Have you noticed in your life that sometimes when you want to do something, or reach a particular target, you keep trying and failing, and then suddenly you have a breakthrough? What you had been trying to achieve, just happens without a hitch. It’s as though there was a right time for it to happen and until you came to that moment, nothing could happen. However, when you came to the right moment, nothing could stop it from happening. There really are no explanations for this phenomenon, unless you factor in God. He chooses the moment for something to happen.
30+ But Not Yet
Mary waited for 30 years after an angel told her that the Child born to her would be great and called the Son of God. She waited patiently. She waited for her Son Jesus to disclose Himself. Nothing happened. And she kept waiting. Then came the news that John, her cousin Elizabeth’s son, had left home and was proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God and telling people that they needed to repent in preparation (Matt. 3:1-12).
That was when Jesus finally left home, after thirty years of quiet living. He went off to the place where His cousin John was preaching and baptising people as a sign of their preparation for the coming Kingdom. Jesus managed to persuade John to baptise Him. Right after the baptism Jesus disappeared from sight for a while (Matt. 4:1). Then He came back; but no one knew at that time where He had come back from. A few of John’s disciples started to follow Jesus (v.37).
While Jesus was there, Mary and her family were invited to a wedding. Without standing on formalities, Jesus and His entourage of student-trainees also went to the reception. When the banquet was in full swing, the wine ran out. Mary then came to her Son, who she knew was in fact the Son of God, and told Him, “You know, Son, they’ve run out of wine.” Jesus answered her rather abruptly, “This party doesn’t have anything to do with Me. I came only because you wanted Me to. My time hasn’t come” (2: 1-11).
Mary understood the first part of His answer, but she couldn’t understand the last part. It had been thirty years since she was told He would be called the Son of God. It had been thirty years since He entered this world. How could He say it wasn’t His time, after all these years? No, she couldn’t understand that.
The theologian of the primitive church said, “But when the right time came, God sent His Son into the world. A woman gave birth to Him, and He came under the control of God’s laws. God sent Him to pay for the freedom of those who were controlled by these laws so that we would be adopted as His children” (Gal. 4:4-5, God’s Word).
3 mph God
What was that period in time like? What were the conditions prevalent in society? Two things we can know for sure. There were no means of quick travel like there is today, and there were no means of mass communication such as radio and television. For what Jesus wanted to do, wouldn’t our own time have been the best time?
Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama wrote the book Three-Mile An Hour God. Three-miles-an-hour is the speed of walking. The God who moves at that speed is Jesus. He walked everywhere. Jesus was the slow God, and He was the incarnation of the slow God. After being called, Abraham had to wait 25 years to have a son born to him. Joseph spent 13 years in slavery and in jail before his dream came true. Israel spent 400 years in Egypt as slaves of the Egyptians, before God sent a prophet to assure them that God had heard them crying. Moses spent 40 years in exile and had to reach the age of 80 before God said he could lead Israel from slavery to liberty. But after getting out of Egypt to the accompaniment of such spectacular sights as the sea itself parting to let Israel walk through, they spent the next 40 years wandering in the wilderness, round and round and round… just to cross approximately 400 miles. At three miles an hour, walking just 8 hours of each day, that distance could have been covered in just sixteen and a half days. Instead, with God leading them, they took 40 years, because God turned the journey into a learning experience-40 years to teach just one lesson.
In the Old Testament, God is shown as the God who announces beforehand what He would do. This characteristic of God is something the prophet Isaiah remarked about. There were professional prophets attached to the temples of pagan gods and goddesses. It was quite usual for them to start swaying as if in a trance, and a voice different from their normal voice would come out claiming that it was a god speaking through them. Like those who write today’s “what the stars foretell” columns, these men would couch their prophecies in generalities that could mean more than one thing, even opposite things. That way, when something happened, they could claim that they had predicted it. And, if nothing happened, they could claim to have predicted the non-event (Isa. 44;6-8; 46:9-10; 48:3-5) Jesus was yet to make His announcement of His mission. But what’s this? After telling His mother, that it wasn’t yet time for Him to start His mission, He acts. He responded to His mother’s plea. He advanced the clock and performed His first miracle. The Lord Jesus was in tune with God, but also responsive to the human situation.
Jesus caused quite a stir when He went visiting His home. On the Sabbath, He went to the synagogue, according to habit, and was given the honour of reading the Scripture. He chose one of the scrolls of Isaiah’s prophecies and read, “God’s Spirit is on Me; He’s chosen Me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, Sent Me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free to announce, ‘This is God’s year to act!’” (Lk. 4:18-19, The Message).
After reading the prophecy, Jesus rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the keeper of the scrolls. Then turning to the gathering He said, “What I read just now has begun to happen before your very eyes. Today is the day. God’s agenda starts now.”
