There is a wonderful story of Jesus and the religious authorities that occurs in all four gospels. It takes place during his final ministry in Jerusalem. The authorities demanded that Jesus tell them by what authority he was doing what he did. Jesus answered by asking them whether John the Baptist’s authority to baptize came from heaven or from men. Either option would get them in trouble so they claimed they didn’t know. Jesus responded, “Since you won’t answer my question, neither will I answer yours” (Matt. 21:27).
What stands out to me is the way Jesus confronted his opposition. He did not let them diminish him by playing the old social level card (they being superior by virtue of their role in society). After all, he was just a commoner from a little village further north. When it came to intellectual acumen he won the debate (if we may call it that) by putting them in a position where they couldn’t answer. There was no way out.
How does this technique apply to us? Some might think that the believer should adopt the meek and mild approach and accept the world’s disdain. That certainly isn’t what Jesus did. He stood up to the authorities and discussed the issue with them as an equal. He outwitted them at their own game. But isn’t that pretty self-centered? Not if Jesus did it, and he did. Of course, so much depends on the way “conflict” is carried out. We might try to play the role and find ourselves acting in a purely secular way. But Jesus showed us that it was possible to confront where necessary and do it in a Christian way.
I believe it important to remember that having accepted Christ as savior, we are actually . . . children of God. Don’t let that slip off your tongue as if it had little relevance. We are the sons and daughters of a God who created out of nothing all that is, who spoke and the universe came into existence. That’s who we are! Stand tall, not boasting but fully aware of who we are in him. With this attitude let’s face the moment calmly, knowing that God will provide us the resources necessary for the occasion. Jesus wants winners not wall flowers
One day several disciples went to Jesus to ask about the time of destruction that was to come on Jerusalem and its temple. Jesus warned them to be on the lookout for charlatans who would try to lead them astray by claiming that the time had already come and that they themselves were the promised Messiah. The disciples were not to be fooled because before that would happen there would be a extremely difficult time of international war, famine, earthquakes, and terrible signs that filled the sky. Jesus warned them about the spiritual damage that could come from those so-called prophetic voices that claimed knowledge of the future. He was concerned that the believers to whom he was writing be led astray by false teaching.
So, how can the fact that Jesus’ warned his disciples be applied to the life of a believer today? Are we responsible in some way for what might be called the purity of the faith? One example might be the recent decision in our nation’s capital to declare the legality of same sex marriage. Some would consider that a legal, not a moral, concern, and therefore not relevant. But aren’t laws a reflection of what a people hold to be right or wrong? If so, then the issue becomes ethical, not merely legalistic. For example, speed limits are not arbitrary decisions but exist because we hold the moral principle that human life ought not be endangered by fast moving cars. It seems logical, therefore, that if we believe that marriage is intended by God for one man and one woman, we should let our voices be heard against any change in the divine plan. Jesus warned about false teaching, so should we not correct heresy whenever it arises?
I get the feeling that we tend to handle Christian heresies by pretending they don’t exist. “Get along, go along” is the mantra we constantly hear. Since the context in which Jesus spoke had to do with events yet future should we not allow the amillennialist to believe one thing and the premillennialist something else? Jesus warned against charlatans who would distort truth so shouldn’t we do the same? But, you say, which position is right? I believe responsible Christian scholarship should go to work and solve such issues. The time is over for scholars to start with the conclusion and then expend all their energy on proving it in a scholarly way.
When you read the gospels you come away with the feeling that while “the common people heard him gladly” (as the well-known clause in the King James has it), that wasn’t true of the religious hierarchy. What Jesus was doing as well as what he was teaching was an affront to their religious system. Since they were normally in control, due to their elevated position in the clerical hierarchy, they were annoyed by the way people were accepting the relatively simple approach of Jesus. It’s not amusing to be deprived of the pleasure of exercising power. They wouldn’t admit it but, as we know, the possession and exercise of power is the common goal of sinful man at every level.
Let’s look at the context in Mark 2 to get the larger picture. One day Jesus and his disciples were walking along beside a wheat field. They were hungry so they picked some grain, The problem was that it was the Sabbath and the Pharisees, who were always on the watch for violations, confronted them for their unlawful conduct. Jesus responded by pointing out that what they had done was a common practice and that scripture taught that “the Sabbath was made for the sake of man,” not the other way around (vs. 27). The religious leaders were furious but Jesus continued day by day to heal all who were ill from various diseases. When he went into a synagogue the Pharisees were there, waiting to see if he would heal a man with a shriveled hand. Jesus looked at them in anger, told the man to stretch out his hand, which he then restored better than new. At this point the Pharisees decided to get together with the Herodians (normally they were at odds) to plan some way to get rid of Jesus for good.
At this critical point Jesus decided to withdraw with his disciples to Lake Galilee. Why would he do that? Was he a coward who feared for his life? By no means! Were that true he never would have continued his ministry of healing the sick and casting out demons. No. He withdrew because he knew that his time had not yet come. He understood that his destiny was the cross and that no plan devised by man could alter that.
There is a striking need among God’s people to live with that same confidence. The life of every believer is part of a divine plan and what God has willed will in time come to pass. While we are not pawns, robotically responding to divine directions, we will, at the end of our days, realize that He was the one in charge every step along the way. This removes all uncertainty from life. It frees us from the responsibility of being in charge. God is the one in control and he knows the right course of action for every point along the way. How fortunate to take our hands off the steering wheel of life and simply enjoy the journey.
In Luke 10:21-22 Jesus says, “Inspired with joy by the Holy Spirit, I prayed . . . .” These two verses reveal several genuinely helpful insights on the prayer life of our Lord. The first is that prayer is a natural response to an awareness of the joy of the Spirit. When suddenly we become aware of the indwelling Spirit and the joy of that relationship we can’t help but pray. And by prayer I mean open, honest, heart felt conversation with almighty God. We can love him in silence but there is something about each new episode of awareness that can’t be suppressed. To realize anew his constant presence calls for a “shout for joy.”
Jesus’ prayer began with praise: “I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth.” The God to whom we pray is supreme over all and to acknowledge his greatness is neither a chore nor a necessity but the natural response of an adoring heart. In this particular prayer Jesus praised the Father for two related things: that he hid the truth “from the wise and discerning” and made it known “to the childlike.” God’s truth is not received by those who already know everything (so it seems to them), but readily received by those who humbly admit that they have a lot to learn. The goal of every believer who would learn what God wants them to know is to maintain a child-like openness to God. All too often our prayers contain a litany of things about which God should be advised. How about allowing him time to speak! Child-likeness is the prerequisite for insight into truth.
The second verse, which is actually a new paragraph, says that personal knowledge of God is made possible for us through the Son. He is the one who knows the Father and it is only through him that the believer is privileged to share in that relationship. Once again we see the difference between the “wise and discerning” and the “child-like” – followers of Christ who, “unimpeded by preconceived ideas of how God should act, respond with simple faith to Jesus and his mighty works” (Mounce, Matthew in the NIBC, p. 107)
So how can we develop a prayer life like this? Seems to me it requires that we become increasingly aware of the Spirit who has come to indwell us, remain open to the waves of spiritual joy that emanate from him, get off our intellectual high horse, and become like children in our relationship to God. That should sure help.
This next action of Jesus may be a bit shocking to those who have always thought of Jesus as the “gentle Nazarene.” For quite some time by now he had been going from town to town teaching and performing all sorts of miracles. But Matthew tells us that in time Jesus “began to criticize openly the cities in which he had done most of his miracles.” The Greek verb is oneidizo, which means (1) to find fault in a way that demeans the other, or (2) to find justifiable fault with someone (Bauer places Matt. 11:20 in the second category). The NIV has “denounce,” the NET has “criticize,” and others translate “reproach.” Matthew goes on to explain that Jesus was criticizing them “because they didn’t repent of their sins.” They should have listened to his message, been convinced by his power to do miracles and repented of their sins – but they didn’t. The following verses describe the seriousness of their failure — the fate of Capernaum is “to be thrown down to Hades, the place of the dead” and even the wicked city of Sodom is to be judged less severely. So no matter how you look at it, Jesus was justifiably critical of those who did not repent.
Now the question for us is: Do we have a responsibility to act in a similar way? Is it Christ-like to pronounce the doom that is about to fall on those who have had every chance to repent and refuse to do so? Or is this the prerogative of Jesus the Son of God alone? But wait, didn’t we start with the premise that Jesus lived out his life as one of us, not dipping into his divinity for power unavailable to us? If he resorted to his power as the eternal Son to perform miracles, then of course we cannot be expected to live like Christ in those areas. But we have taken the other position. He lived among us as one of us, drawing upon the Spirit in the same way that we can.
That we can proclaim the truth of the Scripture is perfectly clear. In fact, we are called to do that. That we can declare the tragic results of disbelief is clear. However, we also know that we are to act in love. Jesus certainly loved the people he came to die for, even those he is speaking to in such a severe manner. His way to express love in the passage under consideration may seem strange to us but we can leave that with him. What we do know is that whatever we decide to do when we meet resistance to the good news we are sharing, we are to do it in love. I believe our conscience will be a good guide at this point. Correct sinfulness where appropriate but do it in a way consistent with love.
When John the Baptist heard about this Jewish man, Jesus, what he was teaching and how he was healing people with all sorts of diseases, he questioned to himself whether or not this could be the man that he had been declaring would come in fulfillment of Messianic prophecy. So he sent two of his followers to find out. They asked Jesus the question and got a less than definite answer, at least it was not a clear cut Yes or No. Jesus sent the men back to John the Baptist, not with an answer, but with a recommendation that they tell him what they had seen and heard – that is, that “the blind are made to see, the lame start to walk, lepers are being cleansed, the deaf can hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” I am sure the messengers expected a much simpler answer.
