The purpose of this series of blogs on Jesus is to learn what he did in various situations rather than listen to what he taught. It may be possible to learn certain things from the way he reacts that are not necessarily expressed in his teachings. So lets watch as one day he leaves Jericho with his disciples. A blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus hears the crowd that so often accompanied Jesus and calls out for pity. It is interesting how the synoptists record the moment: When Bartimaeus kept calling for help, some in the crowd were upset and insisted that he be silenced (Mark 10 gives the fullest account) but Jesus “stopped” (vs. 49) and asked that the man in need be brought to him.
The crowd was “passing by” but Jesus “stopped” – and there is the difference between the heart of God and the nature of man. One might argue that both the disciples and the followers needed to learn all that Jesus had to teach and that there would undoubtedly have been other times to take care of a blind man. Certainly the needs of the many outweigh the need of a single person. So goes the warped reasoning of the mind turned inward for personal gain. Bur life is not a zero-sum game and acts of kindness expand their domain without limiting others.
The lesson that the crowd was to learn was presented with far more impact by illustrating it than by discussing it. Had Jesus said something about it being a fine thing to heal the blind, lives would probably never have been changed. But to actually see him respond to a need he could meet would leave an indelible impression. In the long run, learning has less to do with the accumulation of information than it has with the doing of what we “know.” When it comes to moral choice we “know” what we do, not what we remember.
Granted, we don’t meet many physically blind people today and if we did there is not a lot that we ourselves could do about it? But we are constantly surrounded by people with other kinds of blindness. Some cannot “see” the gospel as the story of God’s redemptive love for them. Others have never “seen” the beneficial results of caring for the needy, the insights of Scripture for a more satisfying life, the fact that apart from God there is no hope. We are surrounded by blindness and like Bartimaeus , they are calling for help. If God has opened our eyes through faith in Jesus Christ we know the one thing that needs to be “seen” by all who would prepare for an eternity in heaven. Others may pass by the needy but let's stop along with Jesus and meet the immediate need.
On one occasion, the wife of Zebedee, with her two sons James and John in tow, approached Jesus with a rather audacious question (Mark 10:35-45). She asked Jesus if, when his kingdom came, could her sons be seated one on each side. When the other disciples heard what was going on they became highly indignant. And rightly so. So how did Jesus use this occasion? That is the question. The text goes on to say that he “called them all together” (vs. 42) and taught them a very important lesson. Ruling over others and vaunting one‘s authority is the way this world works but not the way in God’s kingdom. In the spiritual kingdom if you want to be a leader then serve the other person, don’t insist on being served. Then he used himself as an example: the Son of Man came to serve, not to be served — and that would ultimately involve death on a cross.
What strikes me here is that Jesus recognized and took advantage of the right moment. The two disciples and their mother had created a situation that was ripe for teaching a particular lesson that needed to be learned. The two disciples were exposed by their inappropriate request for power, the other disciples displayed their disgust, and Jesus did what the well-known Latin saying (slightly adjusted) suggests, Carpe momentum: he seized the moment, that passing moment so highly suitable for learning. In Jesus, In His Own Words, after recording the reaction of the other ten, I translate, “So I called them all together and said . . . ). The moment for calling them together had come and the master teacher did not let it slip by.
I am sure that those responsible for the growth of others understand that certain instructions are best shared only when “the moment” has arrived. Since all instruction is based on the necessary assumption that there are things you don’t know but need to, informing the other needs to be carried out in a non-judgmental manner. The parent responsible for the spiritual nurture of the child is more effective if they choose the “right moment” to help a child understand some important lesson about growing up. The believer concerned about the spiritual welfare of a friend is more effective if he waits for the “right moment” — the moment that God has in mind for the believer to share the need for spiritual rebirth.
The truth is that God would have us work according to his schedule and those right moments often come unexpectedly. So stay sensitive to the One who has prepared the heart of the other and, being a gentleman, doesn’t shout out his orders.
