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Episode 40 - Introducing the Public Ministry of Jesus - Opening Up the Gospels

Well, here we are – we’ve covered a lot of material so far and we’re ready to dive into the bulk of the material of the Gospels – the public ministry of Jesus. We’re now nearly 30 years after Jesus was born and 18 years after his visit to the Temple in Jerusalem, and we haven’t even made it out of the early chapters of Matthew and Luke yet. We’re going to see that the Gospels give us a lot of detail from this point forward – and of course that’s relatively speaking. The apostle John ends his gospel by saying that if all the things Jesus did had been written down, the world couldn’t contain all the books that could be written. But compared to the first 30 years of his life, we have so much more about what Jesus said and did in this approximately two year period. In moving forward from here, we’re going to begin to put together a chronology of the Gospels, or as some have called, a “harmony”. There is so much we don’t know, but there is much more to be known from the Gospels about the specific order of Jesus’ life than many are aware of. I’ve said this already before and I’ll say it many times again in the future – Jesus was not randomly walking around Israel teaching and doing miracles and just buying time before the cross. He was very purposeful, and we can better understand that purpose as we bring all four of the Gospels together to form a clearer picture of Jesus’ life. There’s certainly merit in studying each Gospel individually, but in this series I’m taking a narrative approach in order to help us relate to Jesus. Just as I talked about all the way back in episode 1, we want to know the details of Jesus’ life because He matters to us, and because knowledge is what leads to the growth of our heart in love for Him. I’m going to be categorizing the ministry of Jesus into several different sections, specifically based upon where he is ministering. For me, this simple breakdown has been so helpful in placing specific events on the timeline of Jesus’ ministry. Let’s look at a map for a second. There’s just a few regions of the nation of Israel that are important for us to know – first, there is Galilee to the north, with the sea of Galilee and Capernaum on its shore. Capernaum is where Jesus lived during the two years of his ministry. Then, heading south, we have Samaria – the area where the Samaritans lived, like the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. We talked a little bit about the Samaritans back in Episode 17, but we’ll talk more about them in the future. Now, just to the east and southeast of Samaria is a region named Perea. Both Jews and Gentiles lived in this region at the time of Jesus. The Gospels just call this area “beyond the Jordan”. And then the final region is of course Judea in the south, where the city of Jerusalem is located. So – have a look at this, get familiar with the geography just a little bit. This will be easier to remember as we go along, so don’t worry if you can’t remember each of these regions right now. So, based on these four regions, we can break up Jesus’ ministry into these general categories: The Early Judean period The Early Galilean period The Mid Galilean period The Late Galilean period The Late Judean and Perean period Passion Week The “early”, “mid”, and “late” before each region name are just designations of time in Jesus’ entire ministry – so for instance, the early Judean and Early Galilean periods are just specifying the early part of His whole ministry. These periods are going to act as bookends for the rest of the episodes of this series. As we work through the events, I’ll have this timeline that I’ll constantly refer back to. As you can see, I’ll place each of the events on the timeline as to where I believe they best fit. Now, you may be wondering – are we really going to cover every single specific event and every single verse in the Gospels from Jesus’ baptism to His ascension? And the answer to that is no – I’d be at this for maybe 10 or 15 more years. But we will look at the major events and spend time understanding their significance to the ministry of Jesus. So as we move into looking at Jesus’ ministry, let’s not forget what He came out of – 30 years of hiddenness in silence and obscurity. It had been three decades since all of the drama surrounding His birth had captured the attention of some in Israel. But since then, that memory had probably faded in everyone’s mind except His family. And just as it was a real day in history that God in the flesh was born and placed in a feed trough, so it was a real day in history when God in the flesh began the journey from Galilee to the waters of the Jordan where his relative John was baptizing. Just think about the drama of this day for a second. It was this day that everything changed forever for the entire earth. After 3 decades of absolute silence, this day is like a dormant volcano that suddenly erupts. All of the power of the heat and the molten rock had been there the whole time, but all of a sudden it starts to make itself known. Think about it – what was it like that morning as Jesus woke up? What about the day before when he was earning a living as a carpenter to support His family, knowing that tomorrow would be the day that everything was about to change forever? What did He tell His family? Did they know what was happening? There was a real day in His seemingly ordinary life where He woke up, rubbed his eyes, and put on clothes. Did His family wake up and find Jesus just gone? We can’t move too quickly in our meditation, lest we forget who it is that we’re actually beholding. Outwardly, it’s just Joshua, Yeshua, the normal guy who has brothers and sisters and a mother named Mary. But it’s in fact God in the flesh we’re looking at. Now even what Jesus did in his public ministry two thousand years ago is so toned down when you compare it to what He will do at His second coming. Throughout the Gospels, we see small flashes of His glory and power – like in the transfiguration in Matthew 16 or when He calms the storm in Mark 4. But on the whole, he was very restrained and reserved. Look at what the apostle Paul says about his second coming though: [God will] “grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed,” (2 Thessalonians 1:7–10 ESV) Just compare that to His first coming where He went unrecognized. No matter how you spin the language on that verse in Thessalonians, it’s clear that what Jesus will be doing at His return is dramatically different and much more severe than when He came the first time. Understanding this can give us better perspective as we approach the Gospels. The whole time, Jesus knew who He was. His divinity was not truncated or set aside. As John says: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” (John 1:10 ESV) The incarnation is so confounding. Think about it. Jesus just lived day by day, being who He was. And again, compare His first coming to His second. The first time around, He didn’t draw attention to Himself and He didn’t show off His skills. Us on the other hand, if we can get attention, we will – or if we have a skill, we’ll show it off. Jesus in his ministry is going in the exact opposite direction. Ponder this analogy. It’s like there’s a guy at the symphony hall that’s just a janitor and then one day when he’s cleaning he just sits down at the piano and plays. He is exponentially better than others who have played that piano, and another random person is walking by hearing it and looks and he sees it’s just the janitor. But the question that guy would ask would be “that’s who you are? Why didn’t you tell anybody? Why didn’t you do anything?” And that’s how humanity works, but God is so different. For 30 years, Jesus was quiet and said nothing. And he only gives small hints during his ministry to 12 disciples of who He really is. Because He was quiet, that causes us to look at Jesus with the propensity to believe that He didn’t have power or He didn’t know who He was or that He isn’t a jealous God who will pour out His wrath on the unrepentant. That’s not at all what was happening. Look at this passage from Isaiah 42: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street;” (Isaiah 42:1–2 ESV) And then moving forward a few verses: “For a long time I have held my peace; I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant. I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn the rivers into islands, and dry up the pools.” (Isaiah 42:14–15 ESV) Oh, we have no concept of amnesty and restraint, but God does. We think he’s so distant and passive and we often ask “why doesn’t He get involved? Why doesn’t he stop all the bad things that are happening?” Well there is a day that He will come and do just that, and scripture calls that day “the day of the LORD”. But until then, He is restraining, full of amnesty – He’s holding his peace – He is longsuffering, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance and bear the fruits of repentance. So as we begin to look at the public ministry of Jesus, “amnesty” is the banner over it that we should see clearly. As we see Jesus walking down from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized on the day He begins to make Himself known to the nation of Israel, we must remember that He is coming in breathtaking restraint. On that morning, He just wakes up, puts on His clothes, and walks out the door, and everything forever was different. Oh, what was that day like? What expression did He have on his face? What must it have been like to walk with Him the whole way down to the Jordan? And then what about His family? What did they think when they heard about what He was doing?