THE GENTLE ENCOURAGER
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Harry Reichenback in the book World's Most Spectacular Hoaxes tells of his grand deception in promoting Francis Bushman. Bushman was a small time actor in Chicago, but Reichenback was able to get his salary raised to a commanding figure. He took Bushman to New York and carried 2000 pennies in his pockets. As they walked along 42nd street toward the Metro office he dropped handfuls of pennies. At first only children came running to pick up the coins, but so conspicuous was the commotion that soon everybody was following them. By the time they reached Metro the streets were milling with crowds. When the officers of Metro looked out of the window they judged Bushman's popularity by the vast throngs that had followed him, and he received a 1000 dollar a week raise without an argument. Reichenback confesses, "The fact was, not a living soul in the mob knew Bushman."
Jesus was tempted to get mixed up in a clever scheme something like this in which he would exploit the crowds of his day. The only difference is that he did not have to fake popularity He could have the real thing. Satan said to him, "Jump off the pinnacle of the temple and you will be preserved from injury." Such a sensational stunt would have had the crowds clamoring after Jesus to be their king. Satan had some great ideas for promoting the popularity of Jesus, but Jesus refused to give heed to any of his schemes.
One of the strangest paradoxes of Scripture is that Satan sought constantly to promote the popularity of Jesus. Satan wanted it shouted from the housetops that Jesus was the Son of God. He wanted Jesus to be ruler over the kingdoms of men, and longed for a revolutionary movement in which the people would put Jesus on the throne as their king. All through his ministry Jesus had to fight the efforts of Satan to promote his popularity, and derail him from his purpose. Jesus did not hesitate to perform spectacular miracles for great crowds such as feeding the 5000. His healing ministry was not behind closed doors, but in public places. Yet, there is the mysterious effort of Jesus to suppress an all out proclamation that he was the Messiah. Jesus wanted this message saved until after his death and resurrection.
People were coming to all kinds of conclusions about him. Some said he was John the Baptist revived; others that he was Elijah or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. All agreed he had to be a great person, but only a few knew he was the Son of God. After Peter said, "Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God," we read in Matt. 16:20, "Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ." Jesus deliberately suppressed the fact that he was God in human flesh. Jesus was over 30, and so 30 Christmas' have already gone by, and no one had ever celebrated one of the greatest event in human history. It was because Jesus did not permit this good news of the incarnation to be proclaimed.
Jesus even had to use his supernatural authority over demons to keep them from blabbing the greatest news on earth. In Mark 3:11 the unclean spirits cry out, "You are the Son of God." In verse 12 we read, "And he strictly ordered them not to make him known." Jesus was the first person to try and silence the preaching of his deity. Friend and foe; disciples and demons, were anxious to make it known, but Jesus was always telling them to be quiet concerning his true identity. We haven't looked at all the occasions on which Jesus urged people to hold down on the publicity concerning him. It is frequent enough to be conspicuous.
What is behind this mysterious behavior which we see again in our text? It seems so strange and even senseless, for verse 14 tells us that the Pharisees were taking council to kill him. Verse 15 says that great multitudes followed and he healed them all. Then verse 16 hits us with a strange charge that they not make him known. Who in the world was left to tell? This is like trying to hide the sun. The whole nation was either out to kill him, or receive life from him. Great multitudes were following him, so it is obvious that the cat is out of the bag. Somebody has already let it slip that Jesus is where the action is. He was the most popular person in Israel, yet he never stopped trying to prevent further promotion. Even when the fire of his fame was raging uncontrollably across the Judean landscape, he still tried to throw a wet blanket on the desire to make him known.
Did Jesus ever do anything more mysterious and unusual than this? I know of nothing to match it, and if it was not for Matthew we might never have guessed why Jesus did it. In verse 17 Matthew tells us that the motive behind this behavior of Jesus was to fulfill prophecy. This is the largest Old Testament quotation in Matthew, and it reveals to us the quality of character the Messiah was to exhibit to be pleasing to God. It matches the manner of his birth. Such a humble way for any child to be born, but how much more so for the Son of God? Such a humble beginning implies that his purpose in life was not to be showmanship. No spectacular calling of attention to himself, but rather, obscurity was to characterize most of the life of Jesus. When he did begin his public ministry it was with no ambition to be a mighty leader with masses bowing before him. He had all the potential of being the great rabble rouser who could have stirred his people to follow him in conquest. Jesus did not exploit that potential, for that was not his purpose.
