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Jesus pleases the Father
Anthony Turner had a decision to make, and he knew it was a whopper. He was engaged to a woman who expected him to take a job with a steady, dependable income to allow them a normal life. He even had a job offer that matched what he needed.
But Anthony had dreams of his own that would take him along a more risky path: he wanted to fulfill a long-standing desire to write a book. However, that path didn’t offer the financial security that his prospective wife felt was so necessary. Anthony was being pulled very strongly in two opposite directions.
Finally, Anthony made his choice. He declined the job and wrote the book. But, in making his choice he paid a price; his engagement was broken.
This story illustrates the kind of choices we commonly face. We live in a world that tugs and pulls us in many conflicting directions. As a result, we wind up saying yes to one thing and no to something else. Sometimes saying no can be tough because it involves rejecting something very good to do something better still. And that’s hard.
In the midst of conflicting interests we must choose who we are going to please. An old proverb says, “You can’t please everyone.” So, who are you going to please? How can you make such choices in a world of conflicting interests and demands?
I don’t have any easy answers for living in such a complex world, but Jesus models an approach that will help us to sort out our choices.
Jesus Models a Strategy
To illustrate how Jesus handled this problem I have taken incidents from three different Gospels. In each case Jesus faced a group of people who wanted something from him. In the first story Jesus was pressured by his own brothers, who were trying to influence him in an unfair and coercive way.
The second story involves a large group of needy people who wanted Jesus to meet their needs. They also behaved in a demanding way.
In the final story, Jesus interacted with his disciples. Like others, they wanted to take his life in a direction different from the one the Father had given to him.
You see, Jesus had to face pressures and expectations just as you and I do. He was being pulled in many directions, and people were trying to make him into different things. Jesus cut through all these pressures and expectations in a remarkable way!
The key to Christ’s approach was to set his own life agenda by living to please the Father. That gave him a very clear idea of what he should say no to and what he should say yes to. In other words, Jesus set his own priorities without regard for pressures from his disciples, his family or a needy multitude.
Family Tug of War
1 After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. 2 But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, 3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
6 Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do.
7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. 8 You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.
It turns out that Jesus was dealing with opponents here. I feel sad about that, because they were his own brothers. But how real that is! Some of the strongest pressures any of us face come from our own families. Our parents, spouses, children, brothers, and sisters wield enormous influence over all that we do. Family life frequently involves subtle tactics by one person to bring about action in the life of another. That’s exactly what Jesus’ manipulative brothers tried on him.
From John 7:1, we gather that the death plots against Jesus were common knowledge. Nevertheless, his brothers tried to set his priorities and dictate his actions to send him into this danger when they said, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea.” The translators properly supply the italicized words to capture the ploy Jesus’ brothers were using on him.
They implied that he was not living as he should. (Pause for a moment here, and reflect on how many people have tried to tell you what you ought to do or should do).
In their next attempt, the brothers — wrongly — suggested that Jesus was seeking fame. By acting in secret, they said, he was foolishly squandering an opportunity to gain a following at the feast.
I cannot personally accept the translation given by the NIV (2011) in the latter half of John 7:4, because John himself informed us that Christ’s brothers did not believe in him. The brothers actually said to Jesus, “If indeed you are doing these things, show yourself to the world” (John 7:4b).
The brothers crassly dared Jesus to work his miracles where all could see. Just imagine, this was an opportunity for Jesus to witness to his own brothers. What an awesome tug that would be!
One option Jesus had was to consent to their wishes to maintain good relations with them. Or, he could have worked a miracle in their presence to bring them around.
But Jesus didn’t pursue peace at any price. He didn’t put pleasing people at the top of his priority list. Instead, he said, “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right” (John 7:6). Jesus easily freed himself from the expectations and pressures of his own family by a simple means; he made his own choices, guided by his mission from the Father.
One lesson that emerges from this incident is that Jesus did not allow others — not even his own family — to set the agenda for his life. By application, this means that the Lord does not expect us to lead our lives to please other people. In fact, by following Jesus we may even suffer rejection from others.
Jesus also modeled firmness in resisting manipulation. He did not automatically respond to the “oughts” and “shoulds” placed upon him by others. Nor did he react to their scornful dares. Jesus showed us that living as a servant calls for courage and strength. Being a good Christian does not mean that we must comply with the wishes of others.
The Pressure of People’s Needs
42 At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. 43 But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” 44 And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.
This second example took place near Capernaum, a city on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had moved there after being rejected by the people of Nazareth. When he arrived, he healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law from a serious fever. News of this miracle traveled quickly through the city, and before long the whole town had gathered (Mark 1:32–34). Jesus stayed up late into the night, meeting people’s needs.
