In part one we studied the Bible to learn about Jesus’ family, birth and childhood. He was born and grew up in humble circumstances and we see that he knew who he was at least by the age of 12. This week we’ll take a look at his ministry. Why was he baptized? How was he tempted? Who were his disciples and followers? Why was turning water to wine his first miracle? Let’s take a look at how his ministry began.
- Part 1 | CHILDHOOD: Who is Jesus?
- Part 2 | MINISTRY: Who were Jesus’ disciples?
- Part 3 | MINISTRY: What did Jesus teach?
- Part 4 | MINISTRY: Why did Jesus perform miracles?
- Part 5 | ARREST: What happened in the last days of Jesus’ life?
- Part 6 | DEATH: Why did Jesus die on the cross?
- Part 7 | RETURN: What is Jesus doing now and when is he coming back?
- Part 8 | I saw Jesus in a dream
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Our study will focus on the gospels, the first four books of the New Testament — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These are four different accounts of Jesus’ life on earth. They each give us different details as they are each speaking to a different audience.
Matthew is speaking to Jewish audience and wants to convey Jesus as the king and predicted deliverer. Luke gives us a history lesson and shows Jesus’ “human” side. John’s focus is evangelism. Mark stresses Jesus as a servant, who suffers for the good of others. Together, they give us a fuller picture.
The first three gospels are called synoptic because they fit together similarly in content and chronology. John, however, is more poetic and mysterious.
Matthew and John were apostles of Jesus and give us eyewitness accounts. Luke was a gentile (or non-Jewish) physician and associate of the apostle Paul. Mark was a traveling companion of Peter.
Why was Jesus baptized if he never sinned?
Jesus did not begin his ministry until he was about 30 years old. This was intentionally planned as we see him say it is not his time on multiple occasions, namely to his mother at the wedding in Cana (John 2:4). So for three decades he was a family member, friend, member of society, probably a carpenter like Joseph. His ministry began when he was baptized.
Why are Christians baptized?
Believers in Jesus Christ are baptized in water to outwardly demonstrate a spiritual change on the inside. Being washed in the water is a public way to declare faith in Jesus Christ and symbolize the cleansing of sin. It represents the death (going under the water), burial (being submerged) and resurrection (coming up for air) we now join Christ in.
Why was John the Baptist baptizing people with only water?
In the beginning of all four gospels we hear about John the Baptist baptizing people with water to show their repentance. (Repentance is feel sorry for something wrong that you did and to want to do what is right1). This was not the same Christian baptism we do today. As John says “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt 3:11).
Let’s read further in Matthew:
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
What an incredible moment that must have been to witness —the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) visibly united in front of humans.
But why would Jesus need to be baptized if he had never sinned?
Jesus says it was to “fulfill all righteousness.”
I don’t know in fullness what that word encompasses, but here are some thoughts to consider:
- Jesus publicly declared his love of God his father and complete desire to obey him on the brink of his world-changing ministry. And his Father and Spirit publicly approve.
- It represented the future of Jesus’ ministry — his burial, death and resurrection.
- Jesus was our earthly model. He calls us to baptism and he did it himself as well.
- It demonstrates him taking on our sin as if it were his own and giving us his righteousness, making us right with God.
- It means that we truly do join him in this baptism of rebirth. We are now baptized into him!
It’s also remarkable to see this hand off from John to Jesus. John declares Jesus the chosen one to his followers, completing his mission to make straight the path for the messiah as Isaiah prophesied 600 years prior.
3 more ideas:
1. One interesting point here is that God says he is pleased with his son, though he had not even began his ministry. He is pleased with him for living a righteous life on earth and being forever loving and obedient to his Father. To me this is a lesson to stay within the framework of God’s plan for my life — even if that means waiting, as Jesus did.
2. Later Jesus’ disciples baptize many, but John 4:2 tells us that Jesus himself did not baptize people.
3. In the book of Acts, new believers are baptized right away. Jesus even placed emphasis on baptism in his last words before He ascended to Heaven, in what we call The Great Commission. Matthew 28:
18 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Why was Jesus tempted in the desert for 40 days?
