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Message 15, The Least of These:

The darkness of this present age is particularly clear in the low view of life that classifies the weak as unfit and not worth preserving. Yet the light of God’s truth tells us that life is precious in the Lord’s sight and that those who are weak, overlooked, or who have no voice in our society are the special objects of His concern. Dr. Ferguson considers our Creator’s high view of life, calling upon Him to restore us to a right view of life in the church and culture, and describing how Christians should help and protect those weaker than us, whether they are unborn children, orphans, widows, the aged, the infirm, the suffering, or the lonely.

Message Transcript

Well, good morning. Thank you for coming this morning so early. I — since I went back to Scotland, I’ve become unaccustomed to public worship before the eleven o’clock hour which is fixed in Scotland because we’re still milking our cows and we have a long way to walk to church.

Our remit, or as Alistair Begg would say ‘brief,’ or as Bob Godfrey would say ‘subject,’ this morning is the “least of these.” The words, of course, come from the Gospel of Matthew 25, the last teaching section in the Gospel of Matthew before the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Placed as the fifth great block of teaching in Matthew’s gospel, and Christ, of course, speaking to His disciples to tell us what the standard of the Lord’s assessment of our life is going to be.

Fairly clear in Matthew’s gospel, that brother, is ‘fellow believer,’ and so Jesus assessment of your life is that the way you treat the least of His brothers and sisters tells Him what you really think of Him. And the broader context for this, of course, is the whole question of human dignity. How is it that we respond to those who are the least of these? Our brothers? And since we are commanded to do good to the household of faith, but also to all there is a sense in which that principal extends to the needy, the poor, those who are in some sense or another deprived.

We live in a world where in the blaze of publicity, the way you know you’re a Christian leader is really making an impact on society is because he is photographed with one of the great ones of the earth. Perhaps the president of the United States or the queen of the United Kingdom or some other public figure. Jesus has no interest in those photographs whatsoever.

He who is the king of all things remains utterly unimpressed by our name dropping and the photographs that he loves to watch, as it were, on the grand screens of heaven, is when we’re photographed with those who are perhaps mentally deprived, those who are discouraged and depressed, as His half-brother James says, the widows and the orphans. And as we find throughout the gospel, our Lord Jesus has special, compassionate concern for those who are broken and needy.

But you know we also live in a subculture, a Christian subculture, where I think it would be true to say that what drives us is how do we react to the ungodliness of the world? And what are the 3, 4, or 7 things that we need to do? And that has become all pervasive in evangelicalism.

And you see evidences of it, I think, in the Reformed subculture. And one of the things that we see is lacking, actually one of the great things for which this ministry has stood, that the paramount need in the church of Jesus Christ is for God’s Word itself to do its own work. Not for us, first of all, to work God’s Word, but for God’s Word to work in us.

This was Jesus great prayer for His disciples. Father, sanctify them, transform them, through the truth. Your Word is truth. Our lives are transformed as we know by the renewing of our minds, and the renewing of our minds come from the Scriptures. And we are such in need of a day as in the day of Paul’s visit to the Thessalonians when they received the Word of God not as the word of man, but as it really is: the Word of God — I wonder if you can finish Paul’s sentence — which is at work in you believers.

And I find in so many areas of Christian ministry that what we most of all need in order to reenergize our lives, to enflame our compassion, is not so much that we should be told what to do, but that there should be light in our minds to illumine our situation, to illumine the lives of others, so that something of the compassion of the Lord Jesus and His wisdom, according to our diverse giftedness, would be released into our lives

Many of us saw the little clip of the new movie about Martin Lloyd Jones yesterday. Someone I know who knew him as much as anyone outside of his family would have known told me that what was characteristic of his ministry when people came to see him was not so much that they left with a shopping list of the things they needed to tick off in their Christian life.

But they left with — and this was his striking phrase: “Light on their situation.” And you know it’s true. We can preach and we can counsel and we do counsel. We are awash with counseling, and yet it’s also true that we are so poor in the hands of God of shining light on people’s situations.

