Having recently preaching through Luke’s account of Jesus feeding the crowd of thousands (Luke 9:10-17), something stuck out to me in regards to Jesus’ ministry. It came from verse 11, where we see that Jesus healed those who were in need but before that he “spoke to them of the kingdom of God.” Here is the reality that this verse points to: in the Gospels, Jesus is always preaching the word of God his Father. This is the priority of his ministry. Jesus is always preaching about the kingdom of God his Father. Jesus is showing how the promises made along ago—promises cherished by the covenant people Israel—were now being fulfilled through is life and ministry. The kingdom of God was here in him and it was being proclaimed by him. Thinking just of Luke’s Gospel, we see that over forty instance of the kingdom on the lips of Jesus. Over forty times in 24 chapters!
When you stop and think about it, this is really absolutely amazing. Think about the needs that these would have had. Yes, he healed, but he didn’t heal everyone. I mean, he was only one man in one little part of the world, at only one city at time. Even the times he exercised the prerogatives of his divine omnipresence and healed people who weren’t right in front of him were few in number. Many of the people were poor. They could have used an abundance of crops and filled store horses. There is no much physical need, but what was always the focus of Jesus’ ministry? Preaching and teaching and speaking the Word of God.
If Jesus were alive today, I imagine some would condemn him on this very point. We live in a culture now where it is often assumed that if you are not giving food to the poor or medicine to the sick you, you are not engaged in Christian living or ministry. Some will even say you are not engaged in gospel ministry if you don’t heal and help. My point is not to say that we shouldn’t be involved in those things. We should. And it would be a sin not to be involved in those things. Nevertheless, where do we see the weight of Jesus’ priority in ministry? It falls on his ministry of the Word. How, why is that important for us to see? We need to see this for at least two reasons.
First, we need to see this because it’s the Word of God that we ourselves need the most. Last week was Matthew Henry’s birthday. Some of you know who he was and others of you don’t. He was a minister who lived in the late 1600 and early 1700’s in England. He is probably most famous for two things: a commentary on the whole Bible and a book of practical instruction on prayer. In fact, as he was growing increasingly ill, he put off work on his commentary in order to write up his book on prayer. Guess what he says in the that book? Christians should pray the Bible. Here’s what Henry knew and Jesus taught—spiritual life comes through the word of God (Ps 19:7). Our growth in holiness comes by hearing the word (John 17:17). Comfort in sorrow comes by hearing the Word (119:28). Faith itself comes by hearing the Word (Rom 10:17). What Word? Paul says, “the word of Christ” (10:17). Our greatest need is Christ and that need is met, his presence is made known, his power is displayed through the Word of God as the Spirit applies it to our hearts.
Second, we need to see this emphasis as a pattern for our own lives and ministry. When Jesus gives a gentle chastening to Martha in a few chapters later in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 10:38-42) it’s not because she was worried about being a good host and serving her guests. It was because that good ministry pushed out the more needed thing—namely, sitting and learning at the feet of Jesus as he taught the Scriptures. Here was the emphasis in Jesus’ ministry and it should be in ours as well. Not, just as a church body, but as a individuals. Our primary ministry as Christ’s people should be telling others of Christ through the Word. It might be one verse as a means of encouraging one another, or a one-to-one Bible study to lead someone to salvation, or just sitting down with our kids for a family devotional. But let this be the priority of our lives as we live in service to God—providing God’s Word to those in need.
John Bunyan once said, “You can do more than pray, after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” If I can be so bold as to offer a companion quote when it comes to ministry: “You can do more than share the Word, after you have shared the Word, but you cannot do more than share the Word until you have shared the Word.”