Today’s selected reading continues in the Old Testament book of Job, which describes the suffering which Job experienced, as well as the conflict and struggle that took place in the midst of that suffering. More specifically, today’s passage is found in chapters sixteen through nineteen of this Old Testament book. WOUNDED IN THE HOUSE OF MY FRIENDS! HURT BY THOSE WHO SHOULD HAVE BROUGHT HEALING! CONDEMNED BY THOSE WHO SHOULD HAVE BROUGHT COMFORT! SCORNED BY THOSE WHO SHOULD HAVE BROUGHT STRENGTH! AFFLICTED BY THOSE WHO SHOULD HAVE BROUGHT AFFECTION! CRITICIZED BY THOSE WHO SHOULD HAVE BROUGHT CARE AND CONCERN! HARASSED BY THOSE WHO SHOULD HAVE HELPED! IN THE COMPANY OF FRIENDS AND YET COMPLETELY ALONE! “No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you. But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you: yea, who knoweth not such as these?” (Job 12:2-3). “Lo, mine eye hath seen all this, mine ear hath heard and understood it. What ye know, the same do I know also: I am not inferior to you” (Job 13:1-2). “Surely I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to reason with God. But ye are forgers of lies, ye are all physicians of no value. O that ye would altogether hold your peace! And it should be your wisdom. Hear now my reasoning, and hearken to the pleading of my lips” (Job 13:3-6). “Will ye speak wickedly for God? And talk deceitfully for him? Will ye accept his person? Will ye contend for God? Is it good that he should search you out? Or as one man mocketh another, do ye so mock him? He will surely reprove you, if ye do secretly accept persons. Shall not his excellency make you afraid? And his dread fall upon you?” (Job 13:10-11). “I have heard many such things: Miserable comforters are ye all. Shall vain words have an end? Or what emboldeth thee that thou answerest? I also could speak as ye do: If your soul were in my soul’s stead, I could heap up words against you, and shake mine head at you. But I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the moving of my lips should assuage your grief” (Job 16:1-5). “Though I speak, my grief is not assuaged: and though I forbear, what am I eased? But now he hath made me weary: thou hast made desolate all my company” (Job 16:6-7). “They have gaped upon me with their mouth; they have smitten me about the check reproachfully; they have gathered themselves together against me. God hath delivered me to the ungodly, and turned me over into the hands of the wicked. I was at ease, but he hath broken me asunder: he hath also taken me by my neck, and shaken me to pieces, and set me up for his mark. His archers compass me round about, he cleaveth my reins asunder, and doth not spare; he poureth out my gall upon the ground. He breaketh me with breach upon breath, he runneth upon me like a giant” (Job 16:10-14). “My friends scorn me: but mine eye poureth out tears unto God. O that one might plead for a man with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbour! When a few years are come, then I shall go the way whence I shall not return” (Job 16:20-22). “How long will ye vex my soul, and break me in pieces with words? These ten times have ye reproached me: Ye are not ashamed that ye make yourselves strange to me. And be it indeed that I have erred, mine error remaineth with myself. If indeed ye will magnify yourselves against me, and plead against me my reproach: know that God hath overthrown me, and hath compasses me with his net” (Job 19:1-6). “He hath put my brethren far from me, and mine acquaintance are verily estranged from me. My kinsfolk have failed, and my familiar friends have forgotten me. They that dwell in mine house, and my maids, count me for a stranger: I am an alien in their sight. I called my servant, and he gave me no answer; I intreated him with my mouth. My breath is strange to my wife, though I intreated for the children’s sake of mine own body. Yea, young children despised me; I arose, and they spake against me. All my inward friends abhorred me: and they whom I loved are turned against me. My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth. Have pity on me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me. Why do ye persecute me as God, and are not satisfied with my flesh” (Job 19:13-22).
When you read the words which are written and recorded within the Old Testament book of Job you will get a striking and alarming picture concerning the three friends of Job which initially and originally made an appointment to mourn with him and to comfort him. The further you progress in the book of Job the more you will encounter the tremendous disparity that exists between the original intention(s) of Job’s three friends and what actually transpired during the dialogue they would have with each other. Scripture makes it very clear in the final verses of the second chapter that Job’s three friends made an appointment to mourn with him and to comfort him, and how when they saw him from a far off they undoubtedly could not even recognize their friend. Upon seeing Job afar off Job’s friends would rend their garments and would lift their voices up loudly and weep for their friend. What’s more, is that as you continue reading you will find that when Job’s three friends finally came to him and saw him sitting in ashes upon the ground, they sat with him on the ground, and did so for seven days and seven nights. For seven days and seven nights Job’s three friends would sit with him in the midst of his grief, in the midst of his suffering, in the midst of his sorrow, in the midst of his anguish, in the midst of his agony, and would do so in complete and utter silence. In all reality, I would dare say the best things Job’s friends could have done for him was their intentions on mourning with him and comforting him. Moreover, I would dare say that the initial lifting up of their voices and weeping for Job, and the rending of their garments and putting earth on their heads was a strong sign of solidarity and unity with their friend who was clearly in anguish and agony in the midst of his suffering. Additionally, you will find that their silence in sitting with him for seven days and seven nights was perhaps the greatest thing they could have done for him, for once they opened their mouths to respond to Job, they would end up spewing out words of condemnation, words of chaos and words of confusion. Job’s three friends were in fact silent for seven days and seven nights, but when they finally did begin to open their mouths and speak to Job in the place of his suffering their words would be anything but comforting. How I began this writing is actually quite intriguing and quite alarming when you think about it in terms of Job’s suffering, for you would think that Job would be able to find comfort, strength and healing in the company of his friends, and yet the truth of the matter is that he found anything but that in the company and presence of his friends. Whereas Job thought he might very well have found encouragement and hope in the company of his friends, he actually found himself being bitterly and grievously divided with his friends during that time.
