Christianity 201

January 11, 2016

From Preparation to Full-Time Ministry

NIV Matt. 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

This verse in Matthew is a transitional sentence between to eras in the life of Jesus, and it would be easy to dismiss it as simply that. However there are a number of overtones we don’t want to miss.

First of all it says that Jesus began his public ministry. We tend to characterize this as a ‘rabbinic’ type of teaching, but Matthew is careful to note that Jesus began to preach and then deals with the calling of his particular rabbinical students or disciples.

So what about Jesus the carpenter? Did he give his notice on Thursday afternoon, saying to the others he worked with, “I’m starting a new job on Monday, you can mail my last paycheck;” or did he phase out of carpentry work gradually? After he started preaching, what if someone needed their table fixed? Did he continue to do that type of work?

I’m going to say probably not. We have a good example in scripture of bi-vocational ministry in the life of the Apostle Paul (and others he ministered with, such as Lydia) but there’s no indication that Jesus continued doing the work of his earthly father Joseph. I would prefer to think of his teaching ministry as an all-in, full-time, abandoning-all commitment; the complete object of his time and devotion.

The second half of the verse is a reference to John the Baptist who we understand as also involved in full-time peripatetic ministry. Jesus picks up the teaching ministry of his forerunner, which begins in a call to repentance.

He does this only after learning that John has been imprisoned:

12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee.

and this of course comes only after a time of testing:

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

This temptation culminates a time of preparation which begins with Jesus discussing the scriptures with the rabbis at age 12 in the temple:

Luke 2:46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers…49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?

and then in our key verse for today (17) the scene has changed, his teaching ministry commences, as the Asbury Bible Commentary describes:

The proclamation of Jesus contains two major and interrelated elements. The first is the announcement that the kingdom of heaven is near. The kingdom of heaven is a central theme in this gospel; therefore this phrase deserves special comment.

In Matthew’s gospel, “the kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of God” are used interchangeably. They mean the same thing. The kingdom of God is a dynamic concept referring to the active reign of God. In fact, it is better translated “the rule of God.”

This concept stems primarily from the Jewish understanding of the two ages. The Jews divided all of history into two periods: (1) the present evil age, under the immediate control of Satan; and (2) the age to come, when God will break the power of evil and usher in his kingdom through his Messiah. Mt 4:17 therefore declares that the long-awaited rule of God has now drawn near (to the point of having already arrived; cf. 12:28) in the person of Jesus.

The second major element in 4:17 is the call to repentance. It is not enough to hear that the kingdom of God has arrived; persons also must respond to this message. And the only appropriate response is repentance. The term literally means “changing of the mind” (metanoeo), and in this context it involves orienting all of life, both thinking and behavior, around one ultimate reality: God now rules in the person of his Son, Jesus.

This will be the status-quo of ministry life for Jesus until the next scene change, the next time we see the phrase “From this time on.”

Matt 16 21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

The Bible Panorama describes chapter 4 of Matthew in four terms:

  • Devil Resisted
  • Darkness Dispelled
  • Disciples Called
  • Divine Results

The latter is a reference to verses 23-25

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

What about you? Is it time for you to begin your ministry?


Today’s thoughts prepared with free study resources available at BibleGateway.com

January 9, 2014

The Two Audiences

In a blog titled Christianity 201, one assumes the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 is somewhat familiar.  If not, take the time to read it here.

I’ve been reading an advance copy of the book AHA by Kyle Idleman, releasing in the spring, and he noted something that my wife said we’ve heard before, but it struck me rather fresh this time. After completely digesting the story, Kyle returned to the setup that Luke provides in the first two verses:

1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered…

There you see two distinct audiences for Jesus’ story: Tax collectors and sinners — interesting distinction, don’t you think? — representing the younger brother in the story who returns to his father at the end to say, “I have sinned…” and Pharisees and teachers of the law represented the older brother in the story. Kyle even hints that finding a way to reach the hearts of that second group may have more to do with how the particular story was crafted.

AHA Kyle IdlemanIn many respects, this represents the two types of people who sit near us at any given weekend church service. If your church is doing it right; you’ve got people from the community who you and your fellow church members are inviting who are on the road to crossing the line of faith, or have recently come into fellowship and are seeing everything for the first time. Then, you’ve got what is probably a majority of people who have been in church since they were minus-nine months; the Sunday School teachers, choir/worship team members, committee members, ushers, elders, deacons, etc.

Is every Sunday’s sermon a Prodigal Son type of story that bridges the two audiences? I can picture myself coming to your church and preaching this story and impressing everyone with how it reaches both types of people, but then what do the following week for an encore?

