A re-enactment of the nativity scene: Jesus cradled in the arms of His mother Mary.
When the stage of history is prepared, the Father sends His Son to redeem us. Jesus is the promised Messiah Who saves God’s people. We look at Jesus’s incarnation, and review His life and ministry up to His final entry into Jerusalem. And we see how each of the four Gospels gives us a unique view of Jesus’s life and character and ministry.
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Summary of part 10
At the end you’ll find Bible passages to read and questions for individual or small group study.
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Four and a half centuries elapsed from the closing words of the last Old Testament prophet, Malachi, to Jesus’s birth. During these years, God was active in history, setting the stage for the coming of His Son.
Then, in the days of the Roman Emperor Augustus, the angel Gabriel told a priest called Zacharias that his wife would bear him a son. This son would be John the Baptist – God’s messenger to prepare the nation for Jesus’s ministry.
A few months later, Gabriel told a betrothed virgin called Mary that she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit. His name was to be Jesus. This child would be no less than the Son of God Himself. He’d be a direct descendant of King David. He would sit on David’s throne and reign over God’s people for ever.
So Mary was found “with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1.18). The Word of Life began human life as a tiny foetus in a virgin womb. In a one-roomed Bethlehem shanty, where man and beast shared a single roof (the most likely scenario) Mary gave birth. God was made flesh, a helpless infant nestling in a feeding trough. He is “Immanuel” , meaning “God with us” (Matthew 1.23).
Humble shepherds came from nearby fields, and beheld the true Lamb of God. Later, magi from the East worshipped Him, offering Him costly gifts fit for a king. But King Herod tried to kill the infant Jesus. Warned by God, however, Joseph and Mary had already taken Him to Egypt. After Herod’s death they settled in Nazareth.
A second Adam – our Pattern
Jesus grew from infancy to adulthood just as we all do, but without sin. He spent the greater part of his life living quietly at home, working in the family carpentry and building business. Dorothy Sayers commented: “He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death.” Jesus is our Pattern. In His selfless love, humility, unpretentious dignity and calm authority; in his reaction to insult and abuse; in His patience and kindness and compassion, and in His righteous anger; in His dependence on God and obedience to Him, Jesus shows us how God intended us to be.
Revealing the Father
And Jesus reveals God to us. Satan caused Adam to think wrongly about God. So, step by step, God revealed Himself to mankind. Finally, God, who “spoke to our fathers by the prophets” (Hebrews 1.1) came to Earth Himself in the Person of His Son. Jesus said: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14.9).
Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist in the Jordan. Then the Holy Spirit, visible as a dove, descended and rested on Him. The Spirit was commissioning Jesus as God’s Messiah – the promised One Who would save God’s people and establish God’s Kingdom. ‘Messiah’ means ‘anointed one’ – but rather than symbolic oil, the Spirit Himself rested on Jesus. The Father declared: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3.17, echoing parts of Psalm 2.7 and Isaiah 42.1).
The Spirit then drove Jesus into the Judean wilderness. There Satan tempted Him. His obedience in that wilderness reflects the obedience of a lifetime. In every way, Jesus was “tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4.15).
Jesus’s public ministry may have begun in the autumn of AD 26 or 29, with His crucifixion in AD 30 or 33. Jesus opened His public ministry with these words: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1.15). Jesus frequently spoke about the Kingdom of God – for example in the parables of the Kingdom recorded in Matthew 13.1-51.
Near the start of His ministry, Jesus preached in His home town, Nazareth. He read from Isaiah 61.1-2a. In this passage, Isaiah echoes the description of Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25.8-55), which God’s people were to observe every 50 years. In this year, people were released from labour on their farms. Jewish slaves were to be freed. Any family property that had to be sold off was to return its original owners; people could go back home. It was a year of release – from toil, from servitude, from losing their homes. Jesus said: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” God’s day of release and salvation – foreshadowed in the Jubilee – had arrived! The Saviour Himself had come!
Teaching and healing
Jesus’s ministry focused on Galilee. But He travelled outside that region, too – through Samaria and in Judea to the south, in the Decapolis and Gaulanitis to the east, and in Perea to the south-east. One trip to the region of Tyre and Sidon is also recorded. He visited Jerusalem a number of times, typically in connection with one of the Jewish feasts. Jesus chose 12 men to be with Him, and whom He could send to preach and heal. But He had many other disciples beyond this ‘inner circle’.
