Kathleen Parker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for the Washington Post. Her story is intriguing.
One day in elementary school, when Kathleen was a recent transfer to that school, she was called to the front of the class to analyze a sentence. When given the assignment, she panicked, partly because she was new, partly because at her former school, that aspect of grammar had not been taught.
Unable to complete the assignment, Kathleen stammered and got red in the face. The other students in the class started laughing at her.
The teacher sprang to Kathleen’s defense, exclaiming, “Stop it! She can out-write any of you any day of the week!”
Many years later, Kathleen recalled that experience. She still was grateful for the words of the teacher. Listen to what Kathleen added. “I started that day to write as well as my teacher said I could.”
That day, a teacher defended Kathleen Parker, who was vulnerable. Throughout His ministry, Jesus did the same thing. Over and over again, Jesus defended defenseless people. In this message, let’s consider a few examples of that. Important examples. Timeless examples of the hope Jesus offers.
We will start with Mark 10:13-16. There, the defenseless ones were children.
What happened is this. One day, some parents, knowing Jesus was in the area, and knowing His reputation as a loving teacher, gathered their children and took them to where Jesus was. Their wish was for Jesus to touch their children, which was part of blessing them.
If you are familiar with the passage, remember what Jesus’ disciples did? They rebuked the parents, telling them to go away and not bother Jesus.
The disciples were not attempting to be cruel. They had nothing against children and their parents. Their goal that day was to protect Jesus, who, at the time, had been ministering for close to three years. That ministry had always been busy. It was increasingly so. The human part of Jesus had to have been tired. The disciples knew that.
To the disciples, the parents and their children were to be yet another drain on Jesus. In order to try to give the Lord at least a few minutes to rest, the disciples told the parents to take themselves and their children away.
The purpose was good, but Jesus was not at all pleased. In fact, He was indignant, which caused Him to rebuke the disciples. He said - probably loudly and forcefully - “Let the children come to Me. Do not hinder them.”
Jesus then added these words. “For to such belongs the Kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
Receiving the Kingdom of God like a child. What did He mean?
Well, children are often humble. There are of course times when children show off. At least I did when I was a child. At least my mother told me I did. But many times children are embarrassed by prominence and publicity.
A week-and-a-half ago I was at a Kiwanis K-Kids event at one of the elementary schools. Part of the program - it was also an ice cream social, which I especially enjoyed - but part of the program was each of the K-Kids telling what they liked best about the club. Each of the kids shared, but most of them seemed to be embarrassed by the attention.
Children are often humble. That is a trait Jesus taught all His people are to have. Humble enough to realize it is Jesus who is in charge.
Children are often obedient. Not all the time, certainly. Part of the growing up process is testing boundaries that are set. But it seems that when children are given direction about how to behave, they are more comfortable in their behaviors.
We are given direction about how to live. It is given to us in the Bible, which can be best understood as we pray for comprehension. Jesus taught that all His people are to obey. Obedience - most especially obeying the call to accept Jesus as Savior - is necessary to enter the Kingdom of God.
Children have trust. They trust their parents to provide for them the things needed to live, including food, shelter, clothing. When I was growing up, I was never worried about any of those things. I did not give any thought about how those things were provided. They were just provided.
Do we trust Jesus to provide what we need? Including spiritually? Trust is one part of what He expects from us. One of the things needed to enter the Kingdom of God.
“Do not hinder the children,” Jesus said. “Let them come.” Which the disciples did. They stepped aside, allowing the parents to get their children to Jesus.
He took each one in His arms. I wonder what that felt like to them. How warm and loving His hug was. Jesus took the children into His arms. He laid His hands on them and blessed them.
Those children were defenseless. They had no rights, they could not survive on their own, they were at the mercy of others. Jesus defended them, doing that by hugging them and blessing them, asking for God’s protection of them.
I wonder. When Kathleen Parker was defended, the words of her teacher encouraged her to fulfill what the teacher said about her ability to write. I wonder how those children reacted to Jesus’ words and actions.
We do not know. None of the children are told about later. But we can hope those children worked to live up to Jesus’ defense of them. Worked at it by learning what Jesus had taught, then humbly obeying, trusting that Jesus’ teachings were the best way to live.
Jesus defended children. In the first half of John 4, He defended a woman known for her immorality.
What happened is this. One day, as Jesus and His disciples were on their way from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north - as they passed through Samaria, the middle part of the country - they stopped at noon at a well.
Jesus sent the disciples to the nearby town of Sychar to get food for lunch. While they were gone, a woman approached the well.
Those few words indicate the social standing of the woman. She was alone, which was unusual. She was at the well at noon, which was unusual. The common thing was for women to draw water in the cool of the morning, not during the heat of mid-day, and drawing water was kind of a social thing for the women. They usually went to the well in groups.
This woman was at the well at noon, and she was alone, meaning she was not included socially. Why? As we are told in the passage, the woman had had five husbands. I assume at least some of those men had been stolen from other women. She was divorced from each one. At that time, she was living with yet another man, doing so without the benefit of marriage.
The woman was a home wrecker. Any woman who had been a victim of that had nothing to do with her. No other women wanted her anywhere near, for fear she would break up their marriages. She was a negative influence that no woman wanted her children to see.
The woman was a home wrecker. That was the sin she had committed over and over again. Because of that, she was rejected and shunned. It was that woman who approached the well where Jesus was that day.
I imagine the woman hesitated when she saw Jesus. He was the only one around. Would it be safe to go to the well when He was there? She had to have been concerned, but she needed water, and she had made the walk to the well. Maybe it was worth the risk.
As it turned out, it was worth the risk. It became worth it as Jesus talked to her. It was not small talk He engaged in. It was a spiritual conversation He had with the woman.
Very briefly, the conversation included a request for a drink of water, which indicated a willingness to be friendly, a teaching about something more important than physical water, that being living water, which was a teaching about having spiritual hope, and a challenge about worshiping God, doing so with one’s whole being.
Jesus offered friendship, spiritual hope, and the opportunity to worship. He offered those three things to the woman at the well. He did that, even though He Himself knew the sins of the woman - that she had