The Small Ministry of Jesus

I am sending this Priority article to you from a small country in the Middle East. That country is the country of Jesus’s birth, life, and ministry here on earth … Israel. When I say that Israel is a “small country,” I am referring to the fact that the whole country is smaller than the state […]

I am sending this Priority article to you from a small country in the Middle East. That country is the country of Jesus’s birth, life, and ministry here on earth … Israel. When I say that Israel is a “small country,” I am referring to the fact that the whole country is smaller than the state of New Jersey, both in size and population.

The hotel from which I’m writing is perched in a little town called Tiberias on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is not a sea at all. It is a lake. And it is not even a very large lake. Yesterday, I went up on a high hill and I could see the entire thing from one end to the other stretched out before me. It is really very small. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Lake Superior is approximately 12,000 km³ in size. By contrast, the Sea of Galilee is only 4 cubic kilometers! That means that THREE THOUSAND bodies of water the size of the Sea of Galilee could fit within Lake Superior.

So I am sitting in a small country, in a small town, on the edge of a small lake, and looking at a population of people to whom Jesus ministered. I have been reading a book which describes the population of Galilee at the time of Jesus. This 300-page, scholarly work lays out evidence for the number of people who lived in Galilee during Jesus’ time. The evidence is quite sophisticated, so I will not go into too much detail other than to tell you that formulas have been made by all the ruins found throughout the ancient world and the size of the cities and the density of the population who could fit in those cities or towns. That estimate is then cross-referenced against the size of the areas that have been set aside for agriculture to feed the people of that particular city or town. The resulting figures are quite accurate in estimating the population of an area. Based on those calculations, it can be confidently asserted that the towns where Jesus ministered were in fact extremely small.

The entire population of the known world at that time was less than the current population of the United States. It was an era in history in which there were very few people globally compared to today. Looking at the size of the towns and villages which we know about and which have been excavated in the Galilee area, we discover something interesting. The city of Capernaum (which was basically Jesus’s base of operations during His ministry) had a population of approximately 1,500 people. The city of Nazareth where Jesus was raised had a population of only about 400 people. These cities and towns were tiny compared to where we live today. For example, my own neighborhood association has a current population of 2,547.

It is astonishing to me that more people live in my small neighborhood than in Capernaum and Nazareth combined during the years when Jesus ministered on this earth.

The largest cities around the Sea of Galilee would have been Tiberius and Sephora, but these were Roman cities built by the Romans and not primarily populated by the Jews of the area. Those cities had a population of approximately 10,000 to 12,000 people, which would make them the largest cities in the Galilee area where Jesus ministered. But surprisingly we have no evidence from Scripture that Jesus ever visited either Tiberias or Sephora.

In fact, since the writers of the Scriptures can be trusted to be entirely accurate due to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we know that the ministry of Jesus was predominately in the tiny towns and villages that surrounded the Sea of Galilee.

From my vista yesterday I could look to my right and see the north shore of the Sea of Galilee … the place where Jesus spent roughly 90 percent of His ministry. The small arc of about 13 miles would have been comprised of little towns and villages approaching the edge of the Sea of Galilee.

Why do I tell you all of this? Because I want you to understand, as I am coming to understand, that the ministry of Jesus did not involve masses of people in huge metropolitan areas and giant people movements during His lifetime here on earth. It blows my mind to realize that from a sparsely-populated, sleepy little country perched on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea the Lord launched a movement to reach the entire world with His salvation … and that He would choose to confine His entire earthly ministry to a small collection of towns and villages.

Today, more than 2000 years later, the Missionary Church has within its worshiping attendance vastly more people than Jesus ever reached during His time on earth. The hundreds of thousands of people who worship Jesus in the Missionary Church throughout the world on any given Sunday (along with the millions of people who are worshiping throughout the world because of the Missionary Church and its disciple-making efforts) would dwarf the entire population to whom Jesus ministered during His lifetime. When He said to His disciples “You will see greater things than this” (referring to the things that He had done during His ministry), the scope of His majestic vision saw out beyond the little fishing villages and agrarian cities where He would visit. He knew that the gospel which He was bringing to earth would sweep out and beyond even His precious Jewish people and roll like a tidal wave to the ends of the earth. Today well over 2 billion people claim the name of Jesus. They live in huge cities and tiny villages (and everything in between) on all the occupied continents of the earth. And the gospel of Jesus is growing exponentially during these dark and turbulent times in which we live.

I thought it would be good for you to know that God does great, earthshaking things through little situations which we would consider cramped and confining when viewed from a certain perspective. From the perspective of God launching movements, there is no such thing as a small beginning. There is an early American saying that an entire forest exists within a single acorn. In the same way, wherever you are ministering today, though it may seem small and insignificant to you, it has potential energy to shake and transform the world. Every small child who you raise to know and love the Lord… every young person who kneels at an altar and commits to follow Jesus… every elderly couple who rearranges their priorities and begin living for the Lord who died for them… have within them the potential to absolutely change the world. All of us, no matter who we are, have a ministry of vital importance to the kingdom of God. Scripture says that we are not to despise the day of small beginnings. The only way that the enemy could try to stifle us is to have us forget that last word “beginnings.” If we saw everything that we do as a beginning—the end of which we will not see during our lifetimes, but the potential of which is limitless for the scope of God’s kingdom—then we would go to work every day with our heads held a little higher and our hearts beating a little faster. May God grant you this year the wisdom to see that every person is a potential disciple-multiplication miracle in the making, and may you, sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit, devote yourselves again to this great task that lies before us—to turn the kingdoms of this world into the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. Happy new year to all of you. May God bless you.