Sunday, September 24th's wonderful message “Jesus’ Ministry Begins” by Rev. Toni Carmer continuing week 23 of a 31 week study of “The Story – The Bible as One Continuous Story of God and His People.”
Jesus' Ministry Begins
First United Methodist Church, September 24, 2017
Pastor Toni Carmer
When I was a young teen, my grandma McCoy gave me this scrapbook that she had been putting together for a number of years, I think. In it are photographs of me and her comments about how adorable I was J. There are poems and clippings and family photographs, reminding me of an important part of my history. My parents were divorced when I was 6, and I didn't see my dad a lot. I think she wanted to do what she could to be sure that I remembered him, and that we had some good times together. At the time that she gave it to me, she left a note urging me to continue my story with my own photos and poems and anecdotes, and I did that.
I look through these pages and I remember my stories: who my people were…who I was…who I hoped to be… Even as I read my grandma's words today, all these years later, I can still feel her love for me, and know that her love helped to shape me into the person I am today.
This morning, as we talk about the beginning of Jesus' ministry in the 23rd chapter of the Story, I think it might be helpful for us to think of this chapter as a scrapbook of stories that have been offered to us from each of the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The stories have been given to us in love—so that we can see who we are, so we can see who God is through Jesus. So we don't forget who we are and who we belong to. So that we can continue the story because we've been given this firm foundation upon which to build.
The first snapshot is taken of John, being questioned by religious leaders:
Who are you, John is asked by the Pharisees. He is very clear in his response: I am not the Messiah.
So, they ask, are you Elijah? The prophet? Have you returned to announce the end times?
No, that’s not why I’m here. I'm not Elijah. I'm not the prophet.
Well, then…who are you? What are you doing? What is your purpose?
John quotes Elijah, "I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness. Make straight the way of the Lord."
John never has any question that his role is to prepare the way of the Messiah who is yet to come. Others wonder, even the religious leaders, but John would always point them towards "the one who is to come"…and he begins to realize that this “one” is Jesus.
In the second snapshot, Jesus comes to John to be baptized in the River Jordan. John hesitates: "You're the one who should be baptizing me," he tells Jesus. But he consents to do as Jesus tells him, and after Jesus goes under the water, the skies open, and the Spirit of God descends from heaven like a dove, and the voice of God is heard: "This is my son whom I love. With him I am well pleased."
Who is John? He is the one who came to prepare the way.
Who is Jesus? He is the Messiah. The Son of God. The one who came to bring deliverance to God's people.
But how will Jesus do that? How will the Messiah deliver God's people? What's the plan? There were those who thought their deliverer would surely be a great warrior—or a king (although that hadn't worked so well in the past and many realized that).
What kind of deliverer will Jesus be? We begin to learn the answer to that question in the wilderness.
The next snapshots are taken after his baptism, when Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he fasts for 40 days. He’s tempted three times by the devil. The first time the devil comes to Jesus, he tempts him by showing him some stones: turn these stones to bread. Jesus is hungry. It's a real temptation. But Jesus responds with words from Deuteronomy (8): It's written, people don't live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
The devil tempts Jesus a second time, taking him to the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem. "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: "'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone'" (Ps. 91:11-12). Here the devil uses scripture to tempt Jesus. But Jesus says no again, responding with scripture as well: "Don't test the Lord your God" (Deut. 6:16).
Finally, the devil takes Jesus to the top of a high mountain and shows him all of the kingdoms of the world in all their splendor. "Do you want these to be yours? All you have to do is bow down and worship me." Jesus turns him down the third and final time: "Just go away. It is written, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only" (Deut. 6:13).
And so the devil leaves and angels come to care for Jesus.
What do we learn about Jesus in the wilderness? What kind of a Messiah will he be? He'll be one who fully relies on God, he will not now—or ever—rely on his own power, or strength or ability to provide. This is the Messiah who will listen only to God's voice and to God's direction, who will not be compromised by the powers and principalities of this world, but he will always be looking ahead and beyond to God's way and God's will and God's desire for his life and for this world. To the very end, his life will give evidence to his words in the Garden of Gethsemane: Not my will but Thy will be done.
