I recently asked a burdened believer what I could do to help. “Just give us hope!” came the reply. All of us struggle with unrealized desires, some of which deeply burden the soul. Perhaps those that are most difficult are those in which there is no evident sin standing between us and our desire. Physically ill and disabled bodies ache as the soul groans: “Why? How long?” Young people, both men and women, say: “I thought I’d be married by now.” Couples cry out: “When will God give us children?” The unemployed ask: “Why won’t you give me work, God, to support my family?”
The world is loud. And crowded. We surround ourselves with people and noise and busyness (you’re likely listening to something while reading this and will probably read something else while reading this, too). The clamor and commotion add up to more than mental flightiness–they add up to a hell-bent distraction from eternal things. Those great things we do and surround ourselves with–all the music and talk shows, all the home improvement and sports–are things the enemy would love to keep flashing in front of our face, like the magician’s waving hands keeping us from seeing life disappear in front of us.
Jesus had fully identified with his Twelve. He had sent these disciples out on a mission. And now he was trying to draw away for focused time with his men. Perhaps these tired men were looking forward to the rest and clarity of Jesus’ classroom.
But we see in Luke 9:10-17 that the crowds had followed him to that distant place. A place far away from the infrastructure and markets needed to support the needs of such a crowd. Nevertheless, Jesus — a model of hospitality (see 1 Tim. 3:2) — “welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing” (Luke 9:11).
What a gracious man the Christ must have been! His life was structured and disciplined from one vantage point, but from another it was chaotic and fluid, always responding to the needs of those around him. He was never hurried, but he was proactive in ministering to the individual needs of people. He was warm. He loved these people whom He created and had come to redeem. He prayed for their souls and multiplied five loaves and two fish to meet their physical needs.
I remember the day in the 1990s I jumped online to browse seminary websites. It was a research project with profound consequence!
I was a teenager part way through Bible College. I was poor and desperately wanting to be married – so I was thinking hard about my professional future. I had some level of interest in pastoral ministry but also some big questions. That day I browsed the mission statements of Princeton and Yale and others seminaries looking for a clear statement of their institutional stance on the Bible. I was sorely disappointed. Lots of requests for money (no tuitions rates) but nothing (that I found) clearly presented what these institutions believed about the Book of books!
Funny how memories can be triggered by an object that in one minute can take you back thirty years. We are enjoying a week at beautiful Lake Michigan at my wife’s parents, spending time on the beach and in the water. We love to play on what we call “buns” – five-by-five foot, three inch thick pieces of sturdy foam pads. Actually defective scrap pieces, the buns came from the factory that my father managed until his death twenty-four summers ago. They can hold several people at once, and yesterday Spencer, Celia and I had a great time playing King of the Bun as we tried to knock each other off in the water. Of course, I had a distinct weight advantage and, while laying there on my stomach laughing as the kids tried to dump me, a memory transported me back in time. I remembered trying unsuccessfully to do the same with my dad on a lake. No matter how hard I tried to jump on top or push from below, he wouldn’t budge. However, Spencer is smarter than I was at his age and he quickly brought me splashing and sputtering back to reality.
While James takes a look back at some of the gentle reformers of church history, like J.G. Vos, I thought I would reach back a bit further and look at some Old Testament examples of reform and reformers. There are many such examples from which we can find great encouragement and instruction. Today, we’ll take a brief look at Ezra and the heart of his ministry.