HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND TO A SICK SOCIETY?
SERIES: JESUS, SAVIOR OF THE LOST
By Ron Ritchie
In many parts of the world, and especially in the United States, the church
of Jesus Christ is spiritually ill. It is too weak, anemic and powerless
to penetrate our dying society as the salt and light that Christ called
it to be. One of the reasons for its spiritually weak condition is best
described in Ezekiel 34:2-5:
"Thus says the Lord God: Woe, shepherds of Israel who have
been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? You eat
the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep
without feeding the flock. Those who are sickly you have not strengthened,
the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the
scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but
with force and with severity you have dominated them. And they were scattered
for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field
and were scattered."
Unfortunately, the church is weak because the shepherds are weak.
The disease in the church affects the homes in our communities. Although
they look beautiful on the outside, the media and our personal experience
tells us that there is much pain, suffering, abuse, and confusion up and
down the block of any given neighborhood. Marriages are bankrupt; parents
are irresponsible; children are left alone, confused, hurt, angry, and rebelling.
On the home front, "there is real trouble in River City," as the
song goes. Thus, when the church is not the salt and light it was meant
to be, it affects the spiritual influence within the home as well as the
society at large.
Our community is drowning in a sea of uncertainties. The only prevalent
rule seems to be "No problem, be happy." The only wisdom is worldly
and demonic. The only message of hope is like that written on a grave marker
in the catacombs of first century Rome: "No Hope." Our society
is best described in the writings of the apostle Paul when he said that
the Roman, Greek, Jewish, and barbarian society of his day was nothing more
than a graveyard made up of "breathing dead" men and women. It
was a culture dead in their trespasses and sins, people controlled by emptiness,
anger, and fear. In Ephesians 2 he tells us that the world was run by the
"prince of the power of the air." It was a society whose people
were encouraged to fulfill themselves by indulging in the desires of the
flesh and the mind. By nature they were children of wrath; that is, they
were suffering the full physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences
of lives that were lived without a truth relationship with the one and only
living God who has been revealed as Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:1-10). Sadly,
nothing within the fallen heart of mankind has changed in 2000 years.
As followers of our Lord Jesus Christ, how should we react to our high-tech,
fast-lane, "no problem, be happy," sick society? Should we all
move to Montana and build bomb shelters to protect ourselves, like the New
Age guru Mrs. Prophet and her followers? Should we be separate and refuse
to associate with "sinners" as so many frightened Christians are
encouraged to do by their confused shepherds? Or should we identify with
our society so that in time it is hard to even know if one is a Christian?
There is a delicate balance of struggle with our position in the world.
Problems and tensions are in every arena, be it the church, the home, or
our immediate community.
The answer to the question "How should we respond to our sick society?"
will best be found by looking once again at the life of our Lord and Savior
Jesus Christ, he who came to this earth ". . . to seek and save that
which was lost."
I. Be Available in the Spiritual Community, Luke 4:31-37
And he came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was
teaching them on the Sabbath; and they were amazed at his teaching, for
his message was with authority. And there was a man in the synagogue possessed
by the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, "Ha!
What do we have to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy
us? I know who you are-the Holy One of God!" And Jesus rebuked him,
saying, "Be quiet and come out of him!" And when the demon had
thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him without doing him any
harm. And amazement came upon them all, and they began discussing with one
another saying, "What is this message? For with authority and power
he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out." And the report
about him was getting out into every locality in the surrounding district.
From our study in this series of messages, we know that the Lord Jesus came
to earth in the form of man, knowing that the world was sick unto death.
When the Pharisees criticized him for eating and drinking with tax-gathers
and sinners, Jesus said, "It is not those who are well who need a physician,
but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous men but sinners
to repentance" (Luke 5:29-32). In the synagogue of his home town of
Nazareth, Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-2, declaring himself to be the total
fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies. The Jews responded in rage, and
sought to kill him. Mark tells us of their rejection, saying, "And
he could do no miracles there except that he laid his hands upon a few sick
people and healed them. And he wondered at their unbelief" (Mark 6:5-6).
