A Parable of Faithful Ministry

The Beginning of the Gospel

According to Mark, the gospel begins with John the Baptist, the focus of our parable.

Mark 1:1-3. The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God. As it is written in the prophets: behold I send my messenger before your face which shall prepare your way before you. The voice of one crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.                                                  

We are given two scriptures, from Isaiah 40, and from Malachi 3, from which the ministry of John the Baptist draws an anointing from the Spirit of Truth. The gospel of John tells us the ministry of John the Baptist also served as a test on the hearts of all who heard his message.

.John 1:6, 7. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. The same came for a witness to testify of the Light that all through him might believe.

It is said of John that he was sent from God. Compare this to the answer Jesus gave to the question: what must we do to perform the works of God?

John 6:29 Jesus answered and said: this is the work of God: that you believe the one whom He has sent.

The words of all who are sent by God become a basis for faith.

Ephesians 2:20.  Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.  

A Voice in the Wilderness

Jesus was asked by what authority he acted upon.

Matthew 21:24-27 And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing which if you tell me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, did it come from heaven or of men? They answered Jesus, we cannot tell. And He said unto them, neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.  .

Because the chief priests and elders refused to acknowledge the ministry of John the Baptist as being sent from God, Jesus refused to answer their questions, though they had the authority to ask, for He answered to a Higher Authority.

 Matthew 21:32.  For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and you believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and when you had seen it, repented not afterward, that you might believe him.

We can see here a fulfillment of the word spoken in John 1:7, that all through him might believe. The religious leaders were denied repentance even with the witness of mighty miracles of God, because they rejected John. 

Luke 7:30.  And all the people that heard him justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves (literally ‘within themselves’), not being baptized of him.        

John 10:41, 42. And many resorted unto Him and said John did no miracles but all things that John spoke of this man were true. And many believed on Him there. 

So we see that those who received the baptism of John also remained to hear him preach. Jesus fulfilled the words spoken before by this prophet, which confirmed their faith. Those who rejected the baptism of John knew nothing of the word that he preached concerning the Christ.

The Spirit and Power of Elijah

Matthew 11:13-15.  For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you will receive, this is Elijah which was to come. He that has ears to hear, let him hear.

The relationship between John the Baptist and Elijah was a stumbling block for the Jews at the time that Jesus was ministering the gospel. When the authorities in Jerusalem sent emissaries to inquire into the baptism of John, he was asked point blank:

“Are you Elijah?” 

John 1:19-23.  He answered, I am not. I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: make straight the way of the Lord, as spoken by the prophet Isaiah.                   

John again testifies to the scriptural authority and anointing for his ministry. The Holy Spirit clarifies this by a prophecy given to Zachariah by the angel who announced the child’s conception.

Luke 1:17. He shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. 

The angel here references a prophecy of Malachi that Jesus also alludes to in Matthew 17:11 when He said Elijah truly shall come first and restore all things.

Malachi 4:5, 6. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. 

Jesus understood that anyone waiting for Messiah would expect Elijah first, and he was provided in the person of John who came in “the spirit and power of Elijah”.

The Acceptable Year of the Lord

The greater stumbling block for the Jews was that the Messiah would come twice, first as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. At the end of the age He will complete all prophecy with the day of God’s wrath. Consider how he works around this issue in Luke chapter four in the synagogue of Nazareth one Sabbath day when He was chosen to read from the prophet Isaiah chapter 61.

Luke 4:18, 19. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are bruised.

To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. 

After stopping the reading abruptly, he sits back down and every eye is on Him, wondering why He has stopped. He then declares, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your hearing.” So why suddenly stop reading? Because Isaiah 61:2 continued, “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God”. We see the first and second coming mentioned in one verse, and Jesus declaring the fulfillment of only the acceptable year of the Lord.

So why do Bible scholars claim that the ministry of Jesus lasted three years?  In  accordance with the Law of Moses, all Jewish men were required to appear “before the Lord” for three feasts. Do we really think that Jesus came to Jerusalem three times as prescribed by the Law, worked miracles, declared Himself to be the Son of God and provoked the religious authorities by calling them a generation of vipers and then said No? Okay, I’ll try again next year for the less acceptable year of the Lord round two. Once Jesus reached the age of 30, He began His ministry and fulfilled His Father’s Will. When He comes again it will the Day of the Lord.

