Jesus’ mission on this earth was of a spiritual nature. He came to establish a kingdom that would bring Jew and Gentile together in one body — his own. He lived his life with a singular focus matched by few, if any.
As we’ve already discussed, he came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). It’s certainly true that the prophets pointed to him as one who would heal the sick, give sight to the blind, cure the lame and bring hope to an oppressed people. However, passages like Isaiah 35 indicate that those miracles weren’t an end to themselves, but rather a sign of the true purpose of Jesus: to build a highway, a “way of Holiness” (v. 8), by which sinful people could return to God.
Jesus had three years to mold a group of imperfect men into apostles, correct a flawed understanding of God’s law, and prepare himself as a sacrificial offering for the sins of all the world. His focus on teaching the lost sometimes seemed to border on obsession (John 4:34, Mark 3:21).
And yet, faced with a mission that transcended any temporary, physical need that might present itself, Jesus still found time to help people.
Going about doing good
When Peter met the Roman centurion Cornelius, this is how he summed up Jesus’ life:
You yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. — Act 10:37-38
The significance of this, to me, is that no one was in a better place than Jesus to understand how seemingly insignificant a single act of kindness could be. What is even a lifetime of suffering when compared with an eternal glorified body in the presence of God?
He had himself taught that it was better to enter life maimed or blind than to be healthy and suffer eternal condemnation (Matthew 5:29-30). How many people did Jesus heal, knowing full well that they had missed the true significance of his appearance in their lives (Luke 17:11-18)?
Is doing good ever futile?
People would continue to die, and yet Jesus raised people from the dead. People would continue to get sick, and yet Jesus healed them. Do you think Jesus ever looked out at the vast array of pain and suffering that he saw every day and asked “Why should I bother helping this person, when a hundred more will still be suffering?”
If Jesus was truly tempted in all points as we are (Hebrews 4:15), it’s impossible to believe he didn’t.
Who can walk down a busy street in New York City or some other major metropolitan area, hear the request of a beggar, and not think “if I help this person, what about the person after him? Or after him? I can’t help all of them!”
Jesus was the only man who ever lived who had a hope of ending disease, hunger and pain. And he didn’t do it. And yet, Jesus never let the “big picture” or thoughts of futility keep him from doing good.
Jesus’ life was driven by compassion
How many of Jesus’ recorded miracles appear to be situations where Jesus was engaged in other business, and yet he saw someone in need and had compassion?
Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. — Luke 7:11-15
Jesus, knowing people’s hearts, understood more than anyone else how important a small act of kindness could be — even if it didn’t do anything more than lighten someone’s load for a few moments.
He calls his disciples to view life the same way. It’s worth noting that in his parable of the judgment scene, he describes those who will enter into life this way:
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ — Matthew 25:34-40
If we truly want to follow Jesus, we need to be people of compassion — even when it doesn’t seem like it will make a difference. Jesus didn’t help those in need because he thought it would fix the world’s problems or end suffering for more than a few moments. He did it because he was compassionate toward people who needed help.
May God help us to be that kind of people, too.