The following article was originally published in July 2019 on Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church’s blog, “Pastor’s Press.” Pastor Groff served as a pastoral intern at Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church before coming to Antioch as part of the current reorganization effort.
We often refer to Christ as our Prophet, Priest, King, Redeemer, Savior, Lord, and God. Have you ever thought about Jesus Christ as pastor? Indeed, it is Christ Himself Who sets the standard as the ultimate pastor. What does this standard look like? In other words, what do we know about Pastor Jesus from His earthly ministry? John 4 and John 8 show us the major features of Christ’s pastoral ministry: His compassion, authority, and aim. These two chapters show us how Jesus Christ is the Servant of the Lord described in Isaiah 42. They also illustrate how Jesus Christ is the church’s paradigmatic pastor.
First, Christ demonstrates compassion in addressing spiritual needs through addressing felt needs. In John 4, Christ addressed the felt needs of the Samaritan woman because “He needed to” do so (John 4:4). This principal aspect of His ministry determined even His travel itineraries. The reality of need (for water, for marriage, for worship) was central to Christ’s ministry to the woman at the well. All along, He knew that sin lurked underneath the felt needs of water and relationship. John 8 amplifies the need to address adultery, for there a woman’s life is on the line. Christ rendered judgment to save the woman from her accusers (John 8:7). In both accounts, Christ as pastor related to human beings with human problems. By His Word and Spirit, Jesus continues to minister to our felt needs. He ministers to us as whole people in need of pastoral care in every area of our lives.
Second, Christ exercises authority in his pastoral ministry. His authority drives the narratives at their respective turning points of John 4 and John 8. In John 4, Christ drove the dialogue away from felt needs and to spiritual needs in the second half of verse 17. Some commentators think that the Samaritan woman threw up a diversion in verse 20. Yet this is the point at which Christ’s authority most comes into play. It is Christ alone Who can direct those who would presume to worship God. Consider the result. The Samaritans of Sychar confess His authority as “the Christ, the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). In John 8, Christ caused the Pharisees to abandon their case against the woman caught in adultery (John 8:9). Christ’s words defeated the Pharisees’ case against the woman. His words also convicted the Pharisees in their consciences. His authority most shines forth in His words to the adulteress, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8:11). He pardons her for the past, and He commands her for the future. As suggested in the following verse, it is the Light of the world that banishes the darkness. In so doing, He provides sight to a people burdened by the blindness of sin.
Christ’s authority characterizes His pastoral ministry as the sole Head of the church. This authority works through the ordained officers of the church: elders and deacons. Men who serve as church officers steward an “alien authority” that belongs to Christ. Officers deny Christ’s authority whenever they overstep the biblical limits of their callings. They endanger Christ’s church whenever they operate apart from Christ’s authority. They impede the church’s expansion when they fail to exercise the authority granted to them. They bless the church insofar as they advance Christ’s Kingdom as His stewards. It is the advancement of His Kingdom that was (and is) Christ’s great spiritual aim in His pastoral ministry.
Third, the spiritual aim of Christ’s pastoral ministry is the full harvest of souls. This feature is prominent in Matthew 13, Isaiah 40 and 42, and in John 4 and 8. In John 4, Christ taught His disciples of the great harvest of the Kingdom of God. He exhorted them to “lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest” (John 4:35). He was speaking of spiritual realities, and His aim was spiritual. Jesus was about the business of searching for and saving lost souls (Luke 19:10). In John 8, Christ saved the life of the adulteress. He also revealed Himself as “the light of the world” (John 8:12) that liberates slaves from sin (John 8:32). It was for truth that the Servant of the Lord came to bring forth justice (Isaiah 42:3). Likewise, it was for truth that Jesus Christ saved the adulteress from the Pharisees and her sin. Something fundamental underlies the compassion, authority, and aim of Christ’s pastoral ministry.
Jesus Christ was (and is) the only man ever to have lived in a state of perfect righteousness. In the accounts found in John 4 and 8, Christ proved Himself to be the Servant of the Lord promised in Isaiah 42. He demonstrated His compassion for sinners by addressing felt needs. He functioned with authority, confounding the Pharisees and religious hypocrites around Him. He did this for the sake of the great harvest of souls ordained by the Father, and begun by the Spirit. The fundamental goal of Christ’s pastoral ministry was the glory of God. Christ’s salvation of sinners in John 8 glorifies and praises God, as pictured in John 4:39-42. The triad that shaped Christ’s pastoral ministry rests upon the fundamental note of the glory of God. When we know Christ as pastor, we should burst into praise and worship. When our pastors call us to worship each Lord’s Day, they do so as men under authority. They do so by the example of Christ our ultimate pastor. They follow Christ in ministering to us for the sake of God’s glory, worship, and praise.