If you’ve been reading leadership or management journals, you know
that a real trend in the past several years has been for every
organization — whether business or ministry — to issue a Mission
Statement, a succinct description of its vision or mission.
Jesus’ Mission Statement in the first message He preached in Nazareth
when He said, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He hath anointed Me to
preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the
brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering
of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To
preach the acceptable year of the Lord.’ Isaiah 61:1-2
In his excellent work, The Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah,
Alfred Edersheim makes a strong case that the year Jesus began His
public ministry was the Year of Jubilee, a year of celebration and
liberation when all debts were cancelled, all slaves set free. If this
be the case, Jesus’ message would be especially fitting, for He was
about to set people free from religious domination as well.
read from the Book of Isaiah the prophecy concerning Himself, there
were 613 commandments which the Pharisees had determined were embedded
in the Scriptures. Consequently, those who heard His words struggled
under a heavy burden of what they were told constituted true religion
and holiness. No wonder, then, that they marveled at the gracious
words Jesus spoke to them (Luke 4:22).
But as He continued speaking to
them of their need for Him, their marvel turned to wrath. ‘How dare He
give a word of correction to us?’ they asked. ‘We know Him. He grew up
here. This is just Joseph’s boy.’ Jesus caught these people off guard
because quite possibly there were boys in the town who were much
better candidates to be Messiah than He. After all, the other boys
wore phylacteries — boxes worn on the forehead or around their wrists
which contained Deuteronomy 6:8. Jesus, evidently, never did (Matthew
Because I like to take my Bible with me wherever I go,
phylacteries seem like a good idea. Obviously, the scrolls were too
big and bulky to carry about, so phylacteries would seem to be a
wonderful way to express the importance of the Word of God. I’m sure I
would have spotted the guys wearing their phylacteries faithfully and
said, ‘There are our leaders, right there.’ But that’s because I’m a
closet Pharisee. I’m impressed with signs of spirituality —
phylacteries, prayer shawls, broad borders, and all the rest.
however, models something entirely different. As they watched Him grow
up, the people in His hometown didn’t say of Him, ‘Now there’s a
spiritual young man.’ No, they wanted to kill Him (Luke 4:29). You
wouldn’t want to kill a man you thought was qualified to be Messiah.
Not only did Jesus not carry a Bible, but He evidently never gave a
formal Bible study to His disciples. I look for every opportunity to
hold a formal or an informal Bible study. That’s what the Pharisees
did too. Endlessly. They unrolled the scrolls. They had discussions.
They prodded and pontificated. But although Jesus knew the Word better
than all of them by the age of 12 (Luke 2:47), His approach to
spiritual life and Bible study was entirely different.
Jesus was able to move about without a big Bible in hand, impressing
people with His knowledge, He was able to do incarnational ministry
which was completely non-intimidating — as when He would derive a
succinct lesson on spiritual life simply from seeing a man casting
seed into a field (Luke 8:5).
I am anything but succinct. I don’t make
my points quickly. I love to go on and on. Jesus did just the
opposite. When Thomas was doubting, Jesus didn’t say, ‘Let Me give you
five reasons why the Resurrection is true, fifteen Old Testament
prophecies which shed light on what is happening before you.’ No, He
simply said, ‘Touch My wounds,’ (John 20:27).
It’s not that He didn’t
know the prophecies. It’s not that He didn’t have a grasp on
Scripture. But it’s as though He had distilled them to the point where
the people He cared about could be effectively reached without being
intimidated by His knowledge. His was an incarnational ministry which
Nonetheless, I find myself asking, ‘Couldn’t You have given
some Bible studies to Your disciples and recorded them in the Word
which we could use as a model for how Scripture is to be taught?’ Oh,
Jesus did this on one occasion — on the road To Emmaus. But, being
that this is the only time such teaching is recorded, it was the
singular exception rather than the rule — and even then, it was given
to two individuals who were outside of His inner circle of 12.
only do we find an absence of recorded Bible study in the Word, but
there is not one recorded instance in the New Testament where Jesus
prayed with His disciples, not one recorded instance when He gathered
His boys around a fire and said, ‘Let’s spend some time in prayer,’
not one time where He said to His disciples, ‘It’s a great night. Look
at the stars above. Let’s talk to the Father together.’
a year and a half, His disciples said, ‘Lord teach us to pray. John
does. The Pharisees do.’ Indeed the Pharisees did pray in the parking
lot, on the street corner, in the marketplace, they loved to give long
prayers. I like that. That’s spirituality. That’s holiness. If I were
Jesus, I would have taught on prayer, given seminars on prayer, called
special prayer meetings.