Multitudes of people knew our Lord’s healing touch. Jesus and His disciples travelled through the land, conquering disease, death and demonic oppression. And He exercised lordship over the natural world – water became wine, fish and loaves were multiplied, great catches of fish were hauled in. He walked on water; He calmed the raging sea.
And Jesus teaches us. He does so unforgettably and with astonishing power. Jesus is a radical in the original sense of the word – His teaching goes to the root of things. He makes us sit up and see things as they really are – in the light of eternity. For example, He says, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16.26). Jesus assures us here that our souls are worth more than “the whole world” – or, as commentator R.C.H. Lenski spells out for us, “. . . all the world’s wealth, power, pleasure, glory, . . . all sensations, all enjoyments, all achievements, all satisfactions.” Jesus assures us that each of us is far more precious than all of this. And He sobers us with the thought that we can, if we want, lose our souls. We can lose everything that really matters. That’s reality!
Jesus teaches his disciples about what it really means to follow Him. He says: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16.24). Jesus asks us to allow our ‘self’ – which makes me the centre of my universe and which insists on my own way – to be crucified, and to follow Him. Oswald Chambers comments: “Jesus Christ never asks us to devote ourselves to a cause or a creed; He asks us to devote ourselves to Him, to sign away the right to ourselves and yield to Him absolutely, . . . .”
It was typical of rabbis to tell parables. Jesus was no exception. He drives eternal truths home to us through stories and imagery that indelibly etch themselves on our minds – the carefree beauty of the flowers; the simple humility of children; a father’s astonishing love to a delinquent son; the shepherd’s care for his flock; the grain of wheat dying and springing into life; the vine and its branches.
Jesus often talked about a great division – a broad way and a narrow way, wise and foolish builders, wheat and weeds, sheep and goats. But Jesus didn’t just teach about a great division; His teaching itself divided people.
The religious leaders (with some noble exceptions) rejected Him. Those whom decent folk would avoid flocked to Him and hung on His every word. Jesus reached out to those of low social standing, the poor and the despised. He is the friend of sinners.
The true Messiah
A turning point in Jesus’s ministry occurred perhaps a year before His crucifixion. Jesus had just satisfied a great crowd with bread and fish. Some of the crowd tried to take Him by force to make Him a king. But Jesus’s Kingdom is not of this world. He slipped away and began to teach the people what that miracle really meant. The One who gave them bread is the Bread of Life; whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life.
And in the final year or so of His ministry He began to teach His remaining disciples about what it really meant to be the Messiah. Jesus wasn’t the messiah of popular imagination. God’s people didn’t need rescue from political and military oppression; they didn’t need freedom from religious corruption. They needed rescue from indwelling sin. They needed eternal life. Only the Messiah’s death and resurrection could give them that.
Only days after Jesus began to teach His disciples about His death, He took Peter, James and John up a mountain. His face and clothes glowed, dazzling them with radiance. Moses and Elijah appeared with Him. God repeated what He said at Jesus’s baptism: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” , this time adding “listen to him” . (Matthew 17.5).
The radiance faded. Jesus took the road to humiliation, torture and death. Around nine months later, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. It was a Passover feast – the one at which He Himself would be the Passover Lamb. Requisitioning a donkey, He rode into Jerusalem to the jubilation of the crowds.
But within days, a mob would echo the cry, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27.20-23). In our next session, we’ll trace the last days of Jesus from His arrest to His ascension to the Father’s right hand in heaven.
Bible passages and questions
?Read Matthew 1.18-25, Luke 1.26-38. Why is the virgin birth of Jesus so crucial?
?Read Luke 3.21-23, 4.1,16-21. Why did Jesus get baptised? And what’s the significance of what happened as he emerged from the water?
?Read Matthew 4.1-11. Jesus’s temptation links back to two episodes in the Old Testament. What are they? And what’s the significance of these links?
?Read Mark 1.14-15, Matthew 6.9-13, 12.22-28, 13.1-23, 16.24-28, 18.1-4, Luke 8.1, 9.57-62. What is the single most important theme of Jesus’s teaching?
?Read Matthew 4.23-25, 12.22-28 (again), Mark 4.35-41, Luke 7.11-23, John 6.1-15,25-35, Acts 2.22. Why did Jesus do miracles?
?Read Luke 9.28-36 and part of Matthew’s parallel, Matthew 17.5. What is the significance of Jesus’s transfiguration? And why did Moses and Elijah appear? (Note: ”departure” in Luke 9.31 translates the Greek word exodos).
CREDITS ► Text copyright © 2017 Robert Gordon Betts ► All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.