After Jesus was baptized his ministry was set in motion.
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’”
5 And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6 and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
9 And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ 11 and“‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Sword of the Spirit
Do you see that each time the devil tempts him, Jesus refutes him with the very words of scripture! It is the powerful Sword of the Spirit and the only weapon on the spiritual armor of God of Ephesians 6.
Jesus was also praying and fasting for 40 days. Fasting heightens awareness of our complete dependence on God and prayer unites us with him. Moses and Joshua also fasted for 40 days in the Old Testament.
The number 40 symbolizes testing in the Bible. Here are just a few examples of many:
- Noah and his family were on the arc for 40 days and 40 nights.
- Moses stayed on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights.
- The Israelites wondered in the desert for 40 years.
God and Satan are not equals
The fallen angel, Satan, is a created being. He is not omnipresent and omniscient like God. He has rebelled against God, but he is still under God’s authority. Satan has to get permission for everything he does! (Job 1)
Forgive my human hypothesizing, but I doubt this is the first encounter Jesus in flesh had with Satan himself. If demons recognized him at every turn and obeyed him, then he was the focus of the evil one. Satan must have seen his time running out. He could not predict the future, but he knew was playing a losing game of chess (Gen 3:15).
We have the same temptations
Satan used three tactics:
- Appealing to physical needs and desires, along with the temptation of self reliance.
- Appealing to pride and desire for glory that belongs only to God.
- Warping, twisting, counterfeiting God’s word in attempt to stir up doubt and mistrust.
Satan has not changed his playbook. He still uses the same methods and tactics today. Now, you and I probably don’t have Satan himself on our back (he can only be one place at once and imaginably has bigger fish to fry), but possibly on occasion a minion of his passes by to distract. But the devil can still get his demonic way of thinking into the mainstream in a variety of ways, especially via all the screens we attach ourselves to.
Imagine how weak the Savior must have been after 40 days. It seems from reading this that Satan amped things up toward the end of this journey, when he was weakest. He also attacks believers at their lowest and appeals to them through their physical needs, pride and planting doubt.
Jesus can relate to our suffering
The last sentence in this experience Jesus undertook lingers in the air. “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” EVERY temptation? Can you imagine standing up next to every temptation? We would be crushed. And “an opportune time”? He wasn’t done yet. He would be there every step of the way during Jesus’ ministry, tempting and whispering lies into the ears of those who would listen.
By the way, Matthew 4 tells us that Jesus said “Get out of here, Satan” and that’s when he left, as Christ has authority over him. And then angels came to minister to Jesus.
Jesus’ time in the wilderness demonstrates his authority over the evil one, even clothed in human flesh. It reveals his sinlessness. Jesus knows more tempting that any of us and can relate to us in every way because of this.
Satan is a powerful fallen angel, more powerful than humans, but he has no authority over believers. We are under the authority of Christ, who all things were made through and for (John 1:3).
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13
Who were Jesus’ disciples?
Jesus chose 12 men to be his disciples and friends. They were with him for about three years, learning from him, being prepared to ignite a new fire the world had never known. Jesus invested most of his time in these future missionaries.
Matthew 10 lists the 12:
The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
It was a strange roster indeed for a revolutionary religious movement — the majority were fishermen, one a despised tax collector … even women followed Jesus. Would you expect something different from our unconventional hero? “He came as a normal man to normal men,” Dan Ortlund says in Gentle and Lowly.
All four gospels include the incredible story of Jesus calling Peter and Andrew. Let’s read in Luke chapter 5:
On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
Here we have two, possibly three sets of brothers: Peter and Andrew, James and John, and then Philip and Bartholomew (aka Nathanael), who were either related or very close friends as they’re frequently mentioned together. The gospel of Luke tells us that the two sets of brothers were also partners in their fishing businesses.
There was something about Jesus. People were drawn to him. He knew people, he saw them for who they could be. In fact, immediately Jesus changed Simon’s name to Cephas or Peter (John 1: 42) upon their meeting, which means rock. Though Peter wasn’t a rock yet. Actually, he would prove to be hot-tempered and impulsive in the coming years, but after the Holy Spirit descends, he becomes that rock or foundation of the Christian church Jesus knew he would be.
