I think it’s not only interesting, but completely counter to human tendency, how that Jesus didn’t work or strive for “success” as we understand it. In today’s world, it seems as if everything is about “growth” and “expansion” — numerical growth, financial growth, increase in social and political clout. Business seems to always be about growth and outperforming last year’s, or even last quarter’s, performance margins and sale’s records. Government seems to be all about growth with new initiatives, new programs, new ways of interfering and meddling with our private lives. Schools at all levels seem to be continually interested in expansion, larger student bodies, more money to work with to provide more programs and serve ever more students. Even churches seem to always be interested in numbers, finances, and building bigger barns. On and on it goes, people always striving for more, for bigger; if not always for better.
But it appears as if Jesus — true to His radical, counterculture nature — ran completely opposite of our worldly thinking. Jesus was not all about swelling the rank and number of His followers. He didn’t work the crowds in order to get more and more people to follow Him. He didn’t work for ever increasing masses of people who would provide even greater resources so that He could put together a powerful political lobby; or, perhaps, even begin a revolution capable of taking back the government from the Romans.
That’s what many people expected, of course; and at one point there were so many people excited about Jesus that the Bible says, “they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king” (John 6:15, NASB). And how did Jesus respond to that? Well, He didn’t step forward and say, “I’m your huckleberry, that’s JUST my cup of tea!” Instead, the Bible says He “withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.” Imagine how Jesus could have changed the face of the political world in His day if political power had been His goal and initiating a wide-spread social/cultural movement had been His aim.
Don’t get me wrong — oh, He was all about a “movement,” alright. But it wasn’t the kind of movement that depended upon swelling the ranks, or that required establishing a strong financial foundation or political platform. Rather, it was a movement among hearts and souls that required nothing more, or less, than love for, and faith in, the only true and living God.
To get a glimpse of Jesus’ modus operandi, let’s consider how He chose to deal with people when they wanted to follow Him and become one of His disciples. The Bible says:
As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62, NASB)
Now, if you ask me, THAT’s no way to gather a following, is it? I mean, if I’m reading this right, it appears to me that Jesus not only did not beg for followers, or work the crowds, or try to do everything in His power to inflame people’s hearts and motivate them to join Him and give Him their allegiance, He actually gave them reasons “not” to follow Him. Jesus didn’t go out of His way to make it easy for people. He certainly didn’t appeal to their personal wants, desires, or preferences. He didn’t try to entertain them or make them feel good. Instead, He did just the opposite — He actually “discouraged” people from following Him. Remember the rich, young ruler. Yes, Jesus invited the young man to follow Him, but not until after he had sold all that he possessed and had given the proceeds to the poor (Mark 10:21). I bet that thoroughly irked Judas! I mean, imagine the money that could have flowed into the coffers just from that one individual. Imagine the social influence having someone rich and powerful like that among His disciples. But Jesus was having none of that. He welcomed the young man only after bankrupting him. And, of course, as we know, the rich, young ruler couldn’t do it; so Jesus lost THAT one, didn’t He — or did He?
I’ll confess, I’ve often asked God for a million bucks. I’ve shared my mission vision with the Lord and talked with Him about all the wonderful things we could accomplish for both local ministry and global mission outreach — if He would just give me a million bucks. Or, if not that, if He would at least give me a fancy facility and a powerful mission team to work with. It’s just that, sometimes, I get so tired of watching the denominationalists build their ever bigger, ever fancier barns and wield all that social clout though all their fancy programs and ministries. And so I pray, “God why can’t we have a great, big, wonderful — and well financed — Christian outreach center with lots of fancy programs and ministries that will allow us to wield social clout and attract the masses?” But, I guess, He knows that, in the grand scheme of things, that’s not going to make one little bit of difference between those hearts that seek Him, and that choose to love Him and serve Him, and those that are just playing their religious games because it makes them feel better. And, besides, who knows if I would even be wise enough to properly manage such gifts — probably not! So, perhaps, in light of eternity, it’s actually best that the $millions$ just remain back there in the coffers of those fancy Bible-Belt churches.
And so, with little more than a Bible, my little ragged out Acer computer, and — praise God — a few wonderful, war-torn, ragged, and tattered fellow disciples to encourage me and do what they can to help, we let God raise us up out of the dust, the sweat, and the tears and go looking, one more time, for one more precious soul to teach — not beg, not entertain, not manipulate in any fashion — just to teach! And, I guess, that’s pretty much the way Jesus and His disciples did it. They loved, they served, they taught!
You want to stop abortion? Teach the Gospel! You want to see the children of the world loved and cared for? Teach the Gospel! You want to see marriages, homes, and families strengthened? Teach the Gospel! You want to fight the GLBT agenda? Teach the Gospel! You want to have a meaningful impact on the war on drugs? Teach the Gospel! You want to stop human trafficking and work for social justice in this world? Teach the Gospel! You want to exercise political power in the halls of government? Teach the Gospel! You may not change the whole, wide world. But you just may change someone’s whole world!
Like Jesus, we’re in it for hearts!
~ Philip ~