“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2)
In his classic work entitled simply Prayer O. Hallesby reflects upon this command of Christ:
“As far as I am able to understand the Word of God, and as far as I can learn from the history of the kingdom of God, no prayer-task is more important than this. If the right people get into the right places, there is almost no end to what they can do. … John the Baptist is introduced in the Bible in the following words, ‘There came a man, sent from God’ (John 1:6). Then something always happens, regardless of whether the person concerned is highly gifted or not.” (p.73, emphasis added)
The Hebrew Psalmist, reflecting upon the destruction of Jerusalem, prayed: “Remember, LORD, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. ‘Tear it down,’ they cried, ‘tear it down to its foundations!’ Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” (Psalm 137:7-9)
William Willimon tells of a rabbi friend who once confided to him that he admired most of what Jesus said and did, but that he found His first words from the cross “most offensive, lamentable, and reprehensible” Why? “We’ve had enough Jews crucified by gentiles. We don’t need any more Jews forgiving gentiles for killing Jews.” (p.11, Thank God It’s Friday)
Elie Wiesel, the renown professor, author, human rights activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor was asked to offer prayer at the official events commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and Birkenau. He prayed, “God of forgiveness, do not forgive those who created this place. God of mercy, have no mercy on those who killed Jewish children here. Do not forgive the murderers or their accomplices whose work was to kill. . . . Remember the nocturnal processions of children, so many children, all so wise, so frightened, so beautiful. . . . God of compassion, have no compassion for those who had none.” (p.194, And the Sea is Never Full)
We can all be thankful that it is in the divine nature to be more gracious.
Hanging on the cross, Jesus Christ prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
“And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:36-38)
“He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him”—that is the Apostle John’s commentary on the coming of Jesus Christ to earth. Do you think you would have recognized Jesus for who He was? What if He showed up (physically) this Sunday at church, would you recognize Him? The aged Anna looked upon the 40 day old Jesus and recognized Him as the promised Messiah. What does it take to live a life that recognizes Jesus?
Anna shows us that the one that recognizes Jesus is someone who is keeping life in perspective (vv.36-37a). Whether she was 84 years old (as most of our modern translations take it) or lived for 84 years after she was widowed (which would really qualify her for an AARP discount!), Anna was elderly. In the span of those years her nation and the land of Israel has seen many tumultuous changes. She had obviously survived some personal tragedies, not the least of which was the death of her husband. Yet in the midst of all that chaos and personal pain God enabled her to maintain a personal perspective on what really matters—a perspective that readied her eyes to see Christ when He came.
Anna also show us that the one who recognizes Jesus is someone who has put God in preeminence. “She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers” (v.37b). Is your heart consumed with the things that are upon God’s heart? Do you hurt over what hurts Him and rejoice over what brings Him joy? Anna determined to be in constant communication with God. “Pray without ceasing” (I Thess. 5:17). That doesn’t mean you need to constantly be in church, but you do need to be in constant, conscious communion with Him.
Anna also shows us that the one who recognizes Jesus is someone through whom Christ is proclaimed. She “began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (v.38b). After all she had survived as a citizen, after all she had experienced as a wife and widow, after all she had endured as a worshiper of God—meeting Jesus was enough to produce gratitude in her heart. Not a momentary “thanks,” but a continual bubbling fountain of gratitude that compelled her to tell others of Jesus.
“What Child Is This?”
So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh, Come, peasant, king, to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings, Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise the song on high, The Virgin sings her lullaby:
Joy, joy, for Christ is born, The Babe, the Son of Mary!
“This is the gospel . . . of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” (Colossians 1:23, NIV)
We often speak of being servants of Christ, servants of God or even being servants of one another for Christ’s sake. But how often do we think of ourselves as servants of the gospel?
These words of Paul take my mind back to Luke’s words as he opens his Gospel. He spoke of men who were “servants of the word” (Luke 1:2).
What do servants do?
What they are told!
How do servants think?
As their master does!
How do servants spend their time?
In whatever way their master demands!
Ponder that again: servants of the gospel; servants of the word.
The gospel gives the orders. We rise and obey.
The gospel sends the signals. We watch, looking for our cues (“as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,” Psalm 123:2, ESV).
We jump at the gospel’s bidding.
The gospel is in charge.
The gospel determines.
The gospel issues assignments, tasks and duties.
The gospel determines where we live, how we live, under what conditions we live.
Aren’t those the things a master does?
Sounds strange, perhaps, to our American Christian ears. I wonder what would happen if we truly understood just how good the good news of the gospel really is? Perhaps we’d better understand the spiritual reflex of service which the gospel, rightly understood, woos from us.
Recent days have given us too many sad images of suffering under the hand of ruthless dictators and under the weight of natural disasters. Predictably we are left with many questions. The question that makes it to the surface most often is, “Where was God when all this went down?” or “Why would a loving God allow this to take place?”
Jesus actually spoke to suffering brought about by ruthless dictators and natural disasters. Luke writes about a time when, “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices” (Luke 13:1).
Clearly he is speaking of needless and unjust suffering (murder!) brought about by a despicable ruler.
Jesus’ answer? “And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (vv.2-3).
But don’t get hung up there, just yet. Jesus went on to raise the matter of suffering in what might have been a natural disaster: “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them …” (v.4a)
We have no word about just why the tower fell. Was it from an earthquake or tremor? Was it from faulty building materials? Was it from human error in the construction process? Was it something else? Was it simply what insurance companies would today call “an act of God”? We don’t know the cause. We do know the outcome—18 people died.
In the face of it, Jesus went on to ask, “… do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (vv.4b-5).
Again, the “Huh!?!” rises to the surface pretty quickly.
There is much to ponder here. But perhaps it tells us this much: The great wonder is not that bad things happen to “good people,” but that anything good happens to all us rebellious people.
Jesus teaches us that our natural starting point and orientation to life is inverted. We simply don’t naturally think about the events of life in a way that accords with reality. Naturally, we take as our starting point our own lives (or those of people we deem to be very much like us). We are oriented toward life from a human perspective. We’ve written God out of the script, except as a supporting actor—existing only for the advancement and blessing of us who are cast in the starring role. God is teaching us that the starting point for thinking in line with reality is Himself. God is the Star standing in at center stage upon whom the spotlight is to be fixed. We are cast in the supporting role, living and moving and having our being to honor Him and facilitate His Story as it unfolds in history. But, the Bible teaches us, we all (by inherited sinful nature and by chosen sinful acts/thoughts/words/attitudes/motives) have rebelled and demanded to the star of the show!
Jesus’ response is not uncaring. In fact He does not weigh in about the plight of the sufferers at all. He simply turns to the living and insists that we draw no conclusions about the wickedness of the dead, but rather to ask questions about the undeserved mercy we as the living have received … and to question how long that can continue if we persist in demanding God perform up to our expectations.
Ah, but you see, this exposes the very point Jesus’ is making, doesn’t it? We don’t see ourselves (or almost anyone else) as sinful and in rebellion against God. So we frame our questions incorrectly from the start: “Why do good people have to suffer like this?”
The real question, Jesus demands, is not: Why do some good people suffer? It is rather:
Why did this temporal disaster not befall me?
Why do some sinful people (like me) continue to find mercy?
And how long will this last?
And will they (I) avoid the final judgment coming upon all who persist in their rebellion and sin by turning in repentance to God through Jesus Christ?