Jesus intended to conquer, but not like any other conqueror who had ever lived. His method was sheer folly to the world and still is today, but Jesus goes on reigning while the mighty mock him and then disappear into the dust of oblivion. No strategy, they say, could be more stupid than that of recruiting the weak and the poor, the sick and the oppressed. Jesus let his enemies capture him and crucify him while he wasted his time with the misfits of society. Hitler knew better that this, and so does every tyrant who ever lived. They know you get rid of the weak and the deformed, for they are hindrances to victory. People only count when they are powerful and can help the cause. The rest can be eliminated. This is a practice commonly practiced by tyrants.
Nature is pointed to as a justification for this strategy. Nature eliminates the weak. The survival of the fittest is a law of nature, and men who have no higher revelation than what they see in nature are led to act on the level of the brutes. The Christian does not look to nature, but to the author of nature, who made man in his image, and of infinite value above the world of nature. Persons are not just animals, but are the creatures with the potential for partaking of the divine nature, and, therefore, they are to be treated with dignity and respect however weak they may be.
Armed with this view of man, the Son of God entered human history with a totally unique strategy for conquering the world. He would not use force and destructive weapons to crush the weak and helpless, but would stress gentleness and encouragement of the weak. Military men have always mocked, and will continue to mock this strategy of the prince of peace right up until the victory, and the meek inherit the earth. All other conquers come with great noise and commotion, but Jesus seeks to conquer quietly.
Verse 19 says he will not strive nor cry, nor will any man hear his voice in the streets. Jesus was not a rabble rouser, and one who went looking for an encounter with those opposed to him. He did not stand in the streets and denounce his opponents. In verse 15 we see that when he knew his opponents were out to get him he withdrew himself. He had no desire for a noisy showdown. He was a man of peace who would retreat to avoid trouble if necessary. The Hebrew word in this quote from Isaiah means that he will not scream under excitement. So many when they are unjustly attacked become loud and boisterous, and begin to denounce their attackers, but Jesus calmly slipped away. On the positive side it was the same. Many who draw crowds and do a great work want to crow about it to the world. Jesus was not interested, but would slip away in silence, and ask his praising fans to join him in this virtue, and not make him known.
It was just a part of the character of Christ. He was not interested in the power of noise. He was interested in the superior power of silence and gentleness. Men have gone far by arrogant boasting, and shouting in the streets, but they were not going the same direction as Jesus. Deep and lasting power cannot be based on noise. Truth works quietly like the silent power of the sun. An unknown poet wrote-
How silently the great stars shine,
How silently the dawn comes in,
How silently in forest depths
The oak to massiveness doth win.
The noblest powers are quiet all,
And He who comes the soul to greet,
He shall not strive, He shall not cry,
Nor shall His voice sound in the street.
The Speaker's Bible says here, "The mission of Jesus was to save rather than destroy, to build up rather than to pull down. His method was not that of the axe and hammer, but of the slow working leaven and the seed growing silently. And his strength lay not in heroic courage or desperate activity, but in the gentleness of an exhaustless love and in the patience of a divine pity." This gentleness and pity is so vividly portrayed in verse 20. Who in all history has ever been so gentle and soft hearted that he would not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick? Jesus was an extremist in gentleness, even when we recognize that literal reeds and wicks are not meant, but rather, weak, broken, wounded and despairing people.
When Jesus encountered a person who was badly bruised, such as the shameful woman who wiped his feet with her hair, his word of condemnation could have broken her, but instead, he treated her with gentleness, and she was healed. Martin Luther wrote, "He does not cast away, nor crush, nor condemn the wounded in conscience, those who are terrified in view of their sins; the weak in faith and practice; but watches over them and cherishes them, makes them whole and affectionately embraces them." A bruised reed is a symbol of what is weak and worthless, and of no use to anyone. What everyone else would break, Jesus seeks to save and restore to usefulness.