And I want us to try to do that this morning. This is a very long introduction. This is actually the introduction to the introduction. This is a very long introduction with a very short message at the end. Though the introduction is vital to the message, because what we most of all need to see in the light of God’s Word — the dispelling of the darkness in our thinking that dampens the motivation of our living — that can only be found when we think about the dignity in which God has created us. And we will never grasp the compassion of Jesus until we understand that He framed His whole thinking about others in the light of God’s purposes and God’s Word.

Someone comes to Him with a little theological question. How do we relate the law of God in the Old Testament to the contemporary situation? You’ll notice in Matthew chapter 19, how does Jesus think? That’s the important thing: How He thinks. And this is the way He thinks.

The first question is this: How did God intend it to be at the beginning? We need to go back, He is saying, to the early chapters of the book of Genesis and drink in as from a fountain God’s original purpose for us in all of its marvel and all of its beauty. And we need to see this as Paul would say so that we no longer look at men and women and young people and boys and girls according to the flesh. And we do.

So how was it in the beginning is the clue to understanding how compassion will break out of my heart in order that I am able to deal with situations as they present themselves to me.

Whether it be the depressed people in the church who tend to gather together and cling to one another like limpets, and we need to understand what is happening. Or whether it be the downs syndrome children in the church. Or whether it be the widow or the orphan in the church. Or whoever has been by the griefs of this world marginalized from society so that it may be characteristic of Christians and of our churches that we most love to be photographed with the marginalized rather than the people to whom we can talk Reformed theology.

Now, how is that going to happen in our lives? It’s not going to happen by us saying there are three things I need to do when I get home. It’s only going to happen when the gospel breaks over my life. You remember how C.S. Lewis puts it? He says you should never tell by verbal communication — spoken or written — you should never tell people how they should feel. Now, what would it be like if a composer stood before us and said this is how you should feel when you’re listening to my music? No. The music should create the response. The Word of God should create the response.

And so I want us to think about several things here. And actually I want us to go right back to the beginning of the Bible and to the first chapter of the book of Genesis. And to what are key words here. In verses 26 and following: “Then God said let us make man as our image after our likeness.

And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man as His own image. In the image of God He created them. Male and female, He created them. And God blessed them.

And God said to them be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moves on the earth. And God said behold, I’ve given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and every bird of the heavens, and to everything that creeps on the earth. Everything that has the breath of life, I have given you. Every green plant for food. And it was so.

And God saw everything that He had made and behold it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning the sixth day. And the heavens and the earth were established and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished His work that He had done. And He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation.”

Those of you who were constrained to read John Milton’s great poem ‘Paradise Lost’ at high school or in university, may not have had the privilege of being encouraged to read C.S. Lewis’s commentary on ‘Paradise Lost,’ which is one of his greatest hidden pieces of work. In ‘Paradise Lost,’ Milton pictures Eve leaving the tree once she has taken the forbidden fruit.

And he has this line as she retracts from the tree, says Milton, “she low obeisance made.” She cuts it. Or bowed. And Lewis comments shrewdly that this woman who had refused the Word of God that He had spoken to her through her husband, now worships a vegetable.

It was the beginning of what we call secular humanism. Looking at the world without the eyes of the Word of God. Interpreting all creation by what we see rather than by what we hear. And God has made us to interpret creation fundamentally through our ears rather than through our eyes. And we live in a world that interprets creation now, as we were hearing last night, really, weren’t we?

Through the eyes rather than through the ears, rather than through the Word of God. And so when we view one another, when we view ourselves, when we view the least of these, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, we need to see them through our ears. And we need to see them in the light of this statement about the divine destiny for our creation and for our living of our lives.

I want you to notice several things here. First of all, I want you to notice the work of God that gives our life it’s context. You know we are actually the first generation in the history of the Christian church that has shown a big interest in the length of the days of creation. There’s no generation in the history of the Christian church has ever shown real interest in the length of the days of creation.

