Sent to the hard places
Jesus was acutely aware of the reasons he was sent. Luke's orderly account is a precise record of his mission intent. Yet, even in such a detailed record there are several subtle moves that make his purposeful time on earth even more compelling. One evidence is discovered in Luke 4, while he was at Capernaum.
The text of Luke 4 follows Jesus from his rejection at Nazareth to the other towns in Galilee. His reception at Capernaum was much different. The people marveled at his authoritative teaching, were amazed when he healed a man with an unclean spirit, when he lowered the fever of Simon's mother-in-law, and the healing of every other person brought to his attention. After the hectic days there, he departed to a desolate place. But, people from Capernaum sought him out and attempted to keep him from leaving them. Jesus once again mentioned the reason the Father had sent him. He said,
I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God to the other towns as well:
for I was sent for this purpose.
Luke 4:43, ESV
Then Luke added one of those subtle references that make the reason for his being sent even more substantial. Luke wrote,
And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.
Luke 4:44, ESV
With little of his usual itinerary detail, the text advances Jesus from the supportive environment of Capernaum to the more rigid religious world of Judea. Suddenly, the reason for his being sent was advanced from the more comfortable world of the fishing villages and farm communities of Galilee to the harder places of Judean synagogues.
If there's a fresh Christmas message for God's church in 2017 it may involve this same kind of transition. Jesus made it very clear that he was sent to proclaim the Good News in cities beyond the familiar places where his authority and word would be accepted. A shift to Judea was a vivid expression of this intent. In Judea, the synagogues were extensions of the temple and rabbinical schools of Jerusalem. Their religious parties were headquartered under the priestly caste and the practices of Judaism were under the watchful care their spiritual hierarchy. The other Gospels would later verify the hardship of teaching, preaching, and serving in that environment. But, Jesus made it clear that his proclamation of the Good News had to be focused there.
Christ's American church exists today in several comfort zones: the traditional American south; and, the American suburbs. For generations the Bible belt south has been the richest church planting field with suburban growth fueling church plants in those areas outside of our declining cities. Today, there's a resurgence of mission energy to the urban areas of the Pacific Northwest, New England, the Northeast, and even in the southern cities. Population dynamics have also awakened the need for multi-ethnic congregations in what was basically all-white southern churches. These are healthy extensions of the Good News to several of the harder areas for traditional church planting and growth. That denominations and churches are seizing these mission initiatives is a recognition of Christ's intentional mission to the harder places.
Jesus framed the mission of his disciples in an interesting parallel to his own. He said,
As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.
John 20: 21, ESV
Surely we know his instruction recognized the human limits that would define our being sent to the world. But, the point is clear nevertheless: we are sent to the hard places in just the same way he interpreted his mission to earth. This is because he lives in us and promises to be with us as we accomplish the commission he gave us. As a result, Christmas, the celebration of his being sent to earth, challenges us to go to those hard places with the Good News.
The hard places aren't totally defined yet, either. The world situation, Islamic terrorism, the flight of refugees from locales in the Middle East, their re-settlement among us, and fast changing political realities will extend our concept of hard places even more in the years to come. But, the message of Christmas, that God took on flesh and dwelt among us, is the message of speaking the God News in those hard places, however they are defined.
Hebrews 10:39, comes to mind as we contemplate the hard places---
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who
have faith and preserve their souls.
Hebrews 10:39, ESV