Most days, the city streets of our former home in South Asia confronted me with a sharp awareness of the curse, a devastating reminder that God’s kingdom has not yet fully come. Naked, malnourished children. Deformed cripples. Emaciated animals. Chaos and filth. Poverty and oppression. The vacant stares of hope-deprived women. The overworked bodies of desperate men. The sight of their suffering revolted me, overwhelmed me, and moved me to compassion, all at the same time.
And then there was the day when I stepped out into those same streets only to encounter an eerie silence, open clean spaces where the squatters and beggars normally overflowed, white straight lines where the trash and stray animals usually cluttered. All traces of mess, misery, and squalor had been swept away overnight, and the road had been prepared for a visiting dignitary. For that one day, the scene looked right. I could walk down the road without a jarring sense of the world being horribly wrong.
But what had become of all those people? Had their wounds been tended, their bodies fed, their families sheltered, their dignity restored? This quick-fix looked really good for a moment, but what difference did it make in the long run?
But you, O LORD, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations. You will arise and have compassion on Zion… He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea. … “The LORD looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.”
When I look back on the world of the Old Testament, I see devastating famines and wars, cruel oppression and slavery, hunger, sickness, homelessness, and death. And I see God’s hope-inspiring promises to come and turn the curse on its head, to bring His kingdom in all its beauty and “rightness.” The pleas of the destitute would be heard and responded to. The plight of the suffering would be noticed and made right.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
With the coming of Jesus, I see God’s fulfillment of so many of those promises. He didn’t send out a brute squad to clear the rabble off of the streets to prepare a nice, tidy way for the coming King. He walked into the middle of the mess Himself and got busy unraveling the curse, one need at a time. A blind man? Healed. A bereaved mother? Given back her son. A hungry crowd? Fed their dinner. A demonically oppressed man? Delivered. A shamed woman? Protected and honored.
Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.
Despite Jesus’ extraordinary work to break the curse in so many areas, He lived a life of hunger, homelessness, and oppression, meeting His end prematurely in a violent, unjust death. His disciples suffered political oppression and physical ailments, relational tensions and poverty just as He did. And He promised all of us who want to follow Him that we can expect plenty more of the same.
The presence of God’s Spirit reverses the curse in our lives, flowing His life into us and bearing His fruit through us.
Today I look around me at the many people I know who are abused or bereaved, sorrowing and suffering, questioning and depressed, and I wonder where that kingdom is now. Was Jesus’ life among us just a blip on the long, unending horizon of human suffering? Was it just a temporary reversal of the curse, applicable only during the short time that the Dignitary was visiting our town? He finished His job and left, going home to His pristine throne room and glorious entourage. Are we on our own again, back to the normal of life in a messed up world?
Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. … Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!”So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.
But just before He left, Jesus promised His followers that He would be with them, that He would send His Spirit to continue His work among them. The presence of His Spirit would reverse the curse in their lives, flowing life into them and bearing fruit through them. And just after receiving that Spirit, a few of them walked the city streets and encountered a crippled beggar. What help did they have to offer? The message of redemption for his soul, but along with that, the power to break the curse on his body.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Our streets are still messy, our bodies are still a shambles, our souls are still plagued with sorrow and doubt. But we have more than just hope for the life to come. We have the Spirit of God surging through us, transforming our spirits, renewing our minds, and even intervening in the curse on our physical world. Yes, we are waiting for that grand, all-encompassing day when everything will be made new. But in the meantime, the Spirit of our King is empowering us to face down trial after trial, caring for one need at a time, until His kingdom comes on earth as it is in Heaven.