The Serving, Sensitivity and Suffering of Jesus

Title: The Serving, Sensitivity and Suffering of Jesus

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Text: Matthew 9:18-26

Date: January 18th, 2009

We get to know Jesus by observing how he acts and reacts to situations in life during his earthly ministry. A famous person once said, “I’m through merely listening to what a person says, I’m now focused on what a person in fact does in order to know their heart.” There’s a lot of truth in that statement. While getting to know a person is both a combination of hearing them speak and watching them act, what a person does is probably a better guide to the person’s true character than listening to them talk. That’s why the Bible is such a valuable guide – because it not only gives us the words of Jesus but it also describes his deeds as well. Well, today we’ll be looking at mostly the deeds of Jesus rather than his words. Today, we’ll be learning from what he does rather than what he says. I remember the beginning of the Book of Acts, where Luke the author introduces it by saying in Acts 1:1, “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach . . .” Jesus did a lot of teaching, speaking, and he also did a lot of doing or acting. Today, in Matthew 9:18-26 as we continue in the study of the Book of Matthew, we’ll focus on what Jesus did because it speaks louder than words. “While he was saying this, a ruler came and knelt before him and said, ‘My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.’ Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples. Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, ‘If I only touch his clock, I will be healed.’ Jesus turned and saw her, ‘Take heart, daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has healed you.’ And the woman was healed from that moment. When Jesus entered the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd, he said, ‘Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep. But they laughed at him. After the crowed had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region.” We see at least three main things about Jesus in this short passage. First, we see Jesus serving – his willingness to serve – his servant’s heart. Second, we see the sensitivity of Jesus. And third, we see the suffering of Jesus, or the long-suffering or patience of Jesus with sinful people who mock or laugh at him as he ministered. These are three observations we can make of Jesus that can help us as we follow after him. These are three areas in which we should seek to imitate Christ. There is a famous classical devotional book called The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis that deals with this same subject. But we actually don’t need that book or any other book written by man when we’ve got the Bible to guide us. Let’s look closer at Jesus and see how we might better imitate him with our lives.

First, we see Jesus serving. Matthew 9:18-19, “While he was saying this, a ruler came and knelt before him and said, ‘My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.’ Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.” It’s amazing to watch Jesus in action because being such an important person or VIP, we might think that Jesus wouldn’t have time to respond to unscheduled or unplanned requests. That’s based on our knowledge of busy and important people in our world today. For example, if a famous spiritual leader were to come to town, for example the Pope, we certainly would expect him to have a very planned and controlled schedule – every minute of his time is valuable, so to get the most out of his visit it’s planned to the last detail. In fact, I remember when the new Pope Benedict came to New York last year that’s exactly what was the situation. Could he have taken a personal unplanned request from someone in the crowd to visit their home and pray for their sick and dying daughter? Hardly. The security and logistics of it would have been too problematic. That’s why we are amazed when we see how eager and available Jesus is to respond with a servant’s heart to the man’s request for him to pray for his daughter. “Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.” This was a totally spontaneous, unplanned, unscheduled activity. And it shows that Jesus is willing to serve everybody or anybody who comes to him with a need. He doesn’t just associate with the rich and famous, or the powerful and important. He not only associates with the common person, but even serves them as if they were special and important, because in God’s eyes each person is special and important. Now the challenge to each and every one of us is – can we imitate Christ in this attitude of servanthood? Are we willing to interrupt our schedule or our plans to help someone who comes to us with a request? There will be moments in our lives, many opportunities for us to either pass or fail this test of servant hood. There will be occasions in life when someone asks for our assistance – probably at a most inconvenient time or as it’s known in common vocabulary as Murphy’s Law – and we are put to the test. Will we respond with the eager and willing spirit of Jesus to serve, or will we decline the request because we’ve got more important things to do or other plans? Now I’m not saying that every time someone interrupts us with a request for assistance we should, must or need to respond by dropping everything we are doing or planning to do to help them. But are we willing to do it most of the time, much of the time or any of the time? If we aren’t ever willing to interrupt our own plans to help someone else, we aren’t very much imitating Christ. If we are willing on occasion to drop our own activity to help someone else, we are then approaching the servant hood of Christ. But if we are mostly always or nearly always willing to do it, then we are truly following in the steps of Christ. Let that be our challenge today.

