20 February 2009

How Does God View the Less Privileged, Part 2 – He Honors Them With Accountability

Matthew 8:1-4 NIV
When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and (worshipped Him or) knelt before him and said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said, "Be clean!" Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, "See that you don't tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."

Some might suggest that this leper’s motive was healing not worship. He did indicate very honestly that he wanted to be healed. But there are a few reasons why this definitely was not his primary motive.

One, There was no guarantee that he would be healed.

Jesus can heal anyone and had healed many but there is nothing in the Bible which indicates He will or does heal everyone. There were many lepers in Israel. If healing was guaranteed, why didn’t they all show up?

The Apostle Paul needed to be healed of an eye disease and prayed for it several times. The answer to his prayer: it was the express will of God that he not be healed.

Two, There was actually a level of danger associated with worshipping Jesus.

There were many people who followed Jesus but they were very careful to stay hidden in the crowd. They were curious about Jesus not committed to Him. They did nothing to stand out. From the early stages of Jesus public ministry He was perceived as a trouble maker and people were generally wary of getting too close personally. Only the very resolved would do so.

In His home town, Nazareth, the people had attempted to throw Him over a cliff after He made His first public claim to being the fulfillment of Old testament prophecy. The religious leaders hated Jesus from the very beginning and their violent intentions became more apparent as His public ministry developed. They eventually threatened any person who recognized Him publicly. One blind man, healed by Jesus, was publicly interrogated and reprimanded for being healed of his blindness (John 9).

Jesus’ family were afraid of Him and for Him. They questioned what He was doing and on one occasion tried to interfere. They felt the pressure of His public ridicule.

Because of this, many people were willing to be entertained by Jesus but were hesitant to actually worship Him. Recognizing Jesus was dangerous and being healed by Him was no less dangerous.

This leper hoped to be healed but his actions indicate he was determined to worship, even in the face of danger, and this is what set him apart from thousands of others who were ministered to physically by Jesus. Of all the people Jesus healed there is very little in the Bible to indicate they believed in or worshipped Jesus before or after they were healed.

Third, this man never demanded a healing.

The Leper said, “if you are willing you can make me clean.” This statement was acknowledging both God’s power and God’s will. He knew Jesus had the power to heal him but he made no demands.

God never uses His power to manipulate our will and we should never use our need to manipulate His. This Leper understood that the best relationships could never be forced. He wanted to be healed but it was not a condition of his worship. He wanted God with or without the healing.


Jesus did two things in response to this man.

One, He touched him.

Touching can be a very superficial form of interaction. To touch someone does not necessarily mean you are interested in them but to touch a leper was a dangerous thing to do and was, therefore, very affirming for the leper.

It was rare that any leper was ever touched and when it happened it was never an expression of affection or concern. It always meant rejection. Lepers were avoided and when someone did touch one it was either accidental or intended to drive them away. But not this time.

This touch was an expression of acceptance. Jesus didn’t have to touch anyone to perform a healing. In some cases He didn’t even know or see the person who was healed. In this case He did what was unnecessary (touch) in a very public setting (everyone had to be watching) to make an important point. Jesus accepted this man’s worship and his person. His touch was equal to an embrace.

It wasn’t easy for this man to acknowledge Jesus publicly. It wasn't expected that Jesus would allow him to get close much less touch him but those are the conditions under which a real connection with Jesus can be made. Everything about this encounter was extreme. Later in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus is quoted as saying:
Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. Mt 10:32

This leper moved from the realm of non-worship into the company of those who stood out in their worship of God and Jesus honored him for it. The crowd did nothing to encourage or stop his worship. They were neither for it nor against it, as a whole. There were some who were interested in Jesus and many who were not. I think it is safe to say their attitude was generally more negative than positive. The equivocation of the crowd, however, could not stop this man from worshipping.

And the truth? Jesus cannot ignore genuine worship. The believing heart cannot withhold it and Jesus cannot ignore it, in public or in private.

When Jesus touched this man He was making a statement about Himself and the leper. It was the most convincing and even dramatic way to express acceptance. Lepers were untouchables. It was only under the most extreme circumstances that anyone even got close enough to touch one. Jesus not only allowed this man to intrude upon His personal space, but, in order to prove his healing, He reached out and touched him. Jesus was also declaring His ability to save. If He could heal a body of a most dreaded disease miraculously, not medically, then He also had the power to save a soul.