After that people began to ask Jesus questions. They were curious about their own village boy becoming a travelling rabbi. But they began to belittle Him by saying that He was no big deal, just poor Carpenter Joseph’s Son. Jesus remarked that it was because of this kind of attitude that in the past God had assigned a Gentile widow to care for the prophet Elijah, instead of a Jewish one, and Elisha had healed a Gentile sufferer of leprosy, instead of a Jew. The moment Jesus said that God was not bound to favour the Jews, but could show His favour to Gentiles too, the audience erupted and wanted to lynch Him, but Jesus escaped from there. The Son of God who came to die for the world’s salvation made His escape from that precarious situation because it was not yet time to make that sacrifice.
Consider the Lord’s time on earth. He had 30 years of preparation for 3 years of work! How efficient is that? Could any business house, investing that much time in training, hope to make a profit? Isn’t there something wrong with your calculations, if all you are getting back is a tenth of your investment?
Jesus added to the inefficiency by His choice of trainees for the mission. A number of them were fisher folk—illiterate, uncouth and quarrelsome. One was a tax collector—despised and suspected of being a lackey of the alien rulers. One was the terrorist ‘Simon the Fanatic’ who believed that the only way to gain independence from foreign rule was to ambush and attack foreigners, civilian and military. The only one who was well-educated, sophisticated and cultured was the man from Keiroth, who was an outsider. He was a smart man who knew how to keep accounts. Yes, he looked promising. He had already started to control the finances of the group. Out of the 12 that Jesus chose, only this man would have been selected by industrial groups and multinational companies for his business acumen and skills. But 11 out of the 12 would have been classified misfits unsuitable for the kind of work that Jesus was starting. If you had only 3 years and knew that you had only that amount of time to accomplish a huge task, would you take time off? You would work overtime, hoping that somehow you would be able to beat the clock. But the Lord had a very different attitude. He didn’t think that He needed to fill each and every moment with work. When His student-trainees returned to give Him a report of what they had done, He dropped everything and said, “Let’s go away somewhere quiet so that we can grow calm” (Mk. 6: 31).
When there’s so much to be done, and there are crowds following and potentially a rich harvest is waiting, would you waste time on someone, who was not even open about being an enquirer and, who may never come through? Jesus gave attention to Nicodemus, the seeker, who came at night (Jn. 3:1-15). Jesus had time for the rich young ruler, who was not willing to part with his possessions. Jesus, in fact, looked on him with love (Mk. 10:21), even though Jesus knew that at that very moment the man was closing his heart to the Lord who demanded that those who follow Him must be willing to embrace Christ’s sacrificial life-style (cf. Jn. 6:64).
When you are keeping an appointment with someone important, powerful and influential, would you allow someone who can damage your image display their affection for you? Wouldn’t you rather distance yourself from a loser, even pretend that the person is not known to you (like Peter did on the night when one Man stood condemned)? Jesus wasn’t like that. He didn’t avoid losers and outcasts. While they would scorn the religious leaders who condemned them regularly, people of ill-repute gravitated toward Jesus knowing that they would find acceptance that would flood their lives with a clean feeling. A woman came off the street, poured her tears on His feet, let down her hair to wipe them tenderly, kissed His feet again and again, and wasted a whole vial of costly ointment—holding nothing back from Jesus who invited her into His fellowship (Lk. 7:36-50). Instead of making sure He was well-connected and knew all the right people who could benefit Him with their favours, Jesus gathered undesirable people and had the kind of party they would come to and could enjoy (Matt. 9:10-11), so much so, that He gained the reputation of not being a killjoy, but a “Friend of sinners” (Lk. 11:19).
When you are an important person, hold an important office and have lots of important stuff to do, would you allow anyone to disturb you and interrupt you? His own disciples thought there was a need to safeguard Him from unimportant and trivial claims on His time, so that He could get on with His important work. But Jesus dropped what He was doing and said that children were not to be stopped when they came to see Him—even pushy mothers with spoilt brats (Matt. 19:13-15). The Bible doesn’t say that Jesus ever laughed. Maybe, the sacred biographers were too focussed on presenting Him as the “Man of sorrows.” But there is proof that Jesus was a “jolly good fellow” and could guffaw with laughter with the people who partied. If He didn’t laugh and was not a guy who could roll on the floor with them and tickle them to make them laugh, children would not have gone to Him so easily as that little boy who readily went into a circle of grown men who had been quarrelling with each other and were angry with one another. The little fellow was unhesitant because the chap who called him into the circle was that happy man who had time for children and knew how to play all those childish games (Matt. 18:2).
When the entire crowd was condemning the act as wasteful, Jesus appreciated the woman who willingly wasted her wealth at His feet. He knew there was much more to be done. He knew there were poor who were still poor. He knew that the cost of the ointment was enough to finance so many feed-the-hungry programmes. But He brushed it all aside and by His allowance declared that there was room for some wastage (Jn. 12: 3-8).