The spiritual society into which our Lord walked should have rejoiced at
the fact that the Messiah had finally come, but instead they tried to throw
him off a hill.
Leaving his home town of Nazareth, Jesus and his five disciples- Peter,
Andrew, James, John, and Nathaniel-walked east 20-25 miles to Capernaum,
a city of Galilee on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. During Jesus'
day it had grown into a city big enough to support a tax office (Matt. 9:9),
a garrison for Roman soldiers (Matt.8:9), as well as a Jewish synagogue
built by a Roman centurion (Luke 7: 5) who later requested that the Jewish
elders ask Jesus to heal his terminally ill slave.
Our Lord lodged in Capernaum for several weeks, "and he was teaching
them on the Sabbath [days]." In this passage we see how Jesus brings
healing with the word of God. These people, who had not heard the voice
of a prophet in over 400 years, needed to experience God's word anew. The
Sabbath began with the sunset each Friday night, and the Lord would prepare
his heart before his Father to attend the local synagogue service the following
Saturday morning. His audience were those whom the prophet Isaiah had diagnosed
when he wrote in the Spirit in 700 B.C.: "These people honor me with
their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made
up of only rules taught by men" (Isaiah 29:13). Paul would later say
to the Corinthians about the Jewish community: ". . .their minds were
hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the
same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ, but to this
day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart [a veil of pride,
deceiving my mind with the lie that I can keep the law in my own power].
But whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away" (II Cor.
Our Lord's desire was to teach the law in the true spirit in which it was
given. Jesus sought to uphold the authority and validity of the law, while
moving it off the stone tablets and into the hearts of men and women. In
our day, we, too, need to hear the word of God by our teachers, to remind
us that we cannot keep the law in the flesh. God has made provision by the
Spirit so that if we place our faith in him, he says, ". . . I will
put my law within them, and on their hearts and I will write it; and I will
be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer. 31:31). Although the
law was a grace given by God to keep us from destruction, the people were
frustrated because they were unable to keep it in their own power.
Our text says that the people ". . . were continually amazed at his
teaching; for his message was with authority." Jesus' teaching was
not delegated authority from the scribes, but a message coming from God
through him. He would simply say, "Thus saith the Lord." Jesus
went into the temple and began to teach: "The Jews therefore marveled
saying, 'How has this man become learned having never been educated?"'
The Lord never went to school in the sense that the rabbis had. He said,
"My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me" (John 7:14f).
The Jewish synagogue was spiritually sick. The community was seeking to
live under the heavy burden of the law, but it imprisoned their spirit.
Our Lord was available to teach them so that the word of God could set them
free from the power of the flesh and the evil one. Paul would later write
to the Jews in Galatia, "It was for freedom that Christ set us free;
therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery"
You need to be encouraged that the shepherds of Peninsula Bible Church desire
to submit to Jesus as Lord, and are continually seeking his mind so that
we can present a balanced diet. We ask in our meetings, "What do God's
people need now? How do they need to be fed from the word." We keep
looking for a balanced diet, some basic food that we put on the table in
three portions. The first portion is the New Covenant: "Everything
from God, nothing from us." With the new covenant, God moved the law
off of stones and into our hearts, giving us the Holy Spirit to keep that
law. With the voice of the Spirit he says, "Don't depend on your flesh,
your background, wealth, or schooling. Depend on me, for without me you
cannot do anything." So we are constantly trying to present the New
Covenant that teaches us about our relationship with the living God.
The second portion we want to present is Body Life, Christian community
as God intended it to be. We are to live in unity, while using our spiritual
gifts to function in harmony. While Satan would have us be individuals who
go our own way, the life of Christ at work in the body results in oneness.
I made a thoughtless, cutting remark to one of our pastors in a meeting
last week. Although I did not intend to hurt him, he wrote me a note that
said, "You hurt me." I realized then that my insensitivity had
wounded me as well. Right away, I wrote him a note back and said, "This
rebuke from you, I take it as from the Lord." Why? I want to be one
with my brother. I do not want anything to come between us. For some days
last week we were estranged because of my careless speech, but the Lord
used his Spirit to reconcile us.
