This morning as we come to the study of God’s Word I want to share with you a number of passages that endeavor to give us God’s perspective on a ministry to the disabled. Our understanding of ministry to people in need, people who are hurting, people who are suffering, people who have disabilities, must come from the Word of God, must come from the compassionate heart of God.
Abraham Heschel, the Jewish scholar, wrote a book entitled The Prophets. In that book he says the prophets present a pathetic theology; he means by that a theology of pathos. He says the present a God of feeling, and a God of sympathy, and a God of compassion. He writes, and I quote, “The most exalted idea applied to God is not infinite wisdom or infinite power, but infinite concern.” End quote. And certainly he is correct that God is a God of great compassion. It was before the flood that God grieved in His heart that He had made man, and it says, “His heart was filled with pain.” When the people of God were oppressed by their enemies during the time of the judges it says, “God could bear Israel’s misery no longer,” Judges 10:16.
The prophets Jeremiah, Isaiah, Josiah, wrote about God these words: “I have loved you with an everlasting love. Can a mother forget a baby at her breast? Though she may forget, I will not forget you. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? My heart is changed within me. All my compassion is aroused.” And God, through those prophets, likens himself to a compassionate mother, to one who loves with an everlasting love; to one who cannot forget, cannot give up; to one whose is compassion is enflamed.
And, of course, in God’s fullest revelation of Himself, when He came into the world in the form of Jesus Christ, it became apparent that He was a God of compassion, because we see in Christ love and compassion. We see in Him tears of sorrow. We see in Him sadness and sympathy. We see Him willing to suffer, and in so suffering identify with the sufferings of all who suffer. And even in the glorified Christ now in the right hand of the Father we have a sympathetic, compassionate, caring high priest who can be touched with the feelings of our pain.
But the compassion of God and the compassion of Christ must be understood in one very specific dimension, and it is this, that the compassion of God and of Christ extends beyond compassion for physical suffering. It extends beyond the temporal, beyond the earthly, beyond the temporary. The compassion of God and of Christ must be seen ultimately as redemptive. It must be seen as being primarily concerned with the salvation of a soul, not the suffering of a body. And I believe that we can see a clearly unfolding picture of God’s compassion for those who suffer by looking at some marvelous portions of Scripture.
To begin with, I want us to turn to the Old Testament where we have the first indication of a ministry to the disabled: 2 Samuel chapter 9, 2 Samuel chapter 9. You know that Israel had become a nation and desired a king; God had given them a king by the name of Saul. By the time we come to chapter 9 of 2 Samuel, that their first king Saul is dead. He was killed, along with his sons, by the Philistines. He was then beheaded and buried beneath a tamarisk tree in a place called Jabesh.
Prior to Saul being killed he lived in great fear. Why? Because it had become known to him and everyone else that no son of his would ever be on the thrown in Israel again. There would be none of his line there because of his disobedience to God; but rather the successor to Saul was to be a man named David who came from a completely different family, the family of Jesse. Saul, paranoid about David taking his thrown, had attempted on a number of occasions to kill David. He feared that David would exceed to his thrown and take away his power and authority, and so he wanted David dead.
However, Saul had a son by the name of Jonathan. And though he was the son of the king who was the enemy of David, Jonathan became David’s dearest friend. And they had a bond of love between them, the Bible says, that exceeded the love of a man for a woman – a deep profound love, not at all physical, but nonetheless a unique bond. He became his beloved friend; and consequently whenever Saul wanted to kill David, Saul’s son Jonathan would warn David, and thus Saul became the key to David’s safety.
Now Jonathan his beloved friend is also dead. In fact Saul and his sons and Jonathan being dead it would seem that David is left alone to rule without any threat of an insurrection being led by any other member of Saul’s family. It was fairly typical that when an oriental king took his throne he would kill all of the family members still living from the prior monarch in order to prevent any threat to his own reign. Customarily then all remaining descendants of a deposed royalty would be gathered up and slaughtered so they would pose no threat to the new monarchy.
However, David had promised Saul and promised Jonathan years before that he would never take the life of any of their family, he would never kill any of their descendants. And so, David has no such intention. But he does want to find out if indeed there are any in the family still left; and we pick up there with that in mind in chapter 9 at verse 1: “Then David said, ‘Is there yet anyone left of the house of Saul? Not that I may kill him, but that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake.’” He says, “I want to know if there are any descendants left, not to take their life, but to show them kindness.” Apparently no one knew. Apparently no one around David knew of anyone.
