Mary, His brothers and His disciples return to Capernaum (other side of the lake) to Jesus' home.
John makes a distinction between Jesus' brothers and His disciples. At this early time His brothers were not His disciples.
This is the end of His first northern or, Galilean, ministry. In the next chapter we will see Jesus leave the north and head towards Jerusalem again for His first public ministry appearance there.
We can draw some practical lessons from these events in Jesus' life, especially in the area of evangelism. We see some ways that Jesus drew people to Himself, ways that are still relevant and possible today:
1. Preach Jesus as Lord
The first thing Jesus did was to demonstrate who He was by the witness of the Holy Spirit and the Father. Today, the first thing we should establish in any study, debate or teaching is that Jesus is the divine Son of God. If this point is made, all the others will flow from it – if not, then it doesn't matter.
2. The importance of obedience
The Bible is not for discussing, it's for obeying. We study and teach it in order to produce obedience. Jesus, in baptism and in the desert, showed that His Holiness was proven by His obedience to the Father. God not only wants us to hear the good news, He wants us to obey it and when we teach others we should be leading them to obedience.
3. Start at home
Jesus' first followers and disciples were family members, people from His town and region. Saving the world begins by saving yourself, your family, your neighbor, your buddy, etc. Effective evangelism is not about programs or projects, it's about people sharing with the people close to them.
READING ASSIGNMENT FOR CHAPTER 4
- What was the primary role of John the Baptist in relation to Jesus and how did he do this?
- What was the importance of the baptism of Jesus?
- Read Matthew 4:11; Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13 concerning the temptation of Jesus and answer the following questions:
- Summarize the temptation of Jesus.
- What was the significance of these temptations?
- How did Jesus resist Satan?
- What can we learn from this?
- What do we learn from the preaching of John the Baptist concerning Jesus?
- Read through the gospels and summarize the calling of the first disciples. Discuss the characteristics of these disciples and their impact on us.
- Discuss why the record clearly states that turning the water to wine was the first miracle performed by Jesus. Include in the discussion the potential dangers in unsubstantiated stories and myths about the life of Jesus.
- How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?