Christ’s Ministry – An Overview
The night Jesus was betrayed he said to his disciples, “I am among you as one who serves.” Paul describes Him as “taking the form of a servant”. That raises two questions, “Whose servant was he?” and, “What service did (or does) he perform?”
Whose Servant and why?
He is not our servant, for he is Lord of all. He can only be the servant of God.
That is stated through the Prophet Isaiah. “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights” (42:1).
In that chapter God describes his servant’s task as “to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” Jesus quoted those words in the synagogue at Nazareth and said they applied to him. Isaiah’s ‘Servant Songs’ have the theme of bringing God’s people back to him (Isaiah 49:5-6).
Too often we think of salvation in a self centred way. We forget that the Fall was God’s loss as well as ours. The Prophecy of Hosea expresses his longing for reconciliation. This reminds us of Jesus’ parables of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the prodigal son. “There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15).
Bringing Israel back to God was not the only goal of Christ’s service. He is also “a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). Jesus commanded his church to preach the gospel “to every creature” (Mark 16:15) and to baptise them in the name of the Holy Trinity – an evidence of reconciliation between God and man.
Since the first hint of redemption the Son of God has been at work. Through the days of Noah and Abraham he maintained a line of people who kept covenant with God. In Moses’ day he established God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai. In later years he gave his Spirit to the prophets to keep them in the ways of God. It was all a preparation for his coming.
The second stage of his ministry was performed in person in the world. That is what Paul refers to in Philippians 2. It involved his incarnation – God becoming man. In that condition Jesus could say, “I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:28). He lived by the Father’s instructions, even quoting in his temptation the truth that “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”.
The kingdom of heaven had begun on earth. God was calling his people to return. So there is a deep poignancy in John’s words, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). Reconciliation would be hard to achieve. Part of his ministry was teaching his people. He described the ways of God’s kingdom (e.g. in the Sermon on the Mount). He also pointed to the renewal of all things by healing people from every kind of illness. But more was needed.
There had to be a desire for God on the part of his people – “a new heart will I give you” (Ezekiel 36:26). Before that blessing could come their guilt had to be removed. Accordingly the Spirit points us in Philippians 2 to the climax of Jesus’ service – he bore their curse on the cross. That was his great act of obedience. The High Priest of Old Testament times had been superseded by one who could indeed put sin away by offering himself in our place (Hebrews 10:8-10). Consequently forgiveness can now be proclaimed in his name, and the Holy Spirit can be given.
Every aspect of this ministry Jesus performed by the power of the Holy Spirit. “I have put my Spirit upon him” (Isaiah 42:1). As soon as he was inducted into the work by baptism the Spirit came from heaven and rested on him. When he cast our demons it was “by the finger of God”. And the perfection of his offering at Calvary was “through the Eternal Spirit” (Hebrews 9:14).
Many Old Testament promises spoke of the Holy Spirit’s work as the great blessing of the Messianic age. John the Baptist spoke of Jesus as baptising with the Holy Spirit. And Jesus told his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit to them.
The giving of the Spirit of God is a large part of the service he performs in heaven. The Spirit applies the benefits of Christ’s redemption convicting of sin, bringing dead souls to life, and making Christ precious to them. He works in the church at large, animating and coordinating. In that way he is building up a people who are for God. It is the Holy Spirit who does that work. Christ’s work in heaven is to intercede for people, and in that way to receive the Spirit from the Father for those people (Ephesians 4:7-16). “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God by him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). In that way, and by his Word, Christ is building and ruling his church.
This is part of the reward God promised him for the service he rendered on earth.
Christ’s return will mark the completion of his ministry. “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father” (1 Corinthians 15:24). His glory will be seen in the multitude of people he has redeemed, reconciled to God, and transformed into his likeness. Thus He will be the object of admiration and praise.
Then he will usher his beloved people into the Father’s house to be with him forever. Love that was once one-sided will be mutual.
Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Revelation 19:9