As I sit here today thinking about the narrative of Job and the suffering which he experienced and endured in the midst of his life, I can’t help but think about the fact that in the midst of his suffering he didn’t go unto his friends. If you take the time to truly read what is written and found within this book you will find that presumably when Job’s three friends heard of the intense suffering he experienced, and the traumatic struggle he was facing, they purposed among themselves to make their way unto Job. Please don’t miss the incredible significance and importance of this, for if we were to take the narrative of Job and translate it into our modern context we would find—perhaps even expect—Job to come unto his friends looking for comfort, looking for encouragement, and looking for hope. If we were to take the narrative of Job and translate it into our modern context of the western church we would expect Job to actively seek out other brothers in the midst of his suffering in order to “share” his struggles and what he was indeed going through. We would almost expect Job to be the one to take the initiate and come into the house of the LORD looking for strength, looking for solace, looking for comfort, looking for encouragement, and looking for hope. We would expect Job to come into the house of the LORD in the midst of his suffering and perhaps even raise his hand in response to the minister’s message, and make his way down to the altar. The truth of the matter, however, is that I would dare say that Job might not even make it into the front door of many of our churches. I am absolutely convinced that if we take Job and the suffering he experienced, and if we translated it into our modern context, we might not even allow him to find a seat in the pew or chair. Consider the fact that when the picture we find at the end of the second chapter is Job having rent his garment, Job having shaved his head, Job with a potsherd in his hand to provide relief from the sore boils upon his body, and sitting in ashes upon the ground. I would dare say that if Job were to show up in many of our churches today we would most likely not even give him the time of day, and would perhaps make him wait outside the doors of our churches. If a man or woman attempted to walk into the doors of your church today and their clothes were ripped, their head was shaved, they were covered from head to toe with sores and boils, and they had dust and ashes all over them—would you be willing to allow them to enter in and find a place among the congregants?
IS THERE A PLACE FOR JOB IN THE MIDST OF OUR SERVICES? IS THERE SEAT FOR JOB IN THE PEWS OF OUR CHURCHES? WOULD JOB BE WELCOMED IN OUR CHURCHES WITH HIS TORN CLOTHES AND COVERED IN DIRT, DUST AND ASHES? I sit here this afternoon and I can’t help but think about the fact that when we think about Job and the midst of his suffering, we would expect Job to make his way to the house of the LORD, and would expect him to somehow raise his hands during our worship experience, to give of his tithes and offering, to listen attentively to the sermon preached from behind the pulpit, and respond to the altar call as he raised his hand, stood up, came to the altar, knelt down on the ground, and had hands laid on him by an elder or member of the prayer team. We would expect someone in Job’s position to actively and proactively seek the house of the LORD, and have every desire to enter into the sanctuary and be among the people of God. We would see someone in Job’s situation and Job’s circumstance, and we would expect him to pursue fellowship and relationship in the midst of his suffering, and to raise himself from the ash heap and come into our houses of worship to “find what he needed.” We read the words which the author of the epistle written unto the Hebrews wrote concerning our coming boldly before the throne of grace to receive mercy and grace to help in time of need, and we would expect Job to come boldly into the house of God in the midst of, and in spite of the suffering and affliction he found himself experiencing. If we were to take the narrative of Job’s suffering and translate it into our modern context, and the context of our western church we would fully expect him to seek out the comfort and consolation he needs, and would almost expect him to come to us rather than us coming unto him. We would expect Job to seek a small group with which he could be connected to, or to attend a prayer meeting during the week, or perhaps even to attend one of the weekly service in order that he might receive and seek out that which he most likely and probably needs. We dare not attempt to think that it would be anything other than this particular reality, for there is a profound sense within the church today that those who are need should treat the church as an emergency room they can come to when they are in need, and when they find themselves in a place of suffering, affliction, agony and anguish within their lives. There is this growing and profound sense that those who are in need should in fact get themselves to the church and unto the altar much like someone who is hurting, or who has an emergency room would drive themselves to the emergency room in order that they might be seen by nurses and doctors alike. In fact, I would dare say that many of our churches are more like hospitals and more like emergency rooms than where they fully expect those who are suffering, those who are hurting, those who are broken, those who are in need to come unto and not only seek, but also find what they are looking for.