Verse 2 says, “There was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David; and the king said to him, ‘Are you Ziba?’ And he said, ‘I am your servant.’” Not able to get any information from his own people he found this servant of Saul, and, “He says to him,” – in verse 3 – ‘Is there not yet anyone of the house of Saul to whom I may show the kindness of God?’ And Ziba said to the king, ‘There is still a son of Jonathan who is crippled in both feet.’” This man’s name was Mephibosheth. He is introduced to us in chapter 4 and verse 4 in the most interesting way.
Now Jonathan, Saul’s son, had a son crippled in his feet. He was five years old when the report of Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel, and his nurse took him up and fled. And it happened that in her hurry to flee, he fell and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth.”
This little boy was crippled since the age of five when he was dropped by his nurse who was fleeing in fear. Mephibosheth means “a shameful one.” He is also called by another name, interestingly enough, in 1 Chronicles 8 and 9. He is called Merib-baal, which means “the fighter of Baal” or “the fighter for Baal.” It may have been that he was originally named Merib-baal and was intended to be a fighter. However when he became crippled, it may have been that he was called Mephibosheth, because instead of a fighter he became a shameful one. That would give you some indication of the attitude of people toward a crippled person. He went from being a warrior to being one who bore shame, a stigma.
It is very likely that he is in hiding here because he might be afraid that David would come after him. Verse 4 says, “The king said to Ziba, ‘Where is this Mephibosheth?’ And Ziba said to the king, ‘Behold, he is the house of Machir the son Ammiel in Lo-debar.’” Lo-debar, by the way, means “a place of no pasture,” “a barren place” believed to have been about ten miles south of the Sea of Galilee in the Jordan area.
“Then King David” – verse 5 – “sent and brought him from the Machir the son of Ammiel, from Lo-debar.” He wants to pull him out of his reclusive life, so he has him brought. Verse 6, “And Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, came to David” – and notice his humility – “fell on his and prostrated himself.” Great respect for the king. “And David said, ‘Mephibosheth.’ And he said, ‘Here is your servant!’ And David said to him, ‘Do not fear, for I will surely show kindness to you for the sake of your father Jonathan, and will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul. And you shall eat at my table regularly.’” That is incredible.
He is extending his kindness to Mephibosheth because of his great love for Jonathan; and he is being immensely generous. “You will eat regularly at my table,” – which means – “you will live in my house,” – which means – “you will be treated as one of my own sons. I will give you that land which originally belonged to Saul for your possession.” And again, the humility of this man who must have learned a certain kind of self-effacing humility because he was mistreated for most of his life, “He prostrates himself” – in verse 8 – “and says to David, ‘What is your servant, that you should regard a dead do like me?’”
“Dead dog” is a term of contempt. To call someone a dog was bad enough; to call someone a dead dog was the worst imaginable derision. He says, “Why do you want to pay any attention to a dead dog like me?” He had no sense of significance whatsoever because of his crippling injury. Because he had been an outcast, was living in isolation, wondering why in the world why anyone would care to be nice to him. He had not known that in his life.
Then verse 9, “The king called Saul’s servant Ziba and said to him, ‘All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson. I give it all.’” By right David could have taken it all over, he was the new king. But he gave it to Mephibosheth. “And then he says to Ziba, ‘You and your sons and your servants shall cultivate the land for him. You shall bring in the produce so that your master’s grandson may have food; nevertheless Mephibosheth your master’s grandson, shall eat at my table regularly.’
“Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.” Thirty-five men immediately went to work to work the land to produce a business for Mephibosheth. “Then Ziba said to the king, ‘According to all that my lord the king commands his servant to do, your servant will do.’ So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table as one of the king’s sons. And Mephibosheth had a young son who’s name was Mica. And all who lived in the house of Ziba were servants to Mephibosheth. So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate at the king’s table regularly.” And then this amazing postscript, almost in unbelief, “Now he was lame in both feet,” as if to say it’s amazing that he who would otherwise have been an outcast was so accepted by King David.
Here was a man who was a fugitive. Here was a man who was disabled, who was living in a barren place, fearing for his life, an outcast, one who had no sense of respect for himself, who had always been treated contemptuously like a dead dog. How did David treat this man? He treated him with love, he treated him with kindness, he treated him with grace, he treated him with mercy, he treated him with immense generosity, he treated him as if he were one of his own children. It was more than writing an encouraging letter; he gave his heart to him, he gave his palace to him, he gave his resources to him, he gave his life to him. He brought him into the palace, set him up in business, made him one of his own.
