In the United States it’s common for popular authors, coaches, actors or preachers to travel the country on speaking engagements. They pack out churches, auditoriums, and stadiums with eager listeners hanging on their every word. This is quite predictable and almost expected of someone with any degree of celebrity status. In fact it’s so familiar that it’s no wonder we don’t think twice when we read in the Gospels that Jesus travels around Israel teaching and preaching.
However, in the first century a popular Rabbi on the “speakers circuit” traveling around the countryside would have been a little unusual and certainly not necessary. A more conventional method would have been to establish a school in a city like Jerusalem where disciples could gather and study underneath him. Or if that didn’t suit him he could have set up in the wilderness somewhere creating a community where people could stay with him, and sit under his leadership. But the Gospels tell us he didn’t choose either of these conventional methods.
Sometimes we read the Bible without asking any questions. We quickly skim over the finer details to get to the more quotable scriptures we can underline. The kind we can share on Facebook. Most of us take for granted that Jesus traveled Palestine. Maybe we assume this just must have been the way it had to be. How else would he get his message out?
But Jesus didn’t have to travel to make disciples or deliver his message. Certainly a man of his authority and renown could have attracted enough people to anyplace he chose to stay. The Jews had been anxiously awaiting the coming Messiah to deliver them and to fulfill God’s promise for hundreds of years. The rumors and stories that the Christ had come would have been enough to spread across the nation and draw people to him. He definitely had a ripe audience for a successful word-of-mouth marketing campaign.
But Jesus didn’t start a school or build a community in the desert. He didn’t rely on the masses to come and find him. The Gospels tell us that he traveled from town to town with his message of the Kingdom and performed many miraculous signs.
Is there anything significant about this traveling Messiah?
All throughout history we find God is the first to initiate relationship and reconciliation with his people. In our traveling Messiah we see the same pattern. While he could have established a school and settled for those interested enough to seek him, we find Jesus traveling from village to village seeking the forgotten, the neglected and the invisible of Palestine. He saw those who the community refused to see. He touched those who the community refused to touch. He gave value to those who the community said had no value. He honored those who the community shamed.
While Jesus did spend time with people across the religious and socio-economic spectrum, we find in the traveling Messiah a God who seeks out those who were unable to seek him out. These were the outcasts who never would be invited to a meal with a famous Rabbi. These were the poor and uneducated who never could have studied in Jerusalem. These were the sinners who never would be acknowledged. But in Christ we find a different kind of Rabbi. Instead of sitting in the comfort of their own wealth and prestige he hits the road looking for the lost. Seeking the ones that no one else was seeking. Giving honor to those who never had and maybe never deserved honor.
What does this tell us about God?
He Came to Seek and to Save: In Luke 19:10 we read “For the Son of Man (Jesus) came to seek and to save the lost.” We find Jesus encountering many people in Palestine that most ignored the poor, the lame, and the sinners. Instead of leaving them on the fringe he invites them to his table. He offers them hope and forgiveness. He offers them acceptance.
It’s a remarkable thing that God would come looking for us any of us. But he turned religion upside down when his attention was fixed on the “least of these.”
Why would he do this?
God Chose Us: Ephesians 1:4 tell us that “he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” God initiated the relationship with us from the beginning and he isn’t passive in his pursuit. Christ didn’t sit and wait for the sinner to find him. He pursued the sinner with compassion.
Why does he choose us?
He Loved Us First: John the Apostle writes, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) God has removed every barrier for a relationship with himself. He didn’t come to condemn, he came to restore. Driven by His love for us he sent his Son to be the ultimate sacrifice so he could get his family back.
What an amazing God – the one who comes looking for us! And what should our response be? Thankfulness, joy and acceptance of his gracious invitation.