And in some ways, that has diverted us from what God says about creation. And what He says about creation here and elsewhere is that He has made all things out of nothing. And He has made us from the dust of the earth.

And interesting, sometimes, how Christians get so worked up about the notion that people say we might have come from the dust of the earth? And how the Scripture teaches us to smile and say, “I know that.” It says so in the Scriptures. That we’re made from the dust of the earth. And there’s something else it tells us. It tells us that everything that is, apart from the inbeing of God, the ever-blessed Trinity, everything has been created out of nothing. Not created out of God as though the world were some extension of the divine being. But created into nothing and created out of nothing.

I think, in some ways, as I watch the scientists of today — and every day now we are being told what scientists have discovered, aren’t we? If they ever came to that point at the beginning of all things and were able to look over the edge and came back and said, ‘Aha, you Christians. There was nothing there.’ As Christians, we would be entitled to say, “Well, did you expect the Bible to be wrong? Do you think you can outdo God?”

Now, it wasn’t necessary for the Scriptures to explain all this to us. So, why do the Scriptures explain all this to us? Because this is the fundamental reality that fills our lives with awe in the sense of our own existence and indeed with a sense of awe in the existence of any other human being. Unless we see the vastness of the gulf between our nothingness in and of ourselves, and the sheer goodness of God in bringing us into being — then we are seeing through our eyes instead of seeing through our ears.

And not only is this so that the work of God here gives its life, its context. It’s of great importance ethically, today, isn’t it? That we notice as God brings fullness into the emptiness of this original created mass and gives form to its formlessness. That He does so by a series of permanent distinctions between light and darkness, day and night, heavens and earth, sea creatures and land creatures, and of course significantly, ultimately between male and female. That’s all part of a huge divine strategy. Not only to give our lives existence, but to give our lives diversity and form. And interconnectedness.

And it’s all here in this opening section of Genesis. And it’s all clearly also as you read through Genesis, which incidentally you should always do out loud. It was never written to be read to yourself in the way we read. That’s a relatively modern phenomenon. Reading to yourself. Reading out loud. And you catch the marching rhythm of the feet of God as He moves towards His final apex in creation.

So, that in a sense, if you read through the whole of Genesis chapter 1, you would realize if one can put it anthropomorphically, that at verse 25, as God comes to the end, Moses takes a deep breath and says in verse 26, “Then God said, let us make man, male and female as our image.” It is the ultimate distinction. Everything else in creation emerges after its kind. It has a fundamental pattern that comes as it were from the shape of creation from below. But the fundamental pattern of the existence of any human being is that God has made us as our likeness and as His image, in order that we might reflect His majesty and glory.

He creates us not simply by divine fiat, but, in terms of our previous divine counsel, within His own being. As it were, the ultimate touch of glory for His Son in creation is that He should create a creature in His likeness and after His image. And this is what gives our life it’s significance. The sheer marvel of creation out of nothing gives our life it’s context. But it’s the fact that we are made as the divine image and we can never destroy the divine image.

The rest of the New Testament (and even principals we find in the Old Testament ) make it clear that even the rebellious sinner remains as the image of God and that is the ultimate horror of his rebellion. That this, as it were, is the mirror image and miniature of God shaking his fist at the God who gazes upon him or her.

But I want you to notice what this means. It means, in essence, that man and woman were created for royal sonship. The whole context in which Moses gives the book of Genesis to God’s people at the time of the exodus is a context in which the great King, if He established His image in a living form, in a country that He had conquered and gave that representative a country to rule. That person would be regarded as the royal son. The prince. And this is our dignity.

He has made us as His image. And you see how Genesis 1 works through this because we are made as His image. We are made for dominion. He has lordship, dominion over all things. And in order that we may have fellowship with him, in order there may be communication, He gives us dominion over this little place, the earth.

Not only so, but like a father, He creates a little garden for His Son. And then He says to His Son, now, expand that garden to the ends of the earth. Everything God makes is good, but not everything God has made is in its finished condition.