Second, we see the sensitivity of Jesus. Matthew 9:20-22, “Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.’ Jesus turned and saw her, ‘Take heart, daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has healed you.’ And the woman was healed from that moment.” As remarkable as Jesus’ willingness to serve the man with his dying daughter, here, we see another remarkable thing – the sensitivity of Jesus. A large crowd was probably pressing around him, trying to speak to him, trying to get his attention for some concern or issue. In the midst of all that commotion Jesus notices a woman quietly touching him and responds to that touch. In a parallel account, Jesus says, “Who touched me?” He looks around because he felt someone touch him. His disciples respond by saying, “How can you ask such a question seeing all of these people around you talking and touching you?” But Jesus insisted that someone touched him. Finally, the woman who touched him acknowledges it. Jesus heals her and sends her on her way. Now what this scene shows is the sensitivity of Jesus. How could anyone sense that someone had touched him in the middle of a crowd of people who are obviously pressing up against him – whether intentionally or unintentionally touching him frequently? Again, I remember when Pope Benedict visited New York last year I watched on television as individuals in the crowd tried to see and touch the pontiff as he went by in and out of important meetings with national and world leaders. I’m sure Jesus was constantly surrounded by people in the crowds that frequently reached out and touched him intentionally, as well as people pressing in just to get close to him and unintentionally touching him. It can’t be helped in large crowds. But Jesus is so sensitive to people, to individuals, that he could single out someone in the crowd and respond to their specific touch. In this Jesus is revealing and expressing the sensitivity of God in knowing, watching, caring and responding to everyone, every person, who calls upon him in prayer. We see the answer to the age-old question, “How can God hear the prayers of everyone all at once? Isn’t that impossible?” Yes, for a mere man, for a mere mortal human. But God isn’t a mere man, he’s more than man, he’s God. Jesus was both God and man. God can hear every individual prayer and respond to each personally and individually because he is a supernatural being who loves us enough to care about our personal and individual needs. Jesus was expressing that attribute of God in this scene from the Book of Matthew. Our challenge is to be sensitive also to the needs of others. While we can’t be omniscient like God, we can be aware of the needs around us and be sensitive to meeting them. It’s easy to merely worry about our own needs or consider the work done when we’ve covered our own needs. But we must train ourselves to be sensitive to the needs of others and not be insensitive to their concerns. Let’s challenge ourselves to this also.

Third, we see the long-suffering or patience of Jesus. Matthew 9:23-26, “When Jesus entered the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd, he said, ‘Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.’ But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region.” Now it’s important to get a context for the scene here. In ancient Israel during someone’s death, there were mourners that were brought in to cry and wail and weep along with the family members. It was customary to have people weeping and wailing at the site of the dead person. That was typical back then. Today, that’s not so common, although it’s still practiced in the Middle East. Our funerals today tend to be subdued compared to ancient Israel. The reference to the flute player is part of the customary Jewish funeral observance. Sometimes sad music was played also in addition to the sad wailing. But Jesus was there to heal the girl not attend her funeral, so he asked that the funeral procession be put outside. He told them that the girl wasn’t finally dead, but only looks dead, like sleeping. Was she really dead? Yes, but not ultimately dead, not dead beyond hope of life. Was she really only sleeping? In a sense, but most people knew the difference between sleeping and dead. They knew that she was dead, and they thought finally and ultimately dead. They didn’t realize that Jesus the miracle worker was about to perform a miracle. So they laughed at him. Imagine laughing at Jesus! Making fun of Jesus as if he were a crazy or mad man. I remember the words to an old Keith Green song that goes, “Everyone’s laughing at Jesus, but the funniest thing that he’s done is to love an old stubborn rebellious world as their hate for him just goes on.” But Jesus was patient with them in their ignorance and disrespect for him. In other words, he put up with their stupidity and ignorance. He didn’t lash out or turn angry at them. He calmly went about his business. He was practicing patience. That word in the Greek is literally “long-suffering.” They mocked him, they laughed at him, they misunderstood him, and they disbelieved him, etc. but he continued to love them and continued on with his ministry of meeting their needs. What a challenge for all of us to do the same. People will oppose us because we follow God’s Word. People will laugh at us because of our simple faith and obedience to God. Some people will mock and oppose us for believing God’s Word, others will laugh at us for obeying and following God’s Word. But we must not let that rile us or throw us off our course. Just like Jesus we must keep on doing the will of God no matter what opposition or mocking comes from unbelievers. We must resist the urge to strike back or retaliate because of opposition to our faith. We have the example of Jesus who was willing to suffer ridicule and opposition, even as far as the cross, without striking back in anger or impatience. Are these examples of Jesus to us today impossible? In our own strength, yes. But if we trust in God and walk in his will step-by-step, we can get better and better at doing it.

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