Barak Obama swept to power in a wave of euphoric support in January 2009. The first black American president. His powerful speeches were reminiscent of Martin Luther King Jr, and he rev’ed up audiences into a frenzy. And the voting public LOVED it.
America, if they’d ever doubted themselves, BELIEVED again. Hopes were unrealistically high. With Obama leading the way, they could defeat the global downturn in the economy, and the war on terror. They could address social inequality, racism, environmental concerns, and unemployment.
But nearly two years later, a cold hard dose of reality has set in. The global financial crisis hit hard, the war on terror is still limping along. Obama’s struggled to make on impact on the economy, on unemployment, and to find bipartisan support for his affordable health care package.
The US has just held mid presidential term elections. And Obama’s suffered a voter backlash. People from both sides of the political fence who aren’t happy with his performance. He came to power with everyone hoping for miracles. And, perhaps not surprisingly, he’s not living up to their high expectations.
And it’s the same sort of expectations we find alive and well in 1st century Israel in the time of Jesus. Jews looking for a Saviour. A God-appointed Messiah who’ll sweep in and fix up all their problems, who’d bring health care, and prosperity. Who’d bring unity, and who’d deal with the terror threat of the Romans.
The promises were all there in the writings of the prophets. The people were waiting for God to deliver. And expectations were high.
There were promises of A SON. A son of David. God had promised King David that a son would come from his line. And his kingdom would rule FOREVER. That’s in 2 Sam 7.
And then there were promises about A SHEPHERD. In Ezekiel, God rebukes the shepherds who were leading the people. The priests and the elders. They were selfish and greedy and incompetent. And FEEDING ON the sheep, rather than PROTECTING them. And God promised to RESCUE his sheep. He promised a different kind of shepherd. He promised to send a Son of David who would shepherd them GOD’S WAY. Like Ezekiel 34:22. God says,
“22 I will SAVE my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 I WILL PLACE OVER THEM ONE SHEPHERD, MY SERVANT DAVID, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.”
And the people were WAITING for that. Expectantly.
But that’s not all. When God’s king came, the Son of David, the special shepherd, he’d bring in a new KINGDOM, unlike anything ever been before.
And the prophets were full of promises about what this kingdom would be like. Promises of peace and health and prosperity. Promises like Isaiah 35.
4 say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” 5 Then will THE EYES OF THE BLIND BE OPENED AND THE EARS OF THE DEAF UNSTOPPED. 6 Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
That’s what God had PROMISED, and that’s what the people were EXPECTING.
So it’s with that expectation hanging in the air that Jesus arrives on the scene. He’s preaching about the kingdom of God, and healing all sorts of diseases.
Back in ch 4 v23 we read this summary of his ministry.
23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.
And it’s NO WONDER the crowds are following him. Because they’ve got HIGH EXPECTATIONS. And Jesus seems to be fulfilling them. Preaching about a new kingdom, bringing health and healing and happiness.
And we see the sort of kingdom he’s on about in the chapters that follow. In chapters 5 to 7 he’s PREACHING about it. About a new set of values, a new way of looking at things.
And then in ch 8 and 9 we see Jesus giving a taste of what the kingdom is like. Of health, and restoration, of peace, and the destruction of evil.
And that includes the verses we’re looking at today from ch 9 v18.
And then we get to the END of ch 9, and we read these words. V35.
35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, PREACHING THE GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM AND HEALING EVERY DISEASE AND SICKNESS.
Sound familiar? Almost the same as 4:23. They’re TWO BOOKENDS that summarise the stuff in between. Chapters 5 to 9 are a window into the kingdom of God that Jesus is bringing in. A kingdom God PROMISED, and that he’s now DELIVERING on. The EXPECTATION was there. Here we see the REALITY.
And in these few verses from ch 9 there are some true believers among the people Jesus meets. Some people full of DESPERATE EXPECTATION. As well as some who want nothing to DO with him.
First up there’s A RULER. V18. Used to people showing HIM respect. And yet he comes to Jesus, and in front of everyone, bows before Jesus. He’s DESPERATE. His daughter’s just died. But he believes that if Jesus lays his hands on her, she’ll LIVE.