And so Adam is to exercise dominion over the earth. He’s given the privilege of being like a son who is learning to do things. Or like a son who is playing in a soccer game or a football game and, scores a goal, or catches a marvelous pass and glances around at his father on the sidelines to see that his father is pleased with him. In everything we do, in all the arts and sciences, and every engagement of life, that’s actually what we were made for. And not only so, we are made as male and female so that we might reflect the divine communion.

Remember that strange thing Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11, when he says that man is the image of God, but the woman is the glory of the man? That verse strike any of you husbands as strange? Or any of you wives as demeaning? That you are the glory of the man? But isn’t that what our marriages in Christ are supposed to do? That people look at the woman who is our wife and say what a man he must be who has won the heart of such a woman? This is what we were created for.

So that the angels of heaven might gaze down upon our lives and say these creatures have been made for the glory of God. What a Lord He must be if He has such creatures who express His glory on earth and in such a way that in that reflection of His glory, they reflect something of the glory, the intensity of the affection and devotion and admiration and communion that the Father has with the Son, and the Son has with the Spirit, and the Spirit has with the Father and the Son.

And the creation of our lives reflects the divine beneficence doesn’t it? Everything is yours. Everything is yours. As we were saying in the discussion the other day, for sinners, the real problem is not the problem of evil. The real problem is how can I ever solve the conundrum that He has been so lavishly good to us?

And then He creates us in order that we might mirror the divine pattern of life. Laboring for six days and resting on a seventh day. Or in the resurrection day, resting on the first day and laboring out of those days. It’s all part of what it means to be created as the image of God, which incidentally is why the fourth commandment has this addendum that reflects on how we treat those who work for us. Because we are created for a pattern to reflect the image of God.

And to what a deep extent we have given way to societal sin by saying to society we acquiesce in your pattern of existence that denies the dignity of man. And you see, this is the fruit of what we in this country call secular humanism, and every other part of the world just calls humanism. That when man in the wake of the enlightenment; when man became the measure of all things, what was lost was man, and everything that secular humanism has done since in exalting man and his capacities has demeaned man and his life with the result that we live in a time — I happened to look up the statistics in a completely different context the other day, that in the United Kingdom, there have been almost enough abortions since our version of Roe v. Wade, to obliterate the entire population of Scotland. That’s what humanism does.

And now our parliament will bring in a bill to permit euthanasia. The beginning of life, the end of life. What’s at the root of this? The root of this is that secular humanism debases the human. Because this is the definition of the human. And this brings us, of course, to notice not only the context that gives our life it’s significance, but the sin that robs our life of its glory.

If I were to ask you what is the best definition of sin that’s found in the New Testament, if I were to ask you to answer the question what is the best definition of sin to be found in human literature, it would of course be the answer that’s in the Shorter Catechism. But if I were to ask you what’s the best definition that’s found in Scriptures, I think it would be in Romans 3:23: “We have all sinned and we have fallen short of the glory of God.”

It’s right that we should define sin in terms of the law of God, which was given to us in the context of our sinfulness. But the law of God that was written into the heart of Adam was written there to make him a reflection of God and to display His glory and to enjoy His glory. To have communion with Him in His glory. And that’s what’s been stolen by sin.

It’s not just that the law lies in tatters in the streets. It’s that what our sin does and what our secular humanism promotes is the debasement and the destruction of the glory of God. Is this not true about most of the people you know who aren’t Christians? The thing they most hate is the glory of God. Indeed it would be true to say that they define their lives in terms this: if God gets glory, then my life is destroyed.

And yet the only way to glory, is by loving him, trusting him, being restored to him, beginning to reflect him, beginning to experience what the apostle Paul calls in second Corinthians 3:18, being transformed here and now from one degree of glory to another that comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. And we’ve lost it. And you see it in the created order as it groans in travail for the glory to be revealed.