Receive from Heaven

John 3:22-24.  After these things came Jesus and His disciples into the land of Judea and there He tarried with them and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim , because there was much water there and they came and were baptized. For John was not yet cast into prison.                             

There comes a point in everyone’s ministry when they must make the right decision and abide under the anointing they received for the work they were chosen to do. Two ministries are in the Judean wilderness, both baptizing. This is an awkward situation but nothing bad has come of it yet. Ultimately questions will be asked and there will be an accountability required of us.

John 3:25-27. Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying. And they came unto John and said unto him Rabbi, he that was with you beyond Jordan to whom you bore witness, behold, the same baptizes and all come to him. John answered and said a person can receive only what is given them from heaven.                                                  

This discussion raises more questions than answers and demands a serious pause for consideration. John’s ministry is quickly becoming a lesson for future disciples to draw wisdom. Why does John even still have disciples? And is he now addressed as Rabbi? Notice the way they describe the Lord as “he that was with you”. Why did he not become a disciple of Jesus with the revelation he had received concerning Him?

John 3:28.  You yourselves testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah,’ but rather, I am sent before Him.

Friend of the Bridegroom

John 3-29,30. He that has the bride is the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom, which stands and hears him rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice, this my joy, therefore is fulfilled. He must increase and I must decrease.

We now come to one of the more frequently quoted verses: He must increase but I must decrease. If only that were true, John would have quietly faded into the background. We would say “whatever happened to John the Baptist, he was so prominent at first and then he just seems to disappear from the narrative.”  

Oh, that makes sense, once Jesus was baptized he had fulfilled his mission. The only lingering question would be, why did he not follow Jesus? Instead he ceases to be a voice in the wilderness and goes to Jerusalem. Notice the Bible doesn’t say “and the word of the Lord then came again unto John and said, go tell that rascal Herod he can’t have his brother’s wife.”  Maybe he was just bored, but now we find him in prison, his head soon to be placed on a platter.

Matthew 11:2, 3. Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ he sent two of his disciples, and said unto Him are you He that should come or do we look for another? 

This is astonishing! John was informed of God how to identify the Messiah. He witnessed the Holy Spirit descend from heaven in a bodily form and light on Jesus like a dove. He testified, this is the Son of God! And now he asks, “Do we look for another?” He is actually saying, if you are the Messiah, why am I in prison!? Aren’t you supposed to be restoring the kingdom of Israel, aren’t you supposed to restore the throne of David!?

The Least in the Kingdom

Matthew 11:4.  Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and show John again those things which you do hear and see. 

Jesus tells John’s followers that the works of Christ speak for themselves. Then he adds another critical word for us to always consider:

Matthew 11:6.  And blessed is whosoever that shall not be offended in Me.          

This was the Lord’s pointed word to John, are you offended in me? We can never allow our own expectations to distort our understanding of what God has chosen us uniquely to have as a stewardship. John and his followers were expecting a King, not a Lamb of sacrifice.

John the Baptist teaches us that we can come out from under our anointing, we can walk and speak in the flesh what we believe to be the word of God, even quoting scripture verbatim, and there will be consequences. Condemning Herod was not kingdom business, not the Gospel message that Jesus came for: “to save the world, not condemn”.

Matthew 11:11. Truly I say unto you among them that are born of women there has not risen a greater than John the Baptist, notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.                                                   

My beloved brethren, abide in Christ, and remain among the least of these.                    Keep a good head on your shoulders!

John 1:15.  John testified about Him. He cried out, saying, “This is He of whom I said, The One who comes after me is above me, because He existed before me.’” 

The Standard

The Greek word stauros means ‘stake’, ‘pole’ or ‘post’; but it is always  translated ‘cross’ in the New Testament. When a banner or image is attached to a pole, it becomes a standard. This is the imagery from the Old Testament that Yeshua uses to teach on His purpose.

John 3:14, 15. And as Moses lifted up the (brass) serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  

John 12:31-33. Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.  And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death He should die.

Following the Standard

Mark 8:34.  When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

This statement makes no sense until translating stauros correctly, and becomes ‘pulls up his stakes and follows me’. Now we find a statement familiar in all ages as an expression of someone leaving his permanent dwelling to follow the Lord. This has been The Standard from the origins of Messiah.

