Worst-Case Scenario Ministry
By Frank A. DeCenso Jr.
Recently, the following passage of Scripture gripped my heart:
39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord,
by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four
days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did
I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the
glory of God?” 41Then they took away the stone
from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus
lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that
You have heard Me. 42And I know that You always hear
Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this,
that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43Now
when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus,
come forth!” 44And he who had died
came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face
was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him,
and let him go” [bold emphasis added].
The question I had to answer with uncompromising honesty was,
“Am I willing to minister to anyone the Lord leads
me to?” Questions like that extinguish any smugness I have
about how willing I really am to meet peoples’
needs. Why did this passage affect me this way? Because while
I was reading it, I thought about those whom Jesus instructed
to loose Lazarus from his graveclothes.
In a comment we tend to snicker at, Martha mentioned that because
Lazarus had been dead for four days, there was bound to be “a
stench.” She was not referring to the graveclothes—she
was referring to the tomb being opened. If the tomb had the smell
of rotting flesh, certainly the stench would have permeated the
fabrics covering Lazarus. Yet Jesus wanted the people
to untie him, so He instructed them to touch Lazarus’ clothes
that reeked with the disgusting smell of decomposing flesh. (Even
though Lazarus was raised, his clothes were likely fetid.)
What type of people are we willing to "loose"? Smelly,
dirty, unkempt people… or just those who have problems like
toothaches, depression, and head colds? What would we do if Jesus
asked us to minister to urine-soaked, bile-covered people? If
we were in a church, would we call for the pastor or elders to
minister to them? If we encountered them during a normal day at
the mall, or perhaps during street witnessing, would we walk past
them? Or would we be willing to help them in some way?
The day that this passage encountered me, I had to say with all
honesty, “No, I wouldn’t be willing.” I would
find a way out of having to deal with such a nauseating ministry
situation. With that thought in mind, I then realized that Jesus
needs to form in me a willingness to minister to the most troubled
of humanity—the deformed, the demonized, the suicidal, the
psychotic, and the stench-covered rejects of society.
I am sure many in the church are as needy for this formation
as I am. After all, Jesus ministered to people like this probably
every day, and He wants us to do the same works He did (John 14:12).
Who are some of the people Jesus spent countless hours ministering
Sick and Tormented People
23And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their
synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing
all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.
24 Then His fame went throughout all Syria;
and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted
with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed,
epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them [bold
Can you picture Jesus ministering to the multitudes who had never-ending
varieties of illnesses and troubles—some who were more wretched
than others were? Can you see Him dealing with the demon-possessed
as they exhibited strange behavior? Can you envision Him walking
up to paralytics, epileptics, cancer victims, and people with
severe trauma? He did, and He ministered healing and deliverance
to them. He did not shy away from the most difficult cases.
I am realizing with greater clarity that this is His will for
us—we are not to discriminate or pick-and-choose to whom
we minister. Ministering to the sick and the demonized is not
a clean job. Nevertheless, we are called to minister to the people
whom He brings to us, and whom He leads us to (see John 5:19-20).
He alone can equip us with the compassion and power to make a
1 When He had come down from the mountain, great
multitudes followed Him. 2 And behold, a
leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord,
if You are willing, You can make me clean.” 3
Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him,
saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately
his leprosy was cleansed [bold emphasis added].
Leprosy was one of the most hideous afflictions one could have.
Body parts may have been missing. One’s tissues would have
been decaying or dead. To top it all off, this disease was infectious.
What did Jesus do when lepers came to Him for help? He did not
send them away or shun them. He healed them by touching them.
He touched those leprous people with His own hands. Would we be
Only now am I fully realizing the enormity of this question and
its implications for ministry. What would we do if someone having
an infectious, deforming disease, came asking us for
help? Would we send them away for treatment? Perhaps in this day
of modern medical advances, that wouldn’t be a bad idea.
But what if God wanted to bring healing to them through our hands?
Would we also be willing to touch them, asking the Great Physician
to heal and restore their bodies? We should ask Him to give us
a willing heart to touch the untouchables of this world.
28 When He had come to the other side, to the country
of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed
men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so
that no one could pass that way. 29 And suddenly
they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with You,
Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before
the time?” [bold emphasis added].
Deep down, we know God has given us the authority to deal with
demonic attacks and to set people free (Luke 10:19; 4:18-19).
However, what would we do if two demon-possessed men with incredible
strength came rambling toward us? Would we run? Or would we stand
our ground in Christ, realizing that they are human beings for
whom Jesus died and for whom He gave us the authority to set free?
If we pray earnestly for compassion and power, it can be the latter.
Pondering the ministry of Jesus, questions like the ones raised
in this brief article are provocative, and will hopefully encourage
us to minister to those whom He did. I know that from this day
forward, I need to ask Him for the compassion, strength, and ability
to minister to those in this world whom I would rather not encounter.
How about you?
Copyright © by Frank A. DeCenso Jr. All Scripture references
are NKJV unless otherwise noted.
Frank has been teaching the Bible in churches
and other venues for more than 20 years. He is currently the Ministry
Resources Director at Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Virginia
Beach, Va. He is an employee at Regent University in the Information
Technology Department. Frank is married and lives in Virginia
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