“TELL OF THE YEARS OF HIS LABOR”: WHAT DO THE LIFE AND MINISTRY OF CHRIST MEAN TO US?
By Wayne S. Walker
In this series of articles thus far we have studied about Christ in prophecy (“Tell me the story of Jesus, Write on my heart every word”); the nature of Christ’s coming (“Tell me the story most precious, Sweetest that ever was heard”); the birth of Christ (“Tell how the angels in chorus, Sang as they welcomed His birth. ‘Glory to God in the highest! Peace and good tidings to earth’”); and the temptation of Christ (“Fasting alone in the desert, Tell of the days that are past: How for our sins He was tempted, Yet was triumphant at last”). Another line in Fanny J. Crosby’s well-known 1880 hymn says, “Tell of the years of His labor.” The first thirty years of Jesus’s life are pretty much a mystery except for a couple of quick glimpses. However, following His baptism and temptation, Matthew tells us how Christ began His earthly labors.
“Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 4:12-17). The purpose of this article is to answer the question, what do the life and ministry of Christ mean to us?
First, He taught us God’s will. Jesus was not a “community organizer,” as some have lightly said, but first and foremost a preacher. Mark’s account of the same event in Christ’s life as we found in Matthew tells us, “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15). Even many unbelievers agree that Jesus was one of the greatest teachers of mankind. Consider such principles laid down by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount as the importance of loving even our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) and how to conquer the problem of anxiety (6:25-34). Then notice the effect of His teaching on His hearers. “And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (7:28-29). We see, then, that Jesus’s teaching was more than just good, moral principles. “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). When we hear or read the words of Jesus, we need to remember that “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Everything that Jesus said or taught is from God.
Second, He left us an example. We have His example of servitude. When His apostles argued among themselves as to who was greatest, He told them, “And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:27-28). Later, He showed them what He meant by washing their feet (John 13:3-15). We see His example of love. “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:1-2). He is also an example of humility. When Paul tells the Philippians, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others,” he points them to Jesus, saying, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:3-8). Finally, Peter cites the fact that when we suffer, we should remember how that “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth;’ who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:21-23).
Third, He qualified to be our perfect sacrifice. Each animal sacrifice of the Old Testament had to be “a male without blemish” (Leviticus 1:1-3). Jesus came to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). This means that He also had to be “without blemish.” And He was because He “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:14-15). Thus, His sinless life enabled Him to shed His precious blood and be offered as “a lamb without blemish and without spot” so that He might redeem us from our sin (1 Peter 1:18-20).
There are other aspects of Christ’s life that could be discussed, such as His miracles. “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31). However, about 28 years after Fanny Crosby wrote her famous hymn, J. Wilbur Chapman wrote another hymn, the chorus of which sums up the life of Jesus. “Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me; Buried, He carried my sins far away; Rising, He justified freely forever; One day He’s coming—O glorious day!”
The Hebrew writer said of Christ, “Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:7-9). That is what the earthly life and ministry of Jesus Christ was all about.
—in Search for Truth; Oct. 4, 2015; Vol. VII, No. 10