The truth of the matter is that I am absolutely convinced that if Job were to make his way to one of our churches in western society with his torn clothes, with dirt and dust all over him, and with sores and boils from head to toe, we most likely wouldn’t allow him entrance of access. I sit here today and I can’t help but think about this fact and wonder what it would look like if I did an experiment and dressed myself in torn, tattered and ripped clothes, and was covered in dirt, dust and ashes. I can’t help but wonder what it look like if I decided to make it look as though I had sores and boils all over my body—much like makeup artist and studios make actors and actresses look like zombies, or as though they had been beaten up, or somehow mutilated. What if I attempted to try and enter into the house of the LORD with clothes which are half torn and tattered, and sores and boils could be seen in the openings of the clothes? What if I was covered from head to toe with dirt and dust from the earth, and attempted to enter into one of our churches during the days and generation in which we live in? What’s more, is as if this particular picture isn’t enough—I can’t help but wonder whether or not a bruised, bloody and broken Jesus would be allowed into our churches. Having been beaten thirty-nine times, perhaps having a black and blue eye, dressed in a torn and tattered garment, or perhaps even having barely anything on at all—would Jesus even be allowed into our churches and houses of worship. What if a suffering Job or a suffering Jesus made their way to the doors of your church building seeking comfort, seeking encouragement, seeking fellowship, seeking relationship, seeking hope, seeking bowels of love and tender mercies? Would there be a place in our pews for a suffering Jesus and for a suffering Job, or would we ask them to wait ourself, or perhaps in the overflow section or annex? Oh, I can’t help but wonder if there is a place within our churches today for the suffering Job’s of our culture and society whose clothes are torn and tattered, who might be covered from head to toe with dirt, dust and ashes, and who might even smell terribly bad. I have to wonder if there would be a place in the pews and chairs of our churches for those who might be covered from head to toe with blisters, or sores, or boils, or scabs, or any other type of physical ailment you could think about. In the New Testament it was leprosy which regularly appeared in the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ, and there is not a doubt in my mind there were countless men and women and invidious who weren’t willing to interact with those who had leprosy for fear of becoming unclean. There was a very real fear and concern in the midst of the days and time in which Jesus lived and ministered of somehow becoming unclean by coming in contact with one who was a leper, or even like the woman who had the issue of blood. I still can’t get over the fact that as this woman with the issue of blood made her way through the crowd she would have caused any whose garments she touched, or any whose physical bodies she might have come in contact to become unclean. What’s more, is that even when she reached out and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, she ran the risk of Jesus Himself becoming unclean (according to the Law of Moses which was given him by the LORD atop Sinai).
I am sitting here this afternoon and I am absolutely captivated with and by the fact that in many of our churches in western Christianity, a suffering Job would have no place among us, and a suffering Job would struggle to find a seat in our pews and in our chairs. You have to consider the imagery Scripture presents us with and paints regarding Job, for it wasn’t a glamorous picture that was presented concerning this man who was perfect and upright in the earth, and one who feared God and shunned evil. The picture we get of a suffering Job is not a pretty or delightful picture, for the picture we are given is a man who was perhaps covered in dirt and dust, a man who sat on the ground in ashes, a man whose clothes were torn and tattered, a man whose head was shaved, and perhaps even a man who had not bathed himself in quite some time. THE SIGHT, THE SOUND AND THE SMELL OF SUFFERING! In all reality we must recognize and understand that there isn’t anything glamorous about suffering, and that there are indeed and there are in fact times when suffering is a gruesome and ugly sight. When we read the narrative of the Old Testament man called Job we aren’t given a pretty picture of what a suffering Job would in fact looked like, for not only was he perhaps unrecognizable, but I am sure he must have looked absolutely awful, and perhaps even smelt absolutely disgusting. The picture we get of Job is not one that is pretty, but rather is one of one who was covered with sores and boils, and one who perhaps even had pus running out of those boils. What’s more, is that it would appear the only relief Job would find in the midst of his suffering was a potsherd or piece of pottery with which he used to scrape himself. WHEN A PIECE OF CLAY IS YOUR CLOSEST COMPANION! WHEN A PIECE OF POTTERY IS YOUR CLOSEST FRIEND! Perhaps one of the greatest tragedies surrounding the narrative of Job is that his closest companion in the midst of his suffering was a piece of pottery and clay which he would use to give himself relief from perhaps the tremendous discomfort that was produced by the sores and boils that plagued his body. What’s more, is I would dare say that this piece of potsherd was a better companion and better source of comfort in the midst of Job’s suffering than were his own friends—those who made an appointment to mourn with him, and who made an appointment to comfort him.
Let me pause for a moment and ask what would happen if someone you knew was in the same place as Job was, and you could not even recognize them because of the sores and boils all over their body, and because of their torn and tattered clothes? What would happen if someone you knew walked into church one Sunday and smelt as if they hadn’t showered in a week, and was completely covered in dirt, dust and ashes. Oh, I can’t help but wonder what the prodigal son looked like when he made his way back to his father’s house, for I am sure he was covered from head to toe in dirt, perhaps smelt like the very swine he was sent to feed, and whose clothes were torn and tattered. The underlying question that I can’t help but ask is whether or not there is room and space in our churches for a suffering Job, for a suffering Christ, and for a sinful prodigal. Would there be room and would there be a place among us within the pews of our churches for those who had suffered a great deal, and who were covered from head to toe in dirt and sores, dust and boils? The more I think about this reality, the more I can’t help but be brought face to face with the words which are found in the Old Testament prophetic book of Isaiah which describe the suffering Servant. If you turn and direct your attention to the fifty-third chapter of the Old Testament prophetic book of Isaiah you will find a powerful picture of the suffering Servant of Israel, which we know to in fact be Jesus the Christ. I am reminded of the words found within this passage, and to think about and consider the words found in this passage of Scripture and how they present us with a truly astonishing picture of the Messiah and the One whom the LORD would deliberately and intentionally allow to suffer. It is within this passage of Scripture where we find one of the most beloved passages in all of Scripture concerning the suffering which Jesus faced and experienced leading up to the cross, and even upon the cross itself. It is absolutely necessary that we pay close attention to the words which are written and recorded within this passage of Scripture, for what we find here in this passage is a truly powerful picture concerning a Messiah who came to this world and who was born of a virgin that He might suffer and ultimately die. Consider if you will the words which are found within this passage of Scripture beginning to read with and from the first verse of the fifty-third chapter of the prophetic book of Isaiah:
“Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form or comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our tigers, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for out transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his tripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? For he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: When thou shalt make his oil an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall pro long his days, and the pleasures of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travel of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify man; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the soil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death; and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:1-12).