But what did Jesus do? In response to His
disciples’ request to teach them to pray, He not only repeated the
simple prayer He had taught them a year and a half earlier in the
Sermon on the Mount, but He shortened it by five words.
disciples knew prayer was the foundation of His ministry. Seeing Him
slip away before the break of day morning by morning (Isaiah 50), they
knew He was a man of passionate prayer. And yet He didn’t necessarily
pray with them. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, He said, ‘You stay
here while I go and pray,’ (Matthew 26:36).
Why? I suggest it was
because, although prayer is a glorious privilege, it can also be very
intimidating to people. Whenever I tell the congregation to break into
groups for conversational prayer, I can feel the tension which fills
the room. Evidently, Jesus was so kind, so gracious, so loving that He
would not put that kind of trip on anyone. I like to pray with people
— but when was the last time I spent all night alone in prayer? Jesus
reversed the entire order. He talked about a prayer closet, about
praying in secret, as if to say, ‘Forget the outward expression
because it intimidates people. They’re burdened by your seeming
spirituality, but I came to set them free.’
As a result, common people heard Him gladly (Mark 12:37). They were
drawn to Him like moths to a flame not because He was well groomed or
well-attired (Isaiah 53:2), but because there was evidently something
in His eyes which welcomed them, something in His voice which warmed
them. I’m ashamed to admit that I look for guys who are sharp in
appearance as leadership material. The Pharisees did too. The
best-dressed men of their day, they came across as very polished and
sophisticated. But they also came across as stern and unapproachable.
Not Jesus. So easy was He to be with that for His inaugural miracle,
He made wine for a wedding party. History tells us that in Jesus’ day,
when a baby girl was born into the family, her father would annually
make a batch of wine for himself and one for his daughter’s marriage
celebration. Therefore, if the bride at Cana was fifteen or sixteen,
there would have been presented to the happy couple 16 years’ worth of
wine. But after drinking all 16 years’ worth, the wedding party in
Cana ran out of wine.
So what did Jesus do? Did He give them a lecture
on the danger of overindulgence? Did He make a bottle or two? No, He
made 180 gallons (John 2:6). If I were Jesus, I would have kicked off
my public ministry with a nice healing miracle, or by bringing someone
back from the dead.
Instead, Jesus said, ‘Here’s a little bride and
groom who are embarrassed. I want to help them.’ He gave no teaching;
He got no glory. He simply provided wine with no strings attached. In
fact, in studying His miracles, very rarely do we see Jesus make
application to the people He touched or healed or helped. With the
exception of a couple occasions, no tract was given out, no teaching
‘Sell your goods and follow Me,’ He said to the rich young ruler,’
(Matthew 19:21). But when he couldn’t do this, Jesus didn’t say,
‘Let’s get together for coffee and rethink your decision. I want to
take you through Ecclesiastes and explain to you the emptiness of
riches.’ No, He simply let His invitation stand.
I’m intrigued by the
Reformers. Reformers are intense, single-minded, committed. Yet the
fire in their eyes, and the determination on their faces can cause
people to be intimidated, to back away, to feel bad. Reformers can be
uptight. Not Jesus. Why? He trusted the Father, that in due time the
rich young ruler would see the truth of His words, the depth of His
love and come back.
Even when He cleansed the Temple, John makes it
clear the scourge Jesus made was a small scourge and that He took care
to protect the doves (2:15-16). There’s never any panic or frenzy seen
in Jesus. Rather, He moved with serenity, certainty, tranquility.
result, although He was referred to as a glutton, a winebibber, and
the friend of sinners, no one ever accused Him of being too busy.
