It is now late in Jesus’ ministry and he is on his way to Jerusalem. Hear him as he tells the story.
"Just then some Pharisees came up and warned me to leave because Herod Antipas was laying plans to kill me. I told them, ‘Go and tell that fox that for the time being I intend to continue my work of casting out demons and healing the sick; after that I will go to Jerusalem and complete my mission. In deed, in spite of your plans to harm me, I must continue my journey to Jerusalem because, as you have heard it said, ‘It is impossible for a profit to die outside of Jerusalem.’" (Luke 13:31-33, Jesus, In His Own Words)
The character quality that stands out to me in this incident is courage. The Roman governor was both cruel and resourceful. That he was making plans to kill someone would normally strike fear in the heart of the victim. The various methods used by Rome to do away with their enemies were extremely brutal. But Jesus did not cringe. He simply told the anxious messengers to tell Antipas that he intended to continue his ministry and then go to Jerusalem to carry out his mission. He even chided them with their own saying that Hebrew prophets have to die in Jerusalem.
Right now we live in a time of international terror. We hear of atrocities taking place around the world and we wonder how we might react if called upon to make that decisive choice. Jesus knew he was carrying out a destiny planned for him. It would involve the humility and pain of a public crucifixion yet he continued on the path assigned by the Father.
Does not each believer have a mission to fulfill? I believe so. Could it involve martyrdom? Yes. Will it? Only God knows. The one thing we do know is that, like Jesus, we are to demonstrate the courage that comes from absolute trust in the will of God. Anxiety changes not a thing; instead, it robs us of the joy of the moment. And where does that necessary courage come from? It is certainly in that group of virtues mentioned by Paul in his second letter to Timothy where he tells his young helper that “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (1:7) God alone is the source of all courage.
In the current series of blogs on Jesus we are focused on what he did rather than on what he taught. The purpose is to learn the various ways in which he reacted to the common experiences of life and apply them where we live. Quotations are from my translation of the four gospels, Jesus, In His Own Words adjusted where necessary to third person.
Having healed the woman on the Sabbath, Jesus "continued going through towns and villages, always teaching, as he pressed on toward Jerusalem" (Luke 13:22) The word that comes to mind is constancy, that “quality of being unchanging or unwavering, as in purpose, love, or loyalty." Jesus “continued” on his mission, he was “always” teaching, and he “pressed on" toward Jerusalem. In short, he displayed a remarkable constancy. No issues of secondary importance derailed his steadfast commitment to what was central.
Luke pictures Jesus going through one town after another teaching and healing as he went. Certainly the families of those he had healed would have been delighted to have him stay a bit longer in each town along the way but a cross was waiting for him in Jerusalem. With eye fixed firmly on that goal, he moved steadily forward.
So how should this quality be seen in the lives of us who in the 21st century claim to be following him? Certainly we need to get our priorities in order. Why are we here and what does God want us to be doing? There is nothing wrong with the "Caribbean cruises" of life, but one has to guard against the non-essential replacing what is strategically important for our Lord.
And while we are moving along that particular route that God has laid out for us, let's be sure we keep moving. We may be tempted to stay in town A because it is such a pleasant place, but town B is waiting for what God wants to do through us there. Each stage in life has its own unique opportunity so let's not dillydally
Everyone knows that in the days of Jesus the Jewish people lived by a very strict set of rules. Some people belonged to a sect called the Pharisees, which means “separated.” The idea was to be completely separated from sin by strict obedience to a massive collection of legal instructions designed to keep members from breaking any one of the cardinal laws of Scripture. The outcome of such a repressive religious system was pride and hypocrisy. Since perfection is unattainable the practice couldn’t help but lead to hypocrisy.
One Sabbath Jesus was teaching in a synagogue when a woman, crippled eighteen years by a demon, came in. Jesus called her over and touched her bent back. Instantly she stood erect and began to praise God. The synagogue leader was indignant and pontificated that it was improper to heal on the Sabbath. (Plenty of week-days for things like that!) Jesus denounced them as hypocrites, pointing out that since they watered their animals on the Sabbath surely he could set a daughter of Abraham free on that day. The Pharisees were embarrassed but the crowd was overjoyed.
