Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
A great church makes a great commitment to the great commandment and the great commission. For believers, there’s only one first right thing–to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind (MT 22:37-38). Healthy churches also love people, a lesson we learn by looking at the second part of the great commandment.
Matt. 22:39-40 “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor
as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
This message rises from a day in the life of Jesus, the One who commanded us to love our neighbors. Capernaum was His hometown, the center from which He launched the many short-term mission trips He went on. To remind us God’s mission begins at home, Jesus one day gave an indescribably wonderful gift to His hometown. It was the end of a remarkable Sabbath Day (MT 8:16; MK 1:21) in Capernaum, His hometown. At the synagogue, Jesus had taught the people and healed a demoniac (LK 4:35). At Peter’s house, Jesus had healed a mother-in-law.
As this amazing Sabbath Day wore on, news of Jesus’ healing power spread like wildfire through Capernaum, but its citizens were frustrated and restrained. Healing on a Sabbath was illegal, for it was a day of rest, and healing made God work. Thus, the sick who lived near Peter’s house waited. It was illegal to travel more than some two-thirds of a mile on a Sabbath. Thus, the sick who lived on the outskirts of town waited. It was unlawful to carry a load on a Sabbath; people were not allowed to carry a sick person on a stretcher or in their arms or on their shoulder. Thus, caregivers sat by sick loved ones and waited.
There being no clocks, to make sure no one fudged and infringed on the end of a Sabbath Day, Jewish law ruled the Sabbath was not officially over until three stars could be seen in the sky. As Saturday afternoon drew to a close, sick people and their care givers all over Capernaum were whispering, “Do you see a star yet?” “Are there two?” “Tell me when you see a third.” Then suddenly it happened, a third star was seen, and the greatest day in Capernaum’s history began. I call it Hospital Sunday, Jesus’ gift to His hometown.
A wife took her blind husband by the hand, they started walking. A father motioned to his deaf daughter, beckoning her to follow. A mother picked up her crippled son, and straining under the load, began running with all her might to Peter’s house. Once star number three appeared, there was no restraining people’s desperation. An eerie impulse directed a tidal wave of sickness toward Peter’s house. On Hospital Sunday, Peter’s house became an emergency room, streets became hospital hallways, sidewalks hospital wards, and pallets hospital beds.
Jesus received them every one, healed them all, loved them all. Had Herod, Caesar, or Caiaphas been at Peter’s house, only the noble, rich, religious and strong would have dared come, but since Jesus was present, the sick, hurting, and weak felt welcome to come. Our Master defined by His life who our neighbor is, every living, breathing human being within the orb of our lives and influence.
Jesus ministered not only to favorites or a few select, refined, saintly souls. He did good everywhere everyday to everyone. To each, He carried His own sunshine and Springtime. Jesus was wonderful and the people knew it (Ivor Powell). In Him unselfishness climaxed. His life will forever remain the highest ideal of pure benevolence. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors, to be kind to everyone every way we can. Jesus healed and helped all. Thus, we should, too.
A word of caution–in our kindness, beware two extremes. First, avoid healing and helping in ways that give Jesus no credit at all. He should somehow be acknowledged as the Source of our love. We are to give a cup of cold water, in Jesus’ name. Without being ostentatious, find subtle, creative ways (e.g. jewelry, slogans on caps and shirts, wall-hangings, Bible on our desk, etc.) to let it be known we are doing the kindness as an echo of Jesus’ kindness to us, and a conduit of His kindness through us. Don’t rob Jesus of recognition He deserves.
Second, avoid healing and helping solely to convert prechristians. Our sole motivation must never be another notch in our tomahawk. The human body was created to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the body is in and of itself precious and sacred. It should be cared for, if for no other reason than this, that it is made to be indwelt by the Holy, whether the Holy One is present or not. Our Master healed the ear of the High Priest’s servant (LK 22:51), knowing the High Priest would not become a believer. Jesus died for all, knowing most would reject Him.
Our Master was concerned not only for people’s spiritual well-being. He cared about the whole person–spiritual, financial, emotional, physical, relational. Every need a person can possibly have, Jesus cares about it.
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.
He sends us, His followers, to engage in a battle against pain. We are to engage in a practical conflict, opposing all sufferings and maladies of humanity.
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 proving with their deeds that what we say about the love of God for people truly is genuine.
