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

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