The third part of the spiritual diet is based on teaching about Spiritual
Warfare. Not only are we to know our relationship to God and with each other,
but we need to know of our relationship to the evil one. We must learn who
he is and his intentions towards us. Since he seeks to destroy us by his
deceptions, we need to be armed with God's truth in order to counteract
For example, whenever the word of God is taught, there is more then one
spirit present. In verse 33, we see a man in the synagogue "having
a spirit of an unclean demon." This was an immoral man whom Satan was
ruling through one of his demons. A demon is an invisible evil spirit, an
intelligent created being. It had taken residence in this man's body and
had full control over his mind and actions. Like his master Satan, his mission
was to enslave this man and use him to deceive those around him.
Apparently, this synagogue was no threat to Satan because it was imprisoned
by the law, and thus remained powerless to set others free. However, Jesus'
teaching on freedom from the law through relationship with the Messiah endangered
Satan's kingdom. So the demon started screaming: "Ha! What do we have
to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who
you are-the Holy One of Israel!" The demon recognized and acknowledged
our Lord's power, position, and person. The Jews, who heard the announcement,
would be confused by our Lord's source of power. How best for Satan to strike
back but in a religious setting where he hoped to get the Jews to think
that Jesus and Satan were working together?
Why did Jesus respond, "Be muzzled!"? It was inappropriate that
Jesus the Messiah should be proclaimed by representatives of the evil one.
This would have given the Pharisees grounds for a charge brought against
him later, that of being Satan's ally (Matt. 12:24; John 8:44f).
Jesus healed the man spiritually: "Come out of Him! And when the demon
had thrown him down in their midst, he went out of him without doing him
any harm." The Jews' reacted in amazement at the Lord's refreshing
message and the power and authority displayed by him in casting out the
demon. The report of his activities on that Sabbath morning traveled quickly
like a voice over the waters of the lake outside the synagogue to all the
Once when we were teaching in the Colombian prisons, we were asked to preach
the word of God in an area for the criminally insane. When we came out,
there was a naked man, foaming at the mouth and screaming at us in a voice
like I had never heard before. Unfortunately, we were not able to help this
prisoner because the guard wanted us out of his section to teach elsewhere.
We understood clearly that when the word of God is being taught there are
pressures from the devil to distort and confuse it, even within the church
How should we respond to a sick society? Be available in the spiritual community,
as well as,
II. Be Available to the Private Community, Luke 4: 38-39
And he arose and left the synagogue, and entered Simon's home.
Now Simon's mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever; and they made
request of him on her behalf. And standing over her, he rebuked the fever,
and it left her; and she immediately arose and waited on them.
There are some ruins on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee in the ancient
city of Capernaum that suggest that Peter's house was but a few yards to
the left of the door of the ancient synagogue. According to Jewish custom
the main Sabbath meal came immediately after the service at the sixth hour
(12:00 noon). So Peter invited Jesus and the disciples to the home of his
mother-in-law for lunch.
Upon entering the house with the full expectation of the sweet smell of
a noon dinner, they received the news that Mom was suffering from a high
fever and had been put to bed by those in the house. "They made request
of Jesus to do something," for Peter and the other lunch guests had
been in the morning service when the demonic was healed. Based on their
faith, he rebuked the fever, not an evil spirit called "fever."
Rather, he rebuked the fever in the same way he later rebuked the winds
and waves on the stormy sea of Galilee (Luke 8:24). This woman experienced
a complete physical healing, and immediately "arose and began to wait
Here the Lord presents a beautiful model of availability to those in the
private community. He cares about individuals, those servants who love him
and want to be used to his honor and glory. Not only was Jesus available
to perform a spiritual healing in the synagogue by the power of the Holy
Spirit, but when he made himself available to enter the private community
of Peter's mother-in-law's home he was free to minister to this physically
Our sick society is made up of individuals who are extremely ill in one
form or another. Although we are not always aware of the root cause of their
illness, as followers of Christ we are to be available to minister to them.