With these words we are directly confronted with the suffering of Jesus the Christ, and how He was a man who was acquainted with grief, and we hid our faces from him. What’s more, is that we read and find that He was despised, and we esteemed him not. He bore our griefs, and carried our sorrows, and yet did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. I would dare say that if men and women did not behold the suffering of Jesus—perhaps from the beginning of the event starting with His betrayal in the garden to His death on the cross—they would not have recognized that it was Jesus. I would dare say that by the time Jesus hung there upon the cross at Calvary He was barely recognizable, and those who perhaps knew Him or had experienced Him during His public ministry would not have even known that it was Jesus. In a similar way and fashion we find Job’s three friends seeing him from afar off and not even being able to recognize that it was their friend whom they had perhaps known for quite some time. Scripture indicates that when Job’s three friends saw him from afar off they lifted up their voices and wept, and rent their clothes and their garments and put earth on their heads. It’s quite interesting to read the narrative of the book of Job and to consider the fact that in the midst of his suffering he did not seek his friends, nor did he seek top go unto his friends in the midst of his suffering. Perhaps he didn’t want anyone seeing him like that, and perhaps he thought it would be better for him to simply remain alone on the ground in a pile of ashes, dust and dirt. Perhaps Job thought within himself that it was better for him to remain isolated and alone during this time, for others would be repulsed by the sight they would see if they saw his rent clothes, his body covered in sores and boils, and perhaps even the dirt and dust that was all over him. It should be noted that nowhere in the narrative of Job thinking within himself that he would arise and go unto his friends, for more often than not when we experience suffering as intense as that which Job did we don’t want to be seen, we don’t want to be heard, and we don’t want to be around anyone. When we suffer as Job did, and when our physical bodies are in the condition which Job’s physical body was, we don’t want anyone seeing us—perhaps because we don’t want to be judged or criticized, or perhaps because the sight might be too much for others to bear. There is absolutely no indication within Scripture that Job had any desire or intention to make his way to one or more of his friends, and to somehow find solace, strength and support in the company of his friends. I can’t help but wonder how Job’s three friends heard about Job’s condition and heard about Job’s suffering, and if as they made the journey unto Job they wondered if it was as bad as they had perhaps heard, and if he was really in the condition and state they had heard from others.
What makes the narrative of Job’s suffering so captivating is when you think about and consider the fact that in the midst of Job’s suffering we don’t find him going unto his friends and seeking his friends out, but rather his friends coming unto him that they might mourn with him and comfort him. It is absolutely necessary that we pay close attention to this reality, for it flies directly in the face of, and goes against the grain of what we have been taught and what we believe concerning suffering. Within the book of Job we find Job’s three friends making their way unto Job that they might be with him in the midst of the suffering, and I can’t help but take a look at the current generation in which we are living and wonder if perhaps one of the greatest reasons the doors of our churches were shut, have been shut, and perhaps continue to remain shut is because the suffering shouldn’t have to come to us. THE SUFFERING SHOULDN’T HAVE TO COME TO US!! THE SUFFERING SHOULDN’T HAVE TO COME TO YOU! THE SUFFERING SHOULDN’T HAVE TO COME TO THE PEW! THE SUFFERING SHOULDN’T HAVE TO COME TO THE CHURCH BUILDING! Tell me dear brother, tell me dear sister—when was the last time you actually took the time to go to where the suffering was? When was the last time you actually stepped out of the pews of the church in order that you might go unto the place(s) where the suffering is at its greatest? When was the last time you were willing to leave the four walls of the church building in order that you might make your way to that place and that location where suffering was at its greatest? There is not a doubt in my mind that during this time we are finding the doors of the churches closed and shut in order that we might be forced into the streets and into the corners of the highways and byways in order that we might go to where the real suffering, and where the real need is. SUFFERING UNFILTERED! SUFFERED UNALTERED! SUFFERING UNPOLISHED! What if I told that you that suffering as it is expressed within the pews of our churches might very well be a polished and clean version and form of suffering, and that it’s suffering with a filter that removes any blemishes, that removes the true nature and character of suffering? What if I told that it is possible for the suffering which we face and experience within our church buildings is a more polished suffering that in some cases—perhaps even in most cases—is not even suffering in its truest form, nor is it suffering in its purest form? In all reality, I would dare say that we are truly able to see suffering in its truest form—not in the pews of our churches, and perhaps not even at the altars of our churches, but rather in the streets of our cities, in the streets of our towns, and in our neighborhoods. I would dare say that we are able to see suffering in its truest and purest form within countless homes throughout and across this nation—whether they be foster homes, adopted homes, or even biological homes. Suffering in its purest form has always been and will always be in the midst of the streets, and it is for this reason I feel strongly that the doors of our churches have been shut and in most cases remain shut, for suffering should never have to come to you in order to find a voice, in order to be heard, in order to be felt, in order to be seen.