Why did he do this? Well it says because of his love for Jonathan. But really verse 3 is the key: “He wanted to show him the kindness of God.” And may I say to you, beloved, that what God desires to do in behalf of the disabled today is no different. He wants to demonstrate His kindness to them; and it comes through us. God shows His kindness through us. And so, God moved on this disabled, dispossessed, deprived, depreciated, demeaned person, and He moved on him with compassion through the heart of David.
But there’s something more here, something absolutely thrilling that just is unable to be avoided as you look at this passage. There is here an inescapable analogy that introduces us to the real ministry to the disabled. It was wonderful what David did, and it was a model to all of us to show that same kindness and generosity. But there is more here than just that as you begin to look at the analogy that this chapter can be. Follow this magnificent picture in these thoughts; listen very carefully.
Mephibosheth was crippled by a fall. All men have been spiritually crippled by the fall. Mephibosheth lived in the House of Machir, which means of “sold”; and all sinners are sold under sin. Mephibosheth was residing in a place called Lo-debar, which means “barren” and “no pasture.” And all sinners are in barrenness not being fed by the Good Shepherd; they hunger and thirst.
Mephibosheth lived far away from the king, and sinners are afar off from God. Mephibosheth was shown mercy and goodness for another’s sake, namely Jonathan; and sinners are shown mercy and goodness for another’s sake, namely Christ. As David did for Mephibosheth, what he did on account of Jonathan, God does for you and me what He does on account of Christ.
Mephibosheth was planned for goodness in a promise made before he was ever born, made by David to his father and grandfather. And sinners are planned for glory in a promise made by God before they are ever born as well. Mephibosheth was sought by the king; David took the initiative. And sinners are sought by God, as God takes the initiative.
Mephibosheth humbled himself when he came to David, and sinners must humble themselves when they come to God. Mephibosheth saw himself as unworthy and undeserving, and the sinner must recognize his sinful unworthiness. Mephibosheth made peace with David and entered into David’s house, and the sinner makes peace with God and enters into God’s family. Mephibosheth was given an inheritance, and the sinner is given an inheritance undefiled, eternal, that fades not away. Mephibosheth was given servants to help, and the sinner is given the divine help of the Holy Spirit and the ministering angels who are sent forth to serve the saints.
Mephibosheth became one of the king’s sons, and the saved sinner is adopted into the family of God and called a son of God. Mephibosheth sat at the king’s table continually feasting, and the saved sinner, too, sits in heavenly places feeding on divine provision. Mephibosheth lived permanently in a prepared place, and shared sinners will live forever in a place being prepared for them.
Yes, God cares for the physical, earthly, temporal needs of those who suffer; but behind that is a care about the redemption of their souls. And the magnificent story of David and Mephibosheth is only in a sense an analogy and an illustration of the great God who cares for the salvation of the souls of sinners. Yes, God cares for the disabled. Yes, He cares for their physical suffering and pain. But far more does He care for their eternal souls. And that is why, beloved, that the only agency in the world that can properly minister to those who are handicapped is the church, because we alone can bring to them the ministry to the soul.
But we need not only depend on an analogy to understand the heart of God for those that are disabled. Turn with me to Luke chapter 14. We can go right to the words of Jesus Himself. In Luke chapter 14 and verses 12 through 14 Jesus gave us a very direct instruction with regard to the care that we must have for those that are disabled. This stands as a mandate not only for the church but for every believer.
Jesus said this, verse 12: “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and payment come to you. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Could that be more clear? It could not. It could not.
Jesus is saying, “When you hold a luncheon or when you hold a reception or when you hold a dinner, don’t invite the people who can pay you back by inviting you to dinner, don’t invite those people who are going to reciprocate. You invite the people who have no capacity to reciprocate. You invite the people who could never pay you back; and thus you will manifest the heart of God.”
God-like generosity is generosity that could never be repaid. And when you are generous to some who in return are generous to you that is not the generosity of, God that is the generosity of man; it reciprocates. But when you are generous to one who has no capacity to be generous to you, that is the generosity of God. That’s the message of our Lord. This is a practical mandate which could be exercised in your family perhaps this Thanksgiving week. And someday, in the time of believers’ rewards, at the resurrection of the righteous, you will be eternally rewarded for your love.