When we enter those homes we should be ready to turn to our Lord and ask
him to use us to bring spiritual and emotional healing. As our Lord directs
us, we are to pray for the physical healing of those who are sick.
Over the last 16 years our family has had the privilege of ministering to
families within our immediate neighborhood, especially at times of illness
and death. I am sure many of you have had similar opportunities. A wife
came by one evening around dinner time to ask for prayer for her husband
who had just suffered a heart attack. A distraught husband banged on our
door late one evening to ask me to come over to "fix his wife"
who was suffering from stress and anxiety. (She later accepted the Lord
at at a Christian conference). Another wife asked for prayer for her husband
who had a heart attack; we visited and prayed for him in the hospital many
times. A couple asked us to marry them; another asked us to counsel their
rebellious child. We were there when one neighbor's husband died. We hunted
for hours one evening for a missing child; another parent came and wanted
counsel because his child had a nervous breakdown. The ministry goes on
and on; it is provided by the Holy Spirit in one home and then another.
There are many times that the Lord has led us into the home setting to be
a word of encouragement, a prayer, a touch, or presence in the midst of
an evil world.
Not only do we need to respond to our sick society by being available to
the spiritual community and to the private community, we also must,
III. Be Available to the Public Community, Luke 4: 40-41
And when the sun was setting all who had any sick with various
diseases brought them to him; and laying his hands on every one of them,
he was healing them. And demons also were coming out of many, crying out
and saying, "You are the Son of God!" And rebuking them, he would
not allow them to speak, because they knew him to be the Christ.
The Jewish Sabbath began at sunset on Friday night and was over by sunset
on Saturday night. Exodus 20:8-11 instructed the Jews to avoid "work"
on the Sabbath or they would be stoned to death (Exodus 31:14). According
to the Pharisees' understanding of this law, Jesus had worked on the Sabbath
because he healed two persons. Once the Pharisees arrived on the scene,
our Lord would address this tension.
The Jewish community was aware of these restrictions and did not want to
break the Sabbath. So they waited until the Sabbath was over and "the
sun had set," before they brought the sick and demon-possessed to Jesus
for healing. The Lord touched each one of them and they were healed. Once
again, he would not allow the demons to speak and announce his arrival as
Messiah. Jesus did not want the people to associate him with the devil,
for the demons were saying to the people that this healer was known in eternity
as the Son of God, the Christ. Matthew tells us why our Lord was available
to the public community, "in order what was spoken through Isaiah the
prophet might be fulfilled saying: 'He himself took our infirmities, and
carried away our diseases'" (rf. Isaiah 53:4).
Rather than move away from the sick and demonic society, by the power of
the Holy Spirit Jesus was available to bring personal healing to all those
with diseases or demons, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. Later,
when Levi (renamed Matthew) left tax-collecting to follow Jesus, he gave
a party to celebrate his new life in Christ. The Pharisees came to criticize
Jesus, grumbling, "Why do you eat and drink with the tax-gatherers
and sinners?" Jesus said "It is not those who are well who need
a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call righteous men,
but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:29-32).
We have such an opportunity to move into our community the way Jesus did
in his. We have a number of people involved in Backyard Bible Clubs this
summer who are ministering to many children who will grow up as believers
in Christ because of these leaders' availability. I know of men who out
of their fellowship have become coaches to children in community sports
programs, loving them and setting godly examples. Many of you have gotten
involved in PTA, and are bringing truth to our educational system. There
are ministries in many arenas that have nothing to do with "religion"
or church, but reach out with the gospel to the sickly society in which
we live. The encouragement from this passage as we witness the life of our
Lord is: As it is reflected in your lives, keep going, you are on the right
path, and traveling in the right direction. Move into your community. As
our Lord directs you, it needs to hear about Jesus Christ.
How should we respond to a sick society? We need to be available in the
spiritual, private, and public community. The key to availability is this:
IV. As Our Lord Directs Our Lives, Luke 4:42-44
And when day came, he departed and went to a lonely place [and
was praying there, Mark 1: 35] and the multitudes were searching for him,
and came to him, and tried to keep him from going away from them. But he
said to them, "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities
also, for I was sent for this purpose." And he kept on preaching in
the synagogues of Judea.