‘Master, all men seek for You in Capernaum. That’s the hot spot of the
northern region, the epicenter of the area outside of Jerusalem. What
an invitation!’ But what did Jesus say? ‘For this reason came I
forth,’ — not from heaven but from His morning prayer time — ‘to go to
a little un-walled village to talk to the villagers there. And that
will about do it for today,’ (Mark 1:38).
Jesus cared about one thing: His Father’s will.
That’s all. That is how He was able to move around with serenity,
focus, and a complete lack of busyness. ‘My burden is easy and My load
is light,’ He said (Matthew 11:30). And He lived this out in such a
way that no one ever once suggested or implied He was busy.
Jesus truly breaks the mold of what we perceive holiness and
spirituality to be. Although we think this is seen in the fact that He
hung around publicans and sinners, I believe it is seen more clearly
in the fact that He dined with Pharisees. To be sure, He spoke harshly
to the Pharisees because He knew that’s what it would take to get
through to those about whom He genuinely cared. But when they invited
Him to their gatherings, He went.
You see, at the home of Simon, Jesus
ministered to the Pharisee and prostitute alike (Luke 7:36-39). We
understand so little of this. How easy it is for church congregations
to say, ‘We want more young people. What can we do to be more youthful
and vibrant?’ Or, ‘We need some tithers. How can we appeal to the
older set?’ Or, ‘We want hippies. We want to do the Jesus Movement
thing.’ Or, ‘We want to reach yuppies. That’s what is current.’ Or,
‘We want to be inter-racial. We want our Fellowship to be one about
which visitors say, ‘Wow, the people in your church are varied and
Jesus was completely not interested in this. Pharisee,
prostitute, woman, man, old, young — He loved anyone and everyone the
Father sent His way.
‘Master, we saw Your disciples picking wheat on
the Sabbath Day. This ought not be,’ (Matthew 12:2-4). ‘Have you not
read of David stealing the showbread from the Temple in order to feed
his men?’ Jesus asked, as if to say, ‘There are laws and there is
love. But when love and the law collide, love always has precedence.’
A mother in one of our services was called to the nursery to take care
of her baby. But because she forgot to take her nursery identification
with her, the nursery staff understandably wouldn’t let her have her
baby. ‘I’ll get my card,’ she said. But when she returned to the
amphitheatre to get it, she was stopped by the deacons who were doing
their job to keep disturbances at a minimum. So she was stuck.
Everyone was doing his job. Everyone was following the rules, but a
woman was crushed in the process.
I like rules, parameters. I like
everything in place. But Jesus said, ‘There’s something a whole bunch
more important than rules. It’s people.’
Jesus dealt with the woman at
the well without ever directly dealing with the issue of her living
with a man who was not her husband. If I were Jesus, I would have made
sure she understood the importance of getting out of that
relationship, of making things right. But in recording the story, the
Holy Spirit seems to say to any who question this, ’That’s none of
your business. You don’t need to know whether Jesus dealt directly
with that issue or not.’
Could this be because, knowing this woman had
had five husbands and was living with a man to whom she was not
married, she would have obviously been branded as an immoral woman
whose only option to survive financially was through prostitution?
Could it be that Jesus was saying, ‘What the religious are concerned
about, I’m not all that concerned about. And what the religious aren’t
concerned about, namely love, concerns me to the utmost’?
anointed to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted,
to preach deliverance to the captives, to give sight to the blind, and
to set at liberty those who are bruised,’ Jesus said in the most
magnificent Mission Statement ever conceived. And He fulfilled it
perfectly, exquisitely, completely.
Jesus blows apart every idea I
have about spirituality and ministry. And in so doing He sets us all
free from the burdens and baggage of grumpiness and condemnation, of
fear and intimidation.
Revisit Jesus — this laid-back Lover of people
Whose intensity was private and personal, Who didn’t put pressure on
Re-acquaint yourself with the Friend of sinners, the Man Who
spoke gracious words continually, Who healed unconditionally, Who
loved sacrificially — for although He is unrecognized by most
religious people, He alone defines true holiness.