Publication: Pastoral Letter, May 2004
Dear Friend in Christ:
As of this writing, The Passion of the Christ, directed by Mel Gibson, is still the number one film at the box office. Like so many people, I have seen this movie and was deeply impressed with the utter reality of the depiction of the Lord’s Crucifixion. Of course, it was violent, but so was the Crucifixion. The movie is on its way to making records, and an untold number of stories will come from it as lives are affected.
“The Passion” is the time of His suffering for our sins. But His passion for the Father’s will is evident throughout His life. Jesus had an amazing resolve to accomplish all that He had been sent to do. His passion was evident at 12 years of age when He said; “I must be about My Father’s business.” It was evident at His baptism, His temptation, in His ministry, in training the disciples, at the Crucifixion, and after the Resurrection. His passion to intercede for us is still evident to this day.
Jesus had a fixed purpose. He was determined and constant in its pursuit; that is the ultimate resolve. Isaiah 42:4 says, “He will not fail or be discouraged.” And Isaiah 50:7 says that He would “set His face like a flint.” Jesus’ contempt for a passionless faith is revealed by His statement, “Any man who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”
Theodore Roosevelt said, “No man is worth his salt who is unwilling to risk all for a great cause.” Booker T. Washington said, “Success is not measured by position, but by obstacles overcome.” Among these who have had great passion for great causes, Jesus heads the list.
Many people have good ideas, but lack passion. God tested the passion of Jesus and will also test ours. Jesus tested the passion of would-be disciples with hard sayings (see John 6). Many followers had good intentions, but lacked passionate resolve. The disciples themselves failed the passion test at the cross, but when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, He gave them “dunamis,” dynamic passion and power.
The passion and resolve of Christians is being tested in our time. The passion and resolve of the United States is being tested. Passion is the essential element in success; passionless people will fail against passionate enemies.
Jesus’ passion for His purpose was tested in many ways; I want to discuss with you several ways that He was tested, as listed in Luke chapter 4.
DIVERSION (Luke 4:1-15)
The enemy would not have cared what Jesus did as long as He did not fulfill His purpose. Satan attempted to divert Him. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. It was God’s will to test Jesus’ focus on the mission. The enemy challenged Jesus to turn stone into bread (Jesus was fasting), to bow down and worship Satan (a quick route to universal authority), and to jump off the top of the temple (to impress with sensationalism.)
I could discuss the issues presented by each temptation, but those were not the issues in Jesus’ mind. He answered each test with Scripture, and stayed focused on the Father’s will. Luke 4:14-15 tells us that Jesus came through His wilderness ordeal – and the temptation to divert from His mission – in the power of the Holy Spirit, and still preaching the kingdom of God.
Diversion is an oft-used tactic. If Satan cannot alter our convictions, he will try to alter our focus. Many good people are all tied up with lesser things. They start out with powerful ideals, only to get sidetracked by the siren call of sin, personal success, or appeasement. Some stay caught up and bound up with many small cords for years; others never get free. A passion for the Kingdom and His redemptive work kept Jesus free to obey the Father. He died to Himself a long time before He died on the cross.
QUITTING (Luke 4:16-30)
Isaiah said that Jesus would not fail or be discouraged. Rejection is one of the most formidable discouragers. Luke tells us that Jesus had been anointed by the Holy Spirit, recognized, and baptized by John the Baptist – the foremost prophet. After being tested in the wilderness, Jesus was invited to speak in His hometown synagogue. He chose the messianic text of Isaiah 61. As He read, the people were deeply impressed.
However, in His message, Jesus made remarks that, while true, also infuriated His listeners. “There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah…but he was sent to none of them except to Zarephath, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none were cleansed except Naman the Syrian” (see Luke 4:25-27). The inference was clear: when Israel rejected the Lord, He went to the Gentiles.
My pastor and friend, Ken Sumrall, accomplished many great achievements: He built a large church, established a Bible College, and formed an apostolic network of hundreds of pastors, all after he had been voted out as pastor of a large denominational church. Someone asked him, “How did you do all of those things?” His answer was simple, “I never quit.”
