The Ministry of Jesus (Matthew 4:12-23)

Jesus Calls His Disciples by He Qi

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
    the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
    Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned.”

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. (New International Version)

What is “ministry”? 

For some, ministry is only about the souls of people; it is seeing as many people respond to the message of salvation in Christ as possible. 

For others, ministry is meeting the tangible needs of people because there is such a breadth and depth of human social and physical problems. 

And, for others, ministry is defined in terms of what takes place within the four walls of a church building, led by pastors and church leaders.

“Ministry takes place when divine resources meet human needs through loving channels to the glory of God.”

Warren Wiersbe

Problems, however, arise whenever we:

  • Focus on one dimension of ministry. Because, in reality, ministry is multidimensional.
  • Fulfill the outward, administrative demands of ministry – without going after the relational heart of what ministry entails. 
  • Forget about whole groups of people who are different than us. Ministry is for everyone, not some.

We need to look at the ministry of Jesus – what he did and why he did it. Christ’s purpose is to be our purpose: Minister to the total life of all people.

Jesus Preaching

Before there were newspapers, CNN, and 24 hour news cycles, ancient people heard what was happening from heralds or preachers who loudly announced in the streets the important news of the day.

Jesus had a ministry to both Jew and Gentile. Although his ministry was chiefly directed toward his fellow Jews, Christ went out of his way to engage Gentiles, as well, with a message of repentance.

Repentance is turning the whole person – body, soul, mind, will, and emotions – from sin and disobedience to God in obedience to the message of Christ. It involves humility, sorrow for sin, and a commitment to following Jesus.

To repent doesn’t mean to manage sin or clean up parts of my life; it’s a radical conversion from an old way of life to a new way of life. Repentance is not simply adding Jesus to our schedule but is a complete change of how we live.

Christianity is a life, not just an event. Following Jesus is a journey, a life-long process of inner transformation; a complete forsaking of anything that does not please God; and a desire to reorient my life around what’s important to God. 

To illustrate this in a contemporary context, I ask, “What does it mean to follow the Green Bay Packers football team?” A fan not only watches all the games from start to finish, but cheers loudly for the Packers; talks about the Packers with everyone, even strangers; and doesn’t cheer for the Chicago Bears! Fans are committed to their team.

The difference, however, between football and Christianity, is that followers of a team are fans, whereas followers of Jesus are not fans in the stands or watching the television. Instead, Christ followers are on the field of play as teammates with Jesus.

So, when it comes to repentance, we turn from being fans of Jesus to followers of Jesus, doing what he did and saying what he said. We are active participants in the kingdom of God – embracing and embodying a message of repentance to new life in Christ.

Jesus Calling

Jesus calling the first disciples illustrates the kingdom message: a radical break with the old life. Each disciple walked away from a good life and embraced of a new life following Jesus.

Some understanding of Jewish culture in the time of Jesus is helpful here. Central to the life of any Jew was the Torah, the Law. Around age 6, Jewish boys would begin to go to the synagogue for schooling in the Torah by the local rabbi. 

This first level of education was called Beth Sefer (“House of the Book”) and would last until about age 10. In those four years, the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, were thoroughly memorized.

By age 10, some of the boys would distinguish themselves as good students and able to handle Torah. So, they would continue on in the second level of schooling called Beth Talmud (“House of Learning”). Those that did not continue with school would then learn the family trade and become an apprentice. Those that went on with school would then memorize the rest of the Old Testament.

At about age 14, only the best of the best were studying Torah. At the completion of their studies, they would apply to a well-known rabbi in order to become his disciple. The goal of this third level was to become just like the rabbi. This was called Beth Midrash (“House of Study”). The rabbi essentially interviews the teenager to find out if he has the stuff to become like the rabbi. 

If the rabbi believes the kid doesn’t have it in him, he tells him to go back to the family business. If, however, the rabbi grills the kid and finds he has what it takes, then he will say to him, “Come, follow me.” It was considered a great privilege and opportunity, and the teenager would leave everything to literally follow the rabbi everywhere he went.

Now, let’s return to Christ’s disciples. Jesus calls Andrew, Peter, James, and John. At the time, they were fishing because they were fishermen. That meant somewhere along the line they didn’t have what it took to further their education, or to follow a rabbi. 

Let’s, then, not miss the import and impact of Jesus saying to them, “Come, follow me!”  Jesus is expressing a belief that these men can become just like him. Well, of course you drop your nets and follow him! Jesus believes I can be like him! Jesus took a group of young men who couldn’t make the grade and used them to change human history. 

Jesus also says the same thing to you and me: I choose you. Come, follow me. 

Christ believed in us before we believed in him. Yes, Jesus believes you can do all the work of embodying the very words of God and becoming like him.

The attitude here is not, “Oh, geez, I have to go do ministry,” as if I were a teenager who was just asked to do the dishes. Rather, the attitude is of privilege and opportunity. If we fail to view ministry in this way, then we must come back to the message of repentance and have an attitude adjustment. People who follow Jesus do so because they get to, not because they have to.