We join Luke’s story on the following morning, well before dawn, when Jesus had gone out alone into the countryside to pray. Jesus was acting according to a spiritual priority, that of prayer to his Father. Prayer was more important to him than what other people wanted.
Although Jesus had met many needs among people in the city of Capernaum on the previous night, many more needs undoubtedly remained. The people from the city searched diligently for him and actually tried to restrain Christ from leaving. They physically tried to hinder his departure. They didn’t want to let go of this miracle worker who had done such great things for their town.
They must have thought that if Capernaum could have a man like Jesus around for a few years, just think how good it would be for the community. Jesus would have become a civic treasure that they could have shown off to enhance their profit and influence.
Jesus realized that their motivation was not a response to God’s claims upon them, but a desire to experience more miracles. Would it have been evil for Jesus to stay in Capernaum to work more miracles? Would it have been wrong for him to continue preaching the gospel there? No! That would have been a very good thing, but sometimes the good can be the enemy of the best.
Those people had legitimate needs, in spite of their poor motivation. But Jesus didn’t respond automatically every time he encountered a human need; he had to decide whether to meet such needs or not.
Jesus weighed their needs against what his Father had sent him to do. And for him to stay and become the great miracle worker of Capernaum would have been inconsistent with what the Father had intended.
Jesus didn’t come to be the great doctor of Galilee or the favorite son of Capernaum. He came to be the Savior of the world. Because Jesus had a clear idea of his own priorities, he was able to say yes to some things. To other things, even to good things, he said no!
Jesus told the crowd that he “must” leave them to preach elsewhere (Luke 4:43), in keeping with his mission. Undoubtedly that announcement led to disappointment, frustration, and anger on the part of those who so desperately wanted him to stay. Even to us it may seem that Christ didn’t take advantage of a great evangelistic opportunity here. He had a crowd that was ready to eat out of his hand, and yet he moved on.
It’s jolting to see how differently Jesus operated than we do. He turned his back on the needy people of Capernaum and went on to accomplish his mission without regret or apology.
We, too, will encounter demanding people in the course of our lives. Some of them will be believers and may need us to be involved in good and godly causes. Others will be unbelievers who desperately need to know the Lord Jesus Christ. But just because these people have needs doesn’t necessarily mean that we are the ones to meet them.
I realize that we could use such thinking to avoid some legitimate responsibilities before God. But it concerns me that Christians can easily let the pressing needs of people set the whole agenda of their lives instead of making their choices in order to please the Lord.
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else — to the nearby villages — so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
Mark here described exactly the same incident that we previously looked at in the Gospel of Luke. But Mark’s perspective is different. Luke focused his attention on the interaction between Jesus and the seeking multitudes. Mark concentrated attention on the relationship between Jesus and the disciples during the same set of events.
We would probably assume that Christ’s disciples would have responded in a more mature and understanding manner toward him in this situation. We naturally have a higher level of expectations about the disciples. So much the worse for our expectations!
As Simon and the others looked for Jesus, they searched with a special kind of intensity, as expressed by the Greek verb (Mark 1:36). The verb is also used of hunting for an animal or hunting for a fugitive from justice. They seemed driven by a special intensity to find him, and we soon discover the source of that intensity.
They said, “Everyone is looking for you!” (Mark 1:37). This statement has an air of rebuke and displeasure in it. It is as if the disciples were saying, “Jesus, what are you doing out here? Capernaum is where you’re needed. And the people are getting upset with us, because we don’t know where you are. You’re not where we expected you to be.”
So, Jesus had to deal with the expectations of his disciples, especially Simon, because Capernaum was his hometown. The disciples wanted Jesus to go right back into town and do his thing. Even as their Lord and leader, Jesus must have cared about what his disciples thought of him, and with the multitudes also nearby searching, they wanted him to go back and meet those needs.
But in his remarkable way, Jesus did not bend to the expectations of his disciples. He didn’t say yes based on what people expected out of him. As the multitudes sought him and the disciples exhorted him, he said: “Let us go somewhere else — to the nearby villages — so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mark 1:38). The reason we find this startling is because our expectations tend to be like those of the disciples. But Jesus made his own decisions based on his own priorities from the Father.
A Summary of the Main Point
Jesus did not necessarily respond to people’s expectations, even those coming from people who were very important to him, In the three passages we have examined, people tried to use manipulation, demands, needs, and expectations to compel our Lord to take certain actions. He simply didn’t let that happen!
In the face of many attempts by others to impress their wills upon him, Jesus maintained autonomy — the freedom to make his own choices before God. His example sets me free, because I have led much of my life giving in to the manipulations, demands, needs, and expectations of others.