SUFFERING SHOULDN’T HAVE TO COME TO YOU TO FIND A VOICE! SUFFERING SHOULD HAVE TO COME TO YOU TO BE HEARD! SUFFERING SHOULDN’T HAVE TO COME TO YOU IN ORDER TO BE SEEN! SUFFERING SHOULDN’T HAVE TO COME TO YOU IN ORDER TO BE FELT! I sit here today thinking about and consider the narrative of Job’s suffering, and I am absolutely and utterly consumed with the fact that when we think about suffering in our modern context, we dare not think—much less be deceived into believing that suffering needs to come to us in order for it to be heard and seen. Suffering should not have to come to the doors of our churches, nor sit in the pews of our churches, nor even interact with us in the house of the LORD in order to be seen, in order to be heard, and in order to be felt. Suffering should never have to come to the doors of our churches in order to find a voice, for suffering itself should be able to heard in the streets of our cities. If suffering doesn’t have just as great a voice in the streets as it does within the church there is something seriously and drastically wrong. If suffering doesn’t have just as strong a presence in the midst of the streets of our cities than it does in the pews of our churches then we have to take a serious look at ourselves and reevaluate what we are doing. Perhaps one of the most interesting realities surrounding Job is that he didn’t voice his grief, his anguish, his sorrow and his agony after having traveled and journeyed to this three friends. Job’s three friends made an appointment to come to him in order that they might mourn with him and in order that they might comfort him. It wasn’t until after spending seven days and seven nights in silence with each other that Job finally broke the silence. We know for a fact that Job’s three friends said absolutely nothing during those seven days and seven nights, and I have to wonder if they even had any idea how to interact with suffering. Is it possible that Job’s three friends—despite the fact that they came to mourn with Job, and despite the fact that they came to comfort Job—had absolutely no knowledge, nor even experience to deal with suffering? Is it possible that although Job’s three friends came unto him in order to mourn with and comfort him, they really had very little to offer him in the place of his suffering? This actually begs the question concerning how much we ourselves have in the place of suffering, and whether or not we truly do in fact have something to offer in the midst of suffering. If we encounter suffering before and all around us—do we have enough within us, and the ability to effectively handle and minister in the midst of suffering?
Would it shock and surprise you if I told that those who might be the most ill-equipped to handle and deal with suffering are the ones who expect it to come to them, while those who are the most equipped to handle suffering are the ones who go to where it is at its height and zenith? I would dare say that those who need to wait for suffering to come to them are the ones who perhaps have the least amount to offer those who are suffering, and those who would in all reality potentially turn them away. Much like Jesus’ disciples who wanted to send the crowd and multitude of people away because of their hunger and tiredness, so also there are men and women who would want to send those who are hungry and tired away because they don’t have enough to meet the need. What so amazes me about Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand is that while the disciples sought to send the crowd away because they felt as though they didn’t have what was necessary to meet the need, Jesus corrected their thinking and declared unto them that they did not need to send them away, but rather to have them sit down in groups within the grass. THEY DON’T NEED TO GO AWAY! HAVE THEM SIT DOWN IN THE GRASS! I fear that there are many of us who would want to send the hurting, send the suffering, send the broken, send the distressed and discouraged away—even if they are tired, hungry, thirsty and might faint along the way. One of the greatest thoughts I can’t help but wonder is how Jesus would have ministered to and among the countless masses and crowds which are gathering all across this country and nation of ours. I can’t help but wonder if Jesus would insert Himself in the midst of the crowds, and if Jesus would in fact seek to find a way to minister to the needs. It’s interesting to note that perhaps the main example of Jesus attempting to cross some type of racial boundary is found in the fourth chapter of the New Testament gospel of John when on His way to Galilee He must needs travel through Samaria. It would be there in Samaria where He would not only cross the gender boundary by sitting down and speaking with a woman, but He would also cross somewhat of a racial boundary as He would associate with a Samaritan whom Jews would have very little dealings with. Oh how absolutely incredible it is to think about and consider the fact that Jesus needed to pass through Samaria and to enter into a place where very few Jews would actually enter into. It is truly remarkable to think about and consider the fact that Jesus would indeed enter into a Samaritan village in order that he might not only interact with a single Samaritan, but might also interact with a Samaritan woman at that. What’s more, is that at the end of the encounter we find Jesus spending two full days in the village of Sychar in the midst of Samaria. What would essentially begin with Jesus crossing what might be a racial boundary, would extend into a gender boundary as he would engage a woman at the will, and would ultimately culminate into an interaction with the entire village of Sychar. We dare not and must not miss this, for Jesus was willing to cross both racial and gender boundaries in order that He might effectively minister to the need of one woman that He might ultimately engage and minister to an entire village.