Many years ago when I was teaching a college freshman class in New Testament Survey I had a student tell me that since Jesus was God there was nothing he didn’t know or couldn’t do. I pressed him a bit and learned that when Jesus was a baby he just pretended not to know since that would be hard to explain to others. The student didn’t know it but he was involved in what theologians call the “hypostatic union” – the doctrine of the two natures of the incarnate Jesus (divine and human). It stems from the time of Athanasius (a fourth century bishop of Alexandria) and was adopted as orthodox at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. In simple terms, the student didn’t want his Jesus to be like the rest of us. It amounted to a denial of the humanity of Christ.
While informed believers accept the doctrine of two natures, there is at the same time a tendency to view Jesus as essentially divine and only acting like a man from time to time. In the account of the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44) I notice several very human reactions – things that you and I might do but not characteristic of how we might view a divine being. Jesus had heard that his dear friend Lazarus was ill so after two days he decided to go to Judea to see him. The fact that he waited two days has furrowed many a brow but one thing is sure, it’s more like man than God. The text says that Jesus “loved Martha, her sister Mary, and Lazarus” (vs. 5). The mention of each person emphasizes his love for each one individually; the imperfect tense in the Greek text suggests a continuing state. Since Jesus was both man and God, which one did the loving? Or was it both?
Later in the account when Jesus saw Mary and her friends weeping he was “deeply moved in spirit and visibly distressed” (vs. 33). A moment later when they invited him to come and see the body he “burst into tears” (vs. 35). Once again I ask, was it God himself incarnate that couldn’t control his tears or was it Jesus the man? I am not a theologian but I understand that even today there is a difference in opinion on this issue between the Reformed and the Lutheran traditions. The important point for us is that Jesus cared. His concern for a dear brother taken so quickly affected him deeply: He wept (vs. 35, the shortest verse in the New Testament.)
I do not believe in sentimentality but the way Jesus lived tells us not to fortress ourselves against an honest expression of emotion whenever appropriate. To care for the welfare of a friend facing death may move us to follow the lead of Jesus and give way to tears. While some have thought that Jesus’ tears were due to the gloomy sense of loss prevalent at the moment, I choose to understand them as the tears of “one has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
One of the encounters of Jesus with the religious authorities is found in John 10:22-39. This one took place at the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem toward the end of Jesus’ ministry. As I have mentioned, my purpose in the Jesus blogs is to learn how he acted in various situations, not what he said. In this short encounter he demonstrates several ways that we should respond if we find ourselves in a similar situation. First the story, then the lessons.
Walking one day in Solomon’s Porch, the authorities “cornered” Jesus to ask how much longer he intended to “provoke them” as he was doing (vs. 24). He responded very directly, saying that his works proved that he was who he said he was – “I and the Father are one.” At that the priests picked up stones in order to kill him (vs. 31), but instead of cowering he boldly asked for which of his good works were they about to stone him (vs. 32). They countered saying that it wasn’t because of what he was doing but because he claimed to be God and that was blasphemy. His defense was that Scripture spoke of people as “gods” so apparently his assertion couldn’t be considered blasphemy? (vss. 34-36). Nonplussed by this argument, they tried once again to arrest him but he “escaped out of their grasp.”(vs. 39).
One thing we learn from Jesus in this confrontation is that we are to live without fear. Everything he did provoked the religious leadership. While he didn’t go out of his way to offend them his message showed them up for the hypocrites they were. Although it was forbidden for them to kill anyone – only Rome could do that – they were so disturbed that they actually picked up stones to kill him.
A second thing to notice is how wise Jesus was in the exchange. Every good debater knows how critical it is to put the other person on the defense. So Jesus asked for which of the helpful deeds he had recently done did they intend to kill him. It is clear that you don’t kill a person for the good they do, and they realized that they were caught in their own trap. Then he undermined their argument that he had committed blasphemy by claiming to be one with God because the scripture, which they held to be without error, spoke of some people as “gods.” Just good solid reasoning and they were supposed to be the experts in that field.
Finally, when they tried to at arrest him he “escaped from their grasp.” Most commentators see this as divine intervention. Jesus knew that God the Father was involved in every step along his way and would not allow anything to happen that was outside his will.
So the three guiding principles that are seen in this encounter are, for us 1) to live without fear, 2) to meet opposition intelligently, and 3) to rest secure in our confidence that God is in control. Put more succinctly: Be unafraid, be informed, trust him.
