The Apostles’ Mission

Man seeking kindness

When Jesus sent out the Twelve, he “gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:1, 2 ESV). This was no small feat for a group of fishermen, tax collectors, and otherwise ordinary people. Jesus could have sent them out to do just about anything, but he specifically sent them to heal diseases, cast out demons, and proclaim the kingdom of God.

Their mission to do this was Jesus’ mission: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18, 19). Jesus’ charge to his disciples did not arrive out of a vacuum. Rather, it was rooted in his own mission.

Like Jesus himself, he called his disciples to leave everything and rely completely upon God. They were commanded to not take anything extra with them. They were to rely on the goodwill of people. In doing so, they completely put their faith in God. God provides. God is the great healer. God calls his people to help other people, to feed, heal, and free others. This is why the crowds were always pressing in against Jesus. They were desperate for someone to heal them.

Jesus is no different today. There will always be oppression, hunger, and disease. And it’s up to us to care for one another. This is exactly in step with who Jesus is. His mission is our mission.

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God Heard Their Groaning

Crying out

Imagine being the victim of some senseless crime where the criminal injures you. You are constantly oppressed and there is no relief in sight. Then imagine someone who is supposed to protect you (say a parent or friend) just keep walking by without offering to help. Sadly, a lot of people have this view of God. They think he is off in the distance watching people suffer without offering any help.

But the Bible paints a very different picture. Remember, God is a God of revival. He rescues the oppressed, clothes the naked, feeds the hungry, and cares for the orphan and widow. Israel was under the yoke of brutal slavery in Egypt and they cried out to God. God heard their cries and he acted to rescue.

“During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning and God remembered his covenant. . . ” (Exodus 2:23-24 ESV).

When God’s people cry out to him, he is not idle. God doesn’t ignore the cries of his people. He responds and rescues. The Israelites’ cry was the beginning of the Exodus story.

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Out of Egypt I Called My Son

Jesus

The parallels between the Exodus story and Jesus’s birth and first years are not accidental. Throughout the Bible, and because of God’s throne of righteousness and justice, God cares for what philosopher and theologian Nicolas Wolterstorff dubs “the quartet of vulnerable.” Those include widows, orphans, aliens, and the impoverished. It’s no accident that Jesus was born extremely poor to an unmarried Jewish couple. They were outcasts and had to flee to Egypt to escape death.

King Herod wanted to see Jesus, under the pretense of worshiping him but presumably to kill him. The wise men tricked Herod and an angel warned Joseph to take the child and flee to Egypt. Matthew records: “And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son'” (Matthew 2:14-15 ESV).

This evoked the whole Egypt experience. Israel was living under oppression with a Pharaoh who wouldn’t let the Israelites go. The last plague required a sacrifice, a slain lambs’ blood to be painted over the door frame. Then God miraculously led the Israelites out of the foreign land of oppression into the Promised Land. God doesn’t just parallel these stories, Christ reenacts the whole Egypt experience.

People waited for the Messiah with anticipation. They longed to be healed. They longed to be freed. The vulnerable quartet of widows, orphans, aliens, and impoverished finally had a redeemer and protector-one who not only could save them, but one who also would.

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A Servant of Justice

servant songs

I’m continually blown away at the volume of messages I get from people crying out that their church covered up abuse. It never ceases to amaze me what lengths these “leaders” go to to keep the victims silenced. I’ve had several messages this week from people who showed me the evidence–women who were hospitalized from husbands beating them and others where churches had private meetings about how reporting child rape to authorities is a “liability” to the church, so they decide to keep it a secret from their church and not report to police. How people can paint Jesus as someone who is OK with this is a leap that would confound even the devil. No amount of twisting of scriptures can account for this poor theology.

We make mock God’s justice if we blend oppressors and the oppressed together. If we silence the cries of the abused and embrace the abuser, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26, 27).

The servant songs in Isaiah do not depict a helpless Savior who rolls over and plays nice with oppressors. Instead, in Isaiah 42:1-4 we find a warrior savior who is destined to bring forth swift justice for the poor and oppressed:

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice on the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice; or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.

Throughout Jesus’ life, the oppressed flocked to him and the oppressors hated him. This is consistent with the servant songs in Isaiah, with God’s foundation of righteousness and justice in Psalm 89:14, and with Jesus’ mission to proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to the captives, recovering sight to the blind, set at liberty those who are oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18, 19). Jesus’ compassion was reserved for the oppressed, not the oppressors. Matthew 9:36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

This was not a figure of speech. The people who cried out to Jesus really were harassed, and this drove his compassion. The religious leaders were relentless in their attacks. They wanted to silence the oppressed. They abandoned the poor. They were angry when Jesus healed people. Think about that for a moment. Imagine desperate people who, either they or their children had suffered for years, walking out of a hospital healed. Then imagine what it would take for people to become angry enough to march into the hospital and scold the doctors for healing them.

Jesus was a servant of justice. He brings forth justice because this is what love does. Love does not turn a blind eye to oppression and injustices. Love requires us to step in and protect. It requires us to call people to account who use force, coercion, and deception to get what they want. Yes, Jesus was a servant of justice. And this is good news to people who are desperate for help.

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