How did Jesus start His ministry?
What did Jesus choose to prioritize as He began His earthly ministry? What did those early days and months look like?
A common misconception many have is that the first time Jesus met His future disciples, He issued His call for them to be “fishers of people.” In both Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels, the initial appearance of Andrew, Peter, James and John with Jesus is on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It’s an easy mistake to make, because these accounts set the tone for our understanding of Jesus’ relationship with the four fishermen. For a proper understanding of the development process Jesus embarked on with His disciples, it’s important that we get the chronology right. There are clues in Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts that help us properly place the call to be “fishers of people” within the context of Jesus’ overall ministry.
The Imprisonment of John the Baptist
Matthew 4 indicates that it was after John’s imprisonment that Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum and called the four to fish for people. “After” is the key chronological piece of evidence here.
“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—”Matthew 4:12-13
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”Mark 1:14-15
Why is this important? John 1-3, and perhaps even John 4, all occur before John is imprisoned. Andrew and Peter were both introduced to Jesus in John 1. Perhaps John was as well. And we know from Acts 1:21-22 that all Twelve were witnesses of Jesus’ life and ministry from the time of His baptism by John.
“Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized.”John 3:23
The Early Ministry of Jesus
Also, Jesus’ early ministry in Galilee, before He was rejected in Nazareth, all occurred before “He went and lived in Capernaum.” John the Baptist’s imprisonment was a significant event that factored into the timing of Jesus’ ministry moves at this point.
“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.”Luke 4:14-15
Why does all this matter?
As we consider the 5 Phases of Jesus ministry and creating a movement of disciple-making multiplication, it begins with Phase 1, the Preparation Phase. This lasts about thirty years. Then, Phase 2, the Ministry Foundations Phase, lasts 18-21 months. Moving into Phases 3 & 4, the Ministry Training Phase and Expanded Outreach Phase, which happen concurrently, we see that they last 6-9 months. Then Jesus begins Phase 5, the Leadership Multiplication Phase, which takes us through the remaining 15 months of Jesus’ earthly ministry. All of this matters.
PHASE TWO: MINISTRY FOUNDATIONS / 18-21 MONTHS
Thomas & Gundry, in their Harmony of the Gospels, contend that it was 18-21 months after Jesus’ baptism that He called the four fishermen to fish for people. John 1-4 and Luke 4 are the primary chapters in the Gospels that give us insight into what Jesus was doing during this time. Matthew and Mark skip right past this phase, jumping from Jesus’ baptism and temptation directly to the call of the Four.
Here are 15 significant events during the Ministry Foundations Phase of Jesus’ Ministry
- Jesus was baptized (Mt 3:13-17, Mk 1:9-11, Lk 3:21-23)
- Jesus in the wilderness (Mt 4:1-11, Mk 1:12-13, Lk 4:1-13)
- John identified Jesus as the Messiah (Jn 1:19-34)
- Jesus called His first disciples (Jn 1:35-51)
- Jesus’ first miracle – the wedding in Cana (Jn 2:1-11)
- Jesus journeyed to Capernaum for a few days (Jn 2:12)
- Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem (Jn 2:13-22)
- Jesus performed miraculous signs during Passover (Jn 2:23-25)
- Jesus met with Nicodemus (Jn 3:1-21)
- Jesus spent time with His disciples in the Judean countryside (Jn 3:22)
- John’s disciples expressed concerns about Jesus’ ministry (Jn 3:23-36)
- Jesus ministered to the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:1-42)
- Jesus healed the nobleman’s son (Jn 4:46-54)
- Jesus taught in the synagogues in Galilee (Lk 4:14-15)
- Jesus was rejected in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-31)
All of these events occur before Jesus relocated to Capernaum, where He then called Andrew, Peter, James and John to fish for people. He already initially called them to be His disciples in John 1. He had been investing in them for some time now. They had experienced His ministry and sat underneath His teaching. They were already responding to Jesus’ call to “Follow Me.” (John 1:43)
During His first year and a half of ministry, Jesus spent His time developing a close relationship with a smaller group of people rather than trying to reach the masses. He stayed in the wilderness near the Jordan River and the smaller towns of Galilee. His priority was to spend time with His initial followers.