When the sons of God come into their own. And the present suffering of this world is seen to be the materials out of which God is recreating glory for His Son and reflected glory for us. And you see it in every relationship of life. We have seen it in our secular world. Embedded now in what we expect of marriage. It was made for the glory of God to reflect the glory of God. That the woman might be the glory of the man.

What does radical feminism do? It destroys the glory of the man in the woman. And it destroys the glory of God in the woman. And you see it too all the way down the line. And it emerges, doesn’t it, it emerges immediately in the book of Genesis. It’s as though this were written precisely for the twenty-first century. Marital breakdown. Family breakdown. Fraternal breakdown. Societal breakdown. And all because made for the glory of God, we were those who robbed ourselves by sin of that glory.

And the result is, of course, the cheapening of our lives and the cheapening of the lives of others.

Richard Dawkins, and others; you discover that the child who is going to be born is a downs syndrome child. And it would be immoral not to abort that child. Some of you come from churches where downs syndrome children are very visible in the church and they are part of the glory of the church, are they not?

Yes, they may be challenging. Yes, we need to come alongside their parents and in subtle and quiet ways and not in angular and abstruse ways. But oh, to be photographed in heaven beside a downs syndrome child is the greatest privilege a Christian minister enjoys. Don’t you think that’s true?

And where does this come from? It comes from the logic of hell. That’s where it comes from. Because it destroys the highest creature that God has ever made. And the same is true at the end of life. You and I know people who are now beyond the capability of doing almost anything.

And what we discover — if they are the Lord’s people — what we discover is, and it becomes so starkly obvious, and we say it to them so often as they say, “I wish I could do more,” and we say to them, we’re learning together aren’t we? But it’s not so much what we do and accomplish. But what the Lord does and accomplishes in our lives. And some of them shine with a sense of premature glory. Don’t they?

And we are in awe of the fact that even while the outer person is wasting away, the inner person is, is being renewed day by day. I remember of many vivid dreams, but I’ve remembered over the years a dream I had of a woman who before my very eyes aged rapidly, and wrinkles spread, and she became debilitated.

And yet just as that was happening I saw there was a glory beginning to shine. It was as though in the dream I was watching, on the one hand, the disintegration that is produced by the fall and by sin that we even physically fall short of the glory of God that we were intended to reflect even physically. And yet, at the same time, in His regenerating work, God was transforming from one degree of glory to another. It was almost, as it were, a parable of Scripture’s message. Look at people through your ears, not through your eyes.

But by definition, secularism, a perspective that is entirely horizontal, that views life and all things purely from the perspective of the ages of this world that are passing away, will always destroy rather than heal and care. We know things that Adam didn’t know. Adam knew a lot of things we don’t know.

We know things that the Apostle Paul didn’t know. I don’t think the Apostle Paul knew anything about DNA. I don’t think he knew that when the Scriptures say that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, I don’t think he could have thought when he was reflecting on Psalm 139, or even the thought that perhaps Luke his friend shared with him after presumably interviewing Mary about that occasion when John the Baptist as an embryonic child leapt in Elizabeth’s womb when the mother of Jesus came to visit her. I don’t imagine he knew that right there, from the beginning, all the information to form a human person had already been given in the providence of God. And we become indifferent to it.

Why? Why as Christians have we become indifferent? Actually, it goes alongside what has happened in the secularization of the church, and the Lord help us in the secularization of our worship. It’s all got to do with the fact that we have lost sight of the glory of God for which we were created. And this is what sin does.

And this is why this biblical teaching in the early verses of the book of Genesis sheds new light on our perspective on others as we begin to hear with our ears and then see with our ears. And it is in many ways a framework of reference for the way in which the grace of God restores the dignity of human beings, and does so because Christ came to be marred beyond human semblance.

As Isaiah sees in the fourth of his servant songs; beyond human semblance. Suffering shame instead of glory. Entering into and underneath what we have done debasing the glory of God, he comes underneath all of that so that if Isaiah was able to say He is marred beyond human semblance, he would have been able to say about the resurrection he has been transformed into the glorious likeness of God. He is raised in the power of the Holy Spirit to display the glory for which we were originally created.