Jesus was not one who needs to see great fire, or he gives up. Even if there is only smoke, he will take interest and seek to rekindle the flame. Most people have a tendency to want to give up and dump people when they cease to burn brightly, but Jesus will shelter that smoldering wick, and by gentle encouragement seek to fan a spark of fire into a renewed flame. Jesus specializes in those that others give up on and forsake. The Spartans killed the sickly and deformed, and Plato was all for exterminating the weak. But for Jesus no human being is to be broken, no matter how maimed in body or spirit. Not even a sparrow falls without God's notice, and of how much more value is even the weakest of men?
Jesus came into history with a special ministry to the weak, needy, and oppressed. In Matt. 11:28-29 we read his own commentary on his character of gentle encouragement. Jesus said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." This sounds like slushy sentiment to the self-sufficient worldly person, but to the wise such gentleness is the greatest power on earth. Someone said, "Gentleness! More powerful than Hercules." Henry Martyn, the great missionary, said, "The power of gentleness is irresistible." Jesus knew this and still does, and that is why he refused to be a noisy rabble rousing leader. His power was in gentleness.
That is why the Lamb of God is such an appropriate symbol of Christ. That is why the dove is such an appropriate symbol of the Holy Spirit. The world, and often even Christians, feel that the only way to conquer in any battle is with noise and force. The Prince of Peace entered history to demonstrate the folly of this strategy, and set in motion a ministry of gentle encouragement that would conquer the world. Men who count for time and eternity are men who exhibit the character of Christ in this respect.
Abraham Lincoln as a young lawyer rode the circuit with a party of friends who were also lawyers. One day as they rode past a grove of trees they noticed a baby bird which had fallen from its nest and lay fluttering by the roadside. After they had gone a short distance Lincoln said, "Wait for me, I will be right back." He turned around, rode back to the helpless bird, and tenderly took it up and put it on the limb near the nest. When he rejoined the group one of them laughingly asked, "Why did you bother yourself and delay us with such a trifle as that?" Lincoln respond, "My friend, I can only say this-that I feel better for it. I could not have slept tonight if I had left that helpless creature to parish on the ground." It is no wonder that God used Lincoln to perform a multitude of compassionate deeds that made him the most kind and gentle president of our nation.
Gentleness is equivalent to greatness according to God's judgment. Jesus in whom all power in heaven and on earth resided was the most gentle of men born of woman. Yet his birthday and the seasons surrounding it is often characterized by roughness, pushing, and shouting. We live in constant tension, and everyone bears a burden, but few are kind and gentle. Observe people in stores and you will see why the world is in turmoil. A grandmother looking at a toy horse asked two clerks coming back from their break if there was a box for the toy. "O no" one said indifferently. The frustrated grandmother cursed and threw the horse into the toys breaking the wheel off the bottom. A frustrated husband following his wife sees her slip down an isle to look at something which he feels is irrelevant to their purpose. In anger he forgets he is in public and shouts at her, "You get sidetracked so often you don't know which end is up," and he heads for a different destination in a huff. These are normal daily events in the life of the average American. What nobody needs is more of the same.
What everybody needs is the gentle and kind concern and encouragement of Christlike character. It is very little honor to Christ to celebrate his birthday and not exhibit his character. May God help us to be among those who put Christ in Christmas by being Christlike toward others. This will be a powerful witness that will encourage people to consider Christ seriously as their Lord and Savior. Gentle encouragement will win trust as it did for Christ.
A Christlike character is the greatest gift you can give to the world. Christians sometimes doubt the power of gentleness, but history clearly supports it. Henry Morehouse, a young preacher began his ministry among miners in North England. Ike Miller, a rough and wicked man who threatened to break up the service came to hear him. He preached on the love of Christ. When the meeting was over some of the old men gathered around him and expressed their regret that he didn't preach right. You should have warned him of his dreadful danger, and frightened him for his wickedness. That soft sort of preaching on love won't do him any good.
Meanwhile, the big miner had entered his home and called his wife and children whom he had often abused in his drunkenness. He knelt down and prayed the only prayer he had ever heard in distant days from his mother. "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon a little child; pity my simplicity, suffer me to come to thee." There was only one cord left in his hard heart and gentleness touched it, and he awoke to salvation. Men have been won by other methods, but none has been more effective than the Christlike method of being a gentle encourager. The coming year, and every year will be a better year if we exhibit gentle encouragement in relation to all whom God will bring across our path.