The Uniqueness of Jesus' Ministry

 

One of our teachers wrote this: “[When Jesus washed His disciples’ feet,] He wasn’t simply just doing good deeds; He was expressing His character.  He was manifesting a servant’s heart. … For Christ, ‘service’ wasn’t a spiritual ‘ladder to success’ in the sense that, if we’re willing to serve awhile, we’ll get power later!  It wasn’t a performance so that He would be rewarded.  It was His character!  When He served, He was doing what came naturally!… Any old pagan god could murder, rape, and brutalize.  It takes the God shown in Jesus Christ to stoop to serve.  And I mean serve!  I don’t mean throwing us crumbs from on high. … To Jesus, greatness is measured in [real] service. … Even His own disciples found this truth a hard pill to swallow” (McGuiggan).  In previous lessons, we have looked at the uniqueness of Jesus’ birth and Jesus’ teachings.  Today we want to focus on the uniqueness of Jesus’ ministry before His triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the final week of His life.  Here are ten unique attributes of His ministry that we’ll quickly examine this morning.

 

First of all, His ministry was unique in its Divine sanction.  By this, we mean that God’s approval was given to Jesus’ ministry.  When Jesus was baptized by John, we remember how Matthew says, “the heavens were opened to Him and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.  And suddenly a voice came from heaven saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16 -17).  Here was the Messiah receiving God’s Spirit for His ministry which lay ahead.  After two more years, Jesus hits a period of great difficulty.  And it is very interesting that at the time of rising opposition and rejection, God again breaks on the scene and reassures Jesus and His closest disciples that Jesus truly is Israel’s Messiah at the transfiguration where God’s voice affirms: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.  Hear ye Him!” (Matthew 17:5).  Jesus is unique among all religious leaders because the Gospels reveal that His ministry had God’s divine sanction or approval!

 

Secondly, His ministry was unique in its scriptural basis.  After Jesus was anointed by God’s Spirit at His baptism and then guided by God’s Spirit into the desert, Jesus then goes to the synagogue in his hometown of Capernaum and shares a scripture with them.  This was our reading this morning.  Notice how Jesus is claiming to be the fulfillment of the ministry laid out by the prophet Isaiah.  He realizes clearly that God’s Spirit rests upon Him, and subsequently His ministry will be one of helping the poor, of healing the broken-hearted and blind, of freeing those captive and the oppressed by sin, and of proclaiming the Year of Jubilee or announcing a time of new starts (which occurred every 50 years for the Jews and was a time of new starts: debts were canceled, land was given back, and slaves were freed).  His ministry has scriptural backing.  Matthew also sees that Jesus and his ministry are the fulfilling the passages about God’s Servant that Isaiah presents in chapters 42 and following (Matthew 12:15 -18).  Isaiah 53 declares that the Servant must suffer in silence “as a sheep before his shearers is dumb” and bear the sins of others.  Surely, Jesus must have read and reread that passage many times for that is exactly how He responds at His trial!  All these references (and there are many more during His last week in Jerusalem) should suffice to show that Jesus strove to fulfill the scriptural program laid out in the Old Testament as to what God’s Spirit-filled Servant would do.  His ministry was unique in its scriptural basis, a basis not found in the other major religions of the world.

 

Thirdly, His ministry was unique in its overcoming evil.  Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness to abandon His mission, but Jesus withstood Him.  After Jesus told His disciples that He must suffer and be rejected by the Jewish leaders, Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him for even thinking that such could happen to the Messiah!  But Jesus then rebuked Peter saying, “Get behind Me, Satan!  For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”  Satan was on the prowl again trying to say through Peter that Jesus did not really need to suffer and die.  The Messiah that the Jews were expecting was to give them political glory and live forever!  Of course, Jesus saw that this way of thinking was from men and not from God!  Many of Jesus' miracles showed His power over Satan.  Remember after His disciples had been successful in casting out many demons, Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18 )!  Also remember how He once brought freedom and health to a Jewish woman who had been bound by Satan for 18 years (Luke 13:15- 16).  Of course, Jesus' ultimate victory over Satan came at the cross!  1 John 3:8 proclaims, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the Devil.”  Jesus ministry was unique in that it confronted Satan head-on and overcame evil.

 

Fourthly, Jesus’ ministry was unique in its redemptive mission.  Jesus once said “for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10 ).”  Jesus was on a rescue mission; He came to save people from their sins.  And time and time again, we see Jesus doing exactly that: an adulterous Samaritan women (John 4), a demon-possessed man and women  (Mark 5:1-20 & 16:9), Matthew and Zacchaeus—both tax collectors (Luke 5 and 19),  a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-12), most all of the apostles after they had abandoned Him (John 20:21 -23).  And He tried reaching out to the religious leaders of His day—to the rulers in the synagogues, to the temple officials in Jerusalem, to the Sadducees and the Pharisees, but they would not obey Him.  One good brother has stated it this way: “Perhaps the NT [could be] wrong when it teaches that the death of Christ is a ransom, but it does teach it!  Perhaps the NT [could be] incorrect when it teaches that Jesus, in some way, because we couldn’t handle the problem, took our place and did handle the sin problem—but that’s what it teaches.  ‘For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God’” (2 Corinthians 5:21)!.  Jesus’ ministry was unique in its redemptive mission.