Jesus Kept Time
When two years of Jesus’ ministry were over, His brothers mocked Him about hiding in Galilee. They said that He ought to let the whole Jewish world discover Him by performing His miracles in Jerusalem. Jesus told them that they could go to Jerusalem any time because they were not hated by the world like He was (7:6-8). But halfway through the week, Jesus quietly went to Jerusalem and began to teach His Gospel in the Jewish temple. He openly claimed to represent God (vv.16-17), and announced that the Holy Spirit would bring the refreshing that people needed (vv.37-39).
Matthew drew attention to His keen sense of timing. Once Peter had openly declared that He was the Messiah, the Son of God, “from that time on” Jesus began to teach that He would suffer and die (16:21). “From that time on” Jesus seemed to have the cross before His eyes and from then Jesus began to talk about the hour having come.
This did not mean that Jesus taunted death by taking unnecessary risks, or by flirting with fatal attacks. Satan had tempted Him to jump from the highest point of the temple to test whether God would send angels to prevent Him from stumbling and falling. Jesus countered that one didn’t test God, but believed that He was there for you (Matt. 4:5-7). Jesus knew that absolutely no one had any power to end His life before God’s time (Jn. 8:20), but He still did not exhibit superhuman powers of invincibility.
When some Greeks came asking to see Him, Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man to receive His glory” (12:23). Earlier His stated position was that He had been sent to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). He made that His mission in life and even prohibited His disciples from going to the Gentiles or the Samaritans (10:5). But after the revelation to His disciples that He was the Messiah, when the Greeks came looking for Him, He said that it was time to reach for glory. However, He had a strange way of going for the glory. He immediately said that a kernel of wheat would exist by itself until it was planted in soil. When planted, it would die and then that one kernel would produce many kernels (Jn. 12: 24). When Jesus told the parable of the weeds, He said that the Sower of good seed was Himself (Matt. 13:37). But later, when He talked about the kernel or seed being sown and dying, He identified Himself as the seed that must die in order that there might be a rich harvest. Jesus was the Sower and the Seed. There is a lesson here for anyone who wants to preach the Lord’s Gospel. The seed the preacher sows is the preacher himself/herself. He or she must incarnate the message that is communicated. On the occasion of the Greeks visiting Him, Jesus also said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself” (Jn.12:32). Jesus is the only attraction of God’s Kingdom. Only He can draw people—not our local church programme, not our denominational identity, not our peculiar teachings. Only Jesus. That truth cannot be emphasised too much. We need to affirm it again and again, and then again: Only Jesus! Only Jesus!
The next time John looked at the clock in Christ’s life, he recorded, “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love…Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him” (13:1, 3-5). John wants his readers to look right into the heart of our Lord. He drew attention to three facts before he introduced the event that left him dumbstruck. (Peter opened his mouth, only to put his foot in it.) After three years of seeing what they were like, Jesus still loved His disciples. He loved them to the end. He was totally assured that His time on earth was over and that it was time to go home to His Father. In that great love and assurance, Jesus didn’t hesitate to lay aside His position as Master-Teacher and assume the position and role of the servant of the disciples. As Master He could have commanded utter obedience from anyone—from the oldest to the youngest. He could have forced submission. But Jesus was not authoritarian, domineering, and soul-destroying as a teacher. He had tried teaching the lesson of humility and serving three times. He gave up trying with words. He gave them a demonstration in the laboratory of ordinary life. Jesus didn’t teach ‘servanthood’ which is a word that didn’t exist in English until theologians coined the word to take the sting out of being a servant. Nor did He teach people to carry on the charade of ‘servant leaders.’ (If this is a case of leaders dressing up like servants, I wonder if it is like wolves in sheep’s clothing.)
Jesus said of Himself that He “came not to be served” (Mk. 10: 45). Those who seek the office of leaders (whether of the church or the State) all say, “Please vote for me: I want to serve you.” Why does anyone need an office to serve? And, no one ever says, “Once I’m in office, you will never have to serve me.” All want to be waited on hand and foot. All want people under them and taking orders from them. Only Jesus said, “I came not to be served,” and He didn’t make His disciples serve Him. He served them. He didn’t make them His servants. He was their servant.
John’s last glance at the clock was when he was standing at the foot of the Cross. He wrote in his record, “Knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ When He had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (19:28, 30).
The Roman centurion exclaimed, “Truly, this was the Son of God.” Equally, we could exclaim, “He was truly a servant!” He cared for His own need only when He knew that He had done all that He had come to do. And then He served till He “dropped dead.”
Was Jesus efficiently inefficient? He left the world unsaved. Or was He inefficiently efficient? He left disciples to finish up, and again He set the clock running: “The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father… the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him” (Jn. 4:21, 23, ESV).
Jesus looked forward to the time when people will not bother about religious sites, but worship in the midst of life. He envisioned that people would worship in spirit and in truth. That time came when the Early Church dared to think that worship was an activity that could be carried on “from house to house” (Acts 2:46; 5:42; Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor.16:19; Col.4:15). It was the quietest invasion of any empire. That empire of the Romans is gone. But the invaders are still carrying on with the invasion.