Not long ago I wrote of the courage of Jesus as he made his way toward Jerusalem. The text says that he “set his face” toward his destination (Luke 9:51, 53). He was determined to get there even though the authorities were waiting in Jerusalem to take his life. Yet we read that on a different occasion he “remained in Galilee” not wanting to go to Jerusalem because the religious authorities there were determined to kill him (John 7:1). Sounds like after thinking it over he decided not to run the risk. However, as the following verses tell us, he did go up a day or so later when “his time had fully come” (vvs. 8, 10). You will remember that his brothers had been urging him to go to Jerusalem so that more of his followers could see the miracles he was doing. But Jesus waited until it was the right time for him to go. It wasn’t the opposition of the authorities that kept him in Galilee for a time, but an awareness that everything has its own time. He was waiting for that right time.
Is there a lesson here for us? Is there a right time, from God’s standpoint, for us to do a certain thing? I believe so. In ordaining our life, God has laid out a specific track for us to follow. We don’t expect a child to go to college just out of grade school; we know that there are several years of maturing that need to take place. Perhaps God sees that same need in our life and has us wait for the time being. Waiting is probably the most difficult task for today’s busy person. We are used to getting a thing done by just doing it. Don’t bother with preparation. (I understand it was a surprise for Nike to discover that their iconic slogan “Just do it” had its origin in the dying words of an infamous murderer.) In any case, most of us have a hard time waiting for God to tell us what HIS next step is for us. He doesn’t seem to be in as much of a hurry as we are.
Jesus was content to wait in Galilee (continuing his ministry of course) until the Father told him it was okay to go. For us to conduct our life like Jesus on this occasion is to keep on doing what God has assigned until he says, “Now is the right time for you to take that next step.” And how will we know if that “voice” is God’s or someone else’s? In my experience, if a person has been listening to Him on a regular basis they are more able to distinguish his voice at that moment when they need guidance. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul tells the believers, “If on some point you think differently, God will make it clear to you” (3:15). So wait till he says the time has come, then move ahead. The neat part is that if you are making a mistake he has promised to make that clear to you. You will reach your goal more quickly if you don’t waste your time running down dead ends.
As Jesus passes through a village on his final trip to Jerusalem ten men with leprosy call out for help. He stops for a moment and says, “Go to the priests and let them examine you” (Luke 17:14). What strikes me here is that Jesus is directing the lepers to go to that very group of religious leaders who had given him so much trouble. When they ridiculed him for his position on wealth he reminded them that while they may have convinced the crowd that they were righteous, God could read their hearts and he found them “loathsome in his sight” (Luke 16:15). And now he tells the lepers to go to those very priests to be declared ceremonially clean. Why would he do that? Wasn’t he the one who came to replace their corrupt distortion of the ancient religion with a new understanding of the love of God?
Some might say it was his method of proving his adversaries wrong. They didn’t appreciate his ministry and had actively opposed everything he was doing. That the deaf could now hear and the blind see was of no particular importance to religious leaders who had surrendered to self-indulgence. So when the lepers appeared before the priests cured of their disease, his antagonists would have to admit that Jesus could do something way beyond their meager abilities. But does this scenario seem likely in view of the Jesus pictured elsewhere in the gospels? Hardly. So what is happening? Why did Jesus send them to the temple?
I believe it’s because Jesus had not come to establish a new religion but to fulfill the historic religion of his people. Never in his teaching had he suggested that the history of Abraham or the laws of Moses were something of the past and needed to be replaced with his new insights. It is true that in the course of history Christianity has come to be considered by some as unrelated to Judaism. But Christ is not the new leader showing a new way but the promised Messiah of the Old Testament. Christianity fulfills the hopes and religious aspirations of the tribes of Israel. What we call the “New” Testament is the fulfillment, not the replacement, of the “Old” Testament. I believe that what Jesus rejected was the hypocrisy and distortion of their sacred religion, not its essence. And for that reason it was appropriate for the lepers to go to the priest. It was the accepted way of being recognized as a renewed member of a religious society