in the Christ shall all be made alive -1 Cor. 15: 22
Many years ago, an interim pastor at the church I was attending asked me to go with him to Pacific Garden Mission in downtown Chicago. This pastor was involved PGM’s Unshackled radio broadcasts. On this occasion, he and I ministered to those who came in off the street. I played a couple hymns on my trumpet. He gave a simple gospel message. Those attending received a hot meal after our brief service.
During my student days at Moody Bible Institute, I visited other Chicago rescue missions. I would play my trumpet and, with others in our group, give a brief witness to my faith in the Lord. Telling the forlorn and broken sitting before me that I was raised in a Christian home and received Jesus as my savior at eleven years old – I was coming from a place nowhere near where these folks had been.
But the gospel has a way of speaking into memories and of stirring folks to reflect on their life. Some wept upon hearing childhood accounts of home. From recollections, whether good or bad, the gospel points people in the direction of rescue from a life gone prodigal.
On each occasion, as I walked into the meeting room of the rescue mission, I encountered the smell of alcohol, urine and of unwashed bodies and clothes. My eyes met with a scene of loss – each figure a shell of their former self.
The homeless – alcoholics, the drug dependent, the bankrupt, the mentally ill, the despairing, the dis-owned by family and friends – sat scattered among the rows of chairs. Some folks were asleep sitting up. Some were laying across chairs asleep. Some were mumbling things unintelligible. And some sat up looking despondently at the floor. The body language: “I’m adrift, aching and alone.” The sign out front: “JESUS SAVES”.
Are you having a real struggle? Come to me! Are you carrying a big load on your back? Come to me! – I’ll give you a rest! Jesus invites his listeners to put on his yoke and take lessons in humility from him. Arrogance is a heavy burden to carry and to defend (Matt 11: 28-30).
It’s the sick people who need the doctor, not the healthy ones. I came to call the bad people, not the good ones. Jesus responds to the grumbling legal experts when they see him eating with tax-collectors and sinners (Mk. 2: 17).
You see, the son of man came to seek and to save the lost. Jesus responds to the grumbling observers of the faith-based salvation of chief tax-collector Zacchaeus (Lk. 19: 1-10).
After all, God didn’t send the son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world could be saved by him. Jesus is reconfiguring the Pharisee Nicodemus’ notion of salvation (Jn. 3: 17). Jesus says that he will be lifted up just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert. This, Jesus explains, is how much God loved the world. And so, everyone who believes in him should not be lost but may share in the life of God’s new age.
The Gospel According to Mark chapter 4 records the rescue of a small fleet of fishing boats crossing the sea. A big windstorm came up and began filling the boats with water. Life and livelihood were in jeopardy. The fishermen were freaking out. Jesus, however, was sleeping soundly on a cushion in the stern in one of the boats. They woke him up.
Jesus got up, silenced the wind, and told the raucous sea “Shut Up!”. Things calmed down at once. The rescued, whose alarm at the tempest shifted to awe-struck terror of the rescuer, said to each other “Who is this? Even the wind and the sea do what he says!” Their crossing continued over to the land of the Gerasenes without further incident.
Chapter 5 of Mark’s gospel account records three rescues. The narrative begins with Jesus and the small fleet of fishing boats arriving on the shore of the land of the Garasenes. They are suddenly confronted by a man with an unclean spirit. He emerged from a graveyard which is where he lived.
The man is wild. No one can physically restrain him, not even with shackles and chains. But the wild man’s attention is captured. He runs up to Jesus and falls down before him.
Jesus questions the man and hears that that man is possessed by a hoard of demons calling themselves “Legion”. The demons, knowing that Jesus will deal with them, want to be rescued in their own way. They beg Jesus to not send them out of the country. They want to be sent into a nearby herd of pigs. Jesus lets it happen and the pigs rush down into the sea and drown.
The herdsmen’s reaction, not unlike the fishermen’s reaction earlier, was of utter terror. They began telling everyone about what had happened. People came to Jesus. They saw the man who had once terrorized the countryside. He was seated, clothed and in his right mind. When eyewitnesses told the crowd what had happened to the man and to the pigs, the people were afraid. They begged Jesus to leave their district. The man who had been rescued, however, asked to go with Jesus. Jesus wouldn’t let him.
Go back home. Go to your people and tell them what the Lord has done for you. Tell them how he had pity on you.
The rescued man goes out and tells what Jesus had done for him. Everyone is astonished.
The next two rescue accounts in Mark’s gospel account involves two people of different social and economic status: a named man – Jairus, a synagogue president – and an unnamed woman. Mark intertwines these accounts.
Jesus, having crossed back over the sea, is quickly surrounded by a large crowd on the seashore. Jairus arrives. When he sees Jesus, he falls down at his feet and begins pleading.
My daughter’s going to die! My daughter’s going to die! Please come – lay your hands on her – rescue her and let her live!
Jesus goes off with the man. And a large crowd follows pressing in in him. Enter the unnamed woman.
Mark tells us . . .
A woman who’d had internal bleeding for twelve years heard about Jesus. (She’d had a rough time at the hands of one doctor after another; she spent all she had on treatment and had gotten worse instead of better.) She came up in the crowd behind him and touched his clothes. “If I can just touch his clothes,” she said to herself,” I’ll be rescued.” At once her flow of blood dried up. She knew, in her body, that her illness is cured.
