What Do We Learn from ‘Jesus Begins His Work’?

For the past few weeks we looked at the beginnings of Jesus’ work of teaching and healing in Galilee. This period closes just before Jesus chooses twelve apostles to help expand his work even further. While we witnessed many healings, we do not hear him teaching his followers, though this occurs quickly in the next phase of his work.

In my opinion, we learned a lot about Jesus and his development in this beginning phase. Two significant considerations are:

  1. Discovering whether Jesus is judgmental and condemning or whether he is compassionate and inclusive, and
  2. Seeing how Jesus increasingly asserts his personal religious authority
Jesus preaches on the Sea of Galilee

Jesus predigt am See Genezareth (Jesus Preaches on the Sea of Galilee),
Attributed to Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (1621–1674), via Wikipedia Commons

1. Does Jesus Demonstrate Judgment or Compassion?

The series introduction emphasizes a central proposal of this blog that Jesus’ message and example are geared toward empathy, reconciliation, and acceptance rather than judgment, condemnation, and exclusion. But a legitimate question remains: Does systematic exploration of the Gospels really support these claims about Jesus’ words and actions?

This is a very valid, and important, question.

In the beginning stage of Jesus’ work, we don’t yet see definitive indicators one way or the other, but there are some interesting clues.

Jesus avoids judgmental themes from John the Baptist and Isaiah. While Jesus picks up John’s message “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”, he omits John’s warning “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

In addition, at his home synagogue in Nazareth Jesus uses a passage from Isaiah to declare his mission “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”. But he leaves out the key phrase that follows: “and the day of vengeance of our God.”

These seem to me potential early indicators that Jesus is not judgmental and condemning.

Jesus reveals his target audience. We learn that people are amazed by Jesus’ teaching, though we learn almost nothing of what he taught (this will change). So we cannot determine if his teaching is judgmental, but we can draw inferences from his target audience—the common people.

From his announcement at the Nazareth synagogue to the descriptions of the crowds he drew and accepted, we see Jesus focusing on the marginalized and those who are not careful about religious laws (‘sinners’). While he attracts attention from the religious élite, and does not turn them away, he focuses his ministry on common people; and he does so without judging or condemning them.

Jesus is generous with healing and forgiveness. The thing we notice most from his early ministry is that Jesus heals people. To me his concerns for the needs of others demonstrate a consistent empathy and regard for their well-being. Again, he does not judge or condemn them. In fact he sometimes includes forgiveness of their sins without requiring them to say a ‘sinner’s prayer’ or promise to behave better.

Jesus calls common people to follow him. During this period, Jesus specifically chooses five people to follow him. Four are common fishermen and the fifth is a tax collector whose very occupation is despised. Jesus’ invitations to follow him do not involve their ‘repenting’ of their terrible lifestyles or religious practices.

Jesus resists the judgmental pressure of the legalistic Pharisees. The Pharisees push Jesus on several issues such as his eating with ‘sinners’, not fasting, and his inappropriate activity on the Sabbath. Jesus will have none of it. He seems totally unwilling to accept legalistic requirements for his followers or legalism’s attendant judgment and condemnation.

So far, it seems that Jesus’ actions are completely on the side of compassion and against judgment and condemnation. We will see how this develops whenever we take up the next phase of his work—teaching his followers.

2. Jesus Establishes His Authority

Jesus’ story begins with his response to John the Baptist’s announcement of the coming kingdom of God. It is not clear that Jesus was even aware of his important role in the coming kingdom at this point. We are told there was a voice from heaven at his baptism, which might have been his first realization that he was someone special.

Jesus’ awareness of his mission develops. We seem to see development in Jesus’ awareness of his role as his message becomes separate from that of John; as he declared his mission at the Nazareth synagogue; and as he increasingly asserts his religious authority over against that of the Pharisees.

Jesus’ healings confirm his authority. Jesus not only teaches people—he heals people. This is something even the Pharisees can’t do. So when there is conflict between them, no one can ignore the fact of Jesus’ healing power.

Jesus uses pronouncements to assert his authority. What Jesus teaches his followers is never mentioned in this beginning phase of his work, but he does make a few pronouncements–not to his followers but to the Pharisees.

  • Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?
  • It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
  • How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them.
  • No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined.
  • The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
  • Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?

These short, pithy pronouncements are not just lessons of the day. Jesus speaks them to assert his independent religious authority.

End of the Series

These are important things I learned from Jesus’ early ministry. What are your thoughts? What did you learn?

In a couple days I will post an options list for you to help choose our next series. I hope you will participate and give me some direction. I can really use it!

Articles in this series

Jesus Begins His Work:

The Beginning of the Good News about Jesus the Anointed One
Do Jesus’ Words and Actions Demonstrate Empathy — or Judgment?
Does Jesus Disagree with John the Baptist’s Message of the Coming Judgment of God?
Why Didn’t Jesus Recruit Better Help for His Galilean Work?
Did Jesus Really Heal People?
Do Demons Exist?
Jesus Adds a Shocking Twist to Healing
Jesus Calls a Fifth Follower—and What a Loser!
Jesus Refuses to Ask His Disciple to Fast
Entering the Kingdom Requires Abandoning Old Religious Systems
Jesus Gets into Trouble for Disrespecting the Law
What Do We Learn from ‘Jesus Begins His Work’?

*****

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27 Responses to What Do We Learn from ‘Jesus Begins His Work’?

  1. Pingback: Jesus Gets into Trouble for Disrespecting the Law | Jesus Without Baggage

  2. Pingback: Entering the Kingdom Requires Abandoning Old Religious Systems | Jesus Without Baggage

  3. Pingback: Jesus Refuses to Ask His Disciple to Fast | Jesus Without Baggage

  4. Pingback: Jesus Calls a Fifth Follower—and What a Loser! | Jesus Without Baggage

  5. Pingback: Jesus Adds a Shocking Twist to Healing | Jesus Without Baggage

  6. Pingback: Did Jesus Really Heal People? | Jesus Without Baggage

  7. Pingback: Why Didn’t Jesus Recruit Better Help for His Galilean Work? | Jesus Without Baggage

  8. Pingback: Does Jesus Disagree with John the Baptist’s Message of the Coming Judgment of God? | Jesus Without Baggage

  9. Pingback: Do Jesus’ Words and Actions Demonstrate Empathy — or Judgment? | Jesus Without Baggage

  10. Pingback: The Beginning of the Good News about Jesus the Anointed One | Jesus Without Baggage

  11. sheila0405 says:

    Mark presents Jesus from the viewpoint of a regular guy who takes notice of this new teacher, who appears to burst on the scene and turns everything upside down. Mark reminds me of a person who is intrigued by the celebrity of Jesus, yet at the same time, moved by what Jesus does. A reader might wonder if Mark is becoming a believer himself, as he tells us about this incredible person known as Jesus. Surely he in impressed by how Jesus contrasts himself with the religious leaders of that era. It makes me want to find out more, both about Jesus, and Mark, too. How will Mark continue his story? Will we see a growing attachment to Jesus as the story continues? i never cared much for the Gospel of Mark, but now I myself am intrigued. I’ve missed the nuances in the stories.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hi Sheila, I really like Mark as well. Some people identify him with John Mark mentioned in the New Testament in Acts chapters 12 and 15, and possibly Colossians 4, 2 Timothy 4, Philemon 1, and 1 Peter 5. Thus he would have been an associate of Barnabas, Paul, and Peter.

      Early Christian writers, beginning with Papias, suggest that Mark wrote his Gospel from sermons of the eyewitness, Peter. See their names and quotes at http://coldcasechristianity.com/2014/is-marks-gospel-an-early-memoir-of-the-apostle-peter/, which I luckily found tonight so that I did not have to research the sources myself.

      Depending on which series I do next, we might continue Mark’s story of Jesus soon.

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      • Chas says:

        Tim, one would hope that he was not the John Mark in Acts/Paul’s epistles, because, as I recall, he was unable to go on with Paul and turned back.

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        • sheila0405 says:

          And, later, he was of great comfort to Paul. John Mark is not the first disciple who tripped and fell, spiritually speaking. The point is, he got up at some point and moved forward. I don’t want my heroes perfect.