He already knew Nathanael as well. Let’s read about his calling in John 1.
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Add in a rich tax collector, a zealot and several other ordinary men and I imagine there were times of great camaraderie, laughing, but also heated arguments and frustration among these 12 passionate men. (They even argued about who would be the greatest! Luke 9)
Keep in mind tax collectors were hated because they were Jewish people working for their enemy — Rome. Some also abused their job and kept some money for themselves. Let’s read about Matthew’s calling in his own words. Matthew 9:9-12:
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
It is quite possible that Jesus has built a relationship beforehand with Matthew as he had been in Capernaum for awhile, but it’s still astounding that Matthew would walk away from wealth and security in that very moment to follow a leader without a place to lay his head.
These men walked away from everything to follow him and answer his call. Matthew does not stop at “and he rose and followed him.” In the same breathe he tells us about Jesus defending him and accepting him as no one else did. He gives us a piece of his heart here. I tend to stick to just the facts, but I wonder if tears weren’t flowing as he recounted this moment of love and acceptance Jesus gave him.
We see over and over again that he comes for the lost.
This is a small detail, but I love that Mark 3:17 mentions Jesus nicknamed James and John the “Sons of Thunder.” Wouldn’t you love to hear more of their inside jokes?
(Side note: Maybe you’ve seen the series The Chosen by Dallas Jenkins. I love the way he artistically portrays their struggles, humor, disagreements. It portrays the human side of the disciples and Jesus more than any other film I’ve seen. It’s definitely worth watching!)
Like followers today, the disciples (who Jesus also called apostles) had questions. They didn’t understand a lot of what Jesus was doing or the parables he told in that very moment. They had doubts. They lacked faith. It wasn’t until the Holy Spirit came upon them after Jesus was gone that the pieces came together, that their passion ignited and they set out to change the world.
Why did Jesus call 12 disciples?
There were 12 Jewish disciples, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. From the beginning, humanity went astray. God chose this one nation to be his representative to the world, to shine his light, but his chosen nation too had gone astray, time after time. Jesus, the one true king, came from the line of Judah to correct what they could not do, to reshape Israel into that nation that would share God’s love with the whole world. And he would begin this mission through 12 men.
All but two apostles were killed for their faith, unwavering and steadfast for their Savior and his commission, traveling far and wide to spread the gospel. Only John lived until old age, though outcast and imprisoned on an island. And Judas hanged himself shortly after betraying Jesus. We’ll talk more about him and what happened to all the disciples later in the series.
Did Jesus have female followers?
Jesus cared about the treatment of women, which was radical in ancient Israel. He defended them, treated them with unparalleled kindness and taught them as well as men.
Jesus the teacher
The 12 listed above were the disciples Jesus called, but he also had many followers, including women. Luke 8:1-3:
Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.
Mary Magdalene has a prominent role in the gospels and is mentioned 12 times. There are about six Marys mentioned in the New Testament, as it was a common name. She is sometimes confused with Martha and Lazarus’ sister, who washed Jesus’ feet with perfume or a prostitute at the house of a pharisee who wiped his feel with oil.
But all we are told of her past is that Jesus healed her of seven demons. Jesus transforms her, gives her a new life and she is faithful until the end. She’s there at the cross, she’s there for the burial and she was there for the resurrection. In fact, Jesus appeared to her first in the garden after he had risen from the grave!
This is as unconventional as announcing a king’s birth to shepherds or calling a bunch of fishermen to preach the gospel to the world! In those days women were excluded from school, places of worship, easily divorced and their testimony in court was questionable.
Jesus the savior
Jesus sent his disciples to get food and waited for someone (John 4). He asked the woman at the well for water. This was no ordinary request. She was at the well in the heat of the day, most likely because that’s when she could avoid other women and their gossip due to her scandalous relationships with men. Also, she was a Samaritan, which Jews didn’t associate with because of “racial and religious prejudices” (The Quest Study Bible, page 1470).