Jesus was not insecure about this man or his disease and He honored him in the same way He had been honored by him.

A second thing Jesus did was encourage him to be accountable.

There was nothing radical in the advice Jesus gave this man.

Jesus had just healed him but instead of making a noisy scene about it, He told the man to keep his mouth shut. “Don’t tell anyone. Instead go to the locally recognized authorities (the priests), submit yourself to the normal procedures followed when anyone was healed of leprosy and have them verify the healing.” The cure was instant but the verification process took time.

Leprosy was a serious public health hazard and needed to be handled in a responsible way even when it was healed miraculously. No short cuts were allowed. Jesus did not expect this man to be reintroduced into society without going through the normal procedures. Jesus did miraculous things but never at the expense of the mundane.

Jesus was not suggesting he keep this thing a secret. That would have been impossible. Jesus was saying don’t become a braggart, or obnoxious or arrogant or boisterous because you have been healed. Healings, properly accepted, make you humble not haughty and he really wouldn’t need to tell anyone anyway. How can you hide a healing of this nature? All the people who knew him before he contracted leprosy would also know he was healed and would be inquisitive as to how this came about.

The crowds also could verify this healing. They were there when it happened. They saw it with their own eyes. Some probably did not like the fact that Jesus healed the man but they couldn’t lie about it. Even the priest whose job it was to pronounce him clean would more than likely have a few questions.

The truth is, when Jesus really touches your life you won’t need to tell anyone. The touch of Jesus changes you, makes you more responsible and enables you to be held accountable even when you are labeled as underprivileged. Responsibility and accountability are self-evident and within every person’s reach. Jesus expects these things of us and as far as we know this leper demonstrated it.

Jesus was not telling this man to be quiet or secretive. He was telling this man the best way to make a noise. He also wasn’t allowing this man to be helpless. He gave him new opportunities and expected him to be accountable.


1. What is it in your life that indicates you truly worship Jesus?

2. What changes in your life would cause others to ask you about your faith?

3. Has your life been touched by Jesus and if not before, why not now?

12 February 2009

How Does God View the Less Privileged, Part 1 – He Sees Them as Capable of Worship

Matthew 8:1-4 NIV
When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and (worshipped Him or) knelt before him and said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said, "Be clean!" Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, "See that you don't tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."

The first seven chapters of Matthew cover a lot of history. It begins with the birth of Jesus and includes only the high points for the next thirty years:

• The visit of the wise men
• The escape of Joseph, Mary and Jesus into Egypt and their return to Galilee
• The ministry of John the Baptist
• The temptation of Jesus
• The beginning of Jesus ministry
• The calling of the first disciples
• And the Sermon on the Mount.

Beginning in chapter 8, however, Matthew presents a series of events in which Jesus ministers to different people individually. He moves from the long view of history to recording snippets in which Jesus’ ministry begins to be very personal. I like to refer to these events as personal ministry moments. They are occasions on which Jesus interacted with certain people one at a time.

Matthew presents these situations as if they were successive. Whether these events immediately followed each other or not has no bearing on the teaching he presents. Even the order of events is not critical to the intended meaning.

His intention was to illustrate the very personal nature of Jesus’ ministry. If he had included every event that occurred between each snap shot we might have missed the point…Jesus ministered to every kind of person individually and no person presented a challenge He could not handle. Matthew was interpreting the ministry of Jesus not giving us raw historical data. Interestingly enough, the first person He ministers to is a leper.

By this time, Jesus had already become well known. In fact, before Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount Matthew made this comment:
“News about him spread all over Syria…Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.” Matthew 4:24-25 NIV

Following the Sermon on the Mount the Bible says, “Great multitudes followed Him” still.

This is an important fact to consider. What happened between Jesus and this Leper did not take place beyond public view in some out of the way area. It happened right in the middle of a crowd and it makes the contact Jesus had with this leper even more interesting.

As far as we know, Jesus was not healing or teaching at this point. He was moving from the mount on which He delivered His famous sermon and moving to the next geographical location. As He travels, a leper comes out of nowhere and charges into His presence. He seems a bit abrupt, maybe even clumsy but very resolved. To appreciate this situation fully we really need to know something about lepers during Bible times.

