Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:8b “. . .cleanse the lepers, raise the dead,. . .”
For their first short-term mission trip, the Twelve were given two primary assignments: preach and minister. Talking up the faith has top priority, but don’t neglect serving others. We are to meet physical needs as well as spiritual ones. Speak to the spirit, but also care for bodily needs whenever given the opportunity.
The Twelve were to be walking, as well as talking, benedictions. They were given power to perform deeds of mercy, acts of kindness. Their authority was not a right to dominate people, but rather a license to destroy what was hurting them.
The Twelve were not to perform spectacular feats unrelated to human hurts. Jesus did not tell them to call down fire from Heaven, do magic tricks, disappear and reappear, leap tall buildings in a single bound, or run faster than a locomotive.
They were to do practical miracles, helpful deeds of compassion that would aid people and reveal to them what the heart of God is like. Their exploits accented God’s compassionate heart and demonstrated His concern for the whole person.
King Jesus, who came to establish God’s kingdom on Earth, wants it known He is King, Sovereign Lord, over every aspect of human existence, including grief. Christ takes upon Himself obligation to help every hurt, and shares this duty with His body, the Church. Every human pain hurts Jesus, and should hurt us too.
Jesus became a man to confront everything that makes Earth unlike Heaven. He sends us, His followers, to enact the same task, to do battle with pain. We are to engage in a practical conflict against all sufferings and maladies of humanity.
By saying “cleanse the lepers,” Jesus orders us never to bypass any pain, however disgusting it may be to us. Leprosy was Israel’s most dreaded disease, the AIDS of its day. Leprosy was incurable, was looked upon as a punishment for one’s own sins, and multiplied its agony by isolating its victim from society.
By saying “raise the dead,” Jesus set the impossible before us to keep us from limiting our efforts. Except for Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, Peter, and Paul, raising the dead remains an elusive, unattainable goal, a reminder we are never to cease stretching our faith. Ask God to enable us to go to all lengths possible to help people. “It’s just too hard” is never an acceptable excuse for not helping others.
“Cleanse the lepers, raise the dead.” Help all hurts, bypass none. Expend all energy, and try every way possible, to ease the aches and pains of humanity.
Our text provides revealing insight into our Savior’s heart, and thus gives us a blueprint, a manifesto, of how all-encompassing we Christians are supposed to be in our approach to the human plight. Our concern is for the whole individual.
The love of God extended to every need of every individual is the most compelling assertion of our faith. Believers are given the duty of saying with their lips and proving with their deeds that the love of God for people truly is genuine.
This is why preaching and ministering are both indispensable to the success of Christianity. Telling the facts of our faith is essential to people being converted, but physical, mental, and emotional hurts in the listener can seriously obstruct the ability to hear and receive the truth being spoken. Sad, hurting, hungry people have trouble hearing facts. Relieving people’s pain aids their disposition to listen.
People who remove suffering are hailed as benefactors, and their words are more likely to be valued by the beneficiaries. Job (29:12ff) said people listened to him in his early days because he delivered the poor who cried and the orphan who had no helper. Job’s fellow citizens paid attention to his words because he made the widow’s heart sing for joy, he was eyes to the blind, feet to the lame, and a father to the needy. Job’s kind deeds of mercy gave credibility to his message.
The lost won’t believe we care for their spirits until they first see we care for their bodies. The message of Jesus is not a priority to earthbound creatures. Talk of Jesus and Heaven is easier to hear when self and Earth are made more tolerable.
Never be content with telling truths to people’s spirits, while bodies waste away with disease and hunger, and hearts writhe with anguish. Give bread to the hungry as well as Bibles to the lost. Give soulwinning tracts, also teach people how to read. Talk to the poor, also plead their cause, help relieve their oppression.
Directives sent down from a sequestered castle of asceticism and piety do not become us. Debates of philosophy accomplish little apart from deeds of philanthropy. As we first approach a lost and dying world, we must initially come on more as secular benefactors and less as theological belligerents (David Thomas).
A good illustration of this is the success of modern missions. People are coming to Christ at a rate faster than at any time before. Never has Christianity’s growth been as explosive as it is now. Much of this success is due to missionaries more and more seeing the need to use kindness and deeds of mercy as credentials to reinforce their message. They rivet attention to their words by their skill in caring for the old, treating disease, teaching effective agricultural methods and English as a second language, opening orphanages, helping women, and holding the hand of the dying. No wonder the world is hearing their message loud and clear.
We here at Second Baptist are learning the lesson of our text. In India I sat in a folding chair and won over a hundred people to Jesus. They listened to me because about fifteen feet away and five minutes earlier Kevin and Kristy McCall had lovingly touched their sick bodies. We were recently able to share the Gospel clearly because our folks were asked why they were giving books and teddy bears to needy children. If we will continue pounding on every obstacle of pain, every barrier of grief, and every hurdle of hurt, we will eventually see walls of resistance come crashing down, and over the rubble we will say, and be heard clearly, “Jesus loves you. He wants to forgive your sins and live in your heart.” Lest we be accused of having adopted a Social Gospel, we hasten to the next phrase in our text.
Matt. 10:8c “. . .cast out devils:. . .”
While meeting people’s earthly needs, pray for spiritual victory over demons in their lives. Christ in us gives us authority to assault and attack works of Satan, to knock down evil spiritual walls. The Twelve, through their spiritual victories, gave ultimate proof the kingdom people had long yearned for had arrived.
This text reminds us our ultimate objective in dealing with the lost is a spiritual one. A society is not radically changed by physical and environmental improvements. These matter, but rarely affect a significant change in people’s lives.
Mankind’s only hope is the transforming message of Jesus, for He alone can enter the heart and change one’s nature. Everyone’s deepest need is a new heart, not a new environment. Adam and Eve sinned in a Garden, not a ghetto, in a paradise, not a prison. The problem was their heart, not their location or circumstance.
People still long for the social changes Christ’s kingdom first brought about. The lost want to embrace virtues Christ introduced, for example, compassion for women, children, the downtrodden, poor, sick, and elderly, but seek to establish them with human institutions apart from embracing Jesus. All such efforts end in failure. The only way to sustain Christ’s virtues is Christ living in people’s hearts.
Look objectively at our world. Where are women and children most oppressed, human beings deemed of no higher value than animals, most dictatorships and repressive governments, freedom most scarce, the least compassion shown for the weak, the highest illiteracy rates, least interest shown in education, the healing arts least valued? The answer to all is simple to state: in places least exposed to Christ’s teachings. Even in places where Christianity is waning, all advances in these areas are “the residual fruit of Christian influence on society” (MacArthur).
In a world eaten up with selfishness, Christ’s kingdom brought a breath of fresh air. For the first time, a kingdom was set up to minister to woes and hurts of needy humanity accomplished by Christ spiritually changing people into sons and daughters of God. Christ’s kingdom is still the only one that can better our world.
People want the benefits of the kingdom without the King. It doesn’t work that way. Only King Jesus can bring the kingdom. All other efforts at Utopia are doomed to fail miserably. If you seek to establish a better world apart from Christ, “break loose from your enchanted world” (Rothe), get a grip on reality. Give your energies to His cause, for it alone works and makes a real, everlasting difference.