Jan 11, 2013

Why did Jesus come?

In the last post I asked a similar question in response to a passage in the Gospel of Luke 4:16-30.
If Jesus came to help the poor and heal the sick, why do we see poverty and sickness?
In this passage, Jesus comes to Nazareth and reads from the prophet Isaiah.
He reads, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
After reading this, he tells the people that this passage is fulfilled in their hearing. They praise him and are very excited by what He is saying. But then he turns things around.  They rightly understood him to be saying that He is the anointed one, the Messiah. But Jesus basically tells them that they don't understand who the Messiah is.  It appears they were looking for a Messiah to come and give them happiness and freedom without calling them to repentance and submission to their Creator.  Jesus in effect tells them that he did not come to set free or heal those who continue to rebel against God.  Why didn't God send help to the poor or healing to the sick of Israel in the days of the prophets?  They were in open rebellion against Him. He sent the prophets to call them back to repentance but they did not repent and he sent the prophets outside of Israel to bring help and healing. In the midst of this call to repentance, he gives them an amazing promise of redemption and forgiveness.  But this promise of redemption that would come through the anointed one is not an empty promise that costs nothing. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's work, The Cost of Discipleship, this promise was not cheap grace.  This promise did bring present and physical help and healing. But it was very costly. This promise of help and healing cost Jesus his very life. This promise of help and healing calls us to repentance and submission. If we don't submit to God in faith and repentance of our sin and rebellion, this promise is not for us.

The people of Nazareth rejected Jesus for pointing out that God didn't heal certain people in Israel yet did heal people who were foreigners while his own people suffered. Were they angry because they were racist? perhaps.  Were they angry because they wanted a Messiah to glorify mankind instead of a Messiah to glorify God? I think so. I thing this passage clearly speaks to racism and Jesus uses this to proclaim the inclusion of all people from all nations, but I think there is also a deeper issue. Jesus is the anointed one promised by Isaiah. He is the Messiah and He has come to establish His Kingdom. He did come to bring help and healing to all people but more importantly for all people from all nations he came to call to repentance. The book of Isaiah ends with a promise of the new heavens and new earth and people from all nations coming to bow down and worship God but also gives a dreadful pronouncement of judgment on those who rebel.

At the end of this passage there is a very subtle yet amazing pronouncement of judgment. "...and he went away."  Jesus left them to themselves.  Just as Paul tells us in Romans 1 that God's judgment on the wicked is that he turned them over to themselves. Jesus in Luke 4 left the people of Nazareth to themselves. In all of their rage and hatred they were powerless to do anything to him.

The promise of grace is completely unconditional on any works that we can do to earn it. However, it is not entirely unconditional. There is one condition that Jesus very clearly establishes, faith and repentance. Jesus calls us to repent of our sins and submit to Him as Lord and King. He created us in His image and therefore we belong to Him. Jesus came to establish his ownership of mankind and to call us back to worship him instead of worshiping ourselves. He does not promise redemption nor forgiveness to those who continue to reject Him. This is the kind of statement that will get you killed. This is the kind of statement that will get you martyred. This is the kind of statement that Jesus came to preach and to command us to go out and preach.  He came to include people from all races and He came to judge those who reject him. Without the regeneration of the heart that comes from the work of the Holy Spirit, no one will want to hear this.

This is why Paul ends the book of Ephesians with a call to put on the Spiritual armor. This is why Jesus says that we will suffer if we are his disciples.  If we faithfully preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, the devil will fight against us. The Christian call is a call to comfort and peace, but it is also a call to suffer. Jesus did come to bring healing and help today. The help and healing are signs of his deity and also of his compassion. He has given the task to us, his church, to bring his Kingdom to fruition by proclaiming this message, healing, helping and pursuing peace. The message we are called to proclaim is a message that Jesus Christ is the King and that he wants us to come back to him and worship him. He promises forgiveness of sins purchased by his blood shed on the cross. There is nothing we can do to earn this by our obedience but he does call us to tremble at his word and fear him. In other words, we must repent and worship him.

There are times when he gives temporary healing and help to those who want nothing to do with him. There are times when those who worship him want the healing and help and suffer waiting for it.  We don't understand God's timing on everything he does. But one thing we can be sure of is that there can be no true lasting peace, healing or help as long as anyone rejects him as Lord and savior. There may be some who are deluded or short-sighted that think they are good and happy without him but they will not think this for long. The message at the end of Isaiah will ring true. Jesus will return and establish the consummation of his Kingdom. When He returns, everyone will bow down and worship Him. It is very easy to look to Jesus for help and healing and for what he can do for us, but it is a very different thing to look to Jesus to submit to him as King and serve him as Lord. The wonderful joy of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that God has reconciled us back to himself to enable us to worship him as King.  We will see complete peace, healing and help in the days of the new heavens and the new earth.  We do see foretastes of help and healing today through the work of the Church and often times through the work of common grace in acts of kindness by different people.  The only place where we will hear of  and see the complete healing and help that is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ is in His Church.  As the body of Christ, we are called to be agents of that help, healing and peace while we are also called to be agents of the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of our great king Jesus.

Jesus came to redeem the World and unite heaven and earth in himself.
Jesus came to be King of his church.
Jesus came to make peace, reconciling us to himself by calling us to repentance and becoming the sacrifice to atone for our rebellion against God.
Jesus came to pronounce judgment on those who continue to rebel.
Jesus will come again to consumate the Kingdom bringing the new heavens and the new earth establishing ultimate peace and restoring us completely.