Recently I was reading through Luke 4 and was struck by something that Jesus did. After spending 40 days in the wilderness and being tempted by Satan, Jesus returned to Nazareth and went to the Tabernacle. Following the custom of the Jews in that time he stood and read a passage of Scripture. The specific prophecy that he read spoke of one who would proclaim good news to the poor, give sight to the blind and bring liberty to the oppressed. Jesus then rolled up the scroll and pronounced, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
I was blown away after reading this. Jesus could have chosen a passage that spoke of love, holiness, purity or sin. Instead, he decided to read a passage that focused on the virtues of justice and the way in which he intended to serve mankind. When looking at the life of Christ it becomes apparent how important this concept was to him. Jesus never pushed away the poor, needy or oppressed. Rather, he sought them out, loved them and worked to demonstrate his concern for them.
I had the opportunity to preach on this recently. Since then I’ve had several conversations about this idea of justice and the way that believers in Christ should live. The most common question that I've received goes something like this: "I realize that taking care of the poor and needy is a good thing, but isn’t it worthless if you don’t preach the gospel at the same time?"
The call to give the gospel is central to the walk of the Christian and should always be a motivating force. However, the lack of an opportunity to share the gospel does not release a Christian from the responsibility to give generously to the poor, feed the hungry and give freedom to the oppressed (Isaiah 58). Too often Christians excuse their lack of generosity by claiming that they would rather witness or share the plan of salvation than “just meet physical needs”. What they fail to realize is that taking care of the needy is an expression of the gospel in itself.
When Jesus performed miracles they were not just manifestations of his power (though they accomplished this task). They were manifestations of justice. Providing food for the hungry, healing the leper, giving sight to the blind, making the lame to walk, giving speech to the dumb and even raising the dead: these showed his power over natural law, creation and death, but they also gave hope to men, women, children and families who were at the end of their rope and desperately needed help. Some of these people trusted Christ as their savior and devoted their lives to his service. Others walked away having their physical need met, but missing the answer to their deeper spiritual need. Christ, however, did not discriminate based on their response.
We are called to share the gospel and to faithfully hold to the authoritative Word of God. We demonstrate this devotion through caring for those in need and serving people in our church and our cities. We do this without any expectation of personal gain, being paid back or even being thanked.
This is the call to be like Jesus.