“After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever read something in one place, read something else in another place from a purportedly friendly source, and something about the two accounts didn’t quite sit right? We often see this today in modern politics. One person says one thing and another says something slightly different; different enough that the contradiction is glaring. Generally speaking, people don’t tolerate contradictions very well. Contradictions reveal either duplicity or hypocrisy, or both. This is bad enough when it comes to life in general. It’s even harder when we seem to find them in the Scriptures.
One of the criticisms often leveled at the Scriptures generally and the Gospels in particular is that the various sources contradict one another. Much apologetic energy has been consumed over the years by efforts to create harmonized Gospel accounts–ones that help to explain away every supposed contradiction alleged by critics. These efforts have been largely successful; successful to the point that no serious atheist making a well-reasoned argument against Christianity will cite Scriptural contradictions as evidence for their position. Oh, you will still find some on the internet, but that’s never been a particularly good source for reasonable arguments against Christianity.
In any event, I began thinking about these efforts to harmonize the Gospel accounts when I read this verse on our journey through Mark. What Mark makes it sound like is that Jesus didn’t really begin His ministry until after John the Baptist was arrested. He was arrested, by the way, because he spoke out against the local Roman King, Herod Antipas, for divorcing his wife and marrying his sister-in-law while she was still married to his brother.
Matthew and Luke both present similar timelines of Jesus’ ministry. But John seems to tell a different story. He talks about Jesus ministering in Judea almost under John’s wing for several weeks or even months and even attracting some disciples while He was there (more on that next week). He did indeed return to Galilee once John was arrested, but He wasn’t necessarily starting from scratch like Mark and the other two make it sound.
So, which is it? Is this a contradiction in the storyline?
The short answer is, no. The slightly longer answer is that John, writing as much as 30 years after the other three Gospels were already in circulation in the church, simply fills in more of the details of what happened in between Jesus’ baptism, temptation, and the beginning of His Galilean ministry. His additional details help explain why Jesus was able to attract followers and disciples so easily when He got started in Galilee.
There’s one more angle to this story, though, that really caught my eye. What this whole sequence puts on display is not simply some apparently mundane details of timeline that help give Jesus’ story a historical context. Instead, what we are seeing here is an example of Jesus’ incredible humility. How? Let me explain.
Jesus was…well…Jesus. He was the Son of God. He was the Messiah. He knew this. He got the affirmation from His Father upon His baptism by John. Even if no one else there really understood what this meant, He did. He was the Messiah, He had a mission to which He stayed pretty rigorously committed as we’ll see next week, and He had every right to get things started right away, or at least, once He got back from His brief experience in the wilderness. He could have started doing the profound and authoritative teaching He would offer once He got to Galilee, thereby attracting His own following and letting John’s ministry be gradually overshadowed as it should have been since he was simply His forerunner.
But He didn’t.
Instead, He stayed there in Judea, in a sense becoming a disciple of John’s. He kept things pretty quiet. He rose up enough in the ranks such that He did have some of His own followers, including some who were lifted from among John’s own followers (the apostle John tells that story), but He never revealed Himself at a level that would have overshadowed what John already had going for him. In fact, when tensions began to rise between John’s followers and His own followers after John was arrested, that was the spark that led Him to leave Judea and head back home.
Let that sit on you for a minute. The King of Heaven waited until John’s turn was over before starting to take His own turn. Who does that? Nowadays, if you have something you want to get started, you get started as quickly as you can. And if you outpace and overshadow the local competition, all the better. And if you happen to outpace even your own mentors, well, they should have been able to keep up better. It’s your time to shine now.
Not so with Jesus. He was patient and kind. He knew who He was and had perfect confidence in that. He didn’t need to take attention-grabbing measures. He trusted in the Father’s good plans and knew without a shadow of doubt that when His time came, He would be able to do everything the Father wanted Him to do.
Listen: the same goes for you and me. If we are rooted deeply in our heavenly Father and committed to what He wants to accomplish through us, we don’t have to take the path of pride. We don’t have to reach and grab and strive to get more. He’ll make sure we have all we need to shine brightly when the time is right. Our goal is not to get attention, it is to be faithful. If we do that, it will be enough.
Your heavenly Father loves you and has great plans for you. They may not be great in the terms you have been taught to think, but heavenly greatness is something very different from worldly greatness. It will ultimately shine brighter and last longer. Let’s commit ourselves to that.