That’s extraordinary faith. I can’t think of anyone else who expects that of Jesus. There’s the Roman centurion back in Ch 8. HIS faith is HUGE. He believes that if Jesus just says the word, his servant BACK AT HOME would be instantly healed. FROM A DISTANCE. Jesus doesn’t even need TO TRAVEL. That’s faith!
And even Mary, the sister of Lazarus, (in John 11) is disappointed when Jesus arrives after Lazarus has been buried. “If only you’d got here EARLIER!” she wails. “SICKNESS you can do something about! But not DEATH. If only you’d come EARLIER…”
But this ruler is clinging onto the belief that Jesus can even do something about DEATH. It’s the desperate expectation of a father. He BELIEVES it because God had PROMISED it. Promised that his kingdom would be about LIFE FROM THE DEAD.
In Ezekiel 37 he shows the prophet a valley of dry bones that God breathes LIFE into. And the bones rattle back to life, and become living, breathing people again. And God promises that’s what he’s going to do when he breathes his Spirit into people.
And the ruler dares to BELIEVE THAT for his daughter.
Hit the pause button for a moment. Because while they’re on their way to his house, ANOTHER desperate woman appears. She’s suffered menstrual bleeding for 12 years straight. There’s the PHYSICAL problem, but even WORSE, she’s ceremonially unclean. No one can touch her. She’s a social outcast.
She touches Jesus’ cloak SECRETLY, for fear of rejection. Which she knows all about. She desperately BELIEVES that a touch of Jesus will cleanse her.
It SHOULD work the other way around. That a touch from HER will make JESUS unclean. But it DOESN’T. Her trust in Jesus’ power DRAWS THE HEALING FROM HIM. And she’s CLEAN. Jesus turns to her and gives her the best news she’s heard for 12 years. “Take heart, daughter, Your faith has HEALED you.”
The word for HEALED is the same one as SAVED. Your faith has SAVED you.
But even MORE. Jesus gets to dead girl’s house, waves the professional mourners away. They won’t be needed anymore. He goes inside, takes her by the hand, and she gets up. Literally, she’s RESURRECTED.
ANOTHER situation we’re a dead body should have contaminated Jesus. But instead, it’s the other way around. Jesus infects the dead body WITH LIFE.
One girl SAVED. The NEXT girl RESURRECTED.
That’s the kingdom Jesus is showing us a window into. Life, wholeness, and restoration. Salvation and resurrection.
Next up two BLIND men start following. V27. “Have mercy on us, SON OF DAVID.” That’s almost a TITLE for God’s Messiah, the one God had promised to bring in an eternal kingdom. A kingdom of lame people walking and blind people seeing. We saw that in Isaiah 35. And the blind people SEEING is the bit the BLIND guys are really interested in.
Jesus says to them, “Do you BELIEVE I can do this?”
Yes Lord, they replied?
And, once again, with a TOUCH, Jesus heals them.
And then in v30, he warns them not to spread the news. Which seems a funny thing to do, considering in the NEXT chapter he sends his disciples out to DO EXACTLY THAT.
But remember what the EXPECTATION was? Remember what the blind men had CALLED Jesus? Son of David. Which had all sorts of POLITICAL expectations to it as well. Of a new kingdom where Israel would be top dog again. Where the Roman oppressors would be defeated, and there’d be peace and wholeness.
And Jesus doesn’t want to encourage THAT sort of expectation. Because the kingdom he’s bringing in isn’t THAT sort of KINGDOM.
Because rather than ROME being the enemy, it’s SATAN that’s in Jesus’ target sights. The next person we’re introduced to is possessed by a demon. And he’s MUTE. The evil spirit’s got his tongue. But a word from Jesus, and the man’s RELEASED. The spirit’s gone, and the man’s RESTORED.
THAT’S the enemy Jesus is fighting. God’s kingdom beating up Satan’s kingdom. When Jesus speaks, Satan MUST OBEY.
Which leads to a SECOND misunderstanding. Some Pharisees reckon that if the demons are listening to Jesus, it must be because Jesus is the PRINCE of demons. Evil listens to the Master of Evil.
But they’ve got it completely wrong. Jesus is about OVERTURNING the reign of Satan. And bringing in God’s reign INSTEAD. Replacing sickness with HEALTH, replacing death with LIFE, and blindness with SIGHT. Replacing isolation with RESTORATION AND PEACE, and replacing EVIL with GOOD.