Lepers were on the lowest rung of the social order and experienced pain on several levels.

One, they knew the pain of loss due to disease. Disease of any kind always limits your abilities. It is humiliating and discouraging even when there is a known cure. When no cure is available, it flattens us completely. There was no cure for leprosy in Bible times. With leprosy, people lost body parts, money, opportunity and became homeless. Because leprosy is a degenerative disease, its victims were eventually rendered deformed and unsightly. The physical pain was matched by mental and emotional anguish.

They also experienced the pain of a slow death. People don’t usually die as a direct result of leprosy. They die because of the complications that result from the disease. Blindness, numbness and other crippling effects made them vulnerable. Because people avoided them they had not one to help which made them even more vulnerable. How and when death would come they were never sure but an early lonely death was inevitable.

They experienced the pain of social rejection. Because leprosy was contagious and untreatable, lepers were isolated from society being relegated to what the Bible calls “outside.”

• They didn’t live in neighborhoods
• They couldn’t go to the shops
• They couldn’t hold any meaningful form of employment
• Worst of all they could have no physical contact with other humans

The bacteria that cause leprosy are transferable from one person to another without physical contact. Lepers, therefore, were required to keep their distance and to warn people if they got too close. It had to be lonely.

They never received a holy kiss, or a healthy hug or a firm hand shake. They never cuddled up with the person they loved. They couldn’t sit in a nice coffee shop and enjoy a cup of coffee. They couldn’t walk through a mall and feed off the energy of the crowd. They couldn’t sit at a table and enjoy a nice meal with family.

They could only watch from a distance and long for what they desperately needed but could never have.

From others this leper felt barricaded. To Jesus, however, he felt drawn. And from the reading of this passage we believe that Jesus was also drawn to him.

In spite of this man’s limitations, he found his way into the presence of Jesus and honored Him by worshiping Him (not privately, behind closed doors, but very publicly).

Can you imagine this leper making his way through the crowd? Normally he would shy away, even declaring from a distance that he was “unclean” enabling the uninfected to keep a safe distance. In this situation, however, he said “I’m coming through” and apparently he wouldn’t be deterred. I’m sure there were people who derided him and tried to run him off but he wasn’t dissuaded.

I believe by the time he got to Jesus everyone was watching. They were curious as to how Jesus would handle a leprous situation. And when he got to within close range of Jesus the Bible says he knelt down in an expression of worship. He didn’t complain about his condition or ask why he was the one so affected. He worshiped!

Some people want to argue with Jesus. Some people wish to interrogate Jesus. Some people are just curious and want to see what is going on. None of these attitudes reflect worship. This leper had no arguments or questions and his curiosity had long since been satisfied. He only wanted to recognize and honor Jesus.

It is OK to ask questions. We expect it, allow it and even encourage it. But questioning Jesus is not the same as worshiping Jesus. Proper worship is evidence that all worship-hindering-questions have been resolved.

This man wasn’t coming to accept Jesus. He already believed, and his belief drove him into the presence of Jesus.

This setting was not even conducive to worship. There was no air conditioning, comfortable pews and the atmosphere was not uplifting. The crowd was probably as antagonistic as it was favorable to both Jesus and the Leper. But worship comes from the heart and can be expressed by any person under all circumstances.

I think we can learn a lot about worship from this poor leper. In fact, I have isolated one huge observation about worship from his example. Disabilities can never prevent the believing heart from worshiping God.

Worship is not really a choice. Whom we worship is. Everyone in the crowd that day was worshiping. The leper was one of only a few worshiping Jesus.

It is natural to worship. It takes a deliberate effort to worship God.

The way you determine the object of a person’s worship is by asking the question, who or what comes first in their life and there are really only two possible answers: God or Self.

The Leper had many very good reasons to put off approaching Jesus. The crowd was disagreeable (although they certainly got out of the way), it was painful to move around and being scarred he probably didn’t enjoy public attention but none of these things stopped him.

This man didn’t wait for Jesus to come to him. He got up and went. Jesus did make Himself accessible to him but no more so than He did to any person. In fact, we could make the argument that it was more difficult for this man to come to Jesus than it was for many others. As far as we know there were more people wishing this leper away from Jesus than there were people graciously making way.

