The Messengers - Part 1Posted: Fri. Jun, 24 2016
The Messengers - Part 1
About ten to fifteen years ago, where in that time span I can't remember, I purchased Dietrich Bonhoeffer's books on the spiritual life. I did this because I had just finished the biography that Eric Metaxas had done on Bonhoeffer and I was fascinated by his life and his work in the scripture. So I started reading "The Cost of Discipleship" and after a few chapters I put it away. I really thought it was legalistic. I thought Dietrich was going too far. I have found out in the last few months that I just wasn't ready for it. It was simply too mature for me at the time.
God is so funny, isn't He? Not too long ago a member of the congregation pointed to the same book saying how good it was. And so, I picked it up the next day and started reading. I can't get enough of it. His insight into the meaning of the scriptures in the few passages that he investigates is genius. He does not water down or marginalize any part of it. This is why a reader has to be ready for it. It will look harsh to the believer who is still searching for a way to mix the spiritual life with the world or the flesh, and yes, that is exactly what I was searching for and never found. I've stopped looking for such a compromise because I am convinced that it doesn't exist.
His insight into the sermon on the mount is scintillating and yet simple, just like Jesus' sermon. It goes right to the jugular of the old man and quickens the heartbeat of the new man. It inspired me to summarize it in a book of my own so that the people in our community, who will hopefully read it, will understand what the upward call of Christ is. Watered down Christianity, devoid of grace and power, is in every community throughout this great nation and the world, and although it eases the mind held by the flesh, it does nothing to empower or even excite Christians to live the Christ life. Watered down Christianity is an anesthetic and nothing else. All things that the ambassador of Christ does must be done exactly as our Lord would have it, and it is never to be interlaced with our human ideas and especially our ambition and zeal. Our zeal is to be for the Lord and this will set us on our proper footing. Our zeal is not even to be for mankind. Satan has that. Our love of the Lord is to be far above of anything or anyone else. When this is so we will love mankind properly and never put him above the command of the Lord. So, in light of this, I decided to summarize Bonhoeffer's writing about MAT 9:35-10:42 since it is wonderful and also as it follows my last blog nicely. It will take several articles to finish it. It is discussed in chapters 21 - 25 in Cost of Discipleship.
I highly recommend that you read through this book for yourself, but be sure that you are ready - yet I wouldn't let that stop me from getting it and reading it. If you don't like it, put it down and wait some time before you pick it up again. But don't wait too long - the great final harvest is coming. As with many books, I wouldn't say that I agree with every line he writes, but maybe that is my current immaturity, and the disagreements are few. I've had to read certain paragraphs and pages over and over until I understood what he was attempting to say and in every case my labor was greatly rewarded. As with anything, I encourage spirited and gentle debate about anything you may come across, especially if it is something I have recommended. Gentle… not arguing; remember … I'm growing right along with you.
MAT 9:35-38 And Jesus was going about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. And seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. "Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest."
Christ never desired to form a special society for a chosen few. He never desired to make a secret sect, made up of His few disciples, away from the public eye, where only His way of life was practiced. We actually see such a thing formed early in the church through monasticism and subsequently in the various cults that have arisen that claim to be Christian - the ones where you have to be one of them in order to be included in their services and events. Christ shrank from such cliques, and came to search for, suffer for, and die for - all. To the contrary, the disciples had a tendency to keep Jesus for themselves, as they showed when they tried to shoo away the little children who were brought to Him or when they were bothered by beggars.
MAR 10:13-14 And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, "Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
MAR 10:47-48 And when he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" And many were sternly telling him to be quiet.
Jesus could not be controlled. He came for all - period, and He would reach out to all and not just the ones that others deemed appropriate or not bothersome. When He sees the crowd distressed and downcast because they don't have a shepherd, His heart fills with compassion. The Great Shepherd takes His stand against the separatists and opens His fold to the multitude. To whom does His healing belong if not the sick, and His comfort if not to those who are distressed? The so-called great teachers of Israel had failed to minister to them. It wasn't poverty or famine or drought or even the Romans who had done this to them, but it was the men who were entrusted with the word of God who bore the guilt of their emptiness. The word of God in their possession contained the prophecies and the promises of the Son of David who would fully deliver them, but this was not emphasized in their synagogues and schools. The teachers of Israel only piled more burdens upon their people.
The scribes herded these sheep into their schools and from the Law they sternly condemned them, but they did not lift one finger to help them by teaching them about the grace that was sure to come to them when God would wash away all their sins and fill their hearts with joy. Rather, these terrible shepherds kept taking from the sheep without providing any sustenance or protection for their weary, sin-laden souls. They denounced and rebuked the sheep for sins while doing the same things themselves, and worse, behind closed doors. Where was the compassion and promise that these injured people needed? It was only found in the One who had divine pity on them.
Christ would not be on earth for much longer and of course He knew this. He would be the forerunner Great Shepherd and He would begin the task of leading the people, but in His absence He needed good shepherds to continue the work. Like Him, they were not to form their own exclusive coterie, but to reach out to all.
JOH 21:15-17 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My lambs." He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Shepherd My sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Tend My sheep."
When our Lord sees the lost sheep of Israel He immediately thinks of the need for shepherds and He looks upon His disciples around Him. It would fall to them, and others who would come after them who would believe their word, to continue the work that He would begin. They certainly didn't look like much that day as they gathered on the Galilean countryside, but Jesus knew better. They would do just fine, but still He entreats them to pray that the Father send good shepherds. This prayer has a subtle humility to it. If they were to pray for the Lord to send good shepherds then it might not be them that the Lord sends. He didn't ask them to pray that they might be good shepherds. This is just the attitude they must have. It is not the attitude that they currently have, which is abundantly clear from the gospel narratives, but they will, and the answer to this prayer will indeed be found in them. Like Jesus, they will also depart the earth, leaving the flock behind, so this prayer also refers to those who would come after them, right to the present day. The lost sheep of today are just as distressed and downcast as they were then.
When Jesus looks at this crowd, instead of seeing a failed crop, He sees a great harvest. "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few." The scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees had not been tending the field, but no matter, the Lord of the harvest is here and He will not leave them destitute, but the workers are few. The disciples are bothered by such crowds and want to get Jesus away for themselves. The Lord is the only one looking on them with compassion. There must be workers who share His vision and the love in His heart. It is sad that there are few who do look at the world through the same eyes as Him, but in every generation, including this one, there is always a remnant who do see as He sees and their hearts are filled with love and compassion concerning the lost, but not only this, like the Lord, they are willing to do something about it when the Lord calls them to.
Right away we see the strength and the weakness of the gospel. Its strength is in its saving power and its weakness is in its respect for the free-will of man. For those who reject it, it cannot help them, but to those who are saved, it is equal with the very omnipotence of God. In the grand design of God, Jesus cannot Shepherd the flock alone. We know that He could if He was called to, but He wasn't - more workers have been called. No worker calls himself. We do not ever take upon this work by our own initiative. And even after we are called, we never dare operate through our own initiative, but only by His will.
"Jesus is looking for help, for he cannot do the work alone. Who will come forward to help him and work with him? Only God knows, and he must give them to his Son. No man dare presume to come forward and offer himself on his own initiative, not even the disciples themselves. Their duty is to pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers at the right moment, for the time is ripe." [D. Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, p. 203]
Pastor Joe Sugrue
Grace and Truth Ministries