(After reading this, read the sequel in the article that precedes it in this blog but followed it time-wise.)
Where did the idea arise that we have to coerce or persuade or coax the Lord into helping us?
Now, a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction. (Mark 1:40-45)
A strangeness runs all through that story from beginning to end….
1) It was strange that the leper came TOWARD Jesus. The Law forbade that, and ordered lepers to stay away from citizens and to call out “Unclean.” (Leviticus 13:11)
2) It was strange that the Lord reached out and TOUCHED the man. Lepers were untouchable. What this says about our Lord is precious.
3) It was odd that Jesus did the greatest thing in this fellow’s life, then commanded him to keep the news to himself. He was, of course, trying to do a little advance crowd control. As you see, it didn’t work.
4) The man proceeded to disobey the Lord, yet without the slightest rebellion in his heart. He simply had great news to share and no idea how to keep from telling it.
But the most encouraging aspect of this story comes in the exchange between the Lord and the leper: “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” “I am willing; be clean.”
Jesus is not only able to help, but He is willing. Able and willing. Pretty good combination.
Write that in large letters across your heart and mind, friend: Jesus Christ is willing to bless us. It is His very identity. Nothing sums Him up more than that one word: Willing.
1. Jesus Christ is the Willing Savior.
He was willing to come to earth to achieve our salvation.
Willing to be born to young, poor Jewish parents and laid in a feed-trough in a Bethlehem barn.
Willing to spend thirty years in quiet preparation for three years of itinerant ministry, walking the dusty lanes of Galilee and the roads of Judea to bring the good news of Heaven to God’s people.
Willing to endure the misunderstandings and selfishness and opposition of the very people He had come to save.
Willing to die on a Roman cross for our sins. He said, “No one takes my life from me. I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).
Willing to descend into the depths of the grave–with all that entailed–and to rise victorious on that first Easter morning.
Willing to be our everlasting Saviour and constant Intercessor and our “true” Forever Friend.
How willing was He to bless mankind? I’ll tell you how willing Jesus was….
–In the very next chapter–Mark 2:1-12–Jesus forgives a man of his sin without even being asked. Now, that is willing!
–On the cross while people are laughing at Him, spitting in His direction, and jeering at His claims to Messiahship, Jesus asked the Father to forgive them, because “they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
–In His post-ascension message to the churches of Asia Minor, Jesus says, “I stand at your door and knock. If anyone hear my voice and open the door, I will come in…” (Revelation 3:20). That’s how willing He is! He brings Heaven’s blessings right up to the front door and then waits for permission to lay them on us.
He does everything but force Heaven’s blessings on us.
2. Mankind is the bottleneck; We resist the blessings of Heaven.
Toward the culmination of His earthly ministry and only a few days prior to His own date with destiny on Golgotha, our Lord wept over Jerusalem. He said, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem–the one who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.(Matthew 23:37)
You were not willing.
How tragic is that. Jesus had comfort and victory for the Lord’s people, but they were turning away from their own welfare and resisting Him. They would pay a high price for this sorry choice. Your house is left to you desolate (Matthew 23:38).
Mankind’s situation is summed up in something the Lord said to the people of Isaiah’s day. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken (Isaiah 1:19-20).
We get to choose. We have to choose. We so often choose against our own welfare. Nothing emphasizes our sinful nature better than that.
John MacArthur comments on “but you were not willing” (Study Bible): God is utterly sovereign and therefore fully capable of bringing to pass whatever he desires–including the salvation of whomever He chooses. Yet, He sometimes expresses a wish for that which he does not sovereignly bring to pass (cf. Gen.6:6; Deut. 5:29; Ps. 81:13; Is. 48:18). Such expressions in no way suggest a limitation on the sovereignty of God or imply any actual change in Him (Num. 23:19). But these statements do reveal essential aspects of the divine character: He is full of compassion, sincerely good to all, desirous of good, not evil–and therefore not delighting in the destruction of the wicked (Ezek. 18:32; 33:11). While affirming God’s sovereignty, one must understand His pleas for the repentance of the reprobate as well-meant appeals–and His goodness toward the wicked as a genuine mercy designed to provoke them to repentance (Rom. 2:4). The emotion displayed by Christ here (and in all similar passages, such as Luke 19:41) is obviously a deep, sincere passion.
3. Satan is the slanderer, accusing Christ of being uncaring.
It started in Eden when the serpent attacked God to Eve, insisting that He was holding out on them (Genesis 3:1-4). Adam and Eve were given incredible blessings and immense freedom. Yet the slanderer turns this on its head and convinces Eve that God does not want what is best for them, but is depriving them of their full potential. As Jesus said (John 8:44), Satan is a liar and a murderer.
That slander continues to this very day, with people unthinkingly buying the line that God is the great spoilsport, taking away that which they love and bestowing that which deadens their soul.
Revelation 12:10 calls Satan “the accuser of our brethren,” accusing them before God day and night. It would appear, therefore, that this great enemy of all that is good and holy works on both ends of the equation, accusing God before people and accusing righteous people before God.
So, we have a situation here. Jesus is fully willing to bless and save and bestow fullness of life to all who turn to Him. However, our sinful hearts resist Heaven’s blessings, while at the same time, the devil and his cohorts twist Heaven’s wonderful news into lies and slanderous attacks.
Only the believer who knows the Word of God can keep his balance with such forces waging war for his heart.