I acted that way for many reasons, and partly because I thought it was the moral, or right, way to behave. But Jesus’ example forces me to reexamine the whole question and to see that, if I am to be a responsible person before God, I must sometimes say no to others.
The Compassionate Christ
40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” 41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
(Mark 1:40–42, NIV 1984)
As Jesus walked away from the demanding multitude, he encountered a man with leprosy, who begged him for mercy. I am confident that Mark included this story to show that Jesus didn’t make his choices in an uncaring way. He deeply cared about the pain of this man, as he did about the pain of others. He met his need and cleansed him of leprosy.
Jesus lived compassionately, but he was not about to be diverted from his primary mission in order to become something else. He came primarily to be the Savior not the healer.
No wonder our Lord’s sensitive heart was filled with compassion. Leprosy savagely attacks the body and often leads to the ugly loss of fingers, toes, and other body parts. Perhaps worse than that, lepers in Israel had to walk around shouting, “Unclean! Unclean!” Imagine how you would have felt calling attention to your own ravaged body in that way.
But our caring Savior had a cry of his own: “Be clean!” Even beyond that, Jesus touched the man — something no Pharisee would ever do. Jesus touched the untouchable because that’s the kind of person he was.
In summary Mark presents this careful balance: Jesus cared deeply about people’s needs, but his life was not ruled by them.
Finding Your Own Way through the Maze
Our lives confront us with a bewildering array of tactics, demands, needs, and expectations. Use the following application concepts to try to clarify your own life in these areas.
1. Here are several questions to help you define the main sources of pressure, expectations, and demands in your life.
Who primarily influences your life agenda (i.e., how you spend your time and what you’re trying to do)? Is it your parents, your boss, your mate? Who really dictates how your life is lived?
Whoever you name may be robbing you of your responsibility before God to make choices about your own life.
Who in your life places significant expectations on you? Jesus’ disciples certainly had expectations for him. They wanted him to go back down to Capernaum to heal more people. Are there people in your life who are like that? It’s not evil for them to have such expectations, but should you meet them? Should you affirm them, or say no?
Whose rejection, criticism, or disapproval most influences your choices and behavior?
Do you think Jesus wanted to be rejected by his brothers? Of course not! Do you think he wanted to fail to meet the expectations of his disciples? He knew that would cause some friction.
There are people whose rejection wouldn’t phase me at all. And yet certain other people’s disapproval can devastate me. My life can get wrapped up in trying to please the latter group of people. In fact, I can get so wrapped up in pleasing them that I even lose sight of pleasing God. Is it the same for you?
Who in your life tends to use guilt, withdrawal of love, or threats to get certain responses from you?
Some people directly or indirectly say to us, “If you really love me, you will do [something].” That falls in the same category as the kind of thing Jesus’ brothers were attempting to pull on him.
2. You determine who you are by what you affirm and what you refuse. Saying yes and no are two of the most important tools you have in living your life for Christ. Many of us have good intentions, but what we actually do with our lives reveals more about who we really are.
If saying yes and no are so important, then a deep problem exists: very few people know how to say no.
If Jesus Christ restructured your life today, where would he say yes, and where would he say no?
3. To say yes and no effectively, we need guidance from God more than anything else. Our family, our friends, and our culture can play constructive parts in setting our course, but they cannot replace wisdom from God. I mean that we need to have the principles of God’s Word at our disposal to guide the choices that we make as we live our lives for Christ. God’s will stands revealed in his Word. To help you gain this wisdom, I would encourage you to set three goals:
(1) To spend time reading God’s Word
(2) To spend time in prayer
(3) To spend time in solitude thinking about what God wants in your life
I know these goals are very basic. But if we don’t keep them, our lives may become a reflex movement, lurching this way and that in response to an agenda set by others.
A Final Word
Jesus doesn’t ask us to seek popularity or to please everyone. He certainly didn’t. And he doesn’t promise that our lives will ever be free of conflicting demands. He faced them constantly, and so will we. But Jesus does call on us to follow him in learning to make hard choices.
If we follow that path, then at times we will have to say no to others. That’s hard. But in freeing ourselves from the treacherous net of other people’s demands and expectations, we free ourselves to live for God in the most effective way possible. Jesus modeled exactly that style of life.
Coming next . . .
In Chapter 8, we see Jesus on the long road south toward Jerusalem where he has an appointment with a cross. As Jesus walks toward his own self-sacrifice, what values will he model to the disciples?
 In Mark 1:41, I prefer NIV 1984 to NIV 2011.