At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, as Mark tells it, it seems he make a critical decision to leave one place of highly fruitful ministry to go to other places. This was good news for folks in the other places, but bad news for the people who “missed the ministry of Jesus by a day.” News had spread about One in whom their hopes might find fullness, one who seemed to bring heaven’s resources to bear on their earthly lives. But they were a day late. Jesus moved on.
I suggested that they might reasonably wonder, “What about us?” I suggest now that Jesus turns Jesus responds to this question by turning to us who follow him, who were there the day before, for whom Jesus has cast out the demons, healed our hurts, restored and reconnected us to God and others—Jesus turns to us and asks, “What about them?”
Let me unpack that for a few moments, but before I do, I must tell you that the line of “people not there the day before” has continued to grow. The numbers of people asking, “what about us?” are multiplying.
* Approximately 1.8 billion people today are malnourished, 400 million of which are on the verge of starvation. Every year there are 15 million hunger related deaths among children under age 5.
* 1.3 billion people have no access to safe drinking water, 25 thousand of which die every day directly from dirty water.
* Malaria kills up to 5 million people every year. 3 million die from TB. Up to 3 million die from HIV/AIDS.
* 1.5 million have no access to medical care—so aside from disease, even injury from accidents leads to permanent disability or untimely death.
* 1.1 billion have inadequate shelter, 100 million have no shelter.
* 60 million abandoned children; 50 million exploited by child labor.
* Some 32 million have been pressed into the sex-trade or other forms of slavery.
You can go on line to find such stats about tragic human conditions the world over that could be addressed or eliminate if the right people had the spiritual and moral will to do so. (If Christ followers are not the right people who are?)
The line of people, not there the day before and not now included in the fullness of kingdom blessing–the line is growing. If they knew enough they might wonder, what about us? And Jesus turns to us and asks, “What about them? Let me explain why I think the Lord Jesus hears their question and directs it to us in this way.
I used to think (and this is common among U.S. evangelicals) Jesus was indicating his priority in ministry. He cared about all people, and the whole of people’s lives. So, he demonstrated his care through ministries of healing, casting out the demons etc. BUT, the real and most important work he came to do was to provide for our salvation. Of course, this is true, so long salvation is properly understood, but there’s the rub.
I used to understand this great salvation as essentially a right relationship with God and others, which happens only by trusting Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for us in love, his rising from the grave in victory over sin, death, and hell, and his gift of the Holy Spirit which gives us new life.
I believed the most import thing was this message Jesus shared and made possible for us and the world. We still engage in all kinds of ministry/ service but these are secondary.
So much of this reflects the truth, but it doesn’t go far enough or deep enough or wide enough. In fact, this way of understanding salvation is a kind of reduction of what we see in the story of Jesus and of what he proclaimed and performed.
Look at the story again. Jesus’ ministry is in full swing. He teaches in Capernaum and the folks there are amazed at the authority of his teaching. In that context, he delivers a man possessed by an unclean spirit. You will notice that the people are said to be astounded not at what Jesus did, but at Jesus’ new kind of teaching—with authority so that unclean spirits submit and obey. In other words, the teaching of Jesus that wows the people includes both teaching the truth of Scripture and telling the spirits where to go.
Therefore, when Jesus says, “I must go to other towns to proclaim the message there also,” he is saying, I must do in these other towns what I have done here:
* Teaching truth and telling spirits where to go.
* Declaring kingdom reality and demonstrating it.
* Promising participation in the powers of the kingdom present, and fulfilling that promise for people who are open.
Jesus didn’t go to the other towns to tell them what “to do to be saved.” He went to tell them a kingdom-life is now possible. God is at work awesomely and savingly—he is reclaiming human beings and their world from the wreckage, restoring them to near original specifications and renewing them with power from on high.
And when the time was right, Jesus would share the message and the ministry of healing and rescue—telling the spirits where to go, creating new life for people—with the students/disciples who were following him.
In Mark 3, Jesus names certain followers, twelve of them, Apostles. Apostles means “sent ones.” He names them to be with Jesus, sharing life with Jesus, and to send them out to preach and have authority to drive out demons. In Mark 6, Jesus does just that. He gave them authority to make the truth of Scripture come alive for people and to tell the demons where to go. Accordingly, they went out to do a Jesus-like ministry in the towns and villages of Galilee.
In the other gospels, we read that Jesus did this with others as well—as many as 70 others. At the end of all our gospels, Jesus sends the whole of his community to do the same. He gives them authority, his own authority, to tell the truth in life-giving ways, which includes telling the demons where to go.
In John’s gospel, when Jesus says, “As the father has sent me, so I am sending you,” Jesus was live-serious! When Jesus says, “The works I do are what the father does,” he means for his followers to say, “The works we do are what the Son and the Father do, in fact greater.”
Jesus never meant to dismiss those who arrived one day late. He intended that his followers would follow him and continue the very same kind of ministry he began.
Jesus came to declare and demonstrate the way of God’s kingdom which rescues, heals, and restores the whole of creation. That means our salvation cannot be distinguished from our mission, not in real life. Conceptually, we can talk about your salvation and mine, and the saving of all those people in the line waiting for Messiah’s ministry. But, in real time, in reality, to be gathered up into God’s loving, gracious, and saving work is to be just that, gathered up.
We should accept Jesus as our personal Savior and Lord. That’s the only kind worth having, a personal Lord, who knows you and loves you and wants you to have a life. We should have God at the center of our lives. That’s how we were made to live. But if we have God at the center, God will take us with him as he hears the cries of the needy and the poor, and seeks to raise them up.
We will come alive as we join Jesus in calling the dead from their graves. We experience the freshness of God’s forgiveness, the relief of a restart, as we join Jesus in extending the same privilege to others (whether they ever receive it or not). We experience freedom from whatever binds us as we bind ourselves to Jesus who is at work to identify and obliterate all forms of bondage.
Jesus hears the question, “What about us?” and puts it to us” “What about them?”