Never be content with telling truths to people’s spirits, while bodies waste away with disease and hunger, and hearts writhe with anguish. William Booth said, when you preach a sermon to the poor, wrap it in a sandwich. 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. 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, opening orphanages, helping women, and holding the hand of the dying. No wonder the world is hearing their message loud and clear.
If we will pound 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.” A healthy church will always place value on all deeds of mercy, and be looking for assorted ways to help others.
Churches don’t do this automatically. Loving our neighbors is not for the flippant. Following Christ in ministering to others requires a deep-seated, serious, and somber understanding of the ruined lostness and real hurts of humanity.
How we view the crawling, stinking swarm of humanity, the masses of people who are our neighbors, will determine whether or not our church will be healthy in obeying this second command. What we see will affect how we respond. Our Master was moved with compassion. We had best be, too.
When we look at the multitudes, what we see tells us more about ourselves than about the crowd. Some view people with apathy. “Who cares? Whatever.” All sense of feeling died long ago. This tells us the onlookers’ hearts are callused.
Some look with contempt. “Leave people to their just desserts. Let them reap what they sow. They made their own bed hard, let them sleep on it.” This perspective tells us the observers’ hearts are filled with pompous pride. If we respond to prechristians with contempt, a red flag should go up, and bells and whistles should start sounding out a signal of alarm, for it means we are thinking of the lost not as being needy of salvation, but as needing to act worthy of salvation.
Some view the masses with anger. “People need to get a grip and straighten up.” Will we ever cease being mad at lost people for acting like lost people? We are talking about people who from infancy are taught to look inward for strength, people who turned out by the thousands for a prayer meeting led by Oprah. Pity them. Being angry at them tells us our hearts are filled with unchristlike rancor.
Some look with despair. “It’s hopeless, we might as well give up, the job is too daunting.” This is the vantage point I struggle with most. Sometimes I look, and the gaze almost crushes me. This tells us our hearts are faint, faith is waning.
All these vantage points are skewed. Jesus taught us the proper way to look at the masses. No apathy, no contempt, no anger, no despair–just compassion. Jesus saw the crowds, and felt an ache in His gut. Pondering their plight, passion burned into His body. Jesus absorbed people’s hurt into Himself. Jesus suffered their suffering. The cross existed in Jesus’ heart before it was erected on Calvary.
On Hospital Sunday, Matthew (8:17a) saw a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prediction, “Himself took our infirmities.” Rather than emphasize the gladness of the healed, Matthew highlighted the sadness of the Healer. It was the Apostle’s way of stating the cost of loving neighbors. “Christ in some real sense endured the loads He removed” (Maclaren). Scripture never says Jesus laughed out loud. Life was serious to Him. This is not to say He was morose or morbid. Rather, understanding the enormity of people’s pain, He let their hurt inconvenience His heart.
Christian ministry holds little value apart from sacrifice, taking up one’s own cross to follow Jesus’ example. At huge cost to Himself, Jesus helped others.
This remarkable Capernaum event took place after sunset, at the end of a busy, exhausting day. It was night, time to rest, but Jesus could not turn away hurting people. In His estimation, opportunities to help were obligations to help.
I more and more feel personally and professionally responsible for every hurt in our city of Springfield. A conviction haunts me. Second Baptist can help, therefore we must help. T. O. Spicer, successful Director of Missions for many years, said he never said an immediate no to any request. He claims he always took one step toward yes and then left it to God to close the door if He chose to.
With every nook and cranny around Peter’s house filled with misery, Jesus could do nothing but deny Himself and help. With tears of compassion in His own tired eyes He opened blind eyes. In mercy He used His weary hands to touch and heal withered hands. With love He walked on His fatigued feet to enable a cripple to walk. With concern He bent His aching back to heal the backs of others.
Out of one person’s crucible of sacrifice often comes another person’s cup of joy. Because Jesus was willing to be inconvenienced, a whole city was blessed. On Hospital Sunday in Capernaum, moans and groans and pleadings dominated the early evening, but waned in the night, being displaced by rejoicing and shouting which became louder and louder. Finally, by morning, mourning was gone and laughing had taken over. Maybe no town in history had been as happy as Capernaum was this Sunday morning. Maybe no person in history had been as tired as Jesus was this Sunday morning. To be a blessing always costs. Thus this virtue must be reinforced over and over again, and will be in healthy churches.