A.B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, once wrote that, “[Jesus] was always overshadowed by the cross which at last He bore on Calvary” (The Cross of Christ, 26). Simpson then goes on to recount the lowliness of Christ’s life from his humble birth even unto His current state as the slain, yet living lamb (see Revelation 5:6). Writing of the humility of Christ’s way, Simpson draws attention to the company Jesus kept:
“His very friends and companions were of the humblest class, rude fishermen and common people without culture and, indeed, often without the ability to appreciate their blessed Master. Coming from the society of heaven, how He must have felt the strange difference of these rude associates; and yet, never once did He complain or even intimate the difference” (27).
As for myself, I often think of Mark 2:15-17: “… He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors…” (verse 16).
In ministry in downtown Toronto, I have found myself in some embarrassing and troubling places – not because of my coworkers but because of those whom I am called to serve. Sometimes when I can’t help someone out with change and they are high on something they scream out on the street gross lies about me. Or there have been some with mental illness that have reported to others that I am in a relationship with them. Where such false accusations and lies fly like darts, my heart is troubled. As Jesus said through the mouth of David: “They open their mouth at me, as a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within me” (Psalm 22:13-14).
As I’ve been told lately, “you are in good company.” Apparently, such encounters are part of ministry in a troubled place. And praise be to God, for He Lord strengthens me: “… you surround [me] with favour as with a shield” (Psalm 5:12).
Just today I went to visit a man who struggles with alcohol abuse and other issues. We left his place and were on our way to a nearby coffee shop when he used the “N” word in a derogatory manner. To be around such a man today may be the equivalent of being around a “sinner” in Jesus’ day. Lord, help me to not want to disassociate myself from this man.
As we sat in the coffee shop he was speaking loudly about his troubles and swearing and making a bit of a scene. Others were looking at us. Lord, what do You wish to say to this man? Then I spoke to his troubled, despairing heart the words of 1 Timothy 1:15 and Romans 5:6-8, which contain simply the best salve that I’ve ever come across. He needed this beautiful news because the evil voices in his head/heart had convinced him that he was worthless, and beyond help and love and change.
“It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Tim 1:15).
“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. ” (Romans 5:6-8).
I prayed for the man and he sort of convulsed. The store-owner asked him if he was okay. He said he was fine but needs a napkin to wipe off his forehead which was suddenly quite sweaty. The man seemed less troubled at first and found comfort in the words of the gospel. But then quickly his mind moved to subjects that trouble him and about the difficulties that others have caused him. So I again affirmed the things of the Gospel. “These voices are not helping you; they are from the devil and only seek to kill and destroy. Abandon these voices for the voice of Christ, who has come for you and loves you.”
I prayed for the man a second time and the same thing happens as before: a convulsion of sorts followed by a request for a napkin. But by then it was time to get going. We walked out of the store together and he turned to me and said,: “I’m actually happy; how can that be?? I was so sad, but now I’m happy. How can that be?” I replied, “This is God’s love come to your heart. He loves you. And this is but an inkling of the fullness that he wants to bring you.”
God “neither slumbers nor sleeps” (Psalm 121:4), but “is working” (John 5:17). Praise be to God.
Another word from A.B. Simpson:
“‘No servant is greater than his master’ (John 13:16). The tests of the Master must be applied to His followers. We may not preach a crucified Savior without being also crucified men and women. It is not enough to wear an ornamental cross as a pretty decoration. The cross that Paul speaks about [see Galatians 6:17] was burned into his very flesh, was branded into his being, and only the Holy Spirit can burn the true cross into our innermost life” (29-30).
My prayer for the man who I met with today is that God would not stop intervening. I pray that God would remove any desire for alcohol that this man has, as it is drowning his soul. May God continue to deliver this man from sadness and bring his heart joy. And I pray that God would move us beyond our care for our own honour so that we might dwell the lowly places where He Himself seems to love to enter into. Amen