What Jesus did and why it matters

19 Feb 2019

What Jesus Did and Why It Matters

The final three years of Jesus’ mortal life were totally focussed on talking to people, and his teachings and actions have had a remarkable effect on our world ever since. As the apostle Peter later said, Jesus was “a man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through him” (Acts 2:22).  In other words, God performed many miracles through Jesus in order to demonstrate to mankind that Jesus was God’s son.

John said he wrote about Jesus’ life “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31). It’s therefore important that we read what’s been recorded so that we, too, can understand and respond.

Jesus: Miracle Worker & Healer

Jesus performed many amazing and varied miracles. Matthew recorded that “Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people” (Matthew 4:23). His first demonstration of this remarkable power was to change water into wine. Later, in a boat with his disciples on Lake Galilee they were caught in a terrible storm and Jesus was able to calm it; God’s power could control even nature.

Some time later, he performed the amazing miracle of producing enough food from just two small fish and a few pieces of bread to feed the five thousand men plus accompanying women and children who were listening to him. Leprosy, the most dreaded disease of Jesus’ day, left people cut off from their families because it was so contagious. Yet Jesus went out of his way to touch a poor leper, who instantly was perfectly cleansed.

Jesus could do more still: the father of a twelve year old girl came to him once, pleading that he heal her, but by the time they arrived she had already died. Jesus was not perturbed—he simply instructed her to “arise” and she did; she was alive again. Other miraculous healings demonstrated that God’s power was not restricted to physical ailments either: not only were deaf, dumb and blind all cured, but Jesus was even able to calm the minds of those who suffered mental illnesses.

Jesus: Forgiver of Sins

The Bible also shows us that Jesus could use God’s power for more than just mental and physical healing. There was a time when a paralysed man was brought to him, and rather than instantly heal him, Jesus simply said, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ This man was no worse than anyone else, but Jesus chose this opportunity to emphasize that the physical and mental frailties we all suffer are a result of a more fundamental underlying problem.

The important point to understand is that our physical and mental weaknesses and even our mortality itself are all consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden when they broke the only rule they were given. What Jesus was doing demonstrated that he could even deal with the underlying problem of sin itself and the resulting death that humanity inherited from Adam and Eve (sin is doing something we shouldn’t, and is basically any act that doesn’t fulfil God’s purpose). Only once Jesus had forgiven the man’s sins did he proceed to heal his physical ailment.

Jesus: the Preacher

As well as healer, Jesus was also a profound and insightful preacher. He was able to see into people’s minds and understand them so completely that he always knew what they needed and what should be said. For example, Jesus once met a taxman, and instantly recognized someone who wanted more than what his current life provided.  Tax collectors were generally despised, but Jesus called him and gave him a feeling of worth.

Nobody had needed to tell Jesus about this tax collector; Jesus could see inside his head. John tells us that “he knew all men” (John 2:22): he could reach into people’s hearts because he totally understood them. And the good thing for us is that he still understands each of us today.

The other things that are totally relevant today are his teachings, and he often got his points across using stories—or parables—that carried important messages. One famous one was a story about a farmer who scattered seed in his field, letting it fall in all kinds of places. Some fell in areas where it was unlikely to germinate, some fell where anything that grew would soon be choked to death by weeds, but elsewhere it fell on good fertile soil and grew healthily. Jesus explained that the seed in his story represented God’s word, and the ground represented our minds, with their ability to hear and respond to his teachings. What his story taught was that we all need to read the gospel and let its message grow inside us like good seed growing and producing crops in fertile soil.

He also taught that we have no need to worry about things because we can trust God. “God even feeds and cares for the birds,” he said, so why should humans worry? “God even clothes the lilies of the field,” he said, teaching that we don’t need to worry about clothes or other possessions (Matthew 6:26-30). These teachings are as relevant to us today as they were to those who originally listened to him.