And, just in case we’d forgotten what his kingdom’s about. We get a SUMMARY there in v35.
35 Jesus went through ALL the towns and villages, TEACHING in their synagogues, PREACHING THE GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM and HEALING every disease and sickness.
That’s the REALITY of the kingdom. It’s the BEGINNING of the kingdom. A window we can look through. A taste. A glimpse. An entrée.
But even with Jesus doing ALL THAT, God’s kingdom isn’t something that AUTOMATICALLY AND INSTANTLY AND TOTALLY breaks through and replaces the OLD WAY. See Jesus’ reaction? V36.
36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Despite the healing, despite the teaching and preaching, despite Satan’s army being driven back. The people are harassed and helpless. Like sheep without a shepherd.
A shepherd God had PROMISED. A shepherd who’d bring in an ETERNAL kingdom. And look after his sheep COMPLETELY.
Because the leaders who were SUPPOSED to be doing it – leaders like the Pharisees who’d written Jesus off – were leading the people ASTRAY. The blind leading the blind.
What Jesus wanted, instead, was people who’d LOOK TO HIM IN DESPERATE EXPECTATION. Who’d TRUST him. Harassed and helpless people. Like the father. Like the sick woman. Like the blind men. Like the demon-possessed man.
And as the GOOD shepherd, he’d have COMPASSION on them. Not just healing and restoring them. Not just saving and resurrecting them. But, ultimately, laying down his LIFE for his sheep. So they could live beyond THIS life. Live as part of God’s ETERNAL kingdom for ETERNITY.
The response (37-38)
That’s the REALITY of the kingdom. But what should our RESPONSE be?
We’re a long way from the world Jesus walked around in. But in lots of ways, it’s THE SAME. It’s a world that’s STILL full of desperate people. Of harassed and helpless people. People looking for answers. Looking for relief.
Perhaps that even describes YOU this morning.
How should you respond?
First, with FAITH. Look to Jesus. If he’s bigger than death and Satan and chronic illness. Then he’s bigger than whatever YOU’VE got going on.
But more than that. He’s not only the one who’s ABLE to deal with it, but who has THE COMPASSION to go with it. The good shepherd who WANTS to rescue harassed, helpless and desperate sheep. And bring them into peace and rest.
And if he’s big enough for YOUR stuff, then he’s big enough for the stuff your FRIENDS who don’t know Jesus have got going on as well. Whether they recognise it or not, they NEED a shepherd.
Do you BELIEVE that? You believe it for yourself, but do you believe it for your neighbour? Your workmate? Your team mates? Your family?
If you BELIEVE it, you’ll SHARE it.
If you BELIEVE it, you’ll PRAY.
Jesus sees crowds of harassed and helpless sheep. He sees a world that needs him. And he says to his disciples. Pray. V37.
37 “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 ASK the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Do we BELIEVE Jesus is the answer to the problems of the world? Why don’t we PRAY for workers? Why don’t we ask God to prepare them, and train them, and raise them up, and equip them, and support them, and send them out. And give them fruit.
Let’s pray regularly, and specifically, and passionately, and FAITHFULLY. You can see how you can support Jo Steele in the news sheet today. It’ll be Rodney Kal next week.
But don’t just PRAY, GO. Jesus isn’t content for the disciples to just PRAY for workers. They’re going to BE workers.
As we move into Ch 10, which we’ll look at NEXT week, we see Jesus sending the disciples out. To be workers in the harvest field.
And it’s the same with us. We can’t PRAY for workers. If we don’t BELIEVE the harvest needs workers. If we don’t believe the sheep are harassed and helpless and need a shepherd.
But if we believe, and if we PRAY, then we need to WORK. It doesn’t have to be overseas. It doesn’t have to be full-time. You can be a worker on God’s harvest across your back fence, talking to your neighbour, or your mechanic, or your mailman. You can be a worker while you wait to pick up the kids.
You can be a worker at the movie night, or the Advent pageant, or the Christmas carols.
If these verses show Jesus living out the kingdom. If these verses are a WINDOW into God’s kingdom. Then WE ARE TOO. As we live out the kingdom, as individuals and families and as a church, WE’RE a window into God’s kingdom.
A window that desperate, helpless and harassed people can look through to find Jesus. Do you BELIEVE it? Will you PRAY it? Will you LIVE it?