So the question is — How do we live like that? Granted, we are not in the business of expelling demons on Sunday, but what can we learn from the way Jesus conducted himself? One thing is that he called hypocrisy for what it is. Understanding the duplicity of human nature he pointed out the hypocrisy of those who were abusing their power. I believe followers of Christ should not grow insensitive to social maladies. There are congressmen to write and marches to join. Our home may be in heaven but it is this present world in which are living for now. Another thing is that Jesus argued quite convincingly to make his case. Can we not give thought to the inequities of today’s world and think how we can effectively enter the discussion? And finally, he cared about a woman crippled for life and did something about it. Yes, I think we can follow his example.
Should we talk like Jesus?
Luke records the story of Jesus in confrontation with the religious authorities of his day. A Pharisee had invited Jesus home for dinner and was surprised when his guest did not wash his hands before eating. That was a Jewish custom and if not followed would make a person ceremonially unclean. That Jesus did not follow this practice was not what they expected. Instead, he corrected them very severely saying that although they cleansed the outside, inside they are full of extortion and wickedness. Then he went on to speak of their lack of justice and their habit of demanding respect in the marketplace. Far from being ceremonially pure, they were like “unmarked graves” that polluted anyone who stepped on them. They realized that they were being insulted so turned hostile. As Jesus left they tagged along behind trying to trap him in his speech.
When you read the entire account in Luke 11:37-54 you see how confrontational Jesus was on this occasion. After all, he was a guest at a dinner party. Was that the proper time to say to the religious authorities, "You fools!" and, "Woe to you, Pharisees”! Putting the other person on the defense creates an awkward moment at a dinner party.
Is Jesus teaching us how we are to conduct ourselves in similar situations? Or should we exercise a bit more restraint? Perhaps we should follow his example when he is doing nice helpful things but not when the situation calls for opposition? No, that can't be right. It would leave us the option of doing only what we wanted to do.
I believe the answer is to take a careful look at the principle that lies behind the action. Context is crucial. The way Jesus handled the situation indicates how serious it is to turn the worship of a holy God into a vast collection of legalistic rules. To drive home this point called for some very direct language. The fact that the Scribes and Pharisees were so well versed in the religious status quo made it all the more difficult. When we meet a somewhat similar situation our goal should not be to use the same words but to accomplish the same result.
In the previous blog we noted now determined Jesus was to get to Jerusalem. Before him lay a task that was absolutely central to his mission — carrying through with the unimaginable sacrifice of his life for the sins of the world. I can see him as he walks with firm step, eyes fixed on the goal ahead. But arriving at Bethany he stops and spends time with two women, sisters of his dear friend Lazarus. What we can take away from this is the importance of friendships. They must remain a high priority. All too often the busyness of life demands way too much of our time and energy.
The way in which Jesus conducted himself on that passing visit teaches another important lesson. It was Mary who sat quietly at his feet absorbing all he had to say while Martha busied herself preparing a meal. Upset with her sister, Martha burst into the room and accused Jesus of not caring that Mary was not helping in the kitchen. With love Jesus said to the rather frustrated hostess: “Martha, dear Martha, you worry and fret about so many things” (Luke 10:41). In contrast to man’s tendency to use every situation for personal advantage, Jesus simply said, “Martha, dear Martha.” One can sense the gentleness of his voice and demeanor. Forget for the moment her accusation that he didn’t care. Jesus took the high road, correcting Martha in love and pointing out that Mary, who according to Martha was neglecting her responsibility, had actually made the better choice.
What I see here is the willingness to confront in love. When we feel that we have done the right thing it is hard to extend a cordial hand to the one who has critiqued us unfairly. Part of love is the willingness to accept the criticism of those who are convinced they are right. That is what Jesus did and he is our example of how to live like a “Christian.”
Jesus realized that the time for him to return to heaven was drawing near so he set out for Jerusalem “determined to carry out his role.” Passing through a Samaritan village the people wouldn’t receive him because it was clear to them that he was “determined to go on to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51-52). It is clear from these verses that Jesus was totally committed to the task assigned him by the Father. He had come into the world to lay down his life as a redemptive sacrifice and now the time had some. We was focused on that crucial event soon to happen. He was determined to get to Jerusalem and determined to carry out his role.
What we see here is a remarkable personal commitment to a redemptive task that goes way beyond our ability to imagine. God had assigned him the task of bearing the sins of the world, and he was determined to carry it out.