Jesus Loved and Obeyed His Father

Acts 2:22 described Jesus as “a man approved by God.” And “a man” is what he was—although God was his father, Mary was his mother and because he inherited human traits from her, he was just like us. However, from an early age, Jesus also recognized that God was his father. When he was twelve, for instance, he visited Jerusalem with Mary and Joseph to attend a religious festival. As they returned home, Mary and Joseph assumed Jesus was with their group and set off, but as evening fell they realised he was missing. Distraught, they hurried back to the city to search for him, eventually finding him in the temple courts in deep discussion with the religious leaders. When Mary chided him for what has happened, he replied (Luke 2:49), “Did you not know I should be about my father’s business?” So even at that young age, he understood that his whole purpose in life was going to be about undertaking God’s work. As he grew older, that determination to fulfil his father’s will totally absorbed him.

One day, the religious leaders, who loved to debate theological issues, came to Jesus and challenged him with one of their favourite topics: ‘What’s the greatest commandment in the scriptures?’ they asked (Matthew 22:36). Jesus’ response was that the greatest commandment was to love God, and it was certainly his love for God that drove him every day. For us to do the same, it all boils down to putting God first in our lives, something that Jesus always did. Likewise, every choice we make should always be made with God’s will in mind if we want to call ourselves followers of Jesus.

“The second [great commandment] is like it: you shall love your neighbour as yourself,” Jesus continued (22:39). The mantra he lived by was: “love God first; then love everyone else.” We, too, need to put God first in every aspect of our lives as an all-consuming priority; then the needs of others. Note also that Jesus doesn’t include thinking about ourselves in his list at all!

We can find doing the right thing very difficult, and we might be tempted to think that Jesus had things easier because of having God as his father, but the Bible makes it plain that Jesus “was in all points tempted as we are” (Hebrews 4:15). Elsewhere in Hebrews it says: “He himself has suffered being tempted” (2:18) and “though he was a Son, yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered” (5:8). So Jesus had temptations like we do, and the fact he had to learn obedience is significant: it tells us obedience didn’t come naturally to Jesus either but was something he had to work at, just like us.

God put increasingly difficult tasks in front of Jesus to develop his character until he was ready for the final and ultimate temptation of facing crucifixion. In the letter to the church in Philippi, Paul declared that Jesus “became obedient to the point of death...” (Philippians 2:8 NKJV), so although Jesus bore a flesh-and-blood nature like ours, he chose to resist his natural instincts and instead to obey his father in all things.

It’s said that we have many tens of thousands of thoughts each day, and every one of them is the root of action. Jesus took every single one of them and captured them before they could lead him to do or think anything wrong; a great example to all of us.

Jesus’ ultimate temptation came as the events unfolded that would lead to his crucifixion. Matthew describes Jesus becoming “sorrowful and very distressed” just prior to his arrest (Matthew 26:37). The original Greek word carries the sense of being overwhelmed, and Jesus clearly did not want to go through with what he knew was about to happen. In fact he prayed, “If possible let this cup pass from me.” In other words, “if there’s another way, please don’t ask me to do this.” But even then, he knew he had to be obedient to his father’s wishes and added, “nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will,” again demonstrating his total submission to God. Allowing himself to be taken to the cross was the hardest test of his determination.

Jesus was totally driven by his wish to comply with his father’s wishes. John’s records Jesus saying, “I love the father, and as the father gave me commandment, so I do.” (John 14:31). Jesus had a very close relationship with God and had daily communion with him so that they always worked together to the same goal. Looking to our own time, the Bible assures us that Jesus and his father are still both at work today with the same aim of helping us to be saved from the consequence of our sin.

Jesus Loved His Disciples

Jesus also loved his followers, so much so that he was even prepared to die for them, and that includes all those who listened to him, not just his twelve close disciples. As John put it (John 13:1), “Jesus loved them to the end.” Jesus allowed himself to die on the cross not just because of his obedience to his father’s will, but also because of his great love for all who follow him. He said this:

‘Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are my friends if you do whatever I command you.’ (John 15:13-14)

We see here how Jesus’ love extends to us today as well and all those who have tried to follow Jesus through the ages—‘you are all my friends if you do what I command,’ he said. That’s why Paul was able to write, “He died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him” (1Thessalonians 5:10). Jesus therefore died for us as well. His act of love has rippled through the centuries even to our own day.  Whether we live or die before he returns, Jesus’ aim and the purpose of his death was to bring together his friends from all ages to live with him forever in his kingdom.

