By Javan Rowe
When we purchase a highly anticipated novel, we would never read the introduction, skip to the end, and then claim to have thoroughly enjoyed the book. The story of Jesus is the same. As we consider Jesus’ vast importance, most of us think immediately of his death and resurrection; and perhaps rightly so. Or at Christmas time we concentrate on his birth.
When we reduce Jesus’ life to those bookend moments, we miss out on the lessons inherent in his magnificent storyline. It is a story of miracles and teachings—climaxes and resolutions—all given in the Gospels for a distinct purpose. These events crescendo to a climax of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, resolving with his ascension into Heaven.
What is it about the Lord’s earthly ministry that brings meaning to our Christian walk? Though many lessons can be derived from Jesus’ various teachings and tasks, we will consider three primary things he did: he mirrored the Father, he gave previews of the Father’s kingdom, and he submitted to his Father.
Mirroring the Father
From the beginning of time, people have wondered what God is like. Their preconceived ideas led them to form gods to their preferences, resulting in deities such as those in the Roman pantheon, who often appeared as sinful as humans. Though our ideas of God may not stray quite that far, we still tend to desire control over our perception of him.
Jesus stated many times that he came to show us what the Father is like. During a conversation with his disciples, Jesus stated, “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:7). Philip, who still didn’t understand, asked Jesus to show them the Father, to which Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (v. 9).
Observing Jesus’ behaviors, particularly his interactions with others, makes the invisible God visible. Christ showed compassion and mercy to those who were sick and needy. He cried with those who mourned the death of a loved one. At times he revealed righteous anger, such as when he drove the illicit moneychangers from the temple (Matthew 21:12).
Through his miracles Jesus mirrored the Father in powerful and distinct ways. He fed crowds of people on two separate occasions, demonstrating God’s provision (Mark 6:34-44; 8:1-9). When he healed a lame man, he said, “Your sins are forgiven,” showing God’s desire to forgive us (Matthew 9:2). His miracles revealed character qualities of God in a way that balanced his love and generosity with his holiness and uncompromising nature toward sin.
Previews of the Father’s Kingdom
Beyond reflecting God, many of Jesus’ teachings and miracles gave previews of God’s kingdom. It is a kingdom with Christ as monarch, which was seen in Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem where the crowd threw down palm branches and hailed him as king (John 12:12, 13).
Jesus gave multiple parables, particularly in Matthew 13, which gave insights into God’s kingdom. For instance, he compared the kingdom to a mustard seed (vv. 31, 32), which was known to be immensely tiny but had the potential to grow into a large plant. This was followed up by a similar analogy using yeast (v. 33). A parable given elsewhere saw a master going away and leaving 10 talents to one servant, five to another, and one to a third. When the master returned, the first two servants doubled their investments, while the third had hidden his away and gained nothing (Matthew 25:14-30).
The implied lesson in these parables is if we invest in the kingdom there will be growth greater than we expected. Many spiritual investments we make now, insignificant though they may seem at the time, will bear great dividends in Heaven. Small works for the kingdom today will bear greater fruit in our lives, as well as the lives of others.
Jesus’ kingdom previews were more than tactics to increase our anticipation of Heaven, though they certainly do that. It was obvious from his teachings that the kingdom was seen as more than merely a distant event, but rather something impacting us today. God’s kingdom cuts into our drab existence, as we recognize we are its citizens. We can reap some benefits now as an advance on the full deposit we will one day inherit.
Submitting to the Father
Jesus’ life can be summarized simply as submission. From his baptism and miracles to his parables, his life was one of total surrender to the Lord. This is seen in the fact that he was called the Son of God, for a son takes a position below that of a father. Even though Jesus was part of the Godhead, he took upon himself the role of Son. His life was spent serving his Father, culminating with his sacrifice on the cross.
The cross and his prior miracles and deeds were not only in service to the Father but to people as well. When the disciples became angry with James and John for desiring special places in the kingdom, Jesus responded, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45). More than empty words, Jesus lived out this submission creed.
Copies of Christ
Jesus’ life is significant beyond giving us hope for the afterlife; he teaches us how we are to live today. Just as Jesus mirrored the Father, we are to be the greatest mirrors of Christ we can be. We do this by imitating how Jesus engaged others, from the destitute to the religious ruler. By mirroring Jesus, we will be living as kingdom citizens, advancing God’s kingdom and allowing it to break into our present situations. We will also be living in absolute surrender to the Father as Christ did.
From Jesus’ life we learn, above all, the importance of reading Scripture and maintaining a strong prayer life. When tempted in the wilderness by Satan, Jesus was readily able to quote Scripture. We likewise should not only read the Bible, but study it and put it into our minds through memorization. Christ also took time out when he needed to talk alone to his heavenly Father. “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16, emphasis mine). We must similarly go to the Lord in prayer often, not only when we need something from him.
To copy Christ is to live out a great storyline. As the story of Jesus is more than his miraculous birth and resurrection, we are more than our origins and our future eternal state. We can make an impact for Christ today by being part of his story here on earth.
Javan Rowe is a freelance writer in Columbus, Ohio.