Personal Jesus

In his book “Surprised by Hope” N. T. Wright observed that Western Christians tend to believe that the ultimate goal of Christianity is a personal relationship with Jesus. I think Wright is right. And on top of that it seems as if many are attempting to treat Jesus as their own personal Jesus; as if he were their personal servant. If they make a mess, they say, “Jesus, clean up this mess.” They might tuck a “Lord” in there somewhere but the word carries little significance. They also say things like “Make me wealthy Jesus!”; “Take away my pain Jesus!”; “Feed me Jesus!”; “Make me feel good about myself Jesus!” And if Jesus doesn’t do these things, they get disappointed, indignant, or just downright angry.

Jesus spent an evening freeing the sick and setting the demon possessed free in the city of Capernaum. His reception here is much better than it had been in Nazareth, where they wanted to stone him to death. The next day Jesus went out of the city and proceeded to a desolate place. Interestingly, unlike Mark, Luke doesn’t mention that he went out to pray. Maybe Luke wanted to emphasize the leaving. This was no mere traipsing out into the wilderness for a little alone time with God. I don’t doubt that he prayed out there, but Luke wants us to focus on the leaving; the transition from one phase of ministry to the next. In Luke, the desert seems to be a sort of staging area; a waiting – a preparing for the next stage (cf. 1:80; 3:2; 4:1; 5:16). This quickly becomes clear in our passage.

Out there in the desert the crowds come seeking for him. The word for “seek” is literally “seek upon” and it is an intensified form of seeking. They were intent on finding him. Think about Jesus being out there in a desolate place. Finding him was probably not easy or quick. But they were intent. And what was their end game? They wanted to prevent him from proceeding. He left the city and was proceeding out into the wilderness. They hunt him down and their goal is to prevent him from proceeding from them. They wanted their own personal Jesus. I mean, this guy is setting the captive free. He is casting out those pesky demons. You are going to want to keep this guy around. You don’t want him moving on to the next city or region. You want him to stay in your city. Several people have already been set free in Capernaum, but sickness will rear its ugly head again. Who knows if those demons will stay away. If they had their own personal Jesus, they could just have him command the illness and unclean demons out of there.

Jesus tells them that it is necessary from him to proclaim the kingdom of God to the other cities. The word “proclaim” means “to announce as a herald.” Picture the herald of the king going from city to city proclaiming the proclamations of the king. The herald cannot be held up in one spot. There is a message that must be heard and heard in all of the cities. This also takes us back to verse 18 and the jubilee prophecy from Isaiah 61:1-2. Jesus was sent by the king to preach good news to the poor and release to the captives. The point is not that Jesus is now going to avoid the healing and casting out demons. That is part of the message of jubilee. But he cannot, will not, be kept from going to the other cities. He is the Messiah. He is not their personal freedom fighter. He was sent to all the cities of Judea or of the Jews. Capernaum cannot hold him for their own.

Verse 44 is a sweeping statement. He was proceeding and proclaiming in the synagogues of Judea. Capernaum could not contain him. Galilee could not contain him. He had a mission to fulfill and nothing would keep him from that mission. The Kingdom of God was in the process of breaking into the realm of men. This is bigger than Capernaum. This was bigger than this particular crowd. This is Kingdom of God big.

The end game of Christianity is not a personal relationship with Jesus. The end game is to be servants in the Kingdom of God; to be shaped by that Kingdom. Jesus is not my Jesus in that he exists for my own personal use or comfort. Jesus is the Messiah; the Herald of the King. His mission is not about my comfort. He didn’t come for me to keep him to myself. The message must be spread from city to city. Jubilee has come! The captives are being set free! The poor hear the message! This is bigger than me! This is bigger than my family or my church or my city or my country. This is a sweeping Kingdom of God event. If Jesus sets me free, the goal is more than my freedom. And the end game for me is that I belong to Jesus, not the other way around. “Lord” must retain its significance. Belong to the Lord! Peace, Walter.