And everything the Lord Jesus does as we see Him emerge in the power of the Holy Spirit from being conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by that Spirit’s power and growing in wisdom, which, of course, in the Old Testament Scriptures, was the mark of the individual who was filled with the Holy Spirit. And then going, as we read, to Jordan to be baptized. And the Spirit to come upon Him as He enters into this new epoch of His public ministry.

And then, unlike us, to whom temptation comes, He is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to conquer the evil one. It is a rerun. A reversal of what took place in the garden of Eden, clearly. And then what does Jesus do? He goes into the synagogue and He tells us that the Spirit of the Lord has anointed Him. Anointed Him to do what? To preach the gospel and to bring gospel restoration and transformation to the lives of those who are broken and bruised and alienated and marginalized in society.

And so, most of the ministry of Jesus is a demonstration of the compassion of God for His broken image. You know, the picture of George Washington that’s on the dollar bill painted by Gilbert Stewart? You probably know that Steward never finished the painting. The head is there, and the rest of the canvas is blank. But I think he made a few shekels on the side by making a few copies of what he had done.

I had the privilege once of having dinner in the home of a man who owned one of the few copies. He also owned Martha and George Washington’s chairs. No insurance company would cover what he owned. He was a fabulously wealthy man. He was actually absent at the time I had dinner in his home, but that’s another story.

One of my students was responsible for the agenda for these security guards. And I had to, you know, we come to the gates. The lights go on. Security people all over the place. We’re having dinner. It was like some British comedy. Security man walks through and walks back, and you know, we’re into our fish and chips or whatever it was.

And I thought, what if somebody managed to get in here and steal his portrait of George Washington? I mean, he was a Washingtonite, big time. And I imagined, Philadelphia’s finest coming along two days later and saying “Mister” — I won’t tell you his name or you’ll all want to go for dinner there — “Mister, I have great news for you. We have apprehended the criminal. They don’t call them criminals. What do they call them? There’s a wee name they use in CSI, I know, where they stood for them. What do you think he would have said? I think he would have said, “Did you get the portrait back? I am actually less interested in the criminal. My passion is for the portrait.”

Don’t you think it’s something like that in the heart of God? He wants His portrait back. He wants to see His image restored. And what therefore drives us in our Christian lives and in our Christian ministries is Jesus-like. So He comes to the leper and to the paralytic and He restores them. He wants to see the divine image restored. He’s giving us a little — it’s as though he’s turning on the light in a very dark room and saying to us, “Just see what I’m going to do!”

And in so far as I give you the capacity to do the same thing. And there’s a kind of rhythm. Especially in Luke’s gospel, who has a very particular interest in this. There’s a rhythm in the way in which Jesus ministers. He ministers to the outcasts in society. The leper, the paralytic. And then He calls a tax collector. So it’s action to transform into the image. And it’s calling to transform into the image.

That pattern is repeated. He raises the son of a widow. He brings back to life the daughter of Jaris. He heals a woman who has had an issue of blood for the same length of time as Jaris’s daughter has been alive. And then what do you see? The next thing he’s doing is taking infants up in His arms. And He is pronouncing upon them the covenant blessing of God.

Have you any idea how big the word blessing is? It isn’t the biblical response to sneezing. It’s the biblical description of what God does in creating us as His image. He blessed them. And at the end, He blessed the Sabbath day. And this is what Jesus is doing to these — He whose mother might have gone along to a physician in the twenty-first century, and when he discovered the situation in which this child had been conceived and would be born would have asked, “Do you want an abortion?” Blessed, as Luke says, the ‘brephoi.’ And ‘Brephoi’ in the Greek language extends to embryos.

It is the most beautiful picture of the way in which He has come to restore the blessing of God to those who have fallen short of His majesty and His glory in order that we ourselves might feel something of the wonder of what the Lord Jesus has done. And He heals the leper. And He has mercy on blind beggars. And then He calls another tax collector out of a tree, and aware that there had been shame in this man’s life, glory begins to break out.

