Jesus began his ministry when he was about 30 years old (Luke 3:23) in the region of Galilee. His basic message was “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) Jesus gained a number of disciples, specifically calling twelve of them to become his apostles, the ones who would become his continual companions and continue his ministry after his crucifixion and resurrection.
John the Baptist, who was the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy of the herald preceding Jesus’ ministry (see last week’s post), identified Jesus as the “Lamb of God”. Jesus was intended from the beginning to serve as the substitutionary sacrifice in payment for the sins of the world. John said (John 1:29-34)
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
John was a powerful witness to who Jesus is. But even he developed doubts when times became difficult. John was arrested and put in prison by Herod, whose adulterous lifestyle John publicly challenged (Matthew 14:3-4). While he was there, he sent some of his disciples to Jesus with a question.
Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:2-6)
John, like many, was a bit perplexed about Jesus’ ministry, wondering if he was the Messiah – possibly because Jesus wasn’t fitting a preconception of what the Messiah would be like. Jesus responded by referencing various Messianic prophecies from Isaiah.
- In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. (Isaiah 29:18)
- Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. (Isaiah 35:5-6)
- Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! (Isaiah 26:19)
- The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; (Isaiah 61:1-2)
This last passage was the one that Jesus read aloud in the synagogue in Nazareth (his hometown) when he began his ministry. Look at what happened (Luke 4:20-30).
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.
People have a tendency to reject Jesus when they decide he should be something different than he actually is. I encourage you to listen to him and accept what he says about himself. He is God, he gave his life as substitutionary punishment for your (and my) sins, and he overcame death for us all by coming back to life. As John 1:12 says, “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Don’t be like so many, who as Jesus and Isaiah prophesy, “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.” (Matthew 13:14-15; Isaiah 6:9-10)