Jesus began his ministry with a very audacious-sounding statement of purpose torn right from the sacred scrolls before him:
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)
- He touched untouchables, laying his hands on a man whose rotting body had been ravaged by leprosy (Matthew 8:2-4, Luke 17:11-17)
- He exercised authority over demons that left their victims mentally and spiritually imprisoned and unable to function in society (Matthew 8:28-33, Matthew 17:18-14, Mark 7:26-30)
- He fed the hungry (Matthew 13:13-21, Matthew 15:29-38)
- He embraced those without importance or moral worth in their society – children (Matthew 19:13-14), widows (Mark 12:41-43, Luke 7:11-15), prostitutes (Luke 7:36-50), adulterers (John 8:1-11), tax collectors (Matthew 9:9-12), the disabled (Matthew 9:27-34)
- He healed sick people (dozens of examples in the gospels), and raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11)
- He taught spiritual revolution, not religion throughout his ministry (captured in concentrated form in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7)
- He always told the truth about sin no matter who his audience was
- After being executed for crimes he didn’t commit, he rose from the dead (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20)
These supernatural stories about Jesus show us how he related to spiritual outsiders.
The grace-gifts of healing and deliverance that marked Jesus’ ministry were meant to be signs of and invitations to this kingdom he described in story (parable) and sermon. The miracles weren’t Jesus’ ultimate goal, but an expression of the lifeblood and currency of his kingdom – God’s compassion. Though throngs of people gravitated to him for the amazing gifts he gave them, Jesus’ purpose in giving these gifts was to reconnect people to the Giver of these gifts. Right living before God, Jesus asserted, would flow out of a grateful, connected life. This was wildly different than the righteousness-from-the-outside-in fenced lives of the Pharisees and other religious elites, or the capricious spirituality of the Roman culture’s pagan gods.
Jesus said as much when he stated, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13).
Sick people. Sinners. And spiritual outsiders in need of compassion, not religion.
Religion condemns. Compassion marches right into the mess and touches, heals and transforms.
This is how Jesus loves us, if only we can expose our brokenness to Him.