I was first made to think about this when I had the privilege of hearing Keith Green in concert several times before his death in 1982.  (Did I just give away my age?) Keith was one of the most spiritually focused Christian musicians I have ever encountered and he easily bridged the gap between two kinds of audience members by stressing the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The call that Jesus makes in scripture is a call to people who are (a) hungry and thirsty and (b) people who need to have that hunger and thirst — that desire for God — perpetually stimulated. There is a saying that, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink, but you can put salt in its oats to make it thirsty.‘ (Okay, you’re probably less familiar with that last bit.)

Psalm 42:1 (NiRV) states:

A deer longs for streams of water.
    God, I long for you in the same way.

God wants to cultivate within us a hunger and thirst for Him. The person who has been a Christ-follower for 40-years needs this just as much as the person who has been a Christian for 40 minutes.

I believe it was Keith Green himself who pointed out that the word saviour occurs 37 times in the King James translation, while Lord appears 7836 times. That’s a ratio of nearly 212 to one. Our evangelistic and pre-evangelistic efforts are great as far as they go, but Christ’s intent is nothing less than that we make Him Lord over all our lives.

Bringing our lives in subjection to him is something the Prodigal Son story teaches both to the younger brothers and older brothers in the crowd; the message cuts across both demographics.


As I approached the end of the book, there were two brief things that also struck me that I wanted to share here.

“Let’s say the Prodigal Son lived in our culture today. He would have run out of money, but then, in order to prolong the pleasure, he would have continued his wild living by racking up credit-card debt. How much more would that have complicated his story? How much worse would it have been for the son to arrive home with looming debt? Picture him saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I have no money, and by the way, some creditors are coming, and I owe twice what my inheritance was worth.’ The longer we try and prolong the pleasure, the greater the pain will be.”  (pp 168-9)

The other insight was in reference to the older brother:

“This is the problem with confidence in our own goodness. We begin to believe we’re going to earn something from the Father. But the Father’s house is not a house of merit; it is a house of mercy.” (p. 200)

Those of us who have been in the church for awhile need to curb the tendencies to fall into older brother syndrome, because the demand for Lordship that Christ places on us is actually greater than that placed on those who are meeting Him for the first time.

December 16, 2012

A New Teacher Launches His Church

While looking at the Christmas narrative this week, I decided to cheat and read ahead a little. While we tend to think of Jesus initiating his public ministry in the changing of water into wine at Cana, the closest thing we find to an official ‘launch party’ is his baptism by John in the Jordan River. Today we would hold a rally or kick off an advertising campaign, but after public confirmation of his ministry by both John, the Holy Spirit (in the form of a dove), and The Father (the voice from heaven); we instead find Jesus in the wilderness for forty days.

Just as I am sure the twelve disciples looked at the events of Good Friday by saying, “This isn’t the way it’s supposed to end;” it would have been equally fair for someone present at that time to say, “This isn’t the way it’s supposed to begin.” Today is no different. We want to launch ministry with large meetings and newspaper space and television airtime; not with a 6-week fast.

It always amazes me how some key events in scripture are presented so succinctly. The Bible wastes no words; its concision is a model for authors of all types. The 4th chapter in Luke kicks off with just two verses:

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

And the section ends with this one we often overlook:

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary notes: “The words imply that the temptation was renewed later. The Savior lived under the constant pressure of evil.” The Eerdman’s Bible Commentary states it somewhat differently, “The devil does not reappear until 22:3 [what scripture calls “entering into” Judas] but it would be rash to assume that he was inactive during the intervening period. (p. 1035)

Matthew Henry says of this verse:

What was the result and issue of this combat, Luke 4:13. Our victorious Redeemer kept his ground, and came off a conqueror, not for himself only, but for us also.

1. The devil emptied his quiver: He ended all the temptation. Christ gave him opportunity to say and do all he could against him; he let him try all his force, and yet defeated him. Did Christ suffer, being tempted, till all the temptation was ended? And must not we expect also to pass all our trials, to go through the hour of temptation assigned us?

2. He then quitted the field: He departed from him. He saw it was to no purpose to attack him; he had nothing in him for his fiery darts to fasten upon; he had no blind side, no weak or unguarded part in his wall, and therefore Satan gave up the cause. Note, If we resist the devil, he will flee from us.

3. Yet he continued his malice against him, and departed with a resolution to attack him again; he departed but for a season, achri kairoutill a season, or till the season when he was again to be let loose upon him, not as a tempter, to draw him to sin, and so to strike at his head, which was what he now aimed at and was wholly defeated in; but as a persecutor, to bring him to suffer by Judas and the other wicked instruments whom he employed, and so to bruise his heel, which it was told him (Gen. 3:15) he should have to do, and would do, though it would be the breaking of his own head. He departed now till that season came which Christ calls the power of darkness (Luke 22:53), and when the prince of this world would again come, John 14:30.

Jesus public ministry was born out of hunger, out of spiritual struggle, out of personal testing, and out of wrestling with these to a degree to such as none of us have ever known nor will experience. This is how he inaugurated his public ministry. In the next scene he makes his public declaration in the temple that, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (vs. 21)