 

Fifthly, Jesus’ ministry is unique in its spiritual nature.  Jesus always kept God's will uppermost in His mind.  Jesus Himself said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38 ).  Because of this outlook, Jesus turned conventional wisdom upside down at times: to save your life, you must lose it (Matthew 16:25 ); leave all things in order to receive all things (Mark 9:29 -30); to be great become the least (Luke 9:48 ).  One biblical scholar has noted that Jesus greatest challenge to us was the stewardship of our material possessions (Blomberg).  Since the spiritual is so important to Jesus, isn't it amazing that He had no economic agenda for any of His services; all His healings, all His feedings of thousands, all His teachings were done with absolutely no charges!  Jesus once told a would be disciple: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58 ).  He told His disciples: “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8).  Jesus’ focus was never on the treasures of this earth, but upon the treasures in heaven that we should be storing up (Matthew 6:19 -21).  Jesus' ministry was unique in its spiritual nature.

 

Sixthly, Jesus' ministry was unique in its non-violent emphasis.  The Jews expected a Messiah who would not only overthrow the yoke of their Roman oppressors through military might but also establish a grand political kingdom similar to that of Solomon.  This was probably Jesus' most difficult challenge.  Remember on one occasion how Jesus fed 5000 Jewish men.  The apostles were probably thinking, “At last, here is a sufficient army with which we can storm the gates of Jerusalem and put those Romans in their place!”  In fact, John 6:15 says that this group was ready to make Jesus their king!  Jesus abruptly defused the situation, spent all night in prayer, and returned the next day preaching a very difficult non-political message (recorded in John 6) which caused many of the crowd to cease following Him (He wasn’t conforming to their political agenda).  Later, when Jesus was arrested, remember what He told Peter when he drew a sword: “Peter, put your sword in its place, for all who live by the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).  Jesus told Pilate in John 18:36 that His kingdom was not of this world, and His followers would not be fighting to defend it.  Jesus not only preached turning the other cheek when abused, but also He suffered a brutal beating and a Roman cross when He deserved none of it!  After His resurrection, it seems His apostles may still have had thoughts of a political kingdom for they ask Him in Acts 1:6: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?”  Jesus never intended to found a political kingdom, and throughout His ministry, He revealed its non-violent emphasis.

 

Seventhly, Jesus' ministry was unique in its submissive ethic.  Jesus was very forthright with His followers.  He told them that following Him would mean bearing their own cross daily and suffering unjustly for the sake of righteousness (Luke 9:23 and Matthew 5:11).  One biblical scholar states it this way: “[After Peter's confession that Jesus was indeed the Messiah], Jesus began to tell the disciples that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected (Mark 8:31 ). ... If the disciples had begun to follow Him in the expectation that He would lead them to victory and power as the words were commonly understood, it was necessary that they should have the situation put before them plainly, so that they would have no grounds for complaining that He had enlisted them under false pretenses. ... A man who took up his cross did so in order to carry it to the place of execution and be fastened to it there.  But if that was the kind of experience that Jesus envisioned for Himself, those who followed Him could reasonably expect to share it. ... Two thousand years later, as we look back on their decision, we can make a ... limited assessment of our own.  [His apostles' decision] was the right one. ... They counted the cost and continued to follow Jesus, and their memory is honored to this day.  We may pronounce the verdict of history; the verdict that eternity lies [in God's hands, and not in an earthly ruler's hands] (Bruce)”In our self-centered culture, dying to ourselves daily and not retaliating when wronged are some of the greatest challenges we face in living according to Jesus' submissive ethic, which He so clearly demonstrated in His ministry.

 

Eighthly, Jesus' ministry was unique in its internal focus.  Did you ever notice how Jesus’ sermons and parables really hit at our hearts?  One writer put it this way: “The Pharisees wanted more obedience, but Jesus wanted deeper obedience.  So while they were adding law after law and prohibition after prohibition, Jesus was going deeper.  … They were active in doing, but there was not that inner desire to be God’s person.”  While they were focusing on the externals of righteousness, Jesus was preaching a righteousness that came from the inside out.  “He wants us to become something, and then the doing will flow out of our being” (Cope).  Jesus had some of His harshest words for those who focused on the externals: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.  Even so you outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. … How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:27-28, 33).  Jesus’ ministry was unique in its internal focus.

 

Ninthly, Jesus' ministry was unique in its universal scope.  Jesus’ world was a “rich Jewish male’s” world, but Jesus' ministry was anything but that, He reached out to the poor, to women, to sinners.  Jesus began His ministry by being baptized, an action which associated Himself with sinners and Gentiles.  During His ministry of eating and associating with all kinds of despicable types, the religious elite derided Jesus by calling Him “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19 ).  We see too at Jesus' death that he gave His life “as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 ) and He was “numbered with the transgressors” (Mark 15:28 ).  Jesus also had His eyes toward the Gentiles when He said in John 10:16: “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also must I bring, and they will hear My voice, and there will be one flock and one shepherd.”  We can see that Jesus' ministry was unique in its universal scope.

 

Lastly, Jesus' ministry was unique in its enduring quality.  Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 16:18 that He would build His church “and the gates of Hades [or death itself] would not prevail against it.”  His church continues to prevail.  A women once anointed Jesus with some very costly perfume, and others who saw this act began to criticize the women severely.  But Jesus rebuked them, “Let her alone.  Why do you trouble her? … She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial.  Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (Mark 14:6, 8-9).  This ministry performed for Jesus will continue to be proclaimed down through history is the implication of Jesus’ statement.  Jesus promised to be with us as we evangelize and minister: “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  All these passages show that Jesus’ kingdom is enduring, and ministry done in His name will have a lasting impact.  Jesus’ ministry was unique in its enduring quality.

 

What a ministry Jesus displayed!  No man ever served like He did!  His service was prompted by the ultimate sacrificial love and the selfless desire to always do His Father’s will.  His ministry can be our ministry as well.  Are you up to the challenge of dying daily, carrying your cross, and sacrificing your own self in service to others?  If so, then won’t you let that be known publicly?