Jesus and the Poor

By Dr. G. Steve Kinnard, Teacher/Evangelist,

New York City Church of Christ

             Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you...” -- Matthew 26:11 (NIV).  Also in Deuteronomy 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.”[1]

        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!”[2]

            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. 

[1] “Issues and Answers: Hunger” (Nashville: The Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, n.d.), p.1

[2]  “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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