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Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you...” -- Matthew 26:11 (NIV). Also in Deut. 15:11 we read, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”
Therefore, it is a given that there will always be impoverished people in the world. A study from the Southern Baptist Convention states, “Nearly one billion people, almost one out of every four persons on earth live in a state of 'absolute poverty.' They are trapped in conditions so limited by illiteracy, malnutrition, disease, high infant mortality and low life expectancy as to be denied the very potential with which they are born. Almost 20 million people die each year of starvation or hunger related illnesses.”
But, why should we care? Why should we respond to the needs of the poor?
There are many social movements around the world that respond to the needs of the poor. But we are Christians. We aren’t a social movement. So, why must we as Christians respond to the needs of the poor?
The question is not, “Why are there so many impoverished people?” (Although that’s a good question.) The question isn’t, “Why are the poor poor?” (Although that is a question worth considering.) The key to proper motivation is answering the question “Why?” Why should I respond to the needs of the poor in the world?
The short answer is—as Christians, we are to live as Jesus lived. In his life, Jesus responded to the needs of the poor. Therefore, we must “Go and do likewise.”
Where do the steps of Jesus lead? They lead many places. They lead to a lost world that needs saving. They lead to young or weak Christians that need discipling. They lead to families that need strengthening. But there is one place where the steps of Jesus always lead—to the poor. He stepped forward, stepped toward, and stepped up to meet the needs of the poor. He stepped toward the sick, the hungry, the naked, those in prison and the dispossessed, the blind, the deaf, the demon-possessed, and those suffering from leprosy. Jesus stepped toward the poor because he had a compassionate heart. His heart shows us the heart of God. He was a living picture of who God is—a compassionate and loving Father.
Jerry Shirley, a Baptist minister, tells this story: One day a little girl was drawing a picture, and even skipped recess because she was so focused upon it. Her teacher asked what she was doing and she said she was drawing a picture of God. “Oh honey, you can’t do that...no one knows what God looks like.” The little girl held up the picture and said, “They do now!”
That’s what Jesus does for us. He draws us a picture of what God looks like. He shows us who God is. God is compassionate. Jesus is compassionate. Jesus ministered to the needs of people. If we are following in his steps, we will minister to the needs of people as well. That’s who Jesus was. It’s who his people ought to be.
Let’s look at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus to get a picture of what his life and ministry were like. Let’s read Matthew 4:12-25. Verse 23 summarizes the ministry of Jesus. Matthew writes, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” The ministry of Jesus can be thought of as having three tiers or layers—teaching, preaching, and healing. Think of it as a triangle. Look again at Matthew 4:12-25, where all these elements are present:
"When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
'Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, along the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.'
From that time on Jesus began to preach, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.'
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed him.
Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him." -- Matthew 4:12-25 (NIV)
Jesus took care of the whole person. In the words of Matthew, Jesus met the needs of “all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed.” Jesus healed the hurts of people. That was who he was. He was compassionate and loving. He touched lepers, restored sight to the blind, caused the lame to walk, brought the sick back to health, freed the demon-possessed, allowed the deaf to hear. Whole towns showed up at his doorstep. People came from miles and miles to know and experience his compassionate touch. The hurting cried out when Jesus walked by to make sure they got his attention. He healed hurts. Jesus is known as the great Physician for a reason.
Jesus went out “teaching, preaching, and healing.” These were the three aspects to his ministry. We can’t neglect any one of these aspects of the ministry of Jesus today.
 “Issues and Answers: Hunger” (Nashville: The Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, n.d.), p.1
 “How Big Is Your God?” Jerry Shirley, accessed October 12, 2016, http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/how-big-is-your-god-jerry-shirley-sermon-on-commandments-idols-124460.asp
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What does Jesus have to say about our response to the poor? Consider the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. Please take a moment and read the parable.
This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. It has influenced the world so much that when you say someone is a “Good Samaritan,” everyone knows what you mean. That’s a person who goes out of his or her way to help someone they don’t even know. Wouldn’t it be great if the word “Christian” were held in such high esteem as the phrase “Good Samaritan!” Christians and “Good Samaritan” should be synonymous because both should mean, “we love our neighbor as ourselves.”
This old Jericho road still exists today. One day, my wife Leigh and I took the kids and another couple and we had a devotional there, reenacting the story of the Good Samaritan. My kids wanted to be the robbers and not the Good Samaritan. I should have known we were in for trouble at that point. Thanks to God’s grace, they are both trying to be Good Samaritans today.