I feel the need to deviate for a moment from the narrative of Job and the suffering and affliction he experienced to highlight Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well in Samaria, for I am convinced that if there was a Jew who sought to journey from Galilee to Judaea, or from Judaea to Galilee, they might have sought to bypass Samaria and essentially go around it altogether. I would dare say that if any Jew wanted to make their way between Galilee and Judaea they would have avoided Samaria and the towns and villages in the midst of it so as to somehow not defile, contaminate or pollute themselves with the Samaritans. It’s interesting and worth noting that when Jesus desired to journey from Judaea to Galilee He needed to journey and pass through Samaria, and although the apostle John doesn’t initially state it in the passage, I would dare say that Jesus needed to not only pass through Samaria, but also to to stop and sit by a well in Samaria. I do not believe for one moment that Jesus was solely interested in this Samaritan woman at the well, but was just as much interested in the whole village of Sychar from which this woman was indeed and was in fact from. I am convinced that Jesus was just as much interested in Samaritans as a whole—not only from His willingness to pass through Samaria, not only His willingness to sit down by a well in Samaria, and not only from remaining and abiding in Sychar for two days, but also with and by His words when declared unto His disciples that they would be witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judaea, and in Samaria. Please don’t miss the reference of Samaria, for when Jesus sought to make witnesses within the earth He did not, He would not and could not bypass Samaria. Samaria was a part of the divine plan for salvation of the eternal Father, and Jesus recognized the tremendous role Samaria played in the divine plan of salvation in the midst of the earth. What’s more, is that within the New Testament gospel of Luke we find the parable of the good “Samaritan,” and we also find that there was a Samaritan leper who was not only cleansed by Jesus, but who also returned to Jesus after realizing that He was healed, and gave glory, thanks and praise to His Father which was in heaven. Jesus made sure that in the Great Commission that Samaria was included, for not even He could journey through life and ministry without engaging Samaria and without engaging in the Samaritans.
I sit here today and think about the narrative of Jesus not only passing through Samaria, but also choosing to sit by a well in Samaria, and be challenged with the fact that He knew exactly what he needed to do in that place. There is not a doubt in my mind Jesus knew the differences between Jews and Samaritans, and what might have very well been at times tension between the two groups of people. Jesus needed to pass through Samaria, and needed to sit down at that well at that particular time for He knew this particular woman would in fact come unto the well as she had done every other day. We dare not miss the importance and significance of Jesus’ time in Samaria because what we see here is the closest thing to Jesus crossing both racial, as well as gender boundaries in order that He might meet the need of one single woman. What’s more is that this narrative aptly demonstrates how we effect change across, through and in the midst of racial boundaries and tensions—namely, one life and one person at a time. It should be worth noting that Jesus didn’t initially or immediately attempt to engage the whole village of Sychar, but rather chose to engage one lowly woman. What’s more, is that Jesus chose to engage a woman who by all definitions could have been defined as loose and free in her relationships and sexuality. This woman had five husbands previously, and the man whom she was now with was not her husband. Please don’t miss this all important reality, for not only did Jesus choose to interact with one Samaritan, and not only did Jesus choose to interact with a Samaritan woman, but Jesus also deliberately and intentionally chose to interact with one who could have been considered loose and free in her relationship, and quite possibly even promiscuous. It might very well be said that Jesus deliberately and intentionally chose this woman who had a string of failed relationships and failed marriages in order that He might meet her in the place of thirst. This actually leads me to something else which must be understood concerning this narrative, and that is that Jesus chose to meet this woman in the place of physical thirst and need in order that He might truly and effectively minister to her in the place that truly matter, and the place which truly counted. It would be very easy to allow this to get lost in translation, and yet the truth of the matter is that what we find here is Jesus crossing racial and gender boundaries that He might minister to the need of this woman who had a sordid past and who was living a promiscuous lifestyle. Oh we have to get and understand this, for if we fail to recognize and understand this, we fail to understand how we truly effect change in the culture and society in which we are presently living.
I am absolutely and completely convinced that if we are seeking to truly effect change during the culture, the generation, and the times in which we are living, we must be willing to cross boundaries others might be afraid to cross and engage people others might try and shy away from. Moreover, we must not look for those who have it all together, and those who don’t’ themselves have a sordid past. We can’t expect to effect change and look for those who have it all together, and those who don’t have a past and story themselves. This woman’s story was that she had five previous husbands, and essentially five failed relationships and five failed marriages. It might very well be said that this woman might not have been good at relationships, and yet after her encounter with Jesus this woman who might have had a difficult time in and with relationships wound up declaring and proclaiming to the entire village of Sychar that there was a man who had told her everything she had ever done. It’s worth noting that even though Jesus was a man who told her everything she had ever done—He neither condemned, nor criticized, nor even judged her for it. No more did Jesus condemn, criticize and judge this woman than He did condemn, criticize and judge the woman who was caught in the act of adultery and brought before Him into His presence in the midst of the Temple. It should be noted that despite the fact that Jesus told this woman everything she had done, He did not rebuke her for her past relationships—perhaps even her failure at relationships. Jesus never once made this woman feel guilty, despised or rejected—despite the fact that she was a Samaritan, despite the fact that she was a woman, and despite the fact that she had five previous husbands and was with someone who right now was not her husband. Jesus didn’t use any of that as means to judge or criticize this woman, and instead chose to administer compassion, affection, mercy, and grace within her life. What’s more, is that Jesus would offer this Samaritan, Jesus would offer this Samaritan woman, and Jesus would offer this Samaritan woman with a sordid past living water—living water that many would think and believe was only available to and for the Jews. Oh, what happens when Jesus enters into Samaria and begins offering living water to those who have been marginalized, those who have been vilified, those who have been neglected, those who have been mistreated, those who have been oppressed, those who have been rejected by others? What happens when Jesus chooses to leave Judaea and bring living water into a place where countless—if not most Jews would shun and avoid altogether? What happens when Jesus chooses to sit down by a well in Samaria and engage a Samaritan woman who had a sordid past and not only does not condemn or criticize her, but also offers her living water, and invites her to taste and drink of this water that she might not thirst again?
