Tuesday, November 14, 2023

The People Standing Around

“I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around.”

Sometimes Jesus said things he didn’t need to say. Sometimes he asked questions to which he already knew the answer, or asked to be given things he didn’t require. Once, he even went through a baptism of repentance when he had nothing whatsoever for which to repent.

He had to, on account of the people standing around.

Water, Bread and Flying Rocks

At the well in Sychar, he struck up a conversation with the words, “Give me a drink.” We do not read that he ever got one. There were more important things going on. He asked on account of the woman, not on his own.

By the sea of Tiberius, he asked Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He didn’t need to buy bread, and neither he nor the disciples had sufficient funds to do so in any case. John says he was doing this on Philip’s account, to test him.

He asked the woman taken in adultery, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” We might reasonably wonder why he would ask; after all, he had been right there with her the entire time. Even if he was bent over writing on the ground, he could hardly have missed the flying rocks. But his question gave her the opportunity to acknowledge him as Lord. On that basis, his response, “From now on sin no more,” seems perfectly appropriate. He asked the question on her account, not because he didn’t know the answer.

Sickness, Demons and Raising the Dead

He said to the centurion concerning his paralyzed servant, “I will come and heal him.” Why? He knew he didn’t need to, and he proved it moments later in response to the centurion’s faith. But if he had simply replied, “Then I will heal him from here,” the centurion’s faith would have had no opportunity to demonstrate itself. He did it on account of the people standing around.

When a Canaanite woman from the region of Tyre begged the Lord to heal her daughter, Jesus did not answer a word. He let her plague the disciples until they begged him to send her away. Was he uncaring? Was he deliberately being rude? Of course not. He was teaching his disciples that faith pleases God and transcends all ethnic divisions and earthly barriers. He did it, at least in part, on account of the people standing around.

When Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, the strongest evidence he knew exactly what he was about to do is the way he approached her grieving friends and family. He asked the houseful of mourners, “Why are you making a commotion?” Who would dare approach people who had experienced such a great loss with such perfect confidence? He had no need to ask. He knew full well why they were weeping: they were grieving for the dead. Everyone understood this; it was the most natural thing in the world under the circumstances. The only possible answer is that he asked the question for their sake, not his own.

The Ultimate Question

Finally, on the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Can anyone really believe he did not know that God had “made him to be sin who knew no sin”? Of course he did. Nothing the Lord Jesus did or said was merely an expression of deep personal need or poignant, heartfelt anguish. Even in his extremity, he always had the bigger picture in view. There was always more to it. He was quoting the first verse of Psalm 22, connecting the spiritual dots for anyone paying attention both then and now. He said it, at least in part, on account of the people standing around.

As clever a man as the apostle Paul was, when he tells the Corinthian church, “Let all things be done for building up,” he is not setting down a principle that originated with him. He is simply describing the life and practice of his Master in a single, well-crafted sentence.

Everything we do in this life should be done with a view to the good of the people standing around.

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