A Brief Bible History/Section 2/Lesson 4
The Early Judean Ministry
After the temptation Jesus descended again into the Jordan Valley, where the baptism had taken place. There he received the testimony of John the Baptist. John 1:19–34. John had come not to perform a work of his own, but to be a witness to the greater One who was to follow. He put aside, therefore, all thoughts of personal ambition, declared plainly that he was not the Christ, and rejoiced when his disciples left him in order to follow the One whom he had come to announce. John had had revealed to him, moreover, not merely the fact that Jesus was the Saviour, but also something of the way in which the salvation was to be wrought. Jesus was to die, like a sacrificial lamb, for the sins of others. "Behold, the Lamb of God," said John to his disciples, "that taketh away the sin of the world!"
After the meeting with these six disciples, our Lord ascended again from the valley of the Jordan to the higher country of Galilee. And there, in the village of Cana, he wrought the first of his miracles. John 2:1–11. He was a guest at a wedding feast, and when the wine ran out he supplied the lack by turning water into wine. Thereby he not only manifested his power, but also indicated the manner of his ministry. He was not to be an austere person like John the Baptist, living far from the habitations of men. On the contrary, his ministry was, for those whom he came to win, a ministry of joy. He entered not merely into the sorrows, but also into the joys of men; the One who was to die for the sins of the world was also willing to grace a marriage feast!
After a brief sojourn at Capernaum, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where he was afterwards to carry on a large part of his ministry, Jesus went southward to Jerusalem at passover time. At Jerusalem his first recorded act was an act of stern rebuke. John 2:13–22. The Temple area was filled with the tables of those who sold the sheep and oxen and doves which were intended for sacrifice; the sacred precincts of God's house had been made a place of business. There was no hesitation on the part of Jesus; he made a scourge of cords and drove the traffickers out. It is a mistake to suppose that the wonderful gentleness of our Saviour or his gracious participation in innocent joys was any indication of weakness. Though always merciful to the penitent, Jesus could be indignant against blatant sinners; and the righteous anger of the Saviour was a terrible thing.
One example of this knowledge was afforded by the case of Nicodemus, John 3:1–15; Jesus knew what Nicodemus lacked. Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus by night, to discuss the substance of what Jesus had been saying. But our Lord would not waste time with things that lay on the surface. He went straight to the heart of the matter, and said to Nicodemus, "Ye must be born anew." V. 7. None of the learning, none of the worldly influence of Nicodemus would avail; true life could come only by a new birth, which all, rich and poor, learned and ignorant, must receive, and receive, not by their own efforts, but by the mysterious power of the Spirit of God. Jesus spoke, too, on that memorable night, of the sacrificial death which he himself was to die for the sins of men. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness," he said, "even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life."
Then Jesus left Jerusalem, the capital, and carried on, through his disciples, a ministry of baptism in the country districts of Judea. John 3:22–30. He was thus engaging in a work which before had belonged peculiarly to John the Baptist. Some of John's disciples were perhaps inclined to be envious. But there was no envy in the heart of John himself. He had come not for his own sake but to be a witness to Jesus as Messiah. And now he rejoiced in the growing prominence of Jesus. "The friend of the bridegroom," he said about himself, "rejoices at the voice of the bridegroom. He must increase, but I must decrease." Vs. 29, 30, in substance.
When this early Judean ministry was over, Jesus went back to Galilee. On the way he passed through Samaria. John 4:1–42. The inhabitants of Samaria were not of pure Jewish race, and although they accepted the five books of Moses and looked for the coming of a Messiah, they did not accept all of the Old Testament. They were despised by the Jews. But even for the Samaritans, and for the most degraded among them, the Saviour had a message of hope. Wearied by his journey, our Lord was sitting by Jacob's well near the city of Sychar. When his disciples had gone into the city to buy food, a woman came to draw water at the well. For that woman it was a memorable hour. Jesus was willing to labor, and that in the midst of his weariness, for one sinful soul, as well as for all the multitudes that had crowded around him in Judea. The woman was of sinful life, and she could not hide her sin from Jesus. But Jesus searched out her sin, not in order to condemn her, but in order to bring to her the message of salvation. Attracted, then, by what the woman had said, a number of the Samaritans came to Jesus and recognized him as the Messiah and as the Saviour of the world.
QUESTIONS ON LESSON IV
- Give an account of the testimony of John the Baptist to Jesus. How did John know that Jesus was the Messiah?
- What happened at Cana? Who, besides Jesus, was a guest at the feast?
- Give an outline of all the journeys of Jesus up to his passage through Samaria.
- Give an account, fuller than the outline given, of the early Judean ministry. What did Jesus say when he was asked to give a sign?
- What is the meaning of the "new birth"? Is it still necessary to-day if a man is to be saved? How does it come?