During this Phase, we see Christ ministering to a wide variety of people. The few miracles He performed were focused on revealing His identity to the people following Him. This period officially began at His baptism and continued until His rejection at Nazareth. During this time, Christ began to prepare those He was with for the ministry ahead.
6 FOUNDATIONAL PRIORITIES
Throughout these fifteen events, we see at least six foundational priorities being established that Jesus would build His ministry upon. As these foundational priorities are established, we then see them continue to resurface throughout the final 21-24 months of Jesus’ earthly ministry. We use the acronym HS POWER to identify and remember these six foundational priorities.
- Holy Spirit Dependence
- Prayerful Guidance
- Obedient Living
- Word Centered
- Exalting the Father
- Relationships of Love and Integrity
HOLY SPIRIT DEPENDENCE
The Scriptures are clear. Every aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry was saturated with the Spirit of God. Jesus was conceived by the Spirit, anointed by the Spirit, filled with the Spirit, sealed by the Spirit, led by the Spirit, rejoiced in the Spirit, performed miracles by the power of the Spirit, and was raised by the Spirit.
Gerald Hawthrone, in his book, The Presence and the Power- The Significance of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus, states:
“Luke, as well as Matthew, makes explicit the source of Jesus’ ability to fulfill His mission. He writes, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.” (Lk 4:14a)
With the extraordinary prefatory remark, Luke makes it clear that, as far as he understood things, Jesus did not begin to preach, to teach, or to perform miracles, nor did He continue to do such things which presupposes an extended ministry on His own initiative or by virtue of His own skills or because He possessed inherently some power for healing or exercising. Quite the contrary, Luke precisely identifies Jesus’ power as the power of the Holy Spirit, and thus attributes those things Jesus did, which caused people to spread His fame far and wide, to the dynamis, “the power,” of the Spirit. Jesus thus begins His mission armed with the Spirit and goes forward to accomplish that mission to the power of the Spirit. Here is to be found the source of Jesus’ ability to restore people to wholeness and health- the Holy Spirit. (pp 147-148, 155)
It’s essential that every believer learn to be filled with, walk in the power of, be led by, reflect the fruit of, and minister in the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Apart from the Spirit, the Christian life is impossible! A fresh reading of Luke 4:1,14,18 shows us the complete dependence Jesus had upon the Spirit in His earthly life and ministry.
Holy Spirit Dependence is highlighted in events 5, 8, 13 & 14 above.
Prayer saturated every aspect of Christ’s life and ministry. He began in prayer and ended in prayer. Shortly after His baptism, He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where He launched His ministry with 40 days of fasting and prayer. Over 45 sections of Scripture covering 30 events record how Jesus would often slip away to pray. Prayer was so central, so foundational, to Jesus’ life and ministry that the only thing the disciples specifically asked Jesus to teach them to do was, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Prayerful Guidance is highlighted in events 1 & 2 above.
Over 70 verses in the New Testament speak of the Kingdom of God and another 30 reference the Kingdom of Heaven. When Jesus launched His ministry, it was within a unique context and culture. Israel was saturated with a predominantly Jewish culture, a religiously charged and political environment, an oppressive Roman rule, and a strong expectancy for a religious deliverer. In this context were the religious zealots, the antagonistic crowds, the spiritually lost, and the honest seekers of truth. When Jesus began His preaching ministry in Galilee, His message was, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” At least seven times we are told that the message was that the Kingdom was near or had come upon them. As His disciples began to follow Him, it was essential that they learn the Kingdom agenda Jesus had and was inviting them into. They would have to learn to obey. In fact, as Jesus commissioned them, they were told to “teach these new disciples to obey everything I have commanded you.” Teaching obedience is foundational to disciple-making. There is no following without obedience.
Obedient Living is highlighted in events 2, 7, 12 & 15 above.
