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Jesus' Ministry Begins
After Luke relates the story of the twelve-year-old Jesus confounding the teachers in the Temple, eighteen years pass with nothing more said about Him other than, "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52). Though many have speculated about His activities during that period, it is impossible to know anything for certain about them. It is most probable that He remained in Nazareth, assisting Joseph in the building trade. Though Nazareth was a small, rural town, it sat not far from a well-populated, cosmopolitan, trading center, and He would have had many opportunities to speak with and interact with people from all over the Roman Empire.
As firstborn son, He may have had to take on the mantle of business owner and head of household when Joseph died, as it is assumed, since there is no mention of His stepfather once His ministry begins. Being given these serious responsibilities at a young age would have provided Him valuable experience in leadership, decision-making, and dealing with various people and situations. By the time His ministry commences at the age of thirty (Luke 3:23), He is no novice, but a fully mature, sober-minded, qualified leader.
Half a year earlier, another thirty-year-old man had suddenly appeared out of the wilderness of Judea in the area of the Jordan River, preaching a fiery message of repentance and baptizing "for the remission of sins" (Luke 3:3). This young man is John, son of Zacharias the priest, and Jesus' cousin through their mothers. He is, he says, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Make straight the way of the LORD'" (John 1:23), fulfilling the prophecies of Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1. He is the forerunner, the herald, announcing the coming of the Messiah.
Hardened by years in the desert, wearing a rough-spun garment of camel's hair bound by a leather belt and eating locusts and wild honey (Mark 1:6), John fears nothing, especially the hypocritical religious leaders of the time. As the last of the Old Testament prophets, he thoroughly castigates the Pharisees and Sadducees, calling them a "brood of vipers" and instructing them to begin bearing fruits to demonstrate their repentance (Matthew 3:7-8). He sternly warns them to show their quality right away, for a Mighty One is coming, a great Judge who will separate the wheat from the chaff (verses 11-12).
It is probably in the fall of that year that Jesus journeys from Nazareth to the Jordan to be baptized by John. At first, John argues that He, being sinless, did not need to be baptized—in fact, "I need to be baptized by You" (Matthew 3:14). Jesus, however, tells John to baptize Him "to fulfill all righteousness" (verse 15). Righteousness is doing what is good and proper. Though He did not need to be baptized, it is fitting that Jesus set the example of the proper method of baptism—by immersion—and of the ritual that demonstrates a person's rejection of his old life and his dedication to his new life and relationship with God. All new converts should go through the same ceremony to begin their Christian lives (see Acts 2:38-39).
As Jesus emerges out of the water, God the Father performs a miraculous, visible sign to show His approval: "[B]ehold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:16-17). Upon witnessing this, John says, "He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God" (John 1:33-34).
The very next day, John sees Jesus again, and he tells two of his disciples, one of whom was Andrew (and the other was probably John son of Zebedee), "Behold the Lamb of God!" (John 1:35-36). It is an obvious reference to His sacrificial redemption of men from their sins (see verse 29). The two disciples leave John and follow Him, and soon Andrew introduces Him to Simon Peter (verse 42). One day later, Jesus calls Phillip and Nathanael to follow Him too (verse 43). Already He has a small group of disciples around Him. The next day, the third after His baptism, He attends a wedding in Cana, accompanied by His handful of disciples (John 2:1-12). John writes that the miracle He did there, turning water into wine, was the "beginning of signs Jesus did," providing evidence of His glorious identity and work (verse 11).
However, "the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness" (Mark 1:12) soon thereafter, and He spends forty days there, severely tempted and tested by Satan the Devil. Matthew 4 and Luke 4 recount Satan's attempts to make Jesus sin, to wear Him down to the point He would put His own life and desires ahead of God's purpose. Yet, Jesus, having fasted for forty days and nights, is spiritually strong and resists even Satan's offer to give Him full rulership of all the kingdoms of the earth without having to preach, suffer, and die, if He will simply worship him (Matthew 4:8-9; Luke 4:5-7). Christ will not be bought. He rounds on Satan and commands him, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve'" (Matthew 4:10; Luke 4:8). It is no contest. Jesus Christ will not be turned from the work God had given Him to do.
From there, Jesus returns to Galilee with great spiritual power (Luke 4:14), teaching in the synagogues of the various towns and villages of the area. He waits, however, until John the Baptist had been imprisoned by Herod Antipas, the ruler of the regions of Perea and Galilee, to begin preaching more publicly. It appears that He inaugurated His public ministry at Nazareth on a Sabbath day, reading aloud the portion of Isaiah 61:1-2, a well-known Messianic prophecy of His work to Israel. Upon finishing the passage, "He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing'" (Luke 4:20-21).
Jesus Christ had taken the first steps down the road to Calvary—and glory.
Next: The Gospel Jesus Preached (8/17)