Loving Like Jesus
During my senior year of college, I took a class called Art Appreciation. Now, Art Appreciation is an introductory course that’s usually taken by freshmen. But I took it the final semester of my senior year because I had already finished all the courses I had to take to earn my major and minor…and I just needed an easy class to complete the last few hours I had to have to graduate. So I took Art Appreciation.
Now, most colleges and universities that offer Art Appreciation will describe it as an introduction to the visual arts. So during this course, you’ll talk about things like the various mediums and techniques used to create visual art. You’ll learn a little about the history of art. And you’ll explore some of the most famous works of art that have ever been created.
So, over the course of the semester, I learned about the high renaissance period when Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa. I studied expressionism and the way that artists like Edvard Munch conveyed feelings in paintings like The Scream. I studied surrealism and tried to wrap my mind around what Salvador Dali was trying to convey in The Persistence of Memory. And I learned about pop art and tried to figure out why Andy Warhol’s painting of Campbell Soup cans became a masterpiece.
But there was one art movement that I learned about that semester that drew me in more than any of the others. It was a movement pioneered by artists like Georges Seurat and Paul Signac called pointillism. Now, my Art Appreciation professor would probably want me to clarify that pointillism is actually a branch off of the impressionist movement…but I think I’ve probably already geeked out enough about art for one day.
So instead of digging deeper into this period of art history, let me explain what pointillism is. Pointillism is a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of color are applied in patterns to form a larger image. Now, what this means is that if you stand too close to a pointillist painting all you’re going to see are dots…but if you take a step back, you’re able to see the whole picture the artist is trying to convey.
And the most famous example of pointillism is probably a painting by George Seurat called A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte. And if you were to stand real close to this painting, you’d see something that looks like this.
It doesn’t really look like anything…it’s just a bunch of blue and green dots on a canvas. But, if you took a few steps back and look again, you’d realize that those blue and green dots are part of the water that everyone is facing in this painting.
But what does all of this talk and pointillism have to do with us? Well, as we started into the new year here at Melbourne Heights, we challenged you to do something. We challenged you to read one chapter from the book of Matthew every day this month.
And we challenged you to do this for a reason. As followers of Jesus, our goal is always to become more like Jesus. So as we enter this new year, we want to help you be more like Jesus one year from now.
We want to help you be more like Jesus one year from now.
But in order to be more like Jesus, you have to know who Jesus is. So we challenged you to read a chapter a day from the book of Matthew – which is a biography of Jesus – to learn more about who Jesus is.
But there are times when we’re reading not only the book of Matthew but the Bible in general that we make the same mistake people make when they’re looking at a pointillist painting. We can get so caught up in the small details that we miss the big picture.
We can get so caught up in the small details that we miss the big picture.
When it comes to a pointillist painting, it’s easy to get so focused on the little dots that you miss the beautiful landscape those dots form. And when we’re reading the Bible, it’s easy to focus on one verse or one sentence or even one word and miss the bigger story that’s happening.
And that was really easy to do with one of the chapters that we challenged you to read last week. In Matthew 8, there are some amazing stories about miracles that Jesus performed. And I want us to take a closer look at each of these stories today…but I really want to show you the bigger picture of what these stories teach us about who Jesus is.
So if you’ve got a Bible close by go ahead and grab and turn to Matthew 8. Now there are three miracle stories we’ll be looking at today. And we’ll start with the first one, which is found in verses 1-4. So here’s what Matthew writes, he says:
1 Now when Jesus had come down from the mountain, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with a skin disease came, kneeled before him, and said, “Lord, if you want, you can make me clean.”
3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do want to. Become clean.” Instantly his skin disease was cleansed. 4 Jesus said to him, “Don’t say anything to anyone. Instead, go and show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded. This will be a testimony to them.”
Matthew 8:1-4 (Common English Bible)
Now that is an amazing story. And there are so many small details that we can focus on. We can focus on the way this man with a skin disease comes before Jesus. Matthew tells us that the man bowed before Jesus…humbling himself before God. Or we could focus on the faith this man has in Jesus, after all he tells Jesus that he knows Jesus can heal him and if Jesus wants to. Or we could focus on the way that Jesus responds, and by simply telling him to be clean the man is healed.
But each of those details are just small dots in the larger picture of who Jesus is.
And the same thing is true for the next miracle story that we find in Matthew 8:5-13. So let’s take a look at this story together. Here Matthew tells us:
5 When Jesus went to Capernaum, a centurion approached, 6 pleading with him, “Lord, my servant is flat on his back at home, paralyzed, and his suffering is awful.”
7 Jesus responded, “I’ll come and heal him.”
8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof. Just say the word and my servant will be healed. 9 I’m a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and the servant does it.”
10 When Jesus heard this, he was impressed and said to the people following him, “I say to you with all seriousness that even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this. 11 I say to you that there are many who will come from east and west and sit down to eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the children of the kingdom will be thrown outside into the darkness. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.” 13 Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; it will be done for you just as you have believed.” And his servant was healed that very moment.
Matthew 8:5-13 (Common English Bible)
Once again, this is an amazing story. And there are a ton of details we can focus on. We can focus on someone coming to Jesus to ask Jesus to heal his servant. Or we could talk about the way the man trusts that Jesus can heal him without even seeing the servant himself. Or we can talk about Jesus’ willingness to do exactly what this man asks him to do.