Jesus never quit, and He inspires us with His power to overcome the rejection test, or any other test that would make us want to turn back from our call. I have recently read two books that have told the story of Chinese believers. Their suffering has been extreme and brutal. But even more, their commitment to the cause has been awe-inspiring and a model for all believers everywhere.
SETTLE (Luke 4:31-44)
Jesus went from Nazareth to Capernaum on the north end of the Sea of Galilee. Again, He was asked to preach in the synagogue. Many years ago, Ken Sumrall and I stood in the ruins of the synagogue and recalled reading of Jesus’ visit there.
The Nazareth experience might have caused Jesus to have trepidation about preaching in another synagogue. But this day would be different; the power of God was obvious to all, and a man was delivered of evil spirits during the meeting. Afterward, Jesus’ ministry spilled over to Peter’s house where his mother-in-law was healed, and finally outside where large crowds gathered to be healed and delivered. His ministry went on into the night as dramatic things happened.
Capernaum was a triumph. After rejection there is no greater balm than complete acceptance. But Jesus told the crowd that He had to go to the cities and preach the kingdom of God. They begged Him to stay. They must have thought and said things like, “We love Your ministry; people would come from everywhere to hear You; we could build the biggest synagogue this side of Jerusalem,” and other entreaties. But He refused to settle.
Many Christians would deny that they have been diverted or rejected, but in reality they have settled. They have opted for acceptance over obedience. Why do I say that? Because they have settled for congregational comfort over personal obedience and personal mission. The churches themselves have gone all out to make people “feel at home,” rather than cause Christians to stay on course with their mission. Jesus never found a place to settle for less than the will of the Father.
TESTED IN EVERY WAY
Luke gives us some of the tests that Jesus faced and overcame, but Hebrews 4:15 tells us that He was tempted in every way that we are. There is no trial, test, or temptation with which He is not familiar. Therefore, He is able to understand and assist us in our test. He can help us stay on course. He can fortify our resolve to go on in the mission of proclaiming His Kingdom in all the earth.
I was 17 years old when asked to take several large bags of groceries to a poor family who lived in a rural, rundown house. I drove a pick-up truck to the house and proceeded to carry the groceries up some weak steps. As I carried the bags up the steps, the steps broke and I fell through, scraping my shins. Finally, I got the bags of groceries into the house. I was stunned by the filth. Chickens walked freely through the house, including the kitchen. The table was covered with flies and dirty dishes littered the area.
The “man” of the house took me through the rooms that were also unkempt and unclean. In the bedroom, I saw quilts piled upon the bed, and for some unknown reason, I pulled away one of the quilts, exposing a baby only a few weeks old. (Two weeks later, the baby died.) “What can I do here?” I wondered. Then I offered a suggestion: “I will buy some paint; and we can work together to clean and paint the house.”
The man looked down at his hand as I spoke, “ I have a bad finger,” he said. I was angered and frustrated. There were eleven children there and one would soon die. Somehow a bad finger was the cause of his terrible situation.
Christians, like other people, are too often in search of an excuse for our lack of obedience. In the face of Jesus’ passion for our salvation, and the passion of those who brought it to us through arduous trials, what possible excuse could we have?
The writer of Hebrews tells us how we can stay on course through trials, diversions, and entanglements:
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls (Hebrews 12:2-3).
Jesus Christ’s passionate resolve has given to us both salvation and an example. He “set His face like a flint.” True followers will do likewise. Our mission is to pass on what we have received to our children and to the nations.
Carolyn and I have grandchildren who are growing up in Christ. Our desire is to leave them with something more than the blessings that we enjoy. We want to leave them with a Savior Redeemer, and a mission to serve the One who gave His life for all of us.
Scripture References: Isaiah 50:7; Isaiah 42:4; John 6; Luke 4:1-44; Isaiah 61; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 12:2-3