John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness outside Jerusalem like one of the great prophets of the Old Testament. Word went around, in fact, that Elijah or Jeremiah had come back from the dead. John had a stern message of judgment for everyone who came to hear him preach. He said that neither privileges of birth nor being formally religious would do anyone any good. The times were too drastic for such things. The ax was already laid at the root of the tree and it was about to be cut down. Decisive spiritual reorientation was needed. Everyone, from high priest to lowest sinner to Gentile soldier, had to repent, confess their sins, be baptized, and live ethically, as proof of their sincerity. That would signify acceptance of a new life.
John said that One was coming who was God’s anointed. He would baptize with the Holy Spirit, just as he, John, was baptizing with water.
Jesus went to the Jordan River to be baptized by John, much to John’s puzzlement. Jesus had no sins to confess, so why should he be baptized? The answer lay in Jesus’ words, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). Jesus was identifying with sin, not his own, but the sin of others, in order to do away with it forever. He was the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world (John 1:29). As Jesus was baptized, heaven was opened, and a voice was heard to say, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).
Jesus’ experience in the wilderness, which immediately followed his baptism, was of supreme importance for him. It helped to define what kind of Messiah he was to be. Three different models were offered; that of a humanitarian reformer (turn stones to bread); that of a miracle worker (leap down off the Temple); and that of one defying God’s will (casting his lot with Satan). In each case Jesus found strength by quoting Scripture, thus repelling Satan’s attacks. He knew that to do God’s work of salvation meant nothing less than paying the full price. Tempting as it was, he still rejected any compromise that would destroy what he came to do.
Jesus returned to Galilee, where the town of Capernaum became his base of operation. He was already gathering disciples, but no formal call had gone out to any of them to leave their occupations and follow him. They seemed to have gone back to their ordinary lives, waiting for the moment when Jesus would begin his public work. Jesus’ disciples began baptizing, which created some strain with the disciples of John, but Jesus stayed in the background. His time had not yet come. Jesus made two trips to Jerusalem, one of them including an interview with a Jewish ruler named Nicodemus who was told he must be born from above (or “born again”) if he wanted to enter the kingdom of God. Miracles were performed, as at the wedding in Cana, but for the most part this period was one of preparation for Jesus. He was getting ready for the time when he would be on the center stage of history. That moment came when John the Baptist was arrested. The time of preparation was over; the time for action had arrived.
The table details the miracles that Jesus performed.