Jesus ministered to the crowds constantly. He fed, taught and healed many people who did little more than take Him for granted but He didn’t pamper them when it came to worship. Worship is something any person can do even when they have huge limitations and this Leper is proof.

The greatest connection any person can have with Jesus happens at the point of worship. Jesus cannot ignore worship anymore than the believing heart can withhold it even when it comes from the less privileged or physically challenged. Jesus is truly an equal opportunity Savior. ThinkAboutIt

05 February 2009

God Speaks To Everyone - Through Jesus

Jesus...saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" (Matthew 9:9-11)

A brief reading of the Gospels makes one thing very clear. Jesus never ministered in isolation. He was constantly putting Himself in situations where He could make contact with large numbers of people who represented very diverse backgrounds.

He went to various synagogues in different cities.

He mixed with both the religious elite and the religiously detestable.

He spent time with those who were poor (and sometimes ill) and He interacted with those who were well fed, in good health and privileged.

Jesus never focused His attention only on particular groups or classes of people. No one was left out. His ministry efforts touched a broad section of society which included every financial, health, cultural and religious category.

Jesus went places the pious would not and this activity exposed Him to the attacks from those who disagreed.

Jesus spent time with those who were curious, those who were hateful and those who were confused. He never created or gravitated to cliques.

Jesus was not shy about ministering to any person and was never afraid to talk about it publicly. He treated everyone as socially approachable and some judged that as repulsive.

Jesus did not treat everyone exactly the same but He made sure that He was accessible to everyone and He was more than willing to discuss His activities should anyone wish to find fault.

Jesus saw people as fitting into two different categories. Some were believers and some were not. He ministered to both.

For those who believed, Jesus instructed their faith so they were better informed and more accurately aligned with the intentions of Jesus. Their faith was real but immature and misdirected by assumptions. The disciples often said or did silly things without thinking and Jesus patiently corrected them, gently whenever possible.

Those who did not believe were blinded by cultural bias and they often queried Jesus on points of well accepted but unfounded dogma. Jesus responded by asking questions rather than giving answers. He was more interested in making them think than demonstrating His own intelligence. That was, by the way, a means of honoring the intelligence of His antagonists. He was suggesting they could find the answers without His help and this approach also avoided stirring up arguments.

There were many people who were contrary toward Jesus but in spite of this tension He ministered to them as well. When presented with the woman caught in adultery, instead of stoning her, which the crowd wanted, Jesus found a way to spiritually challenge every person: the guilty, the innocent and the contrary. In every situation He found ways to reach out in every direction and meet every spiritual need of every kind of person.

And Matthew is the right man to make this point known. In Bible times Matthew, being a tax collector, was tagged as an outsider. Overly religious people avoided Matthew. In fact, they despised him.

Jesus, on the other hand, ministered directly and very personally to this man. Not only did Jesus call him into a very special position of ministry, Apostleship, but immediately following that call, He accepted an invitation to eat with Matthew and many of his friends in Matthew’s home.

This made everyone think, believers and unbelievers alike. It was shocking twice over.

Firstly, Jesus called a religiously unacceptable man to ministry and then, to add insult to injury, He ate with him in his house rubbing shoulders with all his religiously and socially rejected friends. Both actions were taken in public view.

The way Jesus ministered to people was irritating to some and relieving to others but surprising to everyone. The Pharisees were agitated by Jesus. Matthew and his friends were liberated by Him. Both were wide eyed.

Matthew reports not only his own experience with Jesus but also many other situations in which Jesus did very unexpected things. Things considered unorthodox by others. He wanted to make a point about the very diverse nature of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus ministered to every kind of person on an individual level. He was always ready to minister to anyone not just the accepted few.

The question is how do our ministries compare? We are not as clever as Jesus and we don't have His power but we have the same responsibility, minister to everyone. We are to minister to the spiritual and physical needs of every category of individual in every kind of situation. When we do, we may find ourselves in culturally and socially compromising situations. Jesus did and we shouldn't be surprised if it happens to us. Like Jesus, we may find ourselves tagged as “unorthodox.” But, God, through Jesus, has spoken to everyone. We need to make everyone aware of it. Doing anything less is not obedience. ThinkAboutIt.