Jesus knew at once that power had flowed out of him. He asked who it was that touched him. The woman of low estate, trembling, made herself known to Jesus.
My daughter, your faith has rescued you. Go in peace. Be healed from your illness.
(I am reminded of another close encounter rescue: four men carried a paralytic on a stretcher, bringing him to see Jesus. The crowd was so thick around Jesus they couldn’t get near enough to ask for the man’s healing. So, they opened up the roof and lowered the stretcher with ropes. They placed the man right in front of Jesus. Jesus noticed their threads of faith and said to the paralytic Child, your sins are forgiven! (Mk. 2: 3-5))
As Jesus was speaking to the woman, some very sad people arrived from the synagogue president’s house.
Your daughter’s dead. Why bother the teacher anymore?
But that didn’t stop Jesus from rescuing the girl.
Don’t be afraid! Just believe!
Jesus said no to the crowd following him (Too much commotion already?) and went to the synagogue president’s house with only Peter, James and John. When they arrived, there was all kinds of weeping and wailing going on.
Why are you making such a fuss? Why all this weeping? The child isn’t dead; she’s asleep.
Mark tells us that they laughed at him and then. . .
Jesus put them all out. Then he took the child’s father and mother, and his companions, and they went in to where the child was. He took hold of her hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Time to get up, little girl!” At once the girl got up and walked about. (She was twelve years old.) they were astonished out of their wits. Then he commanded them over and over not to let anyone know about it, and told them to give her something to eat.
The demoniac was cut off from himself and society because of what possessed him. Jesus ‘hog-ties’ the “Legion” and plunders the “strong man” domain (cf. Mk 3: 23-27). Jesus expels the unclean spirits and liberates the man from his living death. The image of God is restored. The man wants to go with Jesus but Jesus won’t let him. Jesus sends the unshackled man away so that people will see and hear from the rescued man himself: “Go to your people and tell what the Lord has done for you. Tell them how he had pity on you.”
The woman with the continual hemorrhaging was cut off from just about everything and all the time due to her ritual impurity (Lev. 15:25). She had exhausted her resources to find a cure. Then, by faith, she reached out and touched Jesus, God’s holy one. He rescues the woman from her living death – the constant loss of blood from her womb. She is restored to holiness, purity, and wholeness.
Death, the ultimate separation and defilement, tore the twelve-year old girl from her family. Because of her father’s pleading Jesus comes to her bedside, takes hold of her hand and restores the life that had flowed out of her. She is rescued, reconnected to her family, and is no longer a defilement.
(Note: It is interesting that in Mark’s account of the woman and the girl (5: 21-43), touching and being touched is mentioned six times. Ritual purity – maintaining holiness – was a daily and vital concern for a Jew. Physical contact would trigger any Jew who followed Scripture’s instructions regarding purity.
Jesus didn’t ignore the ritual purity laws in the process of rescue. Instead, he neutralized the effect of the law by restoring the woman and child. By stopping the flow of blood and making her clean, Jesus ‘neutralized’ the ritual impurity of her touching him. By raising the girl to life, Jesus ‘neutralized’ the ritual impurity of touching the dead (Num. 5:1-4; 19:11-22; 31:19-24))
When Jesus announced “The time is fulfilled. God’s kingdom is arriving! Turn back and believe the good news (Mk. 1: 15) he began to show the world what the kingdom of God on earth means: God would reclaim creation – his temple – and rescue his image-bearing humans.
In these rescue accounts and so many others, Jesus is not asking about the salvation status of the individual. He is not asking them if they want to go to heaven when they die. He is not rescuing people to have them later sent off to become a disembodied spirit in some heavenly realm somewhere over the rainbow. No. Jesus wants those in his kingdom to do what he has done. Death is a short interlude. As with the twelve-year old girl, Jesus will take you by the hand, get you up and get you back at it. Death is not a retirement home.
The four gospels (and the epistles) tell us that Jesus interfaced with his creation – as heaven and earth – for its salvation. (Think of heaven as God’s space.) We read that the kingdom of God on earth, as Jesus taught and lived, is about rescue, rebirth, healing, faith and not fear, touching and being touched, making all things new, new creation, new wine skins, wholeness, sound minds, and about the Genesis to Revelation project – God dwelling with man (Rev. 21: 2-4).
The world’s salvation, epitomized in another Tower of Babel campaign – Build Back Better – is another take on rebuilding systems and institutions and on redesigning people and society to save the planet and to benefit the elites.
Much of today’s social justice activists work to force their salvation onto you. They want society to work in certain way. Hence, pseudo-moral campaigns like Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG), and the coming social credit scoring.
As I see it, Jesus didn’t do social justice – changing systems and institutions to save people. Jesus has a human connection with people and so much so that he went to the cross for their salvation. You won’t see one politician going out of their way to sacrifice anything. And, what do social justice activists sacrifice?
Jesus spoke against the self-righteousness that’s behind much of today’s social justice activism. And, he didn’t coerce anyone to be rescued. He didn’t force salvation onto anyone. People came to him with their faith and open hands. He responded to their need.
The difference between the world’s salvation and Jesus Saves is the difference between putting yourself into the hands of a bureaucracy and some ism and putting yourself into the hands of the Infinite-personal God in Jesus.