Yet, Jesus would be seen with her, talk to her and even ask to share water with her.
He went out of his way for her.
She was worth his time.
She was not too unclean for him.
Her sin was not too big for him.
He did not condemn her, but offered her living water.
Which she accepted right there, dropping her water jar where they stood, and ran into town to tell everyone the messiah had come. Now that’s a testimony!
Jesus the defender
One more story of Jesus showing up for not only women, but women society had cast down. Let’s read in John 8:
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
Jesus the defender, the savior, saved her from a brutal death of stoning. What did he write in the sand!? Wouldn’t we love to know? My Quest Bible (page 1478) speculates in the commentary. “Perhaps he was listing the sins of the accusers. Perhaps he was writing the Old Testament laws the required them to convict both the man as well as the woman in situations of adultery. Whatever he wrote, Jesus stopped the vigilantes’ rush to judgement and made them wait for his surprising answer.”
Children in those days were not given the attention and care most do today. They were not highly valued, usually seen as laborers and oftentimes didn’t make it into adulthood. Jesus thought differently. Mark 10:13-16:
And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
What an image, Jesus taking the children into his arms. And not only does he not deter the children from coming to him, he says that if we want to see Heaven, we’ll need the mentality they have!
Why was Jesus’ first miracle turning water into wine?
It’s a curious miracle isn’t it? Especially for the very first one. Turning water into wine? Wouldn’t you like to try that vino! If you know Jesus, you know that there is symbolism, meaning and a multitude of reasons. I don’t pretend to know all of them, but I’ll share some fascinating points I’ve discovered. Let’s read from John, the only gospel that records this miracle. Chapter 2:
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
Stone jars were used for washing in Jewish purification ceremonies. They were more expensive than clay jars as they were cut from one piece of stone, because stone is not subject to impurity.
Now in ancient days it was common for people to put wine in their water to purify it and improve the taste of the unfiltered water. Could it be that Jesus was also purifying the water in these jars? That even though they, as the Jewish people, tried to be clean by obeying the law with these rituals, still needed cleansing. He’s making clean what we never could — our hearts.
How beautiful that his first miracle was performed at a wedding. Marriage was created by God to be a tangible representation of his relationship with his people. It is meant to point toward him and advance his kingdom. Jesus is referred to as our bridegroom over and over! And one day he will come back to claim his bride, the church.
Like the covenant between a husband and wife, believers enter a covenant with Jesus when they decide to follow him. Communion or the Lord’s Supper is a way to symbolize our covenant with him. It is the breaking and eating of bread to symbolize Christ’s body broken for us and drinking wine to remember the blood he shed for our sins.
The focus on wine during this union was a foreshadowing of communion. Old Testament Jewish laws were necessary and reminded God’s people of their inability to keep the law, but Jesus had come to fulfill the it, to cover those sins with his own blood and reunite us with the Father.
It’s interesting that the only observers to this miracle were the servants and the disciples. He has clearly come not for status or applause, but for the lost and those who know they need a savior.
I smile when I read this interaction between Jesus and Mary. It used to bother me that he called his mother “woman,” but the Hebrew word gynē (pronounced goo-nay) is actually a respectful term commonly used in scripture, meaning woman or wife. It’s not cold or condescending as it is translated into English.
(Side note: You don’t have to be a scholar to check out what the Greek and Hebrew words mean. I simply used the lexicon tool on the Blue Letter Bible site! It has all kinds of tools and commentary worth checking out.)
Mary knew it had begun. The baptism, students, things were in motion. “Do whatever he tells you,” she says. I just love it. His mother knows him, what he’s capable of, and trusts in him. I imagine this was an endearing interaction with a hint of humor. You know Jesus is super funny, right?
Next: What did Jesus teach?
This is the first miracle of many. His apostles are in place. Now it’s time for the rest of the world to know who he is. In the second ministry segment, we’ll continue exploring the gospels to learn what he taught and why it was controversial. Why did Jesus speak in parables? Why didn’t he write part of the Bible or travel the world? What was he like as a person? I have TWO printables for you in this part!