I love the narrative that we find in the fourth chapter of the New Testament gospel which the apostle John wrote concerning Jesus in Samaria, for not only do we find Jesus crossing racial and gender lines, but we also find Him going even beyond racial and gender lines and to one who might undoubtedly been vilified and marginalized because of her past. Here was a women who had five failed marriages and was with someone who wasn’t currently her husband, and Jesus made mention of that in His interaction with her. It’s important that we understand this, for I am convinced that in our need to be the hands and feet of Jesus across racial boundaries which have been drawn in the sand within this nation we cannot and must be specific with whom we choose to rub shoulders with, and who we choose to interact with. There would be a growing tendency to be selective in who we choose to interact with, and who we choose to “cross the lines” with, and yet I am convinced that such a reality is a direct affront to the life and ministry of Jesus, and is in all reality an atrocity in the eyes of the Father. I am without a doubt convinced that Jesus provided us with an example of not going around the issue(s), nor going around those borders and boundaries which have been placed, but to actually go right through them and confront them head on. Jesus wasn’t afraid, nor was He ashamed to go into and through Samaria, and He wasn’t afraid to be seen with a woman there at the well. Jesus wasn’t of the borders and boundaries which the Jewish people (perhaps even some of the Samaritans themselves) had set up. Jesus was willing to march right into Samaria—and not only march into Samaria, but was willing to take a seat there in the midst of it, and wait for a woman to come unto the well. Oh that we would be men and women who would not be afraid to enter into Samaria—and not only not be afraid to enter into Samaria, but also to take a seat in the midst of it that we might effectively dialogue and minister as the hand and the feet of our Lord and Saviour whom we profess to walk with and follow. There would be those who would choose to avoid the Samaria’s of this country, and there would be those who would choose to somehow bypass and go around them, and yet when Jesus gave the great Commission, He was very careful to include Samaria in that mandate.
THE GREAT OMISSION! We read the final verses of the twenty-eighth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew, and we have come to know the words of Jesus as “The Great Commission,” and yet I can’t help but get the strong sense that within our culture and society we have been more prone and more apt to pursue what I would call “The Great Omission,” as we have chosen to leave out the Samaria’s of this nation, and have chosen to leave out the Samaritans of this country. There are those have spent a considerable amount of time seeking to bypass borders and boundaries in order that we might not have to deal with them. There have been some—even within the church and body of Christ—that have sought to remain in the pews of the churches, and within the four walls of the church, and would not touch the Samaria’s of this nation and country with a ten foot pole. I continue to firmly believe that the doors of the churches of this nation was one of the best things that could have happened to the Church of Jesus Christ, for the true Church of Jesus Christ has never been about “going to church” as much as it has been about “being the Church.” There is not a doubt in my mind that the doors of our church buildings being shut and closed was without a doubt one of the greatest things that could have happened for the nation, and yet there is a powerful and profound warning that is issued to the people of God—namely, that we dare not and ought not squander this opportunity. Jesus has called us forth out of the pews, and has called us forth out of the four walls of the church, and has brought us into our homes and into our streets in order to confront and deal with the issues that have been there all along. There would be the growing tendency to avoid the Samaria’s of this nation, and to choose to remain in the Judaea’s, remain in the Galilee’s, remain in the Jerusalem’s, and even to remain in the synagogues, and perhaps the Temple. If there is one thing we learn from the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ, it’s that he was never afraid to go to where the need was, and He was never one who waited until the need came to Him. Oh, there are countless examples of those who were sick and in need coming unto Him, but we must recognize that that was simply because Jesus made Himself available and inserted Himself in the midst of the need that was present all around Him. Jesus never shied away from the needs that were before and all around Him, and He always inserted Himself into the place where there was a need—even if He would insert Himself into a place that was filled with countless needs knowing that He had gone there for one man who had an infirmity for thirty-eight years and spent his whole life waiting and hoping for a miracle. Jesus had absolutely no problem interacting with those whom society would deem and consider as being unclean, and offered them healing, wholeness and cleansing.
I have to admit that there has been a lot of talk during these past three years—and especially during the past six months—concerning the one who sits in the Oval Office and who leads this nation and country. There have been a lot of people who have condemned and criticized the President of the United States of America for what he hasn’t done in his time in office, and express doubt in what he can do during the remaining time he has in office. The truth of the matter, however, is that the solution(s) we are looking for cannot and will not be found in the midst of our government. The solution(s) we are looking for cannot and will not be found in any Senate committed, in any joint session of Congress, in any Supreme Court, and in any city hall. If we want true and lasting change, transformation, and solutions we must recognize that the answer lies with you and I. I am completely and utterly convinced that we have been looking in the wrong place for the long-term solution(s) we have been so desperately yearning for and desiring. I am convinced that the reason why the doors of our church buildings have been shut is because it has been a maneuver and instrument in the hand of the living God to get the Church out of the church, and to bring the Church into the place where the true need is, and where the real need is. For the past three months churches have been shut as men and women have been forced to fellowship with others in their homes, and have been forced to do church virtually, and I believe with all my heart that this has been divinely used in and by the hand of the living God to bring the Church into a place where they can truly enter into and insert themselves into the place of need, and into the place where the suffering and hurting is present the most. I would dare say that those who are somehow upset and angry over not being able to enter into the four walls of the church building are those who perhaps have absolutely no interest or desire in going to those places where the need truly is, and where the suffering truly was. Those who have placed such a high emphasis on the church buildings are those who would otherwise not want to lift a finger to help minister to the need(s) that are present within our streets and within our homes. We dare not, we cannot and must not miss and lose sight of this absolutely remarkable and astounding reality, for to do so would be to miss out on what the Spirit of the Sovereign LORD desires to speak to us during this time.