But again, it is not just compassion toward the physical needs of these people that is in the mind of Christ. Follow in verse 15: “And when one of those who were reclining at the table with Him heard this, he said Him, ‘Blessed is everyone who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ But He said to him,” – and here’s the parable – ‘A certain man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who have been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.”’”
Now that’s a typical way a feast was handled. You sent out a preliminary invitation to the invited guests and you said, “We’re going to be having a feast, and you must come.” The specific time of that feast had not yet been determined. Why? Because they didn’t have pre-prepared food, they didn’t have it available in supermarkets; and it was a very difficult and time-consuming and costly enterprise to pull it off. And there was no way to predetermine exactly what time everything would be ready. So an initial invitation went out, and the people just waited until the exact moment when someone would come and say, “The feast is ready; come now.”
“But” – verse 18 – “all these pre-invited guests began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I bought five yoke of oxen, I’m going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I married a wife, and for that reason I can’t come.’” That one I can understand more than the other two. But what they’re basically saying is, “We’re not interested in your feast. We have no interest in it, none whatsoever. We just can’t come.” They’re all lame excuses.
“So they came back and reported this to his master, said, ‘Nobody wants to come to your feast. Nobody wants to come.’ Then the head of the household became angry and he said to his slave, ‘You go out at once into the streets and the of lanes of the city and you bring here the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and there is still room.’ The master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’”
You know what Jesus is talking about here? He’s talking about Israel. He’s saying Israel was a pre-invited guest to the kingdom. Israel was told in the Old Testament that the Messiah would come, and the Messiah would set up a kingdom, and they would be invited to celebrate that kingdom with that Messiah. And the Messiah came, and the servant said, “The feast is now,” and they said, “We don’t want to come.” And so, the Messiah turned away and said, “All right, that’s all for Israel.” Set them aside and said, “You go out to the highways and the byways, and you call in everybody that will come: the poor, and the blind, and the lame, and the crippled.”
That pictures the Gentile church. We were not the original invited guests. We are not the privileged people of God originally. To us was not given the oracles and the law and the testimony. We are not the people of God originally, it was Israel. But by their rejection of the Messiah and their refusal to come to the feast of the Messiah and celebrate His arrival, they forfeit the kingdom. And the servants of God go out and they call all the nations to come. And we are representative of the blind, and the poor, and the lame, and the crippled.
And you see, what Jesus is saying here is redemptive again. He is concerned about physical blindness, physical lameness, physical poverty, deprivation. He his concerned about people who are physically crippled; but far more than that is He concerned about those spiritually crippled, those spiritually handicapped, who recognize their handicap, and when invited to a feast like this will say, “Oh, yes, I’m gladly coming, I’m gladly coming.”
You see anybody can invite a disabled person to lunch, but only a Christian can invite a disabled person in the name of Christ to the kingdom, right? That’s our ministry. That’s our ministry. That’s why the church is the only agency in the world that can really minister the compassion of God where the compassion of God does not end with the physical. God weeps much more over the spiritual handicap than the physical one.
And so, we have this great privilege of inviting guests to come to the celebration of God’s Son, to come to Christ, to come to salvation. The roads points out an interesting thing. In those days the crippled people – the lame, the blind, the poor – lived along the highway. And he says, “Go into the hedges.” They literally lived under the shrubs along the roads. He says, “You go find them and you bring them to the feast.”
Call them to salvation. Call those homeless, loveless, desperate derelicts, call those lame and blind and crippled and poor, and call them to Me. That’s the main issue. That’s the main issue. God feels the hurt of the disabled, and He wants us to minister to them temporally, but much more, to minister to them eternally, spiritually.
Go to Matthew chapter 12. In Matthew chapter 12 and verse 18 Matthew quotes Isaiah 42 here, quotes a great text. He writes in verse 18, “Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen; My Beloved and whom My soul is well-pleased. I shall put my Spirit upon Him, and He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles.”
That’s speaking of Christ the Messiah. He’s the Servant. He’s the chosen Beloved. He’s the one with the power of the Spirit on Him. He’s the one who preaches righteousness to the nations. That’s the Messiah. When He comes, He says in verse 19, “He won’t quarrel, He won’t cry out; nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. Then verse 20, “A battered reed He will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out, until He leads righteousness to victory. And in His name the nations will hope.”
