My parents tell me my first words were “Dada” and “duck.” I’m sure many of your parents also shared with your how excited they were when you first started talking, or perhaps you have kids of your own and eagerly waited for the first words to come from their mouths. We view first words as important, even on into adulthood when we meet someone for the first time. Based on the words people speak, we form ideas about their priorities, character, and motives.
We don’t know what baby Jesus’s first words were, but we do have four gospels that record words He spoke while walking on this earth. Looking at the first words each writer records Christ speaking gives us key insight into His character and priorities.
Matthew — Fulfillment
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ first recorded words are a conversation with John the Baptist. Jesus had come to him for baptism and John protested, “saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”” (Matt. 3:14)
But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. (Matt 3:15)
The first time we see Jesus speak in this gospel, we learn that fulfilling “all righteousness” was a top priority for Him. It’s fitting that these words are the first recorded for Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. More than any other gospel, Matthew draws attention to the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. I count 14 times where Matthew records something Jesus did directly fulfilled a specific prophecy (in contrast to one in Mark, two in John, and three in Luke).
Matthew’s is also the gospel where we have record of Jesus saying, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matt 5:17). He came to fulfill prophecies of the Messiah and to reveal the full expression of God’s law, and that’s made clear from the very first words we have record of Him speaking as Jesus Christ.
Mark — Preaching Relationship
Mark’s gospel skips over any dialogue for Jesus’ baptism and temptation. The first words he records are when Jesus began His ministry.
Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)
When Jesus came to this earth, He opened a way for human beings to become part of God’s family. In order to have that sort of relationship with God, we have to turn away from the sins that used to shackle us and turn toward God. When Hebrews 6 talks about “the elementary principles of Christ,” the first two listed are “repentance from dead works” and “faith toward God” (Heb. 6:1). Repentance and belief are foundational truths of our faith and preaching that message was one of Jesus’ main goals.
Luke — Father’s Will
Chronologically in Christ’s life as a human, Luke gives us the earliest words we have recorded. It’s in the account of 12-year-old Jesus staying in Jerusalem to speak with the leaders in the temple. His mother was frantic that He was lost and confronted Him when they finally got back together.
And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49)
Completing His mission was a key focus while Christ was here on this earth. He told His disciples, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). Being about His Father’s business sustained His ministry. He knew was was expected, He valued what the Father values, and He fully submitted to His will (Luke 22:41-44).
The other thing these words tell us is where we should look for Jesus. The question, “Why did you seek Me?” isn’t teenage sass — He was pointing out that they should have realized He could be found where believers were gathered. If His family had gone straight to the temple they could have saved three days of searching (Luke 2:46). But, like so many of us, they looked for Jesus in places where He won’t be found even though He’s told us how to seek Him.
John — Seeking
The first words of Jesus recorded by John are spoken to two of John the Baptist’s disciples. John the Baptist pointed Jesus out to them as “the Lamb of God” and they followed Him. In Fill These Hearts, Christopher West points out that Christ’s first question “probes our hearts” by asking “What are you looking for?”
Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?” (John 1:38)
The first words of Christ in each of the gospels builds on each other. In Matthew, we see Him fulfilling scriptures needed to prove He was the Messiah. In Mark, we get a mission statement for His ministry to preach God’s kingdom and turn people back to true faith. Luke gives us insight into His mind, focus, and priorities, as well as the information we need to find Him when we, too, seek God’s will. Now in John, Christ’s words ask about the state of our own hearts.
What about us? The words we speak also tell people where our priorities lie and give them insight into our characters. If Christ were to ask us, “What do you seek?” what would our first words be?