Genesis 12:1.   Now the Lord had said to Abram: Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.

Hebrews 11:8-10.   By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise;  for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.   

The Heavenly Hope

Luke 9:62.  But Yeshua said to him, “No one who has put his hand to the plow and looked back is fit for the kingdom of God.”   

Hebrews 11:13-16.   These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.  And truly if they had called to mind that from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly homeland. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

1 Peter 2:11.   Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.    

Revelation 12:11. They overcame by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives even in the face of death.   

 Hebrews 12:4.   You have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

To abstain is only accomplished by abiding in the promised Holy Spirit.

Three testimonies from 1 John 3:

Whoever abides in Him does not sin. V.6.

Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. V.9.

Now those who keep His commandments abide in Him, and He in them. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit He has given us. V.24.

The Standard of Christ is love

 SS 2:4.   He brought me to the banquet house and his banner (standard) over me is love. 

 1 John 3:14, 16.  We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers and sisters. The one who does not love abides in death.  By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.           

To make the cross an icon of the church is to repeat what Israel did with the bronze serpent from the wilderness. It became an idol in Israel which was destroyed by Hezekiah hundreds of years later.

2 Kings 18:4.     He removed the high places, and broke the images, and cut down the groves, and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan (that brass thing).

 Exodus 20:4.  You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.   

The Cross represents The Standard for Paul

1 Corinthians 1:18. For the message of ‘The Standard’ is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Galatians 5:11.   As for me, brothers and sisters, if I still proclaim circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case, the stumbling block of  ‘The Standard’ has been eliminated. 

Galatians 6:12.  Those wanting to look good outwardly are trying to force you to be circumcised—only so they will not be persecuted for ‘The Standard’ of Messiah.

 Galatians 6:14.  But God forbid that I should glory, save in ‘The Standard’ of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.  

Philippians 2:8.  He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, death now ‘The Standard’.   

Philippians 3:18 For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of ‘The Standard’ of Christ.   

The Standard for Life: Crucified with Christ

Romans 6:5-7.   For if we have become joined together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also will be joined together in His resurrection,  knowing our old man was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be done away with, so we no longer serve sin.  For he who has died is set free from sin.  

Galatians 5:24.  Now those who belong to Messiah have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Galatians 2:20.   I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  

Romans 6:22.  But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.

Revelation 20:6.  Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. 

The Standard Banner of Salvation

Zechariah 9:16.  The Lord their God will save them in that day, as the flock of His people. For they shall be like the jewels of a crown, lifted like a banner over His land.

Isaiah 59:19. When the enemy comes in like a flood, The Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.

Psalm 60:4.   You have given a banner to those who fear You, that it may be displayed for the truth.

Isaiah 11:10.  And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious.

Isaiah 62:10.  Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people.

Isaiah 49:22   Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.

The Messenger of the Lord

Malachi 2:6, 7.  The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and turned many away from iniquity.   For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.

The apostolic message of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; is played out as a living parable through the narrative of Israel, the covenant people of God.

Jesus taught that many are called, but few are chosen. In Israel, a nation of priests became a tribe chosen to the service of the sanctuary. A particular family  within that tribe, beginning with Aaron, the brother of Moses,  would minister in the Holy Place. This is further refined by a chosen son of Aaron receiving a covenant of friendship with God for his faithfulness.

Numbers 25:10-13.  Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace; and it shall be to him and his descendants after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the children of Israel.

Zealous for the zeal of God is echoed in the teaching of the apostle Paul, along with the injunction from Malachi 2, that the “priest’s lips should keep knowledge”.

1 Corinthians 14:12.  Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. And ‘it is good to be zealous in good things always’ (Ga. 4:18).

When we are encouraged to ‘come boldly before the throne of Grace’, it is on behalf of the church that should be our primary purpose. This is where we obtain words of ‘edification, exhortation and comfort’ that we may ‘receive from the Lord that which we present unto others’ for the building up of the body of Christ.

To recognize and receive from the messengers of God is the basis for an active faith working in the body of Christ.

John 6:29. Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

The Holy Spirit, sent by the full authority of Jesus Christ, enables mature men and women of the church to do the work of God as His ‘dwelling place’.

Ephesians 2:20-22.  Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

You will know them by their fruit.