If Jesus was so concerned about saving the world (collective noun), why are there so many stories about individuals in the Gospels? I am looking at Matthew and here is what I see, people who are named and their story is woven into Jesus':
- Mary & Joseph (mother and stepfather; crucial to His birth and early years)
- King Herod (demented murderer of small children, forcing Jesus' family to flee)
- John the Baptist (he sets the stage for Messiah's arrival, fulfilling prophecy)
- Simon & Andrew (first called of The Twelve; dubbed "fishers of men")
- James & John (next in line; leave their nets to follow Jesus)
Now Matthew's narrative swings full force into crowd scenes:
Jesus preaches in Galilee then news spread up to Syria (the crowds come bringing their sick and "he healed them all. Large crowds followed Him wherever He went...") (Matt. 5:25)
Jesus and the crowds assemble on the mountainside and He preaches the so-called Sermon on the Mount. Jesus ends this long discourse with the analogy of, because they have listened to His words and follows them, is like the man who builds his house on a rock that is able to face the storms of life and remain standing. Then Matthew concludes the Sermon with the comment, "And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes." (Matt. 7:28-9)
Then, heading into Chapter 8, we meet:
- A man with leprosy (whose heartfelt plea to be healed moves Jesus)
- A Roman officer (whose faith and humility moves Jesus again)
- Peter's mother-in-law (Peter's family is now Jesus', too)
Then, more crowds. But, before He departs:
- He advises a teacher of the law that He has no where to lay His head
- A man who should not look to the dead, but to the Living One
Then a storm. Then the calm. Jesus triumphs over chaos, as had His Father when He hovered over the primeval waters.
- Two demon-possessed men (scary for everyone concerned, but Jesus faces the demons head-on)
- A worried group of townspeople who beg Jesus to leave; He does
- A paralyzed man (Jesus sees his sins as the greater disability)
- Matthew is called (he is in his booth--the scene of the crime--and he leaves everything behind)
- Grumblings and rumblings of the religious leaders, who scorn Matthew's dinner guests and are scandalized Jesus eats with them
Some more teachings and then:
- a leader of the synagogue petitions Jesus (his daughter just died)
- a woman whose bleeding has made her an outcast, but her faith compels her to touch Jesus' prayer shawl (and He commends for her faith)
- Two blinds men call out (Jesus heals them)
Then, Jesus' call to His followers to see the harvest of souls and to be willing to go out and minister to the crowd.
Then, we read many chapters dedicated to His teachings.
I am seeing a pattern here. Focusing on individuals seems to be how Matthew demonstrates Jesus' ministry: Jesus worked one on one, sometimes in front of a crowd, but the individual is always important and center stage. Period.
There is a scene from The Chosen series that really captures what I am trying to say. In it, we see Jesus going through Samaria (His disciples are not pleased--it's the long way around and the people there are well, Samaritans!) and after they go into town to buy food, He rests at the well. A woman arrives, and after some dialogue, and her utter surprise about having a Jewish man pay any mind to her, He says that He came there just to see her.
That scene lit up the Scriptures for me. Then it hit me: How often did Jesus go to a place, where He knew an individual would be stationed, only to touch that person and then move on?
In other words, where certain people in need could be found, is exactly where He went.
So now, His seemingly random encounters with people in the Gospels makes sense: Go where someone is in need, and meet that need, to the glory of the Father, by the touch and words of the Son.
No mass Gospel. Just a Gospel for the masses, given out to one individual at a time. When someone's life is so touched by Jesus, the Gospel cannot help but multiply.
I struggle with the large, en masse way church in Jesus' name is conducted today, as I have made clear. When I cannot go and talk with a pastor/leader because he is too busy; when a pastor/leader cannot visit me in a place of great need, such as a hospital, because he is too busy; and when I visit a pastor/leader and he is listening only marginally because he is too busy, then, well, that pastor/leader is too busy.
Hold on a minute, Cramer! I can hear you say. What about the Book of Acts, where the apostles have to create deacons because they were busy? Let's go there:
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:1-7)
What I see here is, the individual is still important, because disturbing food meant taking the time to talk with each person, not just giving food out, like a take-out or a drive-thru. But if a lot of people need food, then it takes more time and people to help out. It's not that the distribution of food was unimportant to the disciples; it was that the time required to do the task took away time from prayer and preaching.
That was the disciples' priority: prayer and the Word. You can't teach it and preach it if you don't know it.
But then the narrative in Acts moves right back to an individual: Stephen. His witness, as he was dying, was enormous. Could it be that the disciples praying and staying in the Word, with Stephen chosen as one of the seven men to serve, was able to sustain his witness as he was being questioned, preaching to the leaders and as he died as the stones knocked him down?
In other words, if our priority in our churches is not the Word, is not prayer, then when we are out there, ministering in the face of opposition, will we be able to endure?
In order to stand on the rock when the rains and winds come, will we really know what Jesus said and enacting His words on a daily basis?
It is easy in America now (relatively) to stand, for the storms and waters are not raging.
But when the waters do rage down, flash-flood fashion (as they do in the Middle East), will we be ready?
Or will we be:
- Planning the next big event?
- Attending a worship concert with lights, camera, action?
- Listening to it's-all-about-you-and-God's-wonderful-plan-for-your-best-life sermon and then hustling out to grab a coffee and go?
- Worrying about building budgets, buying expensive equipment and burning out well-intentioned volunteers every Sunday because the Sunday Experience has got to bring people back due to the enormous investment the church as made in all the modern accoutrements?
- Pastors who are CEO's rather than shepherds and then fall into temptation due to exhaustion and isolation (because it is lonely at the top)?