When everyone was looking for Jesus after the Sabbath, they found him praying.
That was the secret of his life which kept him from giving into the whims
of every group. How was Jesus able to sort out which way to turn: Should
he return to Capernaum on a wave of popularity as a healer, or should he
plow new territory as a preacher? It is in this passage (see Mark 1:35f)
that the Lord models how we all should live and minister to the community-in
prayer. Knowing where to go, what to say, and what to do was determined
by our Lord's communication with his beloved heavenly Father. Thus, on a
given Sabbath our Lord was able to walk into a situation and offer spiritual
and physical healing.
It was the secret of Jesus' life that he would pray. What that meant for
him was that Jesus did nothing without first "checking in" with
his Father: "For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will,
but the will of him who sent me" (John 6:38, 14:3, 17:4). Jesus said
nothing without first checking in with his Father: "For I do not speak
of my own initiative, but the Father himself who sent me has given me commandment
what to say and what to speak" (John 12:49-50; 7:14-24). Jesus did
not go anywhere without first checking in with his Father; for it was after
he had prayed that he was able to say with such confidence to his disciples,
"Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, in order that I may
preach. . . ." (Mark 1:38).
We know that our churches, homes, and society are filled with physically,
emotionally, and spiritually sick people. We should also know that we are
not the savior of the world, but we are servants of the risen and living
Lord who ministers to our world through us. Despite the "press of the
crowd" we as servants of God need to check in with our Lord about where
we should go, what we should do, and what we should say, moment by moment.
When we are involved in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, it is
hard to believe that we would be saying the wrong words, going the wrong
places, or doing the wrong things in any given day.
Our lives and ministry should not be determined by the press of the crowd,
by popularity, or availability. As servants of Jesus Christ we are called
to have the same attitude our Lord had in his relationship with his Father
and his ministry: "Not my will but your will be done." The secret
to living a full day that will be pleasing to the Lord, one that will bring
eternal consequences to all that we say and do, is contingent on our understanding
of living a full life. And that secret was given by Jesus to his disciples
". . he was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought
to pray and not to lose heart" (Luke 18:1f).
In his new book, The Strength of a Man, Dave Roper says in
a chapter on the prayer life of our Lord:
. . . he prayed without ceasing. Prayer was the environment
in which he lived, the air he breathed. Subject to continual interruptions,
busy beyond comparison, resisted by friends and foes, hassled and harried,
he managed to keep in touch with God. Every situation was an occasion for
prayer. . . . His life was continuous prayer. No demands, only dependence;
no clamoring for attention, only a quiet continual reliance on the Father
who always heard him.
We should pray, wait, and listen for the answers that will come only from
our risen Lord because he hears us. It is not like my wife's perpetual question,
"Are you listening to me?" I answer, "Yes, but would you
repeat it just for clarity?" Jesus never says that. Not only does he
hear our words, but he sees the motives of our heart.
If we "pray without ceasing" we will be able to say, "The
fact that everyone is looking for me will not determine my day, my ministry
or my priorities; before I do anything, as a servant of Jesus Christ I will
check in with my Lord about what I should do and say, and where I should
minister in this sick and evil society."
How should we react to a sick society? We know that we are living in the
age of the Spirit, and that our Lord has given us the clear purpose of being
part of his plan of redemption. Each spiritually gifted member of Christ's
body is to be available to the spiritual, private, and public community,
calling out a people for his name's sake. Those who are spiritually healthy
are called out to minister to those who are spiritually sick. Watch what
God does. Watch him minister and bring life through you as his servant.
As our Lord directs our lives, that direction will become more clear as
we go to him in prayer.
"But he said to them, 'I must preach the kingdom of God
to the other cities also, for I was sent for that purpose.' And he kept
on preaching in the synagogues of Judea (the country of the Jews including
Let's pray together for the mindset of Christ about our involvement in this
sick and evil society.
Catalog No. 4125
Ron R. Ritchie
July 30, 1989
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