As Jesus and his disciples approached the town of Nain they were met by a funeral procession. It was an especially sad affair because the deceased was the only son of a widow. When Jesus saw the mother, his heart was moved with compassion. Reaching out, he touched the coffin and the procession came to a stop. Jesus simply said, “Wake up,” and the corpse sat up and began to talk. Then Jesus presented the boy to his mother and the crowd could scarcely believe what they were watching. They raised their voices in prayer and news of this event spread like fire throughout the countryside.
Two things are important: the first is Jesus’ compassionate reaction to human sorrow. The mother had lost her husband and this made their son the only family she knew. Now he was gone and she was alone. Jesus saw the sadness in her eyes and was deeply touched by her anguish. This personal concern alone is an example of tender compassion for the heavy of heart, but it didn’t stop there; he hadn’t yet done all that he could. Reaching out, Jesus touched the coffin and the procession came to a halt. Then Jesus told the dead son to rise to life. He did and Jesus presented this “newborn” to his mother. The emotion Jesus displayed was not for the effect it might have on those watching but was a genuine reaction to her need.
This brings a second observation: genuine compassion led to action. Emotion is not for the benefit of the one responding but is the inevitable response to need wherever it occurs . One cannot care yet stand idly by in a time of misfortune. If compassion is nothing but an emotion then it has been stripped of its essential meaning.
What if we were part of a funeral procession like this? Would we speak kindly to the sorrowing mother? Would we check to see if her every day needs were being take care of? Would we drop by to spend a bit of time with her? Would we make sure that she knew we would be praying for her in her time of bereavement? If so, then our compassion would be real and we would be doing what our mentor Jesus would.
Early in his public ministry Jesu as came to the point where had to make a very important decision. He knew he could not carry out his responsibility to proclaim the kingdom of God all by himself. The task called him to selection others who would work with him. So what did he do? He didn’t set up as recruiting center but rather he “went up onto the mountain to spend the night in prayer” (read the account in Jesus, In His Own Words, Mark 3 and Luke 6). Only then could he chose twelve disciples who would (1) be his “closest companions,” (2) “learn from him,” and (3) “go out and proclaim his message” (p. 49). The lesson is obvious: important decisions call for extended time in prayer. Let’s think about this together.
It seems to me that everyone knows what prayer is but no one knows how it works. Whenever there is a national tragedy the news media assures the families of their prayers. And there is probably no person alive today who at some place in their three-score-and-ten haven’t lifted their voice in prayer. But what is it? How does it work?
We acknowledge that God is sovereign. He is in control of all he created. But when we pray and God answers our prayer doesn’t something happen that would not have happened had we not asked? Then who made it happen? The answer is obvious but if we made it happen in what sense was the Sovereign God in control? One suggestion is that of his own free will God decided to limit his sovereignty so that only within a narrow segment did those he created had the freedom to choose. But what if their decision was for evil to win over good? It gets complicated doesn’t it!
I’m quite sure that the power of prayer simply doesn’t depend on our understanding of how it works. Part of living by faith is to follow whatever path it lays out. And this is where we often fall short. Jesus had the task of choosing and preparing twelve men so he turned immediately to prayer. He needed to know the Father’s mind on this and that took an all-night session. This provides for us an important lesson on discerning God’s will in a given situation. If prayer were simply getting information on the right way to do something that would make it easy. But prayer is also the character creating experience of becoming more like Christ. The decision that needs to be made is only a part of the larger benefit. In fact, its major role is to provide the opportunity for our own spiritual growth.
So the next you find yourself at the point of “choosing twelve good men” remember that Gold wants to spend some extended time with you for your growth. The “decision” may be secondary.
It was the Sabbath and Jesus was at the synagogue as usual. The religious authorities were watching him closely to see if he would dare heal a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. If he did that would allow them to bring a charge against him. After asking them if one of their animals had fallen into a pit on a Sabbath would they rescue it, he went on to ask why it would be wrong to heal the man’s hand on the Sabbath. Should he leave it withered? The text says that "dead silence filled the room" (Mark 3:4) and that Jesus was “deeply distressed by their indifference to human distress.” After looking around the room at each of them in “anger” he restored the hand of the disabled man (Jesus, In His Own Words).