Since Jesus is the model for Christian living, what does this say about how we are to live? Obviously, we are to approach the difficult tasks of life with determination as he did. But isn’t determination simply an expectation of any secular code of ethics. Many years ago Bonaparte said that “resolute determination is the truest wisdom.” Long before that, Buddha said that the sure way to reach Nirvana was to “walk the eightfold noble path with unswerving determination.” So in what way is determination a Christian ethic? And the answer is, In no special way if you mean an ethic that belongs solely to the Christian faith. The vast majority of ethical maxims in the western world are equally applicable in both worlds. The interesting fact is that the so-called secular code of western civilization is based on the Judea-Christian ethic clearly stated in the biblical record. It is not by accident that we in the west enjoy a level of moral expectation that honors women, responds to humanitarian needs, and plays a major role in that which is beneficial to all.
Jesus faced his coming test with determination. Hebrews says of him that he was “tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin” (4:15). In the garden of Gethsemane he wrestled with the decision. With tears he pled, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me” yet concluded, “Not what I will, but what you will (Mark 14:36). Jesus’ determination becomes our model for what it means in life to face every difficult choice with a strength of conviction that remains firm to the very end.
On the road to Damascus the disciples got to arguing about which one of them would be the greatest in the coming kingdom. Perhaps Peter argued his enthusiasm, John his insight into spiritual matters, and Judas Iscariot his ability to handle finances. In any case, once inside the house Jesus asked them what they were discussing along the way. Of course, they were embarrassed and didn’t answer. So Jesus sat down and taught them exactly what they needed to learn at that point — the road to greatness goes through that valley of humility. Taking a little child into his arms Jesus explained that even to enter the kingdom they would have to become as humble as that little one. True greatness is humility, becoming the least.
While the words of Jesus explain how a believer should live, I would like to reflect on what Jesus did as part of the disciples’ learning experience. First, he was aware of what they were talking about but didn’t butt right in tell them how wrong they were. He waited until they were indoors where there would be less distraction; then he raised the question about their discussion along the way. What I see here is careful consideration of how best to teach a lesson. So often our zeal to show that we have the answer leads to a poor job in conveying truth.
Another thing I notice is that it is Jesus who takes the initiative. Mark 9:35 says that Jesus sat down and “called the Twelve” to come and listen. Most people do not care to confront. Friends continue for years with a detrimental habit that could have been lovingly confronted to their advantage. I know that “advice unasked for is criticism,” but most of us will remember having received from a friend some helpful word of correction. To “be like Jesus” is to help others see their blind spots. In a gracious and loving fashion? Absolutely.
The other observation is that Jesus used a most effective method of teaching. They would never forget a child in the arms of Jesus as he taught them a lesson in humility. Rote memory is fine for storing away necessary facts but when it comes to teaching how to live there is nothing quite like a live example.
That the account of the transfixion is recorded in all three Synoptic gospels suggests its importance in the early church. Let’s review the story noting what Jesus did, rather than what he said, in order to learn how we can become more like him. Granted, this is a special occasion (God speaks from heaven identifying Jesus as his son) not one in which we are liable to find ourselves.
The first thing I notice is that he went to a high mountain where, in his words, “we could be alone.” If the Son of God needs an occasional break, it probably isn’t necessary that the contemporary pastor to be on call 24/7. What we view as commitment could well be our personal desire to achieve, an expression of pride. What Jesus is saying to the task driven minister is, “Time for a high mountain experience where being alone will bring renewal.”
While Jesus was praying he was transfigured and two Old Testament notables joined him in that glorious setting to discuss his coming death and resurrection. Wouldn’t you know it, “Peter, James, and John had grown sleepy.” But not a word of censure from their leader; not even when Peter suggested memorializing the event by building shrines. Jesus recognized that Peter was missing the true glory of the event, still thinking in earthly terms, but no words of rebuke are recorded. Being like Jesus often calls us to overlook the failure of others. There is a time for proper instruction but there is also a time to skip it.
One last thing: When the disciples heard the voice of God from heaven they fell to the ground overcome with fear. Had Jesus been one of us he may have said, “Serves them right. First, they missed the transfiguration being asleep; second, when they woke up Peter came up with a very secular idea; and finally, when God spoke from heaven they lost control and fell to the ground.” But Jesus “stepped forward and touched them” saying, “Stand to your feet; don’t be afraid.” Once again we see that quiet gentleness with which he mentored his own. In this incident, which involved such a unique display of heavenly glory, he continued to lovingly guide his disciples in the way that would be most helpful.
So here are three things we can learn from Jesus: take it easy now and then, resist correcting the other, love them anyway.