Now look at what it says about Messiah. When He comes, “A battered reed He will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out.” That is very graphic terminology. Reeds in ancient times were used for a number of things. A reed might be used to write. A reed was very frequently used as sort of a flute played by a shepherd to soothe, to calm, to bring peace to his sheep. But when that reed became soft or cracked or worn out and it no longer could make music, he would break it and throw it away. And when an oil lamp burned its wick and that wick was down and almost gone, all it would do is smolder, and it wouldn’t’ give any light. That wick would be extinguished and thrown away because it was useless.
The battered reed and the smoldering wick of this text represent people whose lives are broken, people whose lives are worn out, people who are, by all judgment, ready to be discarded, to be replaced. They no longer make music; in fact, they make discord. They no longer bring light. In fact, they put a pall over things. Society casts off the weak, the helpless, the suffering, and the burdened. The Romans ignored these people as worthless, and so did the Pharisees.
The nature of sinful man is to destroy, but the nature of Holy God is to restore. The Lord will not break off that bruised reed; the Lord will not extinguish and discard that smoldering wick. In fact, in the hands of the Savior the Lord Jesus Christ the broken reed is restored, the smoldering wick is rekindled. That’s Jesus. That’s what He’ll do. He comes to the person who’s broken and shattered and bruised, He comes to the person whose light is so dim that all there is a smoldering smoke to indicate that anything is there at all, and He restores and He rekindles; He doesn’t extinguish. He’s not like men; He’s not destructive, He’s not cruel.
One of the most obvious legacies of the fall is man’s natural tendency to destroy. You watch small children step on a bug for the sake of killing it, snap off a beautiful bud just before it flowers, a tree branch is broken for the sake of breaking it, a stone is thrown at a bird just to see it fly away or to see it drop out of the sky. There’s something in man that cuts and devours and destroys. Not Christ. Not Christ. There’s some thing in man that wants to discard the unwanted, the troublesome, the burdened; but not Jesus. And so, you see again the heart of Christ here – compassion toward the bruised and the dim, who make little music and make little light. But they can be kindled. Oh, how wonderfully can they be kindled.
To sing, as it were this morning, the music of redemption, to give the light of testimony in the world, that’s the Savior’s desire for them. That’s why it says at the end of verse 20 that “He will bring righteousness to victory and give hope to the nations.” Talking about salvation again. And again, the ministry to the disabled is always redemptive.
Matthew chapter 11, verse 2, I love this. John the Baptist is in prison waiting to have his head cut off. He has heard about this man called Jesus. He wants to really be sure that he is the Messiah whom he has been announcing, so he sends his disciples to ask Jesus if He is the Messiah. John must know. And Jesus in verse 4 says to those men who came to ask on behalf of John, “You go and report to John what you hear and see. You go tell him this: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”
What are the Messiah’s credentials? Miracles. What kind of miracles? Miracles of compassion. Did you notice that? Jesus could have proved His deity by flying around over Jerusalem. Could have proved His deity by creating a mountain, destroying a mountain. Could have proved His deity by creating a tree, creating a building or creating a human being. He could have shown His tremendous power by creating a huge, huge feast out of nothing, which, by the way, He did on the occasion of the feedings.
But primarily the way He showed His divine power was through healings. Why? Because it revealed not only power, but compassion. He had compassion, it says, on the multitudes. “So if John wants to know if I’m the Messiah, if I’m God in human flesh, tell him: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up,” and he’ll know who I am, because he knows God is a God of compassion; and such compassion reflects God.
And again, it is redemptive, because at the end of verse 5 He says, “And the poor have the gospel preached to them.” The poor, by the way, would embrace all those people: the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf. They’re all poor. They’re all poor in that society. And so, He says again, “God cares compassionately for hurting, needy people, but in a redemptive sense, so that the gospel must be preached to them.”
This is the legacy that I believe the living Christ has given to the church. In Matthew 8 it says, “He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases.” How did He do that? Matthew 8:16 and 17. How did He do that? First of all, by sympathizing with our pain. Secondly, by feeling the destructive power of the root cause of all handicaps: sin. He felt the power of sin, that’s why He wept over Lazarus.
He sympathizes with all the pain of a disabled person, all of it, because He was touched in all points with the feelings of our infirmities. He knows what it is to feel the pain of the death of a friend. He knows what is to have your body beaten and bruised and racked. Talk about being stuck in a wheelchair; how about being nailed on a cross? He knows. He knows.
But most supremely He took our infirmities and carried away our diseases through His redeeming work on the cross by which He conquered all sin, and ultimately will release us from all tears, all sorrow, all death, all pain, in that eternal place called heaven, where there will be no sickness and no disease. Yes, He bore our griefs, He carried our sorrows, He took upon Him our infirmities, and He provided the ultimate, final, eternal healing for all of our diseases.
