And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them. And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and [from] Decapolis, and [from] Jerusalem, and [from] Judaea, and [from] beyond Jordan.Matt.4:23-25
The last Bible Study focused on the first of Jesus’ threefold ministry in teaching the people, his disciples and his apostles. Teaching formed a vital part of his ministry and this will be evidenced in many studies to come. For this study, the focus will be on the next component of his ministry and that is his preaching with a focus on his central message of rebirth of the spirit.
The preaching of Jesus started out by proclaiming a message of repentance and that the kingdom of heaven was at hand [Matt. 4:17]. This heralded a new era not only for the Israelites (Jewish people) but soon thereafter for Gentiles (non-Jewish people). In future studies, this will be expounded upon with his preaching in the sermon on the mount series. Many would place this as the best sermon from Jesus and it was certainly one of the longest ones.
In context to this period, the Israelites were waiting for their prophesied Messiah but had difficulty believing that Jesus, whom they knew as a carpenter, and knew his family, would be their anointed saviour. Even the disciples of Jesus who were most likely taught by him for three years, who also witnessed the many miracles he performed on people and who saw him die and rise from the dead as he predicted, still thought that he would now become the quasi-earthly king of the Israelites, “When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? ” [Acts 1:6] This question on preaching requires further exploration given its importance to the Christian faith.
The kingdom Jesus was preaching about though was a spiritual one as further noted in dialogue between a ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus, “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and [of] the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” [John 3:3-6]
Much debate and discussion abounds over the interpretation of these verses and in fact even Nicodemus himself was confused during his conversation with Jesus. But, Jesus was nevertheless, referring to a spiritual birth in comparison to a physical birth and this is how the preaching of Jesus will transform seekers of faith through belief in him.
Jesus is drawing a distinction between someone having a physical birth and a spiritual birth, thus giving meaning to the phrase born again or born from above, as in regeneration of spirit. This second spiritual birth is performed by the Holy Spirit when one comes to saving faith, or belief in Jesus. The above dialogue on the preaching of Jesus continues, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” [John 3:16-17]
Jesus would no doubt have a profound effect on Nicodemus since he was one of only two people noted to prepare the crucified body of Jesus for a proper burial, “And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave [him] leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound [weight.] Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.” [John 19:38:40] This was indeed an act filled with faith, hope and love, reflective of a person who had been born of the spirit of God. The preaching of Jesus and his central message of rebirth can indeed become a reality for anyone who comes to him.
The preaching of Jesus could also be considered quite forthright, meaning he was direct in the conveyance of his message. His preaching also had a style of back and forth contrasts as noted from his earlier dialogue with Nicodemus, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” [John 3:18-21]
Take careful note of the many contrasts listed in the above preaching of Jesus – believe vs. not believe, not condemned vs. condemned, light vs. darkness, truth vs. evil. There was no softening of words and the many contrasts Jesus portrayed painted a very poignant message of consequential actions between the two states of people facing decisions that will last for eternity.
The preaching style of Jesus was also descriptive in figurative contrasts as described during his encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” [John 4:13b-14] Here, Jesus is contrasting the physical water that resides in the well with the spiritual water, or everlasting life that he offers to people who believe in him through faith.
The vast majority of the preaching ministry of Jesus was in response to the unbelieving Jews of the day since they failed to understand his words and actions; at times viewing them as blasphemy, “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.” [John 5:18] Following this episode, Jesus commenced an absolutely fascinating discourse supported by many points from the same chapter – the complete interdependent relationship between the Son and the Father, the two resurrections with one unto life and the other unto damnation, the witness of John the Baptist, the witness of Jesus’s works, the witness of the Father and finally the witness of the scriptures, all bearing testament, truth and validity to his existence, ministry and eternal purpose.
Jesus also preached using metaphors such as when speaking to the people in the synagogue at Capernaum on the theme of being the bread of life; himself in contrast to the perishable bread the ancient Israelites ate while in the desert [John 6:22-59]. But the Jews however grew even more contentious over this preaching as they viewed the comments of Jesus from a physical perspective and not in a spiritual sense, “The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat? ” [John 6:52]
The profundity in Jesus’ response is most noteworthy as it not only reinforced that his preaching was clearly pertaining to the spirit but also affirms his heavenly pre-existence, “[What] and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, [they] are spirit, and [they] are life.” [John 6:62-63] These comments also harmonized with his conversation with Nicodemus earlier on in the sense that, that which is born of the spirit is spirit.
The preaching of Jesus continued from there predominantly recorded in the Gospel of John with his many comments to the Israelites and religious leaders. He spoke to the people in great descriptive terms such as being the light of the world [John 8:12], the good shepherd [John 10:7], the resurrection and the life [John 11:25]. Most importantly, he spoke of his deity, much to the consternation of the Jews, “I and [my] Father are one. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.” [John 10:30-33]
Response to Preaching
As this Bible Study comes to a close, it is important to distinguish how people will ultimately respond to the call of God in their own lives. Some will reject him outright and ascribe the most heinous accusations to him, sadly leading to their own perdition, “Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?” [John 8:48] Others will see his light amidst the deceptiveness of spiritual darkness in this world and realize that he leads to eternal life. This was illustrated by Peter when he exclaimed to Jesus in Matt. 16:16, “And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” [Matt. 16:16]
Always remember, Jesus welcomes everyone who comes to him with a heart of repentance, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Jesus is indeed waiting for you to come to him now for it is indeed a matter of eternal life! [John 6:37]
Bible Study Questions
- This week’s scripture reading notes how many cities where people came from to hear Jesus preach?
- Can you name the threefold ministry of Jesus, hint this study in on his preaching, but what were the other two?
- During a conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus he uses the phrase born again or born from above. Does this refer to a physical birth or spiritual birth?
- Can you list at least three of the preaching contrasts noted under the section titled Preaching Contrasts?
- In the section Preaching Rejected, why did the Jews reject the preaching of Jesus?
- In the section Preaching Deity, can you name three different ways Jesus described himself?
- Why was Peter’s proclamation so important in the last section of this Bible Study?
WORD GUIDE – * (lunatick – mentally deranged) * (palsy – a form of paralysis) * (verily – truly) * (besought – ask earnestly) * (wrought – worked) * (strove – quarrel) * (quicken – make alive) * (blasphemy – cursing or reviling God) * (Samaritans – despised people by the Jews) * (no wise – no way)