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The Hidden Face of God

"Good News To The Poor"

August 14th, 2019

"I have come to preach good news to the poor."

Luke 4:18

Those were the very first words Jesus spoke at the start of His ministry, 

and so they are the perfect words, simply because He spoke them.  But they were not easily spoken.  They were costly words.  In the end, they would cost Him everything.  His followers would fret, "If only He would have had the good sense to identify with the rich and the powerful instead of the poor.  If only He had acted in accordance with their values.  If only He had danced to their tune..." But Jesus did not, would not, dance (Luke 7:32).

  There are no words to describe the extent to which He radically identified with the poor.  In one of two disturbing and surprising moments that are yet to come, Jesus said, in effect: When you fed the poor, you were feeding Me.  When you neglected them, you were neglecting Me.  This is one-on-one identification.  "If they reject you, they are rejecting Me."  The absolute Highness standing with the lowest. 

  In a religious world that had concluded that the poor were poor because they were sinners and cursed by God as a result, Jesus came and paradoxically pronounced on them God's blessing.  "Blessed are you who are poor," He said, because this world is not the only world that exists, and an upside-down kingdom is coming where rich and poor will change places, where those who weep will laugh and the laughing ones will burst into tears.  That world is here and at the same time, it is coming.

  This is not to say that Jesus didn't have a few wealthy friends, Joseph of Arimathea being the most noteworthy.  But by and large He gravitated toward the poor, and they were drawn almost gravitationally to Him.  They followed Him in droves, not necessarily because they grasped fully what His life meant, or what the gospel was, but because they recognized in Him a compassionate heart that would feed them if He could, even when He was forced to borrow bread and fish from a hungry little boy to do so.

  Even those who, because of their lack of education, were unaware of Isaiah's prophecy that He would be a Man of Sorrows acquainted with our deepest grief recognized in Him someone whose rears were somehow their tears as well.  He was not only weeping for them, He was weeping with them, becoming acquainted to the darkest depths with their poverty and pain.

  Jesus had made it clear that He was going to raise his friend Lazarus, and yet when He saw Lazarus's sister Mary in tears, initially He could do nothing but weep with her.  He did not explain away the pain, did not say He had come with the answer, that He would fix everything; no, He bowed His head and allowed the tears to flow.  It was not about providing answers or fixing a problem, it was about entering fully and redemptively into her suffering.  Jesus did not weep because it was the right or sympathetic thing to do.  He did it because the shape of His heart would not allow him to do otherwise.  Jesus knew that God uses suffering to save the world.  He had not come to fix death and sorrow but to ultimately bring about their demise.  He had not come to give answers; He had come to give Himself.  His presence, His tears were the solution, the answer, the Truth for that painful moment, perhaps more than the resuscitating of Lazarus; for, after all, that would only be a temporary reprieve.  And in the midst of that moment, Mary didn't get what she wanted, not just yet, but she got exactly what she needed.

  Before the Man of Sorrows wept, Job became acquainted with all-out grief.  Job's experience was just the same.  He had lost everything a person can lose - his possessions (that was the easy part), his children, his health.  He was exposed to every fear, from the terrorism of the Sabeans to the hopeless anguish of cancer, or perhaps some other wasting disease like Ebola.  He tasted the despair of losing his children.  Most painful of all, he thought he had lost his God, or perhaps even worse, that his God had abandoned him.

  So how does this apply?  What does Jesus' redemptive weeping have to do with us?  The answer is, it has everything to do with us.  Our call is not to fix those who weep, but to weep with them.  We don't need funds or expertise.  We are not expected to provide every individual answer, each solution.  Those who seek in obedience to follow Jesus don't pretend to have all the answers.  We don't pretend to be able to fix every problem and dry every tear - but we can weep.  And our tears uniquely qualify us for mission.

  After all, fixing people is God's work.  The Father is more deeply committed to it - to fixing all of us, rich and poor - than we could imagine.  But fixing isn't the right word for it; the Bible's word is salvation, re-creation.  We don't need to be fixed; we need to be re-created. The only way we, all of us, will ever experience that re-creation is to open the door of our lives to the poor, to enter redemptively into their suffering, and to discover through it our suffering as well.  They are weeping our tears; Jesus in them is weeping our tears.

  So celebrate the tears, the frustration, the confusion.  Celebrate every day that you are tempted to give up but don't.  Celebrate changed lives, re-created lives, saved souls, men and women who have discovered that they are not alone after all, children who have discovered that there is a place in a family just for them after all.  Be glad with us that good news has come to the poor, as a special blessing to all of us who labor and are heavy-laden.  He is worthy of such gladness. In the meantime, continue to weep with those who weep; enter redemptively into the suffering that comes to your door.

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