But each of those details are just small dots in the larger picture of who Jesus is.
And the same thing is true in the next miracle story that we find in Matthew 8:14-15. So let’s take a look at this story together. Matthew tells us:
14 Jesus went home with Peter and saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her. Then she got up and served them.
Matthew 8:14-15 (Common English Bible)
Again, this is an amazing story. And it has so many details we can focus on. Like the part about Peter’s mother-in-law. Now, we know Peter was one of Jesus’ best friends and closest followers…but did you know that Peter had a mother-in-law? And if Peter has a mother-in-law, that means that Peter must’ve been married. And how do you think Peter’s wife felt when her husband quit his job as a fisherman so that he could follow Jesus? And I could keep going, but I think you get the point.
There are a ton of details in this story…but each of those details are just small dots in the larger picture of who Jesus is.
So what are the stories of Jesus healing the man with a skin diseases, and the soldier’s servant, and Peter’s mother-in-law trying to teach us about Jesus? Well, the easy answer to that question is that they all teach us that Jesus is a miracle worker. But you know what? There are a ton of stories about the miracles that Jesus performers. So why does Matthew put these three stories together?
Well, here’s where you have to step back from the small details in each of these stories so you can see the bigger picture. And if you want to see the bigger picture, you have to pay attention to the people that Jesus healed in each of these stories. So who does Jesus heal in these stories?
In the first story, Jesus heals a man with a skin disease. In the second story, he heals a Roman soldier’s servant. And in the last story, he heals Peter’s mother-in-law. So what do all of these people have in common?
Well, in biblical times if someone in Israel had a skin disease they would’ve been cut off from their entire community. But they weren’t cut off from their community because people were worried about catching whatever disease the person may have had. People with skin diseases were cut off from their community because these people were believed to be unclean and unworthy of God’s love. So they were cut off to keep the other members of their communities from becoming unclean as well.
As far as the Roman soldier is concerned, he was a Roman solider…and I know that sounds obvious, but Rome was Israel’s biggest enemy. So the people of Israel didn’t want anything to do with Roman soldiers. So when Jesus helps this soldier out it would be about as weird as hearing that a member of ISIS was invited to someone’s bar mitzpha. This soldier was an enemy of Israel…so he was unworthy of God’s love.
And in the final story, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law…and, no, I’m not going to tell you that God doesn’t love mothers-in-law. But the interesting thing about Peter’s mother-in-law is that she was a woman. And women were treated like second class citizens in ancient Israel. Women weren’t allowed to enter all the same places in the temple that men could enter, so people believed that God didn’t love women as much as God loved men.
But when Jesus heals each of these people, Jesus shows us how God really feels about us. And even though there were people all across Israel who felt that God loved them more than people who were sick, or from another country, or a different gender; Jesus shows us that isn’t the case. Jesus shows us that God loves us all.
Jesus shows us that God loves us all.
I personally like the way that John Pavlovitz – who is a pastor, author, and blogger from North Carolina – puts it in his book If God is Love, Don’t Be a Jerk. He writes:
When you meet another person (whoever that person is) you are coming face-to-face with a once-in-history, never-to-be-repeated reflection of the image of God. This is true of the next person you meet and the hundreds you pass in traffic, navigate around at the grocery store, and spar with on social media. If God is God there’s no other option: they are each made of God stuff, no matter how bitter, cruel, or petty they might be or how unlikable you find them or how difficult to like they indeed may be. Every single day you encounter thousands of breathing, animated thumbnails of the Divine.
Now, this shouldn’t be news to you. It shouldn’t be news to you that you are a once-in-history, never-to-be-repeated reflection of the image of God. And it shouldn’t be news to you that you are loved by God. You should know how God feels about you.
The problem is that we forget this is how God feels about everyone else too. We forget that every single person is a once-in-history, never-to-be-repeated reflection of God. We forget that every single person is loved by God.
And because we forget that every person is loved by God, we don’t do a very good job of loving other people.
Because we forget that every person is loved by God, we don’t do a very good job of loving other people.
We see this in the miracle stories in Matthew 8. In Matthew 8, the people of Israel didn’t do a good job of loving people who were sick, or the people they considered to be their enemies, or anyone that was farther down the social ladder than they were.
But what about you? Who are the people that God loves that you struggle to love? Do you struggle to love your neighbors who are still shooting off fireworks in the middle of the night even though New Year’s Eve was more than two weeks ago? Do you struggle to love that driver who cut in front of you when you were driving to church today? Do you struggle to love someone because of who they voted for in the last presidential election, or because of the sports team they cheer for? Do you struggle to love a family member that hurt you in the past or someone you once called a friend because they stabbed you in the back? Who are the people that God loves that you struggle to love?
Because if you want to be more like Jesus, you have to love the people that Jesus loves.
If you want to be more like Jesus, you have to love the people that Jesus loves.
And Jesus doesn’t just love people like you. Jesus doesn’t just love people who live in the same neighborhoods, or work at the same companies, or go to the same church that you do. Jesus doesn’t just love people who support the same candidates, or cheer for the same teams, or enjoy the same TV shows that you do.
You will never meet a person that Jesus doesn’t love as much as Jesus loves you. So, if you want to be more like Jesus, you need to think about the people you struggle to love. And then you need to spend a lot of time learning to love them just like Jesus does.