Early in His ministry, Jesus stepped out of a boat into the country of a people He had not yet visited. As His sandal-sole touched gravel, two fiercely deranged men ran out of a nearby cemetery screaming and shrieking as they came. They were shouting at the top of their lungs, “What do You want with us, Son of God!?” But, they were not their own voices that exploded from their mouths; they were the demonic voices of the spirits who possessed them. “You know it is not time for You to torment us!” A chorus of angry, tortured voices spoke in eerie unison. “If You are here to cast us out then send us into those pigs.”
So far, Jesus had not reacted, not even so much as a flinch. And, in response to their request He simply uttered a soft but commanding, “Go.” At His word an invisible host of other-worldly beings rushed out of the two men and into the herd of pigs. Though unseen, the evidence of their exit was unquestionable as hundreds of pigs stumbled and stampeded down a steep bank into the sea where they drowned in a chaotic mix of squeals and foam.
What happened to the host of demons who had responded so antagonistically to Jesus’ presence? It was hard to say. But, the herdsmen who watched the whole event from a nearby hill certainly knew what happened to their pigs. With a single word this stranger had confronted the two demoniacs that everyone else was afraid of, had rid them of their demons, and had rid the herdsmen of their livestock. They ran into town to report what had happened, and the whole city came out to ask Jesus to leave the area.
Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, was close at hand—and they asked Him to leave. Why? Fear of His power. Annoyance.
(read this story in Matthew 8:28-34)
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The Samaritans and the Jews had a tenuous relationship. Actually, they typically just avoided one another. The Jews despised the Samaritans for their religious compromise. Samaritans were the descendants of Israelites who had been taken captive by Assyria, but had conformed to Assyrian culture, and had taken Assyrian wives, producing ethnically mixed children. Now Samaria was a related but distinct people. Their distinction was particularly evident in their place of worship. They did not travel to Jerusalem, as all good Israelites were expected to do, but they worshiped on a mountain of their choosing. The Samaritans despised Jews for their religious egotism. The Jews ignored the Samaritans because of their heritage, but they hated the Samaritans because of their refusal to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. So, the Samaritans hated them back.
Near the end of His ministry, Jesus made a fateful decision. He knew His purpose. He was headed for the cross. He knew where that purpose was to be fulfilled. He set His face toward Jerusalem. The problem was that He was in Galilee in the north when He made His decision. The territory of the Samaritans lay between Him and Jerusalem to the south. Most Jews would travel around Samaria to the east to avoid contact with the Samaritans. But, Jesus went straight south. Maybe He wanted one more chance to preach to the Samaritans, or maybe His mission was so serious and urgent that He did not want to take the time to travel around their land.
As Jesus passed through Samaria He preached and taught in the towns along His way. He had preached in Samaria before, and with considerable success. On one occasion Jesus met a particular Samaritan woman by a well (see John 4). She was so amazed by Him that she brought the whole town out to meet Him, and many of them believed in Him. But, Jesus was not well-received on this particular journey.
Jesus neared a Samaritan town, and He sent several disciples to make preparations for Him to stay there and preach. But, the townspeople refused to let Him stay because He was headed for Jerusalem. To them He was another egotistic, elitist Jew. His very intention to go to Jerusalem was a denial of the validity of their religious traditions and their place of worship, so they asked Him to leave.
The Chosen One wanted their hospitality and, eventually, their devotion, but they refused. Why? Prejudice. Devotion to tradition.
(read this story in Luke 9:51-56)
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Many people heard Jesus teach and preach—working class, slaves, soldiers, religious leaders, government employees, politicians, wives, prostitutes. But, not many followed Jesus. Of those that did, most were not leaders, authorities, persons of power and rank, but tax collectors, outcasts, common fishermen, the diseased (and those healed from disease), and “sinners.” Despite His astonishingly direct and authoritative teaching, and despite His incredibly miraculous abilities, the “upper crust” of society typically did not submit to Him.
In many ways it is hard to understand how people who again and again witnessed the miracles that Jesus performed could deny Him. A cripple made to walk, a multitude fed, a blind man given sight, a dead man given life; the evidence just kept piling up for the three years of Jesus’ ministry, every new miracle confirming His old claims. But, most of those who saw the blind healed remained blind themselves, especially the “authorities.”
