THIS WEEK'S LESSON

MINISTERING LIKE JESUS

Jesus Models Self-Sacrificial Love – Jesus’ ministry of self-sacrificial lo0ve revealed the nature of the kingdom of God.  His words made an impact because His selfless life was in harmony with His words.  His teachings made an impact because His loving actions were the outgrowth of an impact because His loving actions were the outgrowth of His teachings.  If Christ’s actions were not in harmony with His words, He would have had little real influence on the people around Him.  The officers of the temple reported to the chief priests and Pharisees, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (John 7:46).  What a testimony from unbelievers!  Instead of arresting Him, they had been arrested by what they had heard.  Mark again how this magnifies Jesus as “the Word!”  It was not His miracles which had so deeply impressed them, but His speech!  “Never man spake as this man.” True indeed was their witness, for the One they had listened to was more than “man” – “The Word was God!” (John 1:1).  No man ever spoke like Jesus, because His words were spirit and life.  Jesus’ words were backed up by His actions. Had He not lived as He lived, He could not have spoken as He spoke.  This is certainly true when it comes to our Christian witness.  Our words have power when they are supported by a godly life.

Today’s lesson underscores the importance of self-sacrificing service that is focused on other people, service that makes a lasting impression in their lives.  We will examine the outflowing love from Jesus’ heart as His most effective means of witness.

Jesus’ Attitude Toward People – Jesus always looked for the good in others.  He drew out the best in them.  One of the criticisms the religious leaders of His day had with Jesus was that He “receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).  They were concerned because He fellowshipped with “the ungodly.”  Their view of religion was one of estrangement rather than engagement.  They were surprised when Jesus said of Himself, “For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). 

The scribes’, Pharisees’, and Sadducees’ religion was one of avoidance.  They thought, “Do everything you can to avoid becoming contaminated with sin.  Though uncontaminated by sin, Jesus plunged into this snake pit of a world to redeem it, not to avoid it.  He is “the light of the world” (John 8:12).

Read Matthew 5:13-14.  Salt was one of the most important resources in the ancient world.  It was extremely valuable, and at times the Roman legions used it as currency.  It was a symbol of great wealth.  It was also used to preserve and flavor food.  When Jesus used the illustration of salt to symbolize His followers, He was really saying that the true wealth of the world is not the world’s most powerful and richest people.  The true wealth of the world is committed Christians who are making a difference for the kingdom of God.  Their loving acts of unselfish service preserve the world’s goodness and flavor its atmosphere.

The second illustration Jesus used in this passage was that of “the light of the world.”  Light does not avoid the darkness.  It shines in the darkness.  It does not separate from the darkness.  It penetrates the darkness, making the darkness light.  Jesus’ followers are to penetrate the darkness of this world in their neighborhoods, villages, towns, and cities to lighten them with the glory of God.

Love Answers Satan’s Charges – Long ago, in the vast heavenly realms of space, Lucifer rebelled against God.  He claimed that God was unfair, unjust, and unloving.  However, Jesus came to earth, demonstrated His Father’s immense love, and refuted Satan’s claims.  Every miracle of healing revealed the Father’s love.  Every time a demon-possessed individual was delivered, the occasion spoke of the Father’s love.  Every time Jesus fed the hungry, comforted the sorrowing, forgave the guilty, strengthened the weak, or raised the dead, the Father’s love was revealed.

Simon Stylites – In his attempt to achieve holiness and be separate from the world, Simon Stylites dwelt atop a series of pillars for 37 years in a small town outside of Aleppo, Syria.  As an ascetic monk, he spent his days meditating, pray8ng, and contemplating the divine.  Often people gathered around the pillar where he stood.  They gazed at this “holy man” and sometimes asked for advice.  His fame spread through the surrounding area, and many other monks imitated his lifestyle.  One basic tenet of these ascetics was that inner oneness with God was achieved through separation from the world.

The Scriptures do call each one of us to prayer, meditation on the Word of God, and separation from evil.  The purpose of spending time with Jesus on the “mountain” is so we can witness to the multitudes.  The monastics often missed a vital aspect of the Christian faith.  Light shines in the darkness.  Salt penetrates the food it flavors, and Christians are the light of the world and the salt of the earth.

Jesus’ great intercessory prayer in John 17 puts it this way, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).  Someone has said that Christians are like a boat in the water.  It is all right fot he boat to be in the water if there is no water in the boat.  Christians are in the world to influence it for the Messiah, but when the world is in Christians, absorging their time, attention, and energies, something is wrong.

Jesus plunged into this sinful, rebellious world to reveal the love of God and redeem humanity.  He looked at each person through the eyes of divine compassion.  To a Roman military officer, He said, “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel” (Matthew 8:10).  Surprisingly, He encouraged a Jewish scribe by saying, “You are not far from the kingdom of Gdo” (Mark 12:34).  The scribes spent their lives studying the Jewish Torah.  While the disciples may hae wanted to debate with this scribe, Jesus believed the best about him.  Jesus saw each person as a candidate for the kingdom of God.

According to Isaiah’s prophecy Jesus would not “bruise a tender reed” or “quench a smoking flax.”  In other words, Jesus gently healed bruised people.  He did not further condemn them.   Think of the stinging words of condemnation Jesus could have given to the woman caught in adultery or the Samaritan woman at the well.  Think of the rebuke He could have given Simon Peter after his denial or the stern criticism He could have had for the thief on the cross.  But Jesus did none of this.  His words were words of hope.  They were words of grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  Paul gives us this admonition, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:6). 