Jesus knew the Word and used it as He encountered the everyday issues of life. Jesus referred to the Old Testament more than eighty times, quoting from over seventy different chapters. Scripture was on His lips during His entire ministry, from the hour of His temptation to the time of His death. Jesus’ respect for the written Word is irrefutable. Jesus would reference wise and foolish builders, with the wise building their life upon Him and His Word.
Word Centered is highlighted in events 4, 7, 9, 10, 12 & 14 above.
EXALTING THE FATHER
Jesus modeled for His followers a life of continual worship of the Father. Jesus recognized the Father’s position in His own life. “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself. He can only do what He sees the Father doing.” To Nicodemus, Jesus said, “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (Jn 3:21) Jesus glorified the Father. Everything He did continually pointed others to the Father. This was more than singing songs or participating in synagogue services. This was every day, morning til night. His attitude, His speech, His interactions and actions. He sought to exalt the Father in all things, all the time. To exalt the Father is to recognize the nature and authority of and come underneath the rule and reign of the Father.
Exalting the Father is highlighted in events 1, 2, 3, 7 & 11 above.
RELATIONSHIPS OF LOVE AND INTEGRITY
Jesus modeled intentional relationships throughout His life. The very essence of the incarnation underscores this truth. “God became flesh and dwelt among us.” (Jn 1:14) Early in His ministry, Jesus clearly prioritized building relationships with a broad base of people. From these relationships, Jesus would later identify a few with whom He would go deeper.
Jesus’ ministry begins with calling His first followers: Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathanael and possibly John. He spends “the rest of the day” with two of John the Baptist’s disciples at the place where He is staying, explaining to them that He is indeed the Messiah. He brings some disciples with Him to a wedding in Cana. He travels with some disciples and family members to Capernaum. He brings some disciples with Him to Jerusalem for Passover. He spends time with His disciples out in the Judean countryside. He brings disciples with Him to Sychar, in Samaria, where they stay for a few days. Jesus was no doubt modeling for them what it meant to genuinely love one another, which He would eventually teach them repeatedly.
Relationships of Love and Integrity are highlighted in events 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12 & 13 above.
THE BASICS FOR CREATING A DISCIPLE-MAKING CULTURE
I realize these six Foundational Priorities seem basic. The Word of God, Prayer, Obedience, Worship, Relationships. Isn’t there something more clever? Isn’t there a hidden key or some secret sauce for creating a disciple-making culture? Do you want to know the secret?
Be a disciple-maker yourself.
This is where creating a disciple-making culture begins. Model what you want to multiply.
Read that last sentence again.
The reality is this. If you are personally modeling disciple-making, and inviting those you are discipling to be disciples who make disciples themselves, you will be well on your way to seeing a disciple-making culture take root in your ministry.
The reality is this. Healthy things grow. If you focus on disciple-making health, God will take care of disciple-making growth. And a healthy environment for disciple-making begins with you and those you are leading practicing Holy Spirit dependence. How does Holy Spirit dependence naturally show up in your ministry? On your knees. You begin to pray about everything. Your ministry is seeking God for guidance, provision and power. You’re hungry to see God move. But know this. When you pray, God will lead. And then, He expects you to respond with obedience. He expects you to take bold steps of faith in obeying Him. You will get serious about His Word. Reading His Word. Studying His Word. Memorizing His Word. Obeying His Word. Sharing His Word. His Word will be the standard. A Biblical worldview will begin to permeate the walls of your ministry. It will be the way you think. It will become the filter through which every decision is considered. Lives will be so transformed, God will be honored and glorified. His name will be exalted. Worship will be in spirit and truth. And all of this will get fleshed out in relationships. Relationships are where the rubber meets the road. Love for one another will grow. Serving one another will become second nature. Compassion for the lost will compel your group to ask, “How can we reach our friends who don’t know Jesus?”
Read Acts 2:42-47. This description of life in the first church is a picture that churches hold up as a model for a healthy church. Read those verses and see how obviously present the six Foundational Priorities were in that first church. And what was the result of that health? Disciple-making growth! “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
If you were to pick just one of the six foundational priorities to focus on personally and as a ministry between now and the end of the year, which one would it be? How would focusing on that priority help to create a disciple-making culture in your ministry?