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        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          This is true Chas, but when the church at Antioch decided to send out missionaries a second time, Mark did return to the field; but he went with Barnabas because Paul objected. I think Sheila is correct that he seems to have been valued by Paul in later years.

          However, whether this Mark was the author of the Gospel is not absolutely certain.

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          • Chas says:

            Tim, what do you make of John 6:66?

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          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Chas, John 6:66 and following is one of my favorite passages in the Bible, and I didn’t even need to look it up to see what it says. The entire chapter is another transition point in Jesus’ ministry.

            I think there are two reasons many of his disciples stopped following him. First, they suspected they would not be getting anymore ‘miracle’ bread; but more importantly Jesus made it clear that miracle bread was not the point of his mission, and neither was he a candidate to lead them against the secular rulers as they desired. He, HIMSELF, was what they needed. They should understand that he was not an agent for miracle shows and leading insurrections–but he personally was the key to eternal life.

            I connect this with the stories of his temptation in the desert and wrote a post about this at https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/the-temptation-of-jesus-in-the-gospel-of-john/.

            This conflict and crisis led, however, to an event that tremendously impacted my life: “‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?'”: Indeed, to whom would I go?

            What are your thoughts on John 6:66?

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          • Chas says:

            Tim, my main reason for asking it came from my considering the so-called ‘revivals’ that have been noted for over a century (e.g. Azuza Street, Brownsville and Toronto Airport). For a time, there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm and joy, but then they all seem to have faded away. Why? Is it because people have lost their joy, or have they turned away and stopped following Jesus (or maybe done the former because of doing the latter?) I have seen several people (tongue-speaking believers) who for a time seemed to have joy and enthusiasm, but then seemed to lose their way and eventually became depressed. What I do not know is their history, except that three of them had been Roman Catholic before believing in Jesus. One had been a smoker, but had difficulty in giving up; he succeeded but then started again before finally stopping.

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          • Chas says:

            Tim – responding to your observations on John 6 and the post you mentioned. In regard to the feeding of the 5000, the bread that fed them seems to refer to Jesus as the Word of God, which is an idea that was championed by John. If you give God’s words to other people, then they possess them, but you still have them yourself, so they have multiplied and there is no limit on the number of people to whom you can give them.
            Again you have taught me something new, because I had not studied the passage about the temptation of Jesus sufficiently to know that his responses were taken from Deut. 6 & 8. Strangely, there is a harmony with my previous response, because of the reference to signs and wonders in 6:22. People are attracted by ‘signs and wonders’ when they go off to these ‘revivals’ and so-called ‘healing’ meetings. Soon after I came to believe in Jesus, I read a passage in the OT about ‘people going here and there seeking after knowledge’, and these signs and wonder meetings came to mind, but what came to me was that they ought to be seeking God first and foremost. (Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these other things will be given to you).

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          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Chas, I see what you are saying about past revivals. All the revivals you mention are within the Pentecostal movement, and I am aware of all of them–particularly Azusa. I was a Pentecostal myself during the outbreak of the two later revivals, and I thought Brownsville and, even more so, Toronto were sensational and somewhat shallow. I am sure many people benefited from their experiences, but much of the attraction for others was based on sensationalism.

            Throughout history these sort of things break out and create excitement, enthusiasm, and interest in Jesus. But when it begins to die down, some people want desperately to continue the experience; and when that doesn’t happen they fade away–the same way some of Jesus’ more shallow sensation-seekers did in John 6.

            I think much of the reason for this is that their interest was more in the shallow sensational experience than the more substantial and mature following of Jesus.

            Thanks for bringing up this point.

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          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Chas, yes I think the Deuteronomy passages are key to understanding the temptation, and John 6, more fully.

            Your observation on the bread being Jesus’ words to the multitude is possible. But, though I am not quick to see ‘miracles’ in Jesus’ work, I suspect the multiplication of the loaves for the 5000 really happened. My three main reasons are that the incident is mentioned by both John and the synoptic Gospels, and secondly that the connection to Deuteronomy and to the synoptic accounts of Jesus in the desert make little sense if the multiplication of bread did not happen. I think the story of the temptation in the desert is a commentary on the feeding of the 5000.