Why did Jesus answer as he did? My answer would be – and it is implied rather than stated – that he wanted John to think it all through and come to a more complete understanding. He wanted him to reflect on the remarkable things that were happening in the land, to understand the fuller meaning of the long-awaited coming of the Messiah. Truth is more powerful when it comes as a result of one’s own thought process than if someone tells it to you. I believe Jesus wanted John to reflect on the marvelous things that were happening and come to the personal conclusion that Jesus was the coming one he had been announcing.
The broader implication is that Jesus would have us reflect seriously on the deeper issues of life. I’m not talking about getting involved in groups for semi-intellectual discussions but rather giving careful and private consideration to the more central issues of life. We need to think long and hard about what God is teaching us through scripture about such things as life itself, the fact for the believer life is eternal, the vital importance of personal relationships, and many more. It is in private moments like this that we begin to understand with all humility what God has to say about those issues that are truly significant. Truth needs to become our truth in the sense that we not only understand it, but that we express it in the way we live out our seventy plus years.
I believe that God takes great delight in personally guiding us through the process of learning in this more complete sense. Truth is not an abstract concept but a guide for life – it was meant to be lived. God the Father, with the able assistance of God the Holy Spirit, is a mentor who genuinely cares that we understand in depth how to live a Christ-like life.
The time had come for Jesus to expand his ministry. For that he needed the help of others, so he selected twelve men as his spokesmen and sent them out to “the lost sheep of the house is Israel.” These Twelve were assigned the responsibility of announcing that the kingdom of heaven was at hand – but that was not all. They were also to heal the sick, bring the dead back to life, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons (Matt. 10:8). It seems that the spreading-the-kingdom-message part could be done fairly easily but the healing, bringing people back to life, and casting out demons was another story! That’s quite a different task. For this they would need some power outside of themselves, a supernatural enablement. Such things simply do not happen in what we call normal life.
Of course Jesus knew this, so, as the text says, he “selected twelve disciples and gave them the authority to cast out demons and cure diseases and illnesses of every kind.” (Matt. 10:1. The account follows.) The Greek word for authority means “the right to control” which in turn implies the power necessary to accomplish the task. Scripture teaches that God is the ultimate source of all authority. He is the potter who, from a shapeless lump of clay, can fashion anything he likes (Rom 9:21). He has granted this same authority to Jesus. Matthew writes that the resurrected Christ has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (28:18). Jesus in turn grants to his disciples the authority to heal and cast out demons. They are to fulfill their mission not in their own strength but by the supernatural power given to them by God to accomplish that which otherwise would be impossible.
The question I raise is to what extent has God given this sort of authority to the church in our day? Can we carry out our responsibilities using natural gifts or is something supernatural required? When we are sent to console a grieving mother who has lost a young child can we affect anything in our own strength or is each occasion an opportunity to minister grace and help that depends absolutely upon the supernatural presence of God? I believe it is the latter. God is still active in and through his “staff” of believing Christians to heal the full range of spiritual ills that plague the ever-expanding body of Christ.
To put it succinctly, God still selects his “twelve” and empowers us to do his will. His compassion is expressed through his emissaries. His redeeming love is announced through his prophets. He grants to us sinners transformed by his redemptive love the authority to do what he wants done. We are those empowered by God to “heal” in every sort of way. It’s all part of living a Christ-like life.
Jesus continued to proclaim the good news as he made his way through the towns and villages of Galilee. Wherever he went there were people who needed his healing touch. Matthew records that those who crowed around him were “confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (9:35) So, how did their distress affect Jesus emotionally and what did he do about it? We know that he told them that God’s kingdom was being established on earth and that they should repent (Matt. 3:2; 4:17) but what was his visceral reaction to them in their need? Matthew writes that Jesus’ heart was “filled with compassion” (9:36).
The Greek word for compassion refers to one’s visceral area. To be “filled with compassion” means to feel in one’s own body what might be called an emotional equivalent to what another person is experiencing. It is deep bonding with another. Compassion carries its own price: it costs to care. One might ask, Of what importance is it that we experience such a reaction when we find ourselves with others in need? The answer is simple; apart from compassion we are far less apt to do something about it. God has made us as we are and he gave us the capacity to care about the distress of a fellow human being. We are God’s creatures and intended to love and be of help to one another. Had sin not entered the world it would have been our natural reaction to the pain or anguish of another. As the sinless Son of God, Jesus shows us what life beyond the pervasive influence of sin is like. When we see another in distress we are moved with compassion. It’s what God intended for human relationships but has been thrown off track by the dominance of sin in our world.