Jesus’ Healing Ministry – Our Lord’s method of evangelism goes beyond memorized speeches and canned presentations; it is as rich and dynamic as life itself.  Every day we rub shoulders with people who have all kinds of needs: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.  Christ is eager to meet those needs through us as we show concern for people’s loneliness, sorrow, and heartache, an as we show an interest in their joys, hopes, and dreams.

Jesus ministered to people’s felt needs so that He could ultimately meet their deepest needs.  A felt need is an area of life in which people already sense that they cannot solve an issue by themselves. It may be a need to quit smoking, reduce weight, get on a better diet, or reduce stress.  It may be a need for food, housing, or medical care.  It may be the need for counseling for the marriage or family.

An ultimate need, however, is what human beings need most – the need for a personal relationship with God and the realization that their life has eternal significance.  Reconciliation with God in a broken world is our ultimate need.

Jesus’ method of evangelism was to find a need and meet it.  His comprehensive, threefold ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing transformed lives.  The Gospels reveal Jesus meeting the “felt” needs people so that He could touch them at the point of their deepest spiritual needs.  Consider the gospel of John.  In John 2, at the wedding feast of Cana in Galilee, Jesus meets a social need by saving the host from embarrassment.  In John 3, Jesus meets Nicodemus’ deepest heart hunger with an authentic faith.  In John 4, Jesus treats the Samaritan woman with dignity and respect, meeting her emotional ned for a sense of self-worth.  In John 5, Jesus meets physical needs in the miraculous healing of a desperately ill man who hopelessly lies by a pool of purportedly therapeutic waters for 28 years.  In John 6, when Jesus breaks the bread and feeds 5,000 hungry people, the crowd wants to make Him king (John 6:14-15).

Jesus came not only to meet the “felt needs” of people for good public relations for the Christian church.  But His mission was also much more than a philanthropic organization.  The purpose of Jesus’ life was “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).  After healing scores of people on a Saturday night, Jesus was up early the next morning, seeking the Father in prayer.  Although there were still more sick people to heal, Jesus said, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth” (Matthew 1:38).  There is nothing more important to Jesus than saving lost people.  Jesus did not heal people so they could merely return to lives of sin healthier.  Jesus did not relieve disease so that individuals would have more energy to live lives of selfish indulgence. He relieved physical suffering to reveal the Father’s love and to provide tangible evidence of His ability to heal hearts.  All of Jesus’ physical miracles served to illustrate His divine power to deliver from the bondage of sin.

What Matters to Jesus – Jesus’ message to His disciples in Matthew 24 that blends events regarding the destruction of Jerusalem and the days before His return is followed by three end-time parables in Matthew 25.  These parables outline the character qualities that really matter to Jesus for a people waiting for His second coming. The parable of the ten virgins emphasizes the importance of a genuine, authentic, Spirit-filled life.  The parable of th ten talents underlines the importance of faithfully using the gifts that God has given to each one of us.  The parable of the sheep and goats reveals that genuine Christianity truly ministers to the needs of those God brings into our lives each day.

Read Matthew 25:31-46.  How does Jesus describe Christianity?  List the areas of ministry about which this passage speaks (Use white board).

Although this parable speaks of meeting people’s genuine physical needs – an aspect of he story we should not neglect – is it possible that there is something more here?  There is a hidden hunger and thirst for Jesus in the souls of human beings that longs to be satisfied.  We are all strangers longing for home and we discover our true identity in Christ.  We are naked spiritually until clothed with His righteousness.

The Old Testament prophets often described the human condition as one that was hopelessly sick.  The disease of sin is fatal, but the prophet points us to the remedy.  “’For I will restore health to you and heal you of your wounds,’ says the Lord” (Jeremiah 30:17).  Jesus is the remedy for the life-threatening disease of our souls.

The parable of the sheep and goats admonishes us to meet the physical needs of those around us, but it does much more.  It is the story of a Christ who meets the deepest needs of the soul, and it is His invitation to partner with Him in ministering to those around us.  To live self-centered lives and neglect the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of others is to risk eternal loss.  In the parable, those who give their lives for something more than themselves are commended by their Lord and welcomed into eternity while those who selfishly pursue their own agenda and neglect the needs of others are condemned by their Lord.The unselfish ministry of Jesus opens hearts, breaks down prejudice, and creates a receptivity for the gospel.  The church is the body of Christ meeting needs in love everywhere.  Jesus sends us out into our communities to make a difference in His name.  Though we certainly need to be careful about being contaminated by the world (and that is a very real and dangerous threat to our church ), we still must learn to reach the people where they are, and to be used by God, who wants to take them from where they are and bring them to where they should be.

QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT

 

Read John 17:15-18.  After considering Jesus’ words, how are we to understand the idea of separation from the world and avoidance of the world?  Are they the same thing?  What did Jesus mean when He prayed that His followers would be in the world but not of the world?  How do we do that?

Why is how we say something as important as, or even more important than, what we say?  How do you react to this statement: “Truth is truth, and people need to take it or leave it?”  What’s wrong with this statement?

What kinds of initiatives can our church take in our community to meet people’s needs and demonstrate that we really care for them? 

Is it possible to live the abundant life Jesus offers if you are poverty-stricken or sick?  Did Jesus offer people something deeper than physical healing?  What practical ways can we use to lead people to spiritual truths when we minister to their physical and emotional needs?

Why is the compassionate ministry of Jesus so powerful in breaking down prejudice and opening people up to hear spiritual truths?  Thy to imagine how much more effective our witness as a people would be were we to reflect the same selfless concern for others as Jesus did.

Think about the fact that all the people healed or even raised from the dead would eventually die.  What should that tell us about how we ought to be conducting our outreach and ministry to those around us?