The narrative of Jesus needing to pass through Samaria is truly spectacular and wonderful, for although Scripture speaks of Jesus needing to “pass through” Samaria, what we actually find within the passage of Scripture is Jesus needing to sit down in a well in Samaria, and Jesus abiding among the Samaritans for two days. We read this narrative and consider Jesus merely needing to pass through this particular region between Judaea and Galilee, and yet if we are being honest with ourselves Jesus’ passing through Samaria was about so much more than simply getting to Galilee in the quickest possible way. What’s more, is that I do not even believe that Galilee was the ultimate destination for Jesus, but rather Samaria was the true and ultimate destination for Jesus on this particular occasion. Jesus needed to pass through Samaria, but Jesus also needed to send the disciples into town to by meat, and Jesus also needed to sit down at that particular well at that particular time of the day in order that He might be there at the precise moment when this particular woman would come to the well. Undoubtedly Jesus knew and was very much aware of this woman’s schedule in coming to the well, and He chose to sit down at that well in order that He might be available for her when she came to Him. We read the narrative of Jesus needing to pass through Samaria, and we cannot and must not seek to understand it solely from the perspective that Jesus needed to merely pass through Samaria, for it is was simply and solely about passing through Samaria, Jesus would have passed through and would have come into Galilee. If Galilee were the main and ultimate objective, and it was merely passing through Samaria, then there would be absolutely no need for Jesus to stop at that particular well—much less chose to strike up a conversation with this Samaritan woman. No. The truth of the matter is that Jesus did more than simply NEED to PASS THROUGH Samaria, for Jesus needed to sit down at a well in Samaria, and Jesus needed to engage this Samaritan woman. What’s more, is Jesus needed to abide in Samaria for two full days in order that the people of that town might be reached with and by the kingdom of heaven. It’s worth noting that Jesus didn’t merely begin by crossing what could very well have been considered racial boundaries during that time with one Samaritan, but He actually followed that through even further to devote two entire days among those whom the Jews marginalized, and perhaps even vilified. Jesus began with one single Samaritan woman—and one with a sordid past as this one had—and that encounter with this one woman would ultimately and inevitably lead to the whole village of Sychar encountering the Messiah. What’s more, is that Jesus wouldn’t be the only one who would go into Samaria and preach and introduce the kingdom of heaven, for in the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts we find Philip one of the deacons ordained by the apostles going down into Samaria that he might preach the gospel concerning the kingdom of heaven. Consider if you will the words which are found in the eighth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts beginning to read with and from the fifth verse:
“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of the many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city. But there was a certain man, called Simon, which before time in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorcerers. But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the LORD Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the LORD for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me. And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the LORD, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans” (Acts 8:5-25).
As I bring this writing to a close, I find it absolutely necessary to draw and call your attention to the fact that what we find and read in the fourth chapter of the New Testament gospel of John is the closest thing we have to Jesus being willing to cross racial borders, boundaries and stereotypes in order that He might not only demonstrate and manifest the kingdom of heaven, but might also demonstrate and manifest the eternal love of the Father. How absolutely remarkable and astounding it is to think about and consider the fact that in the three and a half years during the public ministry of Jesus the Christ, He did not, would not and could not bypass and avoid Samaria, and would Himself enter into the midst of it. Jesus was willing to cross racial, ethnic, and even gender boundaries in order that He might bring the manifestation of the kingdom of heaven in the midst of it. If you are reading the words which are written and recorded in this particular writing, I strongly encourage you to move beyond the pews of the church, and move beyond your own self-interest, and to truly engage and insert yourself where the need and the suffering us truly the greatest. Moreover, I would strongly encourage you to rise up from your place and to truly and actively get involved in those places of need that have been hotbeds for strife, contention, frustration, anger, and the like. Jesus showed us what it was like to move beyond racial, ethnic and even gender boundaries in order that the kingdom of heaven might be manifested in the midst of Samaria, and He even instructed us to make disciples of those in Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth. What’s more, is Jesus would go on to declare that we would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judaea, in Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. Oh that the Spirit of the LORD would raise up Philips in this generation—those who are willing to depart from Jerusalem and would be willing to go into Samaria that they might be the hands and the feet of Jesus the Christ, and that they might demonstrate and manifest the power of the kingdom of heaven. Oh that there would be those who would be willing to go forth as Philips, for it would be in direct response to the ministry of Philip that ultimately and eventually Peter and John would come to Samaria and prayed for those that believed that they might receive the Holy Ghost. Peter and John came down into Samaria and laid their hands on them that they might receive the Holy Ghost, and at the end of this particular narrative we find them returning to Jerusalem and preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans. Oh that we would be men and women who would wholeheartedly be willing to leave the pews of the churches in order that we might take the ministry of the body of Christ into the streets where the need is the greatest, and where the suffering is at its height and at its greatest. Oh that we would be men and women who would be willing to insert ourselves into those places where the need, where the suffering, where the hurting, and where the brokenness is the greatest that we might indeed and might in fact be the hands and feet of Jesus and bring the ministry of the gospel, and of the kingdom of heaven to those who desperately need it.