Chapter 23 “Jesus’ Ministry Begins”
If God’s prophets were meant to be peculiar, John the Baptist did not disappoint. Eccentric is too mild a description for this wilderness dwelling preacher who wore odd clothes and lacked both a sense of tact and a balanced diet. His message, though, was right in step with a long line of prophetic predecessors. He called for Israel’s repentance and baptized the penitent in the Jordan River.
John was awestruck when Jesus came to be baptized by him. Then he watched in amazement as heaven opened wide and the Spirit of God came to rest on Jesus. John and those with him were astonished to hear the voice of the Father Himself broadcasting His divine approval. The community of God had gathered to bear witness to their incarnation. The Spirit then led Jesus to a lonely wilderness, where he spent the next 40 days in one-on-one combat with Satan, the enemy of God. He confronted Satan’s evil allurements and proved Himself obedient to the Father and triumphant over sin.
John the Baptist denied claims that he was Messiah, pointing to Jesus and announcing, “Look, the Lamb of God.” Andrew heard John’s message and rushed to tell his brother, Simon Peter, and others that Messiah had come. Jesus gathered His band of followers and began training them with marvelous words and miraculous ways. His first miracle took place when He went to a wedding in Cana with his mother, Mary, and his disciples. The wine ran out, so Mary turned to Jesus to remedy the embarrassing state of affairs. Jesus simply instructed the servants to fill six jars with water and serve the guests. When they did, the guests marveled that finest wine had been kept such a secret until now and Jesus’ disciples caught their earliest glimpse of the One who shared creative power with His Father.
The disciples became increasingly aware that Jesus was indeed their long-expected Messiah, but others were not so sure. A religious leader called Nicodemus had a clandestine encounter with Jesus to find some answers. Jesus’ simple reply was, “You must be ‘born again’….of the Spirit. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus had a similar conversation with a Samaritan woman who had come to draw water from a well. With her, he spoke of ‘living water,’ but the message was the same: accept His gift and be saved. When she mentioned the Messiah, Jesus confirmed His identity. She believed and shared the news with her entire village, as the second missionary of the new Messiah.
Jesus traveled the area, taught in the synagogues and healed the people. He ousted demons and cleansed socially exiled lepers. The crowds grew and so did His critics. On one occasion, four men dug through the roof of a house so they could bring their paralytic friend to Him. Before he healed him, Jesus forgave the man, while the religious teachers grew indignant over such claims. But Jesus validated His authority by commanding the paralytic to get up and walk. The Pharisees missed the miracle and were incensed that Jesus had violated tradition by healing on the Sabbath.
This Sabbath infringement, coupled with his absurd claim to be the Messiah Himself, on top of his questionable social circles, quickly turned the establishment against Him. And so the conspiracy to kill Jesus began. While many debated, questioned, and wondered about Jesus’ identity, one thing was certain: Jesus was controversial. Some saw hope, but others hated Him and wanted only to be rid of Him. John the Baptist had loved Him from the beginning but now, languishing in prison, he began to doubt as well, demonstrating that even the best of us have our faith tested under difficult circumstances. But throughout this chapter, His baptism, His triumph over temptation, His miracles, and His message confirm Him as the long expected One who confounds expectations, is drawn to the least and the lost, and whose message is indeed for all, from the graduate professor to the immoral woman to the leper – the
Anointed One indeed.