You know there is a wonderful passage in Calvin’s institutes where he says this. He says, “In order not to grow weary in well-doing, which otherwise might happen immediately, one of the things that we need to learn is that we should not consider that man merit of themselves what men merit of themselves, but to look upon the image of God and all men to which we owe all honor and love, especially those of the household of faith.

That for whatever man you meet who needs your aid, you have no reason to refuse to help him. Say he is a stranger, but the Lord has given him a mark that ought to be familiar to you by virtue of the fact he forbids you to despise your own flesh. He is contemptable and worthless, but the Lord chose him to be one to whom He is designed to give the beauty of His image.”

That’s what we need to see through our ears, as we look on the disadvantaged and the marginalized. Just as in the same way, Jesus looked on Simon Peter and said you are one thing, but I see God has destined you for something far more glorious. And it’s the distance between these two things that draws out our compassion. And then of course we are differently wired in wisdom as to know what to do about that. But without that, we will regard the least of these, our brothers, simply as the least. We will have nothing of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus who I presume was orphaned, looking on His mother from the cross.

And seeing this now bereft woman of the child she bore. Thinking of the day when the angel had visited her. And now heartbroken. Isn’t this one of the most exquisite moments in the whole of Scripture? When He cares for His mom in her later years, and in her desperate sorrow.

And you see our tendency. Our tendency is to stay with our friends and not to embrace the ones who have in some sense lost half the image. Or the weak ones. Or the ones who physically or mentally are incapacitated, and it’s the very thing the Lord Jesus actually loved to do. And do you remember how His half-brother said, “True religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the widows and the orphans.” I said this was a long introduction to a very short message.

You remember the man who asked Jesus who is my neighbor? Just tell me what to do. And Jesus told the man the story of the man who fell among thieves. Do you remember how at the end of that parable, Jesus turned the whole thing around. He didn’t say, ‘So, who was the man’s neighbor?’ He said, “Which of these men proved to be neighbor to the man who was in need? So go and do likewise.” Even if he’s a Samaritan. No, especially if he’s a Samaritan. Especially if he’s dirty. Especially if he’s marginalized.

I have hardly ever preached on the parable of the good Samaritan. But I preached on it in our church in South Carolina, a good number of years ago, at our lunch hour service on a Wednesday — we had a lunch and then had the opportunity to speak. Friends brought friends. It was a wonderful opportunity.

And I remember ending the 23 minute address by saying, “Some of us in this room, having heard this, are going to be tested on this before we meet again.” That very night I walked across the churchyard, through the gravestones. It was winter time. Darkish. And I saw on the grass beside one of the gravestones a hump of something. And of course I thought, “Hey, we keep this place tidy. What on earth is that?”

And I moved over. It was a deeply intoxicated tramp lying in the graveyard. And I inwardly said, Lord, I told them they would be tested. So how should I see him? Well, he’s a tramp and he’s drunk. And he’s smelly.

All true. But actually the destiny for which all of us were created was to be the image of God. Probably none of you know the name of Professor Arthur Randall Short, who was a very well-known cardiologist in the University of Bristol.

In my relatively early days, one of the great figures in British intervarsity fellowship, and a man of great godliness. I read in his, life story that one of his high level colleagues brought to him a woman who was old. She was poorly clad. And there was a kind of odor about her. This man was not a Christian, but he had found something examining her that he needed Professor Randall Short’s counsel on. And this man commented. Professor Short treated her as though she were a princess.

That’s how He has treated us, isn’t it? So, go and do likewise. Our heavenly father, we thank you for the majesty of the gospel. The wonder of the Scriptures. And we pray that we may have eyes to see through our ears. That the Word of God will do its work in us, and that Jesus Christ will be honored and glorified especially among us by how we love those who are marginalized and poor and disadvantaged and lost. And we pray this in our savior’s name. Amen.