How Did Jesus Handle Change?

I first met Ken Wytsma in Northern Thailand as we traveled with The SOLD Project. We quickly became friends and he has recently agreed to join the SOLD Board of Directors. Ken is the founder of The Justice Conference, the President of Kilns College, and is the lead pastor of the church he planted in Antioch, Oregon. And that’s just for starters. Like me, he doesn’t know how to do just one thing at a time. That’s probably why we quickly became friends.

Ken headshotI’ve always enjoyed Ken’s writing (check out his book Pursuing Justice) and recently came across the entry below on his blog. Well worth reading if you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by change. Especially helpful if you operate in any kind of organizational structure and wonder how all the change is ever going to be properly managed. The answer? Read on and I think you’ll be encouraged.

τὰ ὄντα ἰέναι τε πάντα καὶ μένειν οὐδέν
. “All entities move and nothing remains still.” – Heraclitus (as quoted in Plato’s Cratylus)

One of the constants in life is change.

The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus famously stated this saying, “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” Reality is in constant motion. The flow of water makes change visible, but change exists in all arenas of life whether we perceive its effects or not.

People age.

Relationships evolve.

Circumstances progress.

Institutions transition.

This fact brings up an interesting question, “How did Jesus handle change?” One of the most interesting things I see in the life and ministry of Jesus was that he often ignored it.

When he was a boy, his parents and community left Jerusalem at the end of a festival, but he stayed in the temple talking theology. When Lazarus died, Jesus took the long way home. When Judas abandoned the disciples to betray him, Jesus sat in a garden all night praying for strength.

It seems that Jesus was more concerned about shaping reality than reacting to circumstances. I take this to mean Jesus was more attuned to character than change.

The surprise is: character doesn’t bend or change to circumstance as much as it—over time—bends reality around itself. Change is a constant, but character is a force.

Proverbs 11:25 states, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” The writer seems to be talking about a kind of Christian Karma—the idea that right action affects the future.

Paul points out this truth about character in Galatians when he writes, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”

Our inputs into the world influence many of the outputs into our life.

Using Jesus’ words about blessing those who persecute you, Paul argues further along this point in Romans writing, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Romans 12:20)

The point, don’t focus on how your enemy is changing you, focus on how you can transform them.

Our character might not change the present, but it shapes the future. My love for my enemy doesn’t erase the record of how we became estranged, but it can breathe life into future reconciliation.

Jesus faced the uncertainties of life and the reality of change with deep and abiding character.

Another way of saying this is that Jesus had a sense of mission and priority. He was more concerned with being right than being predictable or doing what was expected of him.

Some of the best examples of this come from the book of Luke. In Luke chapter four, we see the story of Jesus healing people all night long at Peter’s house. It states, “At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place.” While praying, the people found him and tried to get him to return and stay with them. But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” (Luke 4:42-43)

When a new queue of folks had lined up in the morning and needed his help, he left. His time was up.

His mission was calling him.

It didn’t matter that it wasn’t fair to the people who just arrived to be healed. Jesus had to be obedient to what he knew was right, not what others expected.

In another story, Jesus heals a man possessed by demons. Luke then writes, “The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” (Luke 8:38-39)

Isn’t that crazy? The man “begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away.”

All throughout the New Testament and church history we think the whole game is to choose to follow Jesus. In this story, a man asks Jesus if he can follow, and Jesus says “no.”

It might have been the deep emotional or relational issues the man needed to address that kept Jesus from adding him to his group of followers. It could have been that Jesus had bigger plans for him witnessing in his city to the authority of Jesus. We’ll never know Jesus’ reasons for sending the man home, but in the story we see Jesus having a clear sense of what is right, what is on mission and what he should do regardless of what seems logical, fair, or loving to others.

I see two aspects of character in the life of Jesus: the resolve and inner strength to stand his ground despite circumstances and a clear decision-making framework based on his mission and calling.

Nobody ever steps in the same river twice.

Change was as much a part of Jesus’ world as ours.

Jesus shows us a way of staying the course, however, despite the prevailing winds. What should be true about my character and what is true about my calling can give me strength to affect my circumstances as much as they affect me.

How would Jesus handle change?… often by ignoring it and always by keeping his eyes on his Father and doing what he was sent to do.


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