THE MESSAGE AND THE MERCY OF THE KING
So they went out and heralded forth the summons to repentance; and they cast out many demons, and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
Here in brief summary is an account of the work that the Twelve did when Jesus sent them out.
(i) To the people they brought Jesus’ message. The word used is literally that used for a heralds proclamation. When the apostles went out to preach to men, they did not create a message; they brought a message. they did not ten people what they believed and what they considered probable; they told people what Jesus had told them. It was not their opinions they brought to men; it was God’s truth. The message of the prophets always began, “Thus saith the Lord.” The man who would bring an effective message to others must first receive it from God.
(ii) To the people they brought the King’s Message; and the King’s message was, “Repent!” Clearly that was a disturbing message. To repent means to change one’s mind and then to fit one’s actions to this change. Repentance means a change of heart and a change of action. It is bound to hurt, for it involves the bitter realization that the way we were following is wrong. It is bound to disturb, because it means a complete reversal of life.
That is precisely why so few people do repent–for the last thing most people desire is to be disturbed. Lady Asquith, in a vivid phrase, speaks of people who “dawdle towards death.” So many people do that. they resent all strenuous activity. Life for them is “a land where it is always afternoon.” In some ways the positive, vivid, swashbuckling sinner who is crashing his way to some self-chosen goal is a more attractive person than the negative, nebulous, loiterer who drifts spinelessly and without direction through life.
There is a passage in the novel Quo Vadis? Vinicius, the young Roman, has fallen in love with a girl who is a Christian. Because he is not a Christian she will have nothing to do with him. He follows her to the secret night gathering of the little group of Christians, and there, unknown to anyone, he listens to the service. He hears Peter preach, and, as he listens, something happens to him. “He felt that if he wished to follow that teaching, he would have to place on a burning pile all his thoughts, habits and character, his whole nature up to that moment, burn them into ashes and then fill himself with a life altogether different, and an entirely new soul.”
That is repentance. But what if a man has no other desire than to be left alone? The change is not necessarily from robbery, theft, murder, adultery and glaring sins. The change may be from a life that is completely selfish, instinctively demanding, totally inconsiderate, the change from a self-centred to a God-centred life–and a change like that hurts. W. M. Macgregor quotes a saying of the Bishop in Les Miserables. “I always bothered some of them; for through me the outside air came at them; my presence in their company made them feel as if a door had been left open and they were in a draught.” Repentance is no sentimental feeling sorry; repentance is a revolutionary thing–that is why so few repent.
(iii) To the people they brought the King’s mercy. Not only did they bring this shattering demand upon men; they brought also help and healing. They brought liberation to poor, demon-possessed men and women. From the beginning Christianity has aimed to bring health to body and to soul; it has always aimed not only at soul salvation, but at whole salvation. It brought not only a hand to lift from moral wreckage, but a hand to lift from physical pain and suffering. It is most suggestive that they anointed with oil. In the ancient world oil was regarded as a panacea. Galen, the great Greek doctor, said, “Oil is the best of all instruments for healing diseased bodies.” In the hands of the servants of Christ the old cures acquired a new virtue. The strange thing is that they used the things which men’s limited knowledge knew at that time; but the spirit of Christ gave the healer a new power and the old cure a new virtue. the power of God became available in common things to the faith of men.
So the Twelve brought to men the message and the mercy of the King, and that remains the church’s task today and every day.
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