Beloved, as a church of Jesus Christ, as the church of God, we have the responsibility to demonstrate the compassion of God and the compassion of Christ for suffering people. But that demonstration of compassion must go beyond the physical and be redemptive; that’s why I say again only the church can do it.
I wandered one day through the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, one of the amazing sociological phenomena of our world. It is an incredible place to tour. It is a paper box city, overcrowded, no sanitation; hunger, disease, deprivation. Towering over that favela on Corcovado is a massive crucifix, as it were: Christ standing in the form of a cross, and He is looking down on Rio de Janeiro and right on the favela.
A writer by the name of Rolf Italiaander imagines a poor man from one of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro who climbs the 2,310 feet to the colossal statue of Christ which towers above Rio. The poor man looks up to the Christ of Corcovado and says this: “I have climbed up to You, Christ, from the filthy confined quarters down there to put before you most respectfully these considerations. There are 900,000 of us down there in the slums of that splendid city; and You, Christ, do You remain here at Corcovado surrounded by divine glory? Go down there into the favelas. Come with me into the favelas and live with us down there. Don’t stay away from us. Live among us, and give us new faith in You and in the Father.” That is precisely what He did, is it not? Christ did not stay on the mount in the glory; He came to the slum, and He felt the hurt, and He provided the healing.
John Stott wrote, “I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the one Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain how could one worship a god who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha – his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing around his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world.
“But each time after a while I’ve had to turn away, and in imagination I have instead turned to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me. He laid aside His immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of His. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark: the cross which symbolizes divine suffering.”
There’s a playlet entitled “The Long Silence” that depicts it graphically. Listen to these words: “At the end of time billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God’s throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them, but some groups near the front talked heatedly, not with cringing shame, but with belligerence. They said, ‘Can God judge us?’ ‘How can He know about suffering?’ snapped a pert, young brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp: ‘We endured terror, beatings, torture, death.’ In another group a Negro boy lowered his collar, ‘What about this?’ he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn, lynched for no crime but being Black. In another crowd a pregnant school girl with sullen eyes said, ‘Why should I suffer, it wasn’t my fault.’
“Far out across the plain there were hundreds of such groups; each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He permitted in the world: ‘After all, how lucky God was to live in heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping or fear or hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that man had been forced to endure in the world; for God leads a pretty sheltered life,’ they said. So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered the most: a Jew, a Negro, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child.
“In center of the plain they consulted with each other, and at last they were ready to present their case to God, and it was rather clever. Before God could be qualified to be their judge He must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentence to live on earth as a man. ‘Let Him be born a Jew,’ they said. ‘Let the legitimacy of His birth be doubted. Give Him a work so difficult that even His family think Him out of His mind when He tries to do it. Let Him be betrayed by His closest friends. Let Him face false charges, be tried by a prejudicial jury and convicted by a cowardly judge, and then let Him be tortured. At the last let Him see what it means to be terrible alone, then let Him die. Let Him die so that there can be no doubt that He died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.’
“As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the billions of people assembled. And when they had last finished pronouncing sentence there was a long silence, and no one uttered one word, and no one moved; for suddenly they all knew that God had already served His sentence.”
The world gets off too soon, friends. They’re content with helping people physically. We can be content only with helping them spiritually: “For what does it matter if a man gains the whole world and loses his soul?”
Beloved, ministry to the disabled must be redemptive, and that means it must be the ministry of the church. We reach out to these precious people. Not all will respond. In Luke 17 Jesus healed ten lepers. How many came back and said thanks? How many? One. Ten were healed, one was saved. So be it. We shall minister healing to the ten with the hope of salvation to the few. That is the calling. That is the model of Christ. Shall we pray?
Thank You, Father, for this wonderful service. Thank You for our special friends. How we love them, how we commit them to Your care, how we desire their salvation, how we thank You when they are baptized, how we praise You when they minister to us. We thank You that they do make music; the tune might not be the same, but the melody of the heart pleases You. Thank You that they do give light, light that can guide all of us. We thank You for their humble faith, for their dependent trust. We pray God that You will cause us to love them all with the compassion of Christ, and to love them redemptively, to see that not only is their bodily need met but their spiritual need. Give us a great and redeeming work with those who suffer. Fill our hearts with love to reach to them, that You might use us as the source of comfort and the source of salvation, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
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