Monday, September 22, 2014

A Life in Miniature

Life of Christ 123

          Jesus and His Apostles are traveling and preaching through Judea in the Autumn before His crucifixion. He had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles in October, and remained in Judea, the region around Jerusalem, until the Feast of Dedication in December. Judea was not generally receptive to His ministry, but He wanted to give her one final chance to change her mind, and receive her messiah.
          At some point, on this preaching trip, on a Saturday, Jesus stepped into a local synagogue for worship (Luke 13.10-17). He sees there a crippled woman, torturously twisted and bent, who had been in this condition for 18 years. Being the compassionate man that He was, He healed her.
          The reaction of the local synagogue ruler was both harsh and typical. He accused Jesus of violating the Sabbath by working a miracle, and he suggested that Jesus should have done the miracle on some other day.
          Jesus answers this attack with an illustration of a perfectly permissible Sabbath activity, namely loosing an animal and leading it to water. If that was acceptable, and the afflicted woman was clearly more important than livestock, then Jesus' actions were perfectly justified. The ruler and his cronies had no good answer to this, and the common people were very happy with what Jesus had just done.
          If these first four paragraphs today seem familiar it is because they are. No, I have not previously discussed this specific story in the life of Christ, but every single aspect of this story is familiar nonetheless. It has all happened to Christ numerous times before. The location, a synagogue? Happened before… The day, the Sabbath? Happened before… The miracle, healing an afflicted person? Happened before… The reaction of the religious leadership, harsh and accusatory? Happened before… Jesus' arguments in support, logical and unanswerable? Happened before… The reaction of the people, impressed with Jesus? Happened before…
          Today's story is nothing more or less than a microcosm of His entire ministry. It is the life of Jesus in miniature, compassionate, scriptural, furnishing proof of His claims, received with temporary enthusiasm by the people, and vigorously attacked by the leadership. After all the fulfilled prophecy, after all the traveling, after all the sermons, after all the miracles, after three whole years of ministry the same thing happened that always happens.
          This event plainly shows that here, at the end of His ministry, nothing had changed. It also shows, not that Jesus had wasted His time, but that Israel simply was not going to be receptive, no matter what He did. If they were ever going to be they would have already been, and the proof was this event.
          I find in today's story two lessons. First, do not just enjoy Jesus; believe and follow Him. 'And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him' (Luke 13.17). Many people enjoy the emotions they experience when they think of Jesus, but they have little interest in actually following Him. I am here reminded here of a certain relative of my acquaintance who loves to curl up in her chair with a cup of coffee on Sunday mornings and listen to gospel music on the radio, but has not darkened the doors of a church in years. She enjoys the emotion induced in her by the music, but has not yielded to the lordship of Christ at all.
          People such as this are the first to call and ask the church for prayer. They welcome the support and compassion that they find amongst God's people, but they refuse to adjust the wickedness of their life, refuse to study God's Word, and refuse to follow on to know the Lord. People such as this are the first to show up for special occasions at church, and sanctimoniously shake my hand on the way out. 'You have a nice little church here, Reverend.' They have no problem enjoying the fellowship, the fun, and the food, and then patting you on the head and going back to their godless life.
         What they completely fail to understand is that Jesus did not come to make us happy. He came to make us holy. Yes, that holiness leads to happiness, but the happiness is not the point; the holiness is. Jesus did not come to entertain us, make us smile, give us a good time, be our buddy, our support system, our pal, our life coach, and our crisis response team. He came to take over our entire life.
          The second important lesson I see here is that though Israel was never receptive, Jesus did not allow His compassion to turn into cynicism.
Jesus gave Himself away, without measure, to one and all, simply to help and to minister. This is tiring at all times, but when it is rejected it is beyond tiring. It is exhausting. It is discouraging. And it is depressing.
The natural human response to this is to say, 'You don’t want my help? Fine, see if I care.' I sadly confess I have days like this. I am thinking in particular of a city block not far from our church building and a rough summer day several years ago. Things had not been going well, for me or the church. I spent all morning going door to door in our neighborhood, inviting people to church, and trying to witness for Christ. On this particular day it seemed like every single person I met delighted in being unkind, harsh, mean, angry, upset, or visibly disturbed that I had come by. I met with not a single kind word all morning. I can still remember walking back to my car and thinking, 'Be that way then. Just die and go to hell and see if I care.'
Yes, I know that I am not supposed to feel such things, but all too often my humanity proves that sin still lies deep within me, and I must remind myself that my Saviour was rejected much worse than I was, and yet still He gladly gave His life away.
The Word of God teaches us that our labor in loving people and ministering to them for the Lord is never wasted. If no one else notices and cares, God does. 'For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye ministered to the saints, and do minister (Hebrews 6.10). Not only does God care, but I also firmly believe that some, at least, of those we try to help will be helped. Noah's offer of help to his generation was rejected, but eight souls were saved. Sodom rejected the angels' warnings, but Lot's family was spared destruction. The four million Jews in the Palestine of Jesus' day were not interested in Him, but 120 gathered together in Jerusalem after His life was finished, and they turned the world upside down.

One of the best lessons we will ever learn about the Lord's work is to keep right on loving and serving no matter how paltry the response seems to be. 'And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved (II Corinthians 12.15). But if we are not careful, we will let discouragement, criticism, and lack of response create apathy, bitterness, and cynicism in our heart, and this will land us quickly on the sidelines.

Jesus, in spite of all He had been through, and was about to go through, is an absolutely wonderful example, not just of compassion, but of continual compassion in the midst of continual rejection. He is beautiful, isn't He? Let us believe in Him. Let us follow Him. And let us continue to minister to them. 

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