The world seems so broken. Paul described the condition of the world as “frustrated” and in “bondage to decay” (Romans 8:20-22). Even though I have a very good life, I also feel some of this frustration and experience some of this decay and brokenness. In some lives, and in some parts of the world, however, there is not just brokenness and bondage, there is a deep darkness.
I am aware of only a tiny percentage of the suffering in the world, and indeed in my own neighbourhood. Even though I am unaware of most instances of suffering, it bothers me tremendously that so many people (the Bible would say “myriads”) are living with cruelty, violence, poverty, disease and heartbreak.
Jesus is our only hope. So I’m looking forward to Jesus’ return to earth. I am looking forward to the day when there will be peace, harmony, health and wholeness on earth – “shalom”. I am waiting for the day when Jesus will step in and fix everything.
But wait . . . hasn’t Jesus already stepped in to fix everything? Didn’t he come into the world precisely to deal with sin and its corrupting consequences?
Jesus dealt with sin with his atoning sacrifice on the cross. And he rose from the dead, showing us that he has power over death and that we too can have an eternal, victorious life. After his return to heaven, Jesus gave his Spirit to his followers. Jesus has made us his agents, empowered by the same Spirit who helped him in ministry. As his agents, we are to continue Jesus’ work, and do even greater things than he himself did while on earth.
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. - Jesus in John 14:12-14 (NIV)
I pray almost every night that Jesus will return and put an end to suffering. But lately a thought has been running through my head: We’ve been waiting for Jesus, but what if Jesus is waiting for us? What if Jesus is waiting for his followers to work with his Spirit and put an end to much of the suffering and injustice in the world before he returns?
We’ve been waiting a long time for Jesus to return to earth. But I suspect that Jesus has been waiting a long time too. I’ve heard some Christians suggest that Jesus is waiting for the church to become pure and holy so that when Jesus returns he can present the church to himself as a spotless, sanctified bride (Ephesians 5:27 cf 2 Peter 3:11-13). God wants us to be holy, but true sanctification is more than just personal piety and having a high moral standard. Other Christians believe that Jesus is waiting for every nation, or ethnic group, to hear the gospel, and then he will return (Matthew 24:14 cf Colossians 1:6, 23; 1 Thessalonians 1:8). Still others believe that Jesus is waiting patiently until a certain number of people turn to him (2 Peter 3:8-9). I haven’t heard anyone suggest, however, that Jesus is waiting for all of us to realise our calling, put the gospel into action, and help heal the world and its people.
Instead of waiting passively, followers of Jesus should be people of action. We should be actively helping to change lives, and minister with both the compassion and power of Jesus. James warned that a faith without action is dead (James 2:14-26). Jesus’ warning about not caring for people in his parable of the Sheep and Goats makes an even stronger, more sobering, point (Matthew 25:31-46).
‘For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Matthew 25:42-45.
Jesus has entrusted his ministry to us. And he has equipped us. We have been given everything we need to live a godly life, to become partakers of the divine nature and to be effective and productive as Christ’s agents (2 Peter 1:3-4). We have Jesus’ example, his teaching and his Spirit. And we have his promise that we can do greater things than he did. All we have to do is ask (John 14:13-14). I’m asking for shalom, and I’m asking for opportunities to work with the Holy Spirit in bringing shalom.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus in Luke 4:18-19 (NIV)
What do you think? Is Jesus waiting for us? If so, what exactly is he waiting for?
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Image credit: Baptist World Aid Australia. More about this organisation here.