What was it that made Jesus so different from any of the other religious leaders of His time? Well, His message was clearly different – keeping the rules can’t save you, be a servant, love your enemies. That was all new stuff to the people of Jesus’ time. I think sometimes we forget how really different the things that Jesus was preaching were. We’ve heard it all our whole lives.
What Jesus was preaching was truly revolutionary, a complete break from the religious teaching of His day. But do you think if Jesus had just preached … just stated His message and gone home, do you think He would have had any followers at all?
What drew people to Jesus had less to do with what He was saying and everything to do with what He did – how He treated people. That was revolutionary. His earthly ministry was boots-on-the-ground, gritty, hand to hand and one on one. There was nothing safe or sanitary about it. Jesus’ ministry was pretty much the complete opposite of how we want it to be.
I just read about a software company that has created a computer program that makes it possible for high school students to dissect virtual frogs. Now, a good many of you probably remember that experience in high school. None of us who experienced it, will ever forget the smell of formaldehyde. Some of you may have found it a fascinating and enlightening experience. I remember dreading the day my biology teacher would wheel out the cart with the dead frogs on it. I have never been real interested in finding out too much about those gooshy things inside us, and I was especially not interested in the gooshy things inside a dead frog! Combine that with the fact that my lab partner for the frog episode was the boy who a couple of years earlier swallowed one of the worms we were supposed to be dissecting. Needless to say, frog day was not my favorite day of high school. There was nothing sanitary, polite, or pleasant about it.
I think sometimes we expect sharing the gospel to be like dissecting virtual frogs – detached, sanitary, and not too complicated, right? Handing out literature on the third Sabbath of the month, just a quick “hello,” a handshake, and we’re outta there, right? How far do you think Jesus would have gotten if He had run His ministry like that?
It probably wouldn’t have gotten him killed, for one thing. The Pharisees wouldn’t have felt threatened by Jesus and His ministry if He had kept His hands clean.
The Pharisees lived safely behind their ceremonial wall of clean and unclean. They taught that what a person touched could make them unacceptable to God. They taught that having a rule for everything kept their hands clean.
When Jesus came along, He talked to people the Pharisees wouldn’t go near. He ate with people the Pharisees didn’t like – eating with riffraff and staying overnight with “those people.”
And “those people” – when they saw how much Jesus loved them, that He wasn’t afraid to touch them, talk to them, and heal them – loved Him back.
Jesus had compassion on the people He met every day and people were changed by that kind of revolutionary love – love that touched lepers, ate with prostitutes and tax collectors, and treated them like good friends.
The people that Jesus ministered to, talked to, and preached to weren’t numbers on a chart somewhere for “contacts made.” They were His friends. He loved each one of them; He loves each one of us. Yes, the things Jesus said were amazingly different, but what He did was revolutionary.
I work every day with people who might make some folks uncomfortable. I work with intellectually delayed adults. I have to admit that when I first started working with these people, I was pretty intimidated. Some of them don’t look any different than you and I do, but some are quite different. Some need help feeding themselves. A few need help with more personal things. Almost a year and a half ago, I spent a lot of time trying to not touch anybody or be touched by anyone. I thought I could do my job without getting too involved in any individual’s life and then go home.
That’s not the way it works. My clients can sense, just like you and I can, that someone is just putting in his or her time, that someone is emotionally distant from us, that someone is in a hurry to get away. And, as I work with each client, I become involved in his or her life. We are not separate any more. We are friends. I care about each one.
When I was growing up I remember hearing people talk about something called “disinterested benevolence.” I remember hearing people say that meant that we shouldn’t get personally involved with the people we were witnessing to – we should just provide the information and move on. Now maybe I misunderstood, but that seems like a very Pharisaical way to witness. “Here’s your information, do with it as you will.”
“Divine love makes its most touching appeals to the heart when it calls upon us to manifest the same tender compassion that Christ manifested. That man only who has unselfish love for his brother has true love for God. The true Christian will not willingly permit the soul in peril and need to go unwarned, uncared for. He will not hold himself aloof from the erring, leaving them to plunge farther into unhappiness and discouragement or to fall on Satan’s battleground.” (E. G. White, Acts of the Apostles, p. 550)
Some folks talk about how important it is for churches to stay “culturally relevant.” I’m not all that sure what that means to them. It seems to mean that those people feel that we should adopt some more worldly things to bring people in and keep them interested. Maybe we do, I don’t know. But in my experience, as long as people know that you are interested in them and care about them specifically, whether or not you are playing their specific kind of music isn’t that important to them. If they sense that we aren’t that interested in them personally, they’re not going to keep coming, no matter what we offer them. People want to know that we are interested in them.
“How many of the wandering ones have you, reader, sought for and brought back to the fold? When you turn from those who seem unpromising and unattractive, do you realize that you are neglecting the souls for whom Christ is seeking? At the very time when you turn from them, they may be in the greatest need of your compassion. In every assembly for worship, there are souls longing for rest and peace. They may appear to be living careless lives, but they are not insensible to the influence of the Holy Spirit. Many among them might be won for Christ.
If the lost sheep is not brought back to the fold, it wanders until it perishes. And many souls go down to ruin for want of a hand stretched out to save. These erring ones may appear hard and reckless; but if they had received the same advantages that others have had, they might have revealed far more nobility of soul, and greater talent for usefulness. Angels pity these wandering ones. Angels weep, while human eyes are dry and hearts are closed to pity.”1
Do you want to show the world revolutionary love today? I do.
- E. G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p191 ↩