Raised from the Grave

After Jesus was crucified, the ruling authorities ensured he was dead and then sealed the large stone that blocked the entrance to his tomb. They thought that was the end of him, and he lay dead for three days and nights.

It was the time of an annual religious festival (during which work was not permitted), and immediately after it was over, some women made their way to the tomb with the aim of properly anointing his body, something there had not been time to do previously because of the festival. They knew about the stone, and discussed among themselves on the way, “who will roll away the stone?” (Mark 16:3). When they reached it, however, they found it already moved aside. Peter and John came along shortly after and found Jesus’ grave clothes lying inside. God had raised Jesus from the dead.

Eventually, Jesus’ disciples understood the amazing thing that had happened: death does not have to be The End, but there can afterwards be a new life free from temptation and free from death, in which Jesus’ friends will be able to do the father’s will forever without hindrance. Once they understood that, his disciples began to preach that good news to all who would hear. In the book of Acts, we read of Peter talking to the Jews. He reminded them of the miracles and explained how God performed them through Jesus to demonstrate Jesus was His son. Peter said this:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that he should be held by it.” (Acts 2:22-24)

While it was in God’s purpose that Jesus should die in that way, it was the Jewish leaders who had brought about his death under their own free will. Here we see how God works: humans have free will to make their own choices, but God knows in advance what they will do, and works to ensure that it His will that occurs.

After Jesus’ death, the authorities would have loved to parade his corpse through the city to quash the news that God had raised him, but they were unable to produce his body because God had raised him to life. God could not allow a sinless man to be left forever in the grave; therefore as Peter put it, “it was not possible that the grave should hold him” and Jesus had certainly overcome sin every day.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Hebrews, he broadens that to show that Jesus’ death provided the way to take away the power of death and thereby opened the way to life to us all. He put it this way:

“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil...”  (Hebrews 2:14).

Jesus’ death was certainly not an accident, but was a key feature of God’s plan and provided a way to life for us, who are not sinless and who bear the consequences of that fact.

Jesus: the Bringer of Salvation

Paul put it very succinctly when he wrote, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive...” (1 Corinthians 15:22). He points out that the problem of death goes right back to the early pages of Genesis, where we see that Adam and Eve’s disobedience led to humanity experiencing a dying nature, which then passed to their descendants. The Bible explains there is an inevitable connection between sin and death.

But the Bible stresses we are not without hope, and it is Paul who highlighted this when he wrote, “in Christ all shall be made alive.” God raised Jesus to be the first to attain an incorruptible life and, in doing so, He shows there’s a hope for us as well.

The Bible explains that baptism—the full immersion in water—is meant to be an echo of what happened to Jesus when he died and rose again. Using Paul’s analogy: if we remain part of Adam’s family, we will continue to walk towards death. However, if we become part of Jesus’ family we walk, instead, towards a future life. Baptism, then, takes us out of Adam’s family and into Christ’s, and thereby offers us the opportunity to be with Jesus forever when he returns to the earth.

Jesus: Our Hope of a Future

We’ve seen, then, that Jesus knows our hearts and understands all the challenges and temptations that we face. The things he taught are as important today for us to understand and follow as they were for those who heard him in the first century. Furthermore, because of his love for his father and for us, he submitted to a terrible crucifixion, but when God raised him from the dead, he opened a door to us that offers the opportunity of a life freed from our current human nature with its tendency to do wrong. It offers us a future in which we can enjoy being forever with Jesus in God’s future kingdom on earth.

It can rightly be said, then, that the work of Jesus is fundamental to the hope that the Bible holds out for us all.