Jesus Healing

            Envision yourself walking with Jesus and following him. You observe several things about his ministry of healing:

  • Jesus heals every problem. Christ has the power and authority to do so.
  • Jesus heals the whole person – not just the physical, or just the spiritual.
  • Jesus heals people whether they repent or not. Christ never made repentance a prerequisite for healing. He heals simply because he wants to.
  • Jesus heals to defeat the devil. Christ continually looks to reverse the hold that sin has on people.
  • Jesus chose to focus on healing the destitute, the poor, and the disadvantaged – rather than directing ministry to the higher classes and royalty to mediate his wishes to the people.

Who are the people – the least, the lonely, the lost – in need of healing in your family, neighborhood, and community?

  1. Those who are ill with various diseases
  2. Those suffering severe pain – of body, mind, emotion, and spirit
  3. The demon possessed or demonically influenced
  4. Prisoners and ex-convicts
  5. The working poor, and the elderly poor
  6. Those in the hospital with no one to visit them
  7. Those who grieve alone
  8. Those with addictions and behavioral issues
  9. Victims of verbal or physical abuse
  10. And many, many more….

Jesus had a ministry of both word and deed. To follow Christ is to become like him and pass on what we have learned to reliable people who will do the same.

A Divine Calling (Jeremiah 1:4-10)

The Prophet Jeremiah by Marc Chagall, 1960

The Lord gave me this message:

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.
    Before you were born I set you apart
    and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”

“O Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!”

The Lord replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” Then the Lord reached out and touched my mouth and said,

“Look, I have put my words in your mouth!

Today I appoint you to stand up
    against nations and kingdoms.
Some you must uproot and tear down,
    destroy and overthrow.
Others you must build up
    and plant.” (New Living Translation)

“Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.”

St. Paul to St. Timothy (1 Timothy 4:12, NLT)

I write to you, young people,
    because you are strong
    and the word of God abides in you,
        and you have overcome the evil one. (1 John 2:14, NRSV)

Young Jeremiah had an unusual calling from the Lord. It wasn’t to reach thousands with a life-giving message of hope and encouragement; the call was to declare destruction to an unjust people who believed they were fine, thank you very much.

It was a calling that would have been a huge challenge for the most seasoned of veteran prophets. But God called the young Jeremiah. This was his first crack at being a prophet of the Lord; and it was a doozy of a call!

Yet, when it comes to God’s call, age really means nothing. That’s because the Lord equips whomever the Lord wants to empower. Young or old makes no difference. All that’s needed is a willingness to submit to the voice of divine calling.

And to Jeremiah’s credit, the lengthy prophecy bearing his name in the Bible is a testament to his sense of call and straightforward obedience to it.

There is, and always has been, a divine/human cooperative in the world. God, of course, could do everything without humanity’s assistance. But it’s never been that way. Throughout the entirety of Holy Scripture, the Lord calls and empowers people for service.

On the one hand, this may seem like some strange convergence which, on the surface, is sure to end in some screw-ups and failure. Yet, on the other hand, this cooperation between Creator and creature gives people, at the least, a sense of ownership in the world; and, at the most, a powerful opportunity to bless the world with divine gifts of speaking and service.

Although Jeremiah was called to (mostly) pronounce doom, it’s first and foremost a message of justice. The Lord is concerned for the common good of all persons, not just some. Yahweh is not about to be forever idle whenever certain segments of humanity go rogue and harm their fellow sisters and brothers with unjust ways.

The Prophet Jeremiah by Marc Chagall, 1968

What’s more, the Lord delights in using people whom society at large might deem less than usable.

Now remember what you were, my friends, when God called you. From the human point of view few of you were wise or powerful or of high social standing. God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise, and he chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful. He chose what the world looks down on and despises and thinks is nothing, in order to destroy what the world thinks is important. (1 Corinthians 1:26-28, GNT)

If God can use a donkey to communicate a message, then it’s likely that the Lord can enable any person on earth to speak words of justice – no matter if they’re young, uneducated, or underprivileged – and make the older, educated, and privileged look like jack asses. (Numbers 22:22-35)

For Christians everywhere, every believer has been called by God to proclaim the gospel of grace. The Word has come to us in Christ, in the flesh (John 1:14). Jesus is the primary and ultimate revelation of God’s Word to us.

God has also set the Church apart to serve as proclaimers of God’s Word to the nations. The Great Commission and the Great Commandment summarize our call to ministry. (Matthew 22:37-40; 28:19-20)

Yahweh’s intentional purpose was for Jeremiah to proclaim God’s word. That’s also God’s intentional purpose for the Church; the Lord puts God’s words in the church’s mouth. Christians proclaim the Word, which we know most fully and experience most personally in Jesus Christ.

With our words, perspectives, attitudes, relationships, and actions, God’s Word flows through us to the world. As believers, we know that gospel proclamation will accomplish God’s purposes.

We trust that God is empowering us to effectively proclaim God’s words with effectiveness so that all the earth may be renewed and blessed.

Most High God, you knew each of us before we were ever born. And so, you know us better than we know ourselves. Your divine power is already there, deep within us. As you call forth that power, enable us to respond with submission, obedience, and willingness to speak words of justice, love, and grace to a world in need of hope and betterment, through Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Amen.