            The third reason is that the context of the scenario itself seems to require it; how can the reaction of the crowds make sense if Jesus is talking about words? Why would they impulsively try to make him king from just hearing his words and then leave because he said they were only interested in bread (his words) and his insistence that they follow him for himself rather than his words?

            Of course we don’t know for sure, and there is more than one theory to explain the odd story.

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          • Chas says:

            Tim, I have been thinking a lot more about three of the people whom I mentioned above, to try to understand more about them and their experiences. I shall call them P, G and M to avoid using their names. First to deal with M, as his case seems more straightforward. From what I have learned about him since we first met, he seems to have wanted control over his circumstances and wished to be a church leader; however, his past experiences in the RC church, with their emphasis on sin and its confessional atonement, meant that he was easily intimidated by church leaders. As a result, he has moved from one church to another, searching for a place in which he feels he is valued.
            The cases of P and G overlap somewhat, because they were both teachers in the school (private) that was run by the church for the children of members. P was one of the elders of the church, and G told me that he was experiencing difficulty as the elders met once a week at which each was asked what sins they had committed that week. Having escaped from his RC background, he must have found this intimidating, but should have used his knowledge of scripture to establish that he was responsible only to God for his behavior. Another of P’s problems was that, although he had a prophetic gift, he did not use it with integrity. I am aware that he added his own words to a prophecy on one occasion and on another omitted words that God had given, because he was not sure whether they might have been his own. God might well have arranged for this latter case to be made known to him because he had failed in the former. His reason for adding the words in that case seemed to be his need to be prominent, so he embellished it to draw greater attention to himself. After the second event, he seemed to fade from prominence and eventually left for another church.
            G too had a prophetic gift, but seemed to be too bound up by the words of Paul. She told me that she had to give a hard prophetic word to four of the five elders of the church (not including P). She had consulted her husband, as Paul required, but he had not given her any satisfactory response. She had consulted P, as another person with a prophetic gift, but he too had no response. I told her that, since it was God’s word, she should give it to the elders. Later, she told me that she had had to give it to them in writing, and that God had told her they would not accept it. They didn’t. However, one of the elders, whom one suspects was also the root of both P and M’s problems in the church, began to intimidate her by telling her that these words were not from God, since they were not ‘edifying’. She left the church soon afterwards.

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          • Chas says:

            Tim, I’m sure that the writers did want us to believe that 5000 people were fed from five loaves and 2 fishes, not least because they also would want us to believe that he outdid Elisha who was reported as feeding 100 people from just a little bread. What I was doing was passing on the understanding that came to me out of the passage: if you possess a truth and give to other people, and they accept it, then they also possess it, so that truth has multiplied.

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          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Chas, without knowing the situation first-hand I cannot say anything about it. What I can say is that when people are allowed to think for themselves they often come to different conclusions as to how things should be in a church.

            In my experience, there needs to be a reasonably good fit between a person and a church–but it will never be a perfect fit. And if a person is heavy handed and always trying to correct this and that, other participants will resist. However, I have no secrets for other people on how to best interact with a church.

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          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Chas I have no argument with the idea that “If you possess a truth and give to other people, and they accept it, then they also possess it, so that truth has multiplied.” I think this is true, and it might make a good sermon using John 6 to illustrate it. But I doubt that it is the intended meaning of the chapter.

            But my explanation of John 6 is only my conclusion from consideration of this chapter. I know there are others as well.

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          • Chas says:

            Tim, one conclusion from the three examples is that they were each weak in the face of intimidation from a leader, or leaders, which might have arisen from being intimidated as a child, by RC priests or teachers. In the case of M, he opened himself to his intimidation through his ambition. In the case of P, he might have closed his Spiritual ears because of his need to be prominent, which tempted him to add to God’s word. In the case of G, she perhaps should have recognized the authority of God over her husband, P and the elder who intimidated her.

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          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            You could be right, Chas. But I am not sure we have all the pertinent information in these cases to make a call. What we can sometimes do, depending on the situation, is to build a stronger relationship with the person with support and encouragement.

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