You have probably heard the unhappy ending of once-promising salvation stories similar to these:
"She was so close to having beaten cancer. Then, cruelly and suddenly, her immune system broke down on her. Just when we thought she was free of it, infection set in and took her life."
"I thought she was free of those old influences from school. Clearly, she wasn't. They drug her back. Now, she is lost to us, and I fear it's forever."
"He was so close to getting his meds regulated. Then without warning, things got away from him, and he simply couldn't stand it anymore. That's why, uh, you know, that he, uh... well, he just couldn't take it any longer!"
Despite our longing for happy endings, they don't occur all too frequently. I remember a precious family who had to live through such deep pain. Their son's funeral was one of the hardest I have ever done. He was a former drum major, an active part of a youth ministry, and a well-liked and respected kid. When he got mixed up in drugs, he never could quite get free. One morning, after a year of trying to break his addiction, he went to a park and overdosed. He was disappointed in himself and haunted by the look of frantic concern in the eyes of his parents. He was tired of putting himself and his family through the hell of his addictions.
One of the most precious stories in Jesus' ministry involved healing a man with leprosy (Mark 1:35-45). The first time I carefully and thoughtfully read this story, my eyes began to tear up with emotion. I was stunned by the tangible expression of Jesus' love for this man. He touched the man while the man was considered a leper. He didn't touch the man to heal him. Jesus touched the man to share in his uncleanness. The Lord wanted to break the isolation of the illness that imprisoned the man, so much so that he broke the law. Jesus touched this isolated man with leprosy to express the love of God to him in an unmistakable and tangible way. Through his personal human touch, Jesus also touched the man emotionally. Then, the Lord spoke and physically healed the man.
I cannot fathom what it cost the eternal and almighty God to become human in Jesus. But, he did become one of us. God entered the womb of a young, unmarried, Jewish woman, and became one of us (Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus touching this man with leprosy made the love behind that sacrifice of incarnation real for me. I love everything about the interchange between Jesus and the man. (See all the posts in this six-part series.) Well, I love almost everything, except the way the story ends.
The ending of this story sounds way too much like it's heading in the direction of all of those "almost, but not quite" situations I shared at the beginning of this post. The healing of the man with leprosy ends this way:
Jesus:"Don't tell anybody how this happened. Just go and show yourself to the priest so that he can certify you're clean. Perform the ceremony prescribed by Moses as proof of your cleansing, and then you may return home."
The man talked everywhere about how Jesus had healed him until Jesus could no longer come into a town openly without the risk of being mobbed. So He remained on the outskirts. Even so, people still sought Him out from far and wide (Mark 1:43-45).[VOICE]
Jesus wasn't content just to fix the physical problem. The Lord wanted to heal the whole person. He sought to address his spiritual, emotional, and social needs, along with his physical ones. For this man who once had leprosy to be reconnected with social life — including returning to a full life at home, in the synagogue, and in the marketplace — he needed to be pronounced clean by a priest. So Jesus' words to this man-made perfect sense. Jesus told the healed man to offer proof to the priest that Jesus had fully healed him.
The man thought he knew better. And who could blame him? He blatantly disobeyed. He did the opposite of keeping quiet and going to the priest. He went out and spread the news to everyone he met.
Didn't people need to know that Jesus was the healer?
Shouldn't the man brag about Jesus and all the extraordinary things that the Lord did in his life?
What could it hurt for the word to get out that Jesus was a miraculous healer?
Why bother with going to a priest to show he had been cured?
Didn't his body clearly demonstrate his healing?
So he didn't do what Jesus asked; in fact, he did the opposite. He disobeyed.
The result was that Jesus couldn't carry out the mission God gave him to do (Mark 1:35-39). Now, Jesus could no longer enter the cities and villages because everyone was looking for him as a healer, not as a Rabbi and certainly not as their Lord. The Father made sure Jesus accomplished his work despite these problems (Mark 1:45). However, the man's disobedience interfered with Jesus living out the will of the Father for his ministry.
By disobeying Jesus' command, the man also unwittingly pitted the priesthood against Jesus. Hid behaviors made Jesus appear to be circumventing the priests' assigned spiritual duties in the healing process. In an exuberance we all can understand, this freshly healed man disobeyed Jesus. He trusted his excitement instead of the command of the Lord. Rather than offering himself as proof to the priest, he showed disregard for the gracious touch of God that he had received from Jesus and the priests who had a God-ordained, but ghastly, task of examining and pronouncing those who were leprous and those who were not.
The book of Proverbs warns us against such a hasty and disobedient response:
There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death (Proverbs 14:12 NIV).
Enthusiasm without knowledge is no good; haste makes mistakes.
(Proverbs 19:2 NIV)
When we understand the grace of God given us in Jesus, our response needs to be obedience, not doing what we feel is best. Even when our intentions are good, part of a gracious and faithful response to God's grace is doing what he calls us to do.
Jesus was very clear about something that often gets overlooked today in our cheap approach to grace:
"Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"
(Matthew 7:21-23 NIV).
At first, these words may sound harsh. However, the Lord is at work for our full healing. Part of that healing of body, emotions, spirit, and relationships, also involves a response of obedience. Our obedience is proof that we know we have received grace and trust that the Lord's demand for our obedience is a call to bring us into even greater grace.
Doing the will of the Father has been, and always will be, the genuine proof that we are Jesus' disciples. Our obedience demonstrates that we have been set free to fully life in the grace Jesus wants to overflow in our lives. This principle is clearly out of tune with a religious world that has watered down the Lordship of Jesus to mean doing what we think is right in our hearts..
Then he [Jesus] looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3:35).We rejoice in the grace so lavishly given us in Jesus by obeying what he told us to do!To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32).
The Lord wants us to break free of all that entangles our lives so that we can live freely and powerfully in the grace he supplies. He asks us to trust him. Yes, to trust him not just for our salvation, but for our moral choices, our behavior in relationships, and our approach to matters of faith. Our obedience is proof that our faith is genuine, and our appreciation of grace is real.
Finding Jesus' Heart for Ministry Series: