Jesus met people's needs. He healed the sick, cast out demons, fed the hungry and demonstrated compassion on the needy everywhere he went. Should the church follow her Savior in similar works of mercy? If the answer is yes, (and the answer must be a resounding, "Yes!" since we are sent just as he was sent into the world) what is the point? Why did Jesus, and why should we, seek to help, heal and serve our neighbors? Many evangelical Christians seem to dismiss this aspect of Jesus' ministry, at least on a practical level. Perhaps we associate it with "liberal" Christianity that has excelled in this area while losing its grip on orthodox theology. For many different reasons I am sure, a good number of our churches and Christians are suspicious of simply meeting people's needs. We tend to think that unless there is a time of "bible teaching" such works lose their value. I know many who think our good works toward "outsiders" serves as a doorway through which we can share the gospel. Actions are considered valuable only so far as they provide opportunity to preach. But this perspective misses the point.
I believe the reason Jesus met people's needs was to demonstrate that the Kingdom had arrived, the Devil had been bound, was falling from power and was having his goods “plundered.” Jesus was moved by compassion to heal, restore, feed, etc. but his goal was to announce and reveal the Kingdom of God. His works began the fulfillment of the promise in Gen 3, that the Devil would be crushed. And so Jesus’ people continue in this work as God crushes Satan under our feet.
When the poor are fed, and the dying are rescued, and the prisoners are loved, and the naked are clothed it is a reflection of the Kingdom values we hold as Jesus’ people, and a preview of the kingdom’s consummation when Jesus return. Our “good deeds” are not merely keys that open doors through which we can proclaim the Gospel, they are the preaching as well.
The church’s work in the world, meeting the real needs of those we come into contact with, is not pre-evangelism, nor is it inconsequential to the truth we believe. Rather, it is an inherent part of our message. Of course no one can believe unless they “hear,” but our words and works should be bound together in such a way that we are doing more than describing the grace of God to unbelievers, but are showing it to them as well. When we explain Jesus to someone, we are telling him the story of redemption, when we met their needs we are giving them a tangible experience of the kingdom we belong to. Both speaking and doing invite them to come, and enter by faith into the city of God, and both are necessary.
What needs are there for you, and your church to meet? Soon I'll share with you what's happening at Grace, and where I think God is directing me in our community.