4. Even so, we are left to wonder: If the Lord is so willing to bless us, why are we still suffering?
Short answer: Because Jesus has a higher purpose than pleasing us; He has come to please the Father.
What does this mean? It means that, while Jesus is a willing Lord–willing to bless and help and rescue and save and hear us–He does not do everything that we “will.” Two statements from Scripture enlighten us on this.
First: I always do the things that please the Father. (John 8:29)
Unless we understand this, nothing will make sense. Jesus did not come to be people-pleasers. He does not exist today to hasten to our beck-and-call, to take our orders and rush to fill them. He does indeed hear us and cares deeply, but–as a loving parent to a child–sometimes has to turn a deaf ear to the cry of the child in order to achieve the greater good, the higher purpose, the more important goal.
Watch the parent at the hospital, holding the hand of the crying child while the doctor performs some necessary act for the child’s well-being. Even though her heart breaks and she wipes the child’s tears, she is willing to let the child suffer for a short while for the greater good.
Second: It pleased the Father that in Him all the fulness should dwell (Colossians 1:19).
Nothing “explains” Jesus in His earthly life better than this. He was on earth to do the will of His Father. Our Father who art in Heaven. For our good.
Note that in pleasing the Father (through this earth-mission), Jesus did not please Himself. His prayer of agony in Gethsemane establishes that once and for all (Matthew 26:36-46).
It should, therefore, come as no surprise to learn that in pleasing the Father to this very hour, there will be times when Jesus will not please us. He will be forced to turn away from our cries, to seemingly ignore our faithful prayer for relief or mercy or blessing. In this and every case, He has the greater goal in mind: to accomplish the Father’s plan. And that plan is always for our best interest in the long run.
Meanwhile, the Father is overseeing the larger plan, one involving all of mankind, and perhaps–who knows?–the entire universe.
We think of the poem about the weaving, the gist of which is that we see only the underside where nothing makes sense. But the Master Weaver looks at the grand design from above, and all the dark threads combine with the golden ones for the pattern He has in mind.
How about a baseball analogy? When Earl Weaver managed the Baltimore Orioles, for a time, the great Reggie Jackson played on the team. On one occasion, as Jackson is about to bat, Weaver instructed that if he got on first base, he was not to try to steal second. But, a few minutes later, on board at first base, Reggie watches the pitcher and decides he can steal on this guy. Surely, he thought, the manager would approve his stealing the base if he could do it successfully. So, he stole second.
What happened next was what the manager knew would happen but Reggie had not known. The other team walked the batter and got the next guy out to end the inning.
In the dugout, Manager Earl Weaver explained to Jackson the reason he had forbade him to steal second. “Our guy (the batter at the plate) ‘owns’ that pitcher. He’s never been able to get our guy out. But when you stole second, that freed up first base. So he could walk him and pitch to the next batter.” He added, “You took the bat out of our guy’s hand because you refused to follow directions.”
Trust the Lord, Christian. He knows what He is doing. And as the old hymn assures us, “We’ll understand in the bye and bye.”
5. The Lord sends you and me into the world as His “Willing Workers,” to do the same thing Jesus did: readily, quickly, freely blessing everyone we meet.
Jesus said, As the Father has sent me, I also send you (John 20:21).
To be called “Christian” means we are to bear the image of Christ, to do unto others as He would do. He said to us, “Freely you have received; now freely give” (Matthew 10:8).
When we act like miserly and resist giving freely to those about us, particularly those in need and–may we say–those who do not deserve anything, we reflect poorly on the Lord Jesus. As a result, people turn away from Christ because if He is like us, they want no part of Him.
Unfair? We say it is. “Hey, don’t assume Jesus is like me. He’s far better than I am. Get your eyes on Him.” But it doesn’t work that way.
Before an unsaved person will come to Jesus, before they will put their eyes on Him and learn of Him, they will see only us.
People are making decisions about Jesus every day based on you and me.
Scary, isn’t it?
In our story–the leper and the Lord from Mark 1:40-45–there is a sense in which we disciples of Jesus are represented by both persons. Like Jesus, we are to show compassion and offer a willing hand to everyone we meet.
Then, like the cleansed leper, we are to go out and tell everyone about the wonderful, life-changing Savior.
Big assignment? You bet it is.
I had a phone call late one Sunday night from a pastor of a large church several hours from here. To this day, I don’t know why he called me. As we chatted about the day we had each had in our services, he laughed, “I really got ’em told tonight.”
I said, “What did you preach?” He said he had preached the passage from I Corinthians 6 where the Bible says homosexuals and sodomites and others will not go to Heaven.
I said, “Did you preach the whole passage?”
He said, “What?”
“Where Paul goes on to say, ‘Such were some of you.’ Then he says, ‘But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus.'”
I said, “My friend, did it ever occur to you that church in Corinth–if they were reaching gays and lesbians for the Lord–they could not have had signs out front saying ‘Fags will burn in hell forever.’ They must have been loving those people into the kingdom.”
Long pause. Then he said, “I sure wish I’d talked to you before preaching that sermon.”
Now, knowing that pastor as I do now, I’m confident he preached the grace of the Lord Jesus to his people. However, we must never preach it as an afterthought or in a minor key, as merely the background to everything else.
Grace is what we are all about.
Grace was in everything the Lord Jesus did. And it must be with us.