This is who Jesus is. This is Jesus the Messiah. This is what he does:
Jesus the Messiah is one who performs miracles; the author of John’s gospel calls them signs. They are acts that catch the attention of disciples and others, who can see that Jesus is no ordinary man and they always point toward God…perhaps in this snapshot of Jesus turning the water into wine at a wedding in Cana in Galilee, it is a sign of God’s abundance.
The story is on page 325 of the Story and in chapter 2 of the Gospel of John. Jesus is with his mother and his disciples and it seems as though the wine runs out at the wedding feast way too early. That isn’t a good thing; at the time, they didn’t have an assortment of juices or sodas, there was no significant production of milk available. The main beverages, it seems, is water and wine. But unfortunately, someone hasn’t calculated all that well, and the wine runs out.
This would be a huge embarrassment, an awful faux pas. Not the way to bless a young couple starting their life out together.
Mary learns about the problem and calls Jesus over to take care of things. He tells her it isn’t his time yet—it isn’t time yet for him to begin the journey that will eventually take him to the cross—but…he is a good son and he does what his mother tells him to do. He instructs the servants to fill the large water jars that are already there (and used for the ceremonial cleansing of hands) to the top with more water. They do as he instructs, and takes a sample to the head waiter. He tastes it, and his eyes get big. This is really good wine. Most hosts provide the good stuff first, and when everybody’s taste buds are sensitized (that’s what my commentary says), or they have enough to drink that they really don’t notice anymore, that’s when they bring out the Boone’s Farm. But Jesus has turned simple water into the Best. Wine. Ever.
Other miracles included in this week’s snapshots and scrapbook of stories include healings. Jesus casts a demon/an impure spirit out of a man…he heals Simon’s mother-in-law who has been sick in bed with a fever. A man with leprosy comes to Jesus on his knees: “If you are willing, you can make me clean,” the man says. Jesus is willing. A paralyzed man is able to walk, a man whose hand is shriveled stretches out and works again… Many people come to him, people who have nowhere else to go, who have to depend on the generosity of others to survive, who have lost all hope…are restored, made whole.
But these healings catch the attention of the religious authorities. Jesus seems to care more about people than he does Jewish law and Sabbath. Even as his ministry begins, the shadow of the cross is beginning to appear in the distance.
In the scrapbook, we see snapshots that show us that the Messiah teaches. He teaches Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish ruling council, who comes to him at night so that no one sees that he’s talking with Jesus. He asks Jesus questions, he wants to know more, and Jesus responds, patiently teaching him… Many gather around Jesus wherever he goes, so many people that Jesus climbs into a boat and is pushed out into the water a ways, so that more can hear, more can see… People can’t seem to get enough of what he has to say.
In the scrapbook, we can see how Jesus spends time with people who others prefer to stay away from: He touches lepers, he has a conversation with the Samaritan woman—she has 2 counts against her, being both a woman and a Samaritan. But their conversation is important, and others came to know who Jesus is because of her witness. And tax collectors? They were as beloved as the IRS is today…Jesus not only hung out with them, but he made one of them a disciple.
And speaking of disciples…even the Messiah didn’t try to do it all on his own. An important part of the scrapbook are those whom Jesus called to be a part of his journey—a part of his teaching ministry—a part of his healing ministry. He calls 12 men who travel around with him, who listen to his teachings, who learn from him. He sends them out, assuring them that they will do “even greater things.” To them he said, “Follow me,” and then he said, “Go out,” and they did…and disciples continue to do these things today.
Who are his disciples? Scripture names them: they are Simon (to whom he gives the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John, there is Andrew and Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot who later betrays him. Mathias will take his place.
There are women, including Mary (called Magdalene), Joanna, Suzanna and others…
None of them, men or women, were perfect people, they weren’t always as strong as they might have been, and they didn’t always do what even they probably hoped they would do. But they were willing to respond to Jesus when he called them to go with him and to be a part of what he was doing.
Who are his disciples today? Jesus is still calling us to follow him and to do his work. It’s too much for one person or for a few to do, and it doesn’t require perfection… We’re all sinners, we’re all broken, we all have room for improvement. But we’re each called, and we’re each invited to be a part of what Jesus is doing…ultimately, to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It’s not something that we’ll get done today, and not tomorrow either, but together, in our circles of influence, that reach out further and further and further…we can make a difference. We can have an impact.
The story isn’t done. You and I are still writing it. It’s a story that’s filled with snapshots that remind us of who we are and who we belong to. It’s a story of love. It’s a story of life.