Compassion is a strong and compelling word. We know it in a limited sense but I expect that in the relationships of eternity, while there will be no suffering or tears, should there be we would be immediately moved with compassion. Among certain groups a show of compassion is considered a sign of weakness. Certainly it is not masculine. To the contrary, compassion is so strong that there is nothing that can ever keep it from expressing itself openly without regard for public reaction. The Dalai Lama is right on target when he says that “love and compassion are not luxuries, but necessities, and without them humanity cannot survive.”
In reading the story of the healing of Jairus’ daughter (with the account of the woman suffering from a hemorrhage enclosed) I was once again impressed with Jesus’ reactions to the various emergencies he encountered. Join me as we walk reflectively through the narrative (all quotations are from Jesus, In His Own Words.)
Jesus was ministering to an enthusiastic crowd along the western shore of the Lake when the official of the local synagogue by the name of Jairus came and asked him to come and save his young daughter who was dying. The text reads, “So I rose and left with my disciples for the house of Jairus.” En route a woman who had suffered for years with constant bleeding slipped up behind Jesus and touched one of the tassels on his cloak. Once again Jesus stopped, turned to the crowd and asked, “Who touched me?” The disciples thought that would not be possible because of the crowd was so close around him. But Jesus “kept trying to locate the person” because he had felt “healing power go out.” The woman fell at his feet and was sent away healed.
Arriving at the house of Jairus he was met by professional mourners and others who made fun of him when he told them the girl was merely sleeping. Of course, they knew she had died. Jesus and the girl’s parents went to where the girl was lying and Jesus “took the girl by the hand” and she stood to her feet and began to walk around. Then Jesus “instructed the parents to give her something to eat.”
I have emphasized those statements that reveal what Jesus did at a number of stages along the way. So let’s review them. When Jairus appeared asking for help we read, “So I rose and left.” No hesitation. Whenever a need arose Jesus took action. It was the thing to do. When the woman with the flow of blood simply touched his cloak he stopped and asked, “Who touched me?” When he “felt healing power go out” he stopped to encourage that person and commend her for her faith. He was not deterred by the snide comments and laughter of the mourners but went to the little girl’s side and said, “Tabitha cumi,” which is Aramaic for, “Little girl, I say to you arise.” Then, lest in their joy they might forget their daughter’s immediate need for food he reminded the parents.
What emerges from this double narrative is the picture of a loving care-giver who responded without hesitation to the needs of others whatever they might be. Distance did not deter him, nor did the failure of his disciples to grasp the significance of the touch of a single needy person, nor did the amusement of the funeral professionals. He carried through with his responsibility to restore to health a little girl.
And how are we to live like this? Frankly I’m not sure but one way to begin is to ask our mentor, Jesus, to make us more aware of specific needs and give us the determination to live as he did. That will certainly head us in the right direction
The story of the Gadarene demoniac has always struck me as an especially difficult experience in the life of Jesus, one that revealed, among other things, an unusual willingness to accept rejection by the very ones he had served. On the far side of the Lake in the region of the Gerasenes there lived a man who was possessed by an evil spirit. When I say, “lived,” I mean that since he was no longer able to be with others he had gone into the burial caves outside the city. Night and day he wandered among the tombs, stark naked, howling and gnashing himself with sharp stones. The townspeople were frightened to death of this violent demonic and had tried to tie him up in chains but he was always able to break free.
When this demoniac saw Jesus he rushed toward him, fell at his feet and begged not to be tormented ahead of time. On a nearby hillside was a large herd of sheep and at the evil spirits’ request Jesus sent them out of the man and into the pigs who immediately rushed down into the lake and destroyed themselves. The man was cured and wanted to stay with Jesus but the event had caused such a stir among the townspeople that they pled with Jesus to leave, which he did (Mark 5:1-20).
What do we see in Jesus demeanor and actions that will help us today to live in a similar fashion? Certainly one thing is his total lack of fear of the man possessed by so many demons that he was called by the name “Legion.” When he came running up to Jesus with the evil spirits screaming through him, Jesus calmly asked him his name. Such composure is remarkable among men.
The other quality I see in Jesus is his ability to accept with composure the rejection of the people from whose community this wretched man had been removed. Instead of joyfully celebrating the new day they begged Jesus to leave. So, after telling the demoniac to go back to his friends and tell them of the mercy he had received from the Lord, Jesus moved on to whatever would be next. Like a true prophet he spoke the truth of God and allowed the hearers to react as they would.
To live like Jesus is to react as he did regardless of the danger involved. Should we find ourselves in a unstable situation, as Jesus did in today’s narrative, we are to face it without fear, in the most effective manner available, and without expectation of appreciation. That’s what Jesus did and, since he is our mentor, we now have a model of how we are to live — courageously, effectively, and without expectation of approval.