Jesus commands us to love our neighbor. That is a direct command. To justify himself, the lawyer in the parable asks, “Okay, Jesus, but who is my neighbor?” Does it sound a bit like some of us who ask, “Now who exactly are the poor? Are they the poor in the church or those outside it? Who am I obligated to help?” Jesus shows what it means to love our neighbor. To love our neighbor means to help those who are in need and to step outside nationalistic, religious, ethnic, social, cultural borders to do so. To love your neighbor means you step up to meet needs.
The priest and the Levite are callous to the needs of the injured man. They step back, step around, and step away from him. They don’t step where Jesus would have stepped. Here’s the “Aha” moment of the story—a Samaritan loves his neighbor. Someone outside the covenant community demonstrates the love of Jesus, while those in the covenant community are hard-hearted and callous.
The priest and the Levite literally turned away from their own flesh and blood. They stepped back, stepped around, and stepped away from the man who was hurting. A Samaritan was the neighbor who loved. And at the end of the discussion is the directive of Jesus. “Go and do likewise.”
The priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan each had the capacity and means to help the needy man. Each had the opportunity to help. What was the difference between the religious leaders and the Samaritan? Heart and action. On the one side we have callousness, apathy, and coldness. On the other, compassion, care, and concern. On the one side, inaction. Stepping back, stepping away, stepping over, and stepping around. On the other side, action. Stepping toward, stepping forward, and stepping up. Stepping in the steps of Jesus. Jesus extols the Good Samaritan and commands his disciples to imitate him saying, "Go and do likewise."
“Go and do likewise.” That is the teaching of Jesus on meeting the needs of the needy. “Go and do.” Which will you be -- the priest, the Levite, or the Good Samaritan? Which will we be as the church -- the priest, the Levite, or the Good Samaritan? Will we step back, step away, step around, and step over the poor, the needy, and the hurting? Or, will we step up, step forward, step toward those who need our help? Will we walk in the steps of Jesus? The steps of Jesus lead to the sick, the blind, the crippled, the leprous, the demon-possessed, and the poor. Jesus stepped up, stepped forward, and stepped toward those in poverty.
We must evangelize the world. We must strengthen, teach, and disciple our churches. We must minister to the needs of the poor. None of these are optional.
Allow the words of Jesus at the conclusion of the Good Samaritan to ring in your ears, “Go and do likewise.” “Go and do likewise.”
Some have stated that they fear that if we emphasize the healing ministry of Jesus too much, then we will lose our focus on evangelism. If we give too much of our resources to help the poor, then we won’t have enough to evangelize the world. But Jesus did both. He is our model. We are to walk in his steps. God has the resources for us to evangelize the world and to help the poor. Psalm 50:11 says the whole world is God’s and everything in it.
I have a different fear. I fear the greed and materialism of our Western world crushing our compassion for the poor and the lost. I fear us becoming a big, fat, greedy, materialistic institutionalized denomination that has stopped practicing the compassion and love of Jesus because we are disconnected from the poor, the starving, the sick, the naked, the uneducated, and the dying, hundreds of thousands of people on this planet that we step over, step away from, and step around each day, instead of allowing our hearts to be moved by their situation and stepping up to help them. That’s what I fear.
I fear the “American Dream,” that says we are entitled to enjoy our wealth while others fight to survive on nothing. The “American Dream” might be our worst nightmare. I fear us getting so enamored with nice things that we lose sight of the millions and millions of people who have no-thing. Jesus never challenged us to fear helping the poor, but he did challenge us to be aware the deceitfulness of wealth. Perhaps if we would get back into the Bible and be a people of the Book then we would learn what we ought to be afraid of -- namely, materialism, the love of money, the deceitfulness of wealth, the hoarding up of possessions, and greed, which is idolatry. Helping the poor, seeing the faces of the poor, caring for the poor, will remind us of those materialistic evils that can destroy our hearts and cost us our souls.
There is always the potential to drift away from the teaching of Scripture. I get that. That’s why we have to constantly go back to the Word and check what we are doing with the Word. It’s always safe to take it back to the Bible. It’s always safe to take it back to Jesus. What would Jesus do? Where do the steps of Jesus lead? As I get older, all I want to do is to learn more and more to be and act like Jesus. I want to sit at his feet and learn from him. I love the gospels and spend most of my time in the gospels. I want to be with Jesus, not just in the hereafter, but in the here and now.
If I want to walk in the steps of Jesus, his steps lead to the poor. His steps don’t lead around the poor or away from poor. They lead directly to the poor. Jesus went preaching, teaching, and healing. We need to embrace the healing ministry of Jesus and do our part to go and live as Jesus lived.