Why did the leaders, the very ones who should have taken the first steps in accepting and following their Messiah, resist Jesus? They loved their power and the respect it brought them. They hated what Jesus was asking of them: to give up their authority and submit to His. Most of all, they were afraid. Admission of belief in Jesus as the Christ would certainly result in public ridicule. Those religious leaders who did not believe and who were violently opposed the Jesus had the power to strip believing authorities of their social status. If they followed Jesus they would be kicked out of the synagogue.
The Great King of Israel had finally arrived and was asking for their allegiance, but they would not give it to Him. Why? The love of glory and status. Fear of rejection.
(read about these leaders in John 12:42-43)
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A wealthy young man hurried to meet Jesus. He knelt in obviously sincere respectfulness, and he asked Jesus the most important question that anyone could ask: “How can I inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ response was a little ordinary. He simply encouraged the young man to keep God’s commandments. The simplicity was not for this man’s benefit, though. It was for those who witnessed the conversation. Jesus was going to make an example of the young man.
“I have kept all of the commandments since I was a boy,” was the young man’s pleased and self-confident reply. Although Jesus knew this would be his reply, the ignorance and naïveté behind it earned Jesus’ compassion. Mark tells us that He looked at the young man and He “loved him.”
“I appreciate your eagerness and your obedience, but there is still an area of your life that hinders your devotion to God. Sell everything you own, give it to the poor, and follow Me.” Jesus’ sympathetic command sunk to the pit of the young man’s stomach. The Teacher who claimed that His yoke was light was asking more of this man than he could bear. He was so disheartened by the thought of losing his many possessions that he simply walked away, speechless and sorrowful.
This eager young man with a promising future turned his back on his Lord. Why? Self-righteousness. The love of money.
(read this story in Mark 10:17-31)
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A man took his boat out for a ride around the bay, but as he motored along his boat struck a reef. As his boat began to take on water he dropped to his knees, begging God to rescue him. While the words were still on his lips, he heard a gruff voice from behind him. “It looks like you are sinking. I’ll throw you a rope and pull you up.” The man turned to see a weathered old man in a fishing boat. “No thanks,” the man replied. “I’ve been praying to God, and I know He will rescue me.”
In disbelief, the old fisherman shrugged and headed off toward the shore. Again, the man on the sinking boat prayed that God would rescue him, and, again, as the words were still on his lips, a tugboat came near. The captain called out, “Hold tight. I’ll send out a couple men in our lifeboat to get you.” “No, don’t bother,” the man replied. “God is going to come save me.”
The captain persisted, but the man remained stubbornly on board his sinking boat. As the tugboat puttered toward the horizon the man began praying once again. The water came higher as the boat sank lower, and the man prayed even more urgently. Suddenly, the man heard a helicopter as it flew in and hovered over him. A helmeted man hanging out the door signaled to him, but the man waved his arms in protest as the last of his boat vanished under the water. A diver descended from the helicopter and pulled the now-swimming man into the rescue basket.
In the safety of the helicopter one of the rescuers asked the reluctant victim, “Are you crazy? We had reports from two other boats that you refused their help, and now we had to forcibly remove you from the water. What is wrong with you?” Sheepishly, the man replied, “I prayed to God asking Him to rescue me. I was just waiting for Him to show up and answer my prayers.”
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What do these five stories have in common? They are all about people who needed salvation, but did not get it in the form they expected. The man on the sinking boat waiting for God to rescue him rejected opportunity after opportunity because they were not what he had in mind. The townspeople were so afraid of a man who confronted demoniacs, and so annoyed at someone who would kill their pigs, that they did not recognize their Savior. The Samaritans were so stuck in tradition and so blinded by prejudice that they turned away the Holy One of Israel. The authorities wanted a Messiah, and they even believed that Jesus was the One, but they valued social status above loyalty. The rich young ruler found a Good Teacher in Jesus, but not good enough to warrant his total devotion and the selling of his possessions.
Go on to the next article in the series: Taking Jesus Seriously 010