Granted, contemporary Christianity has no restrictions like that although certain branches of the church would rather not have their ritualism questioned. Jesus was deeply concerned with the religious leaders’ indifference to human suffering and genuinely angry at their hypocrisy. So the question for us is whether we can or should join him in his opposition to such attitudes. It would seem that the answer should be Yes, but if you actually carried through with it the local congregation would probably take offense.
The most overused injunction in scripture is, “Thou shall not judge.” To call attention to the other person’s questionable conduct is often considered the greater offense. It is true that Jesus is Jesus (and we aren’t) but Jesus didn’t draw upon his divinity to live his life here among us. He was truly man and it was as a man like us that he reacted as he did. So my answer is that strong opposition to such things as hypocrisy and indifference to evil is a Christ like attitude. But, let our opposition against the failures of others be an act of love.
One day as Jesus was out walking along the Sea of Galilee he passed by one of the Roman tax houses. Glancing inside, he caught sight of Levi, the Jewish official in charge of collecting taxes for the Romans (not an enviable position for a Jew!) When Jesus invited this “outcast” to become one of his followers, he left everything – business and all – and went with Jesus. Not only that, but he was so excited about this new chapter in his life that he prepared a feast and invited all his friends to come and meet the honored guest, Jesus. When the Pharisees and other religious Jews heard about this they were indignant. How could Jesus associate with a tax gatherer and his ceremonially unclean friends? A respectable Jew simply would take the risk. Jesus’ explanation was that he hadn’t come for the “virtuous” (self-claimed of course) but for the “sinners” (Mark 2:17). That being the case, he ministered to those who were open to being “healed” – social outcasts, at least that was what the religious Jew thought about them.
So what can we learn from the way Jesus’ handled this situation? One thing is that he was not hampered in his ministry by the views of the religious hierarchy. He understood that he was called to help those who were open to the truth. Unfortunately the practice of religion often blinds people as to what their religion professes to teach. The “doing” of it takes the place of what it essentially professes to be. Practice trumps reality. The Jewish Pharisee was committed to the way in which his religion had been practiced over the years but clueless as to the change it was meant to accomplish in his life.
What about today? For instance, does the average Christian understand the apostle Paul when he says that becoming a follower of Christ involves a death (complete separation) to sin and a resurrection to a new and transformed life in Christ (read Romans 6)? Scripture doesn’t support the idea that church attendance guarantees heaven. Those who might think that way would be the “virtuous” in Jesus’ statement about the category of those he wouldn’t be helping. Today’s “outcasts” are not necessarily those who live on the edge of morality but those who are open hear and respond to the good news that Jesus has a better way. It would appear that those are the ones to whom we also are to direct our ministry. The gospel doesn’t beg sinners to change but offers the answer to life’s problems to all who are open to change. Someone said that God is a gentleman who offers help not a bully who demands change.
Fairly early in Jesus’ ministry he met a leper who longed to be healed. Moved with pity, Jesus healed the man and sent him to a priest who would certify that the cure was effective. The leper, however, couldn’t help but rush out and tell everyone what had happened. Even though Jesus was spending most of his time out in the country people kept coming from everywhere in the region to be healed. At that point Jesus did something that was extremely important. Read Luke 12:5-16 and note the final sentence: “Because of the crowds I frequently withdrew to some deserted place to pray” (Jesus, In His Own Words.) The point is clear — the absolute necessity of prayer.
Reflect for a moment on the fact that the narrative is describing the ministry of none other than Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of the eternal God. It is he, not one of us mortals, who felt the need of withdrawing for a time from meeting the needs of others. What was more important than anything else at that point in time was time with his heavenly Father. If Jesus needed spiritual rest and renewal what can be said about us human beings flawed by sin?
Why is it that prayer is so essential for a well-lived Christian life? Scripture teaches that we are engaged in a spiritual battle. In his letter to the Ephesian church Paul writes: “Our battle is not against enemies in the physical world but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly world” (6:12, Dear Friends, This is Paul). Would any sane person think even for a moment that we could handle such adversaries with nothing but our native skills? Spiritual battles are won with spiritual weapons, and prayer is the one available to us. Prayer elicits the resources of God to withstand and then defeat the wicked powers of evil. If Jesus needed quiet time for prayer what could possibly be said of us?
But prayer is not simply the means of victory in spiritual conflict; it is also the ultimate experience of friendship with our loving Father. He delights in our companionship. He looks forward to those beautiful moments when together we share the joy of oneness. Knowing God fully is the richest of all his blessings and prayer opens that door.
It had been a busy day for Jesus. It was the Sabbath and we were in Capernaum so we went to the local synagogue where Jesus was teaching. The religious authorities were amazed at his insight and the skill with which he taught. At one point a man with a demon began to shriek at the top of his voice and Jesus had to cast the demon out of him. Then after the service we went to Simon’s house where we found Simon’s mother ill with a fever. Jesus healed her and when people with various diseases heard about it they came from all over town to be healed. It was a long and tiring big day for sure! So the next morning Jesus simply rolled over and told his disciples to let him sleep.
Wait a minute!! That can’t be what the scriptures say! Right. All three synoptic gospels note that while it was still dark Jesus slipped out of the house and found a lonely place where he could be by himself and pray. Later in the morning we disciples realized he was not there so we set out to find him. When we found him we explained that all sorts of people were looking for him in order to be healed so it was time for him to go back to work. Jesus’ response was that his purpose in coming was to preach the good news and that it was now time for him to leave Capernaum to carry out his mission throughout Galilee.
Two things strike me about Jesus in this encounter and both suggest how we are to live the Christian life. First, the absolute centrality of prayer. After that extremely exhausting day Jesus demonstrated that his spiritual need for renewal was greater than his physical need for sleep. This strongly implies that our greatest need, as we share with others the message of the cross, is the absolute centrality of prayer. Spiritual battles are won by dependence on God, not by having on hand the latest weapon available. The enemy is far less concerned with all the time we spend mapping out a program for evangelism than they are with our decision to drop to our knees and pray that his will be done.
The second point is that nothing distracted Jesus from this primary purpose in life. He said, “I must preach the good news about my Father’s kingdom. That’s why I came out here this morning; I need to be with God.” He maintained his priorities. And the lesson is clear for us — As Christian we must keep our lives in focus. I encourage you to take a break and refocus on what is central for you. What has God assigned for you to do? How can you best carry out that mission? Not suggesting that you essentially “quit living” (e.g., no time with the family, no vacations, little sleep) but that you keep in mind that while all these other things are important they should not become our purpose in life. Let them serve to help us achieve our goal, not become that goal.
The route to Galilee took Jesus through Samaria, a land considered ceremonially unclean to the Jews. Stopping to rest at the town of Sychar, Jesus sat down by a well while his disciples went to buy food. Just then a Samaritan woman came to draw water and Jesus asked her for a drink. Taken aback, the Samaritan women asked how it could be that he, a Jew, would ask her, a Samaritan, for a drink of water. Jews considered Samaritans a heretical branch of Judaism and wanted nothing to do with them since even contact would make them ceremonially unclean. An extended discussion took place (John 4:4–42) in which Jesus identified himself as the Messiah. At that point the disciples returned and were surprised to find Jesus talking with a woman, and of all things, a Samaritan woman.
What I want to point out is that in this interchange it was Jesus who took the initiative. What might be expected would be for Jesus to find someone else to ask the woman in his behalf. But Jesus took the initiative; he was the one who broke the silence and asked the woman for help. Had he not, it follows that a large group of townspeople in Sychar would not have come to faith.
As you know, in these blogs we are looking at what Jesus did rather than what he said in order to learn how to live a Christ-like life. What we see here is Jesus taking the initiative. He didn’t wait to be spoken to but, seeing a woman there at the well needing help, he initiated the discussion. This readiness to help continued throughout his ministry. For example, on the evening before his crucifixion he washed his disciples feet and said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15). He wants us to respond to the needs of others.
In today’s narrative we see him doing exactly that. Not waiting for the woman to speak to him (and she wouldn’t, being both a woman and a Samaritan), Jesus opened the discussion with a simple request. There is no question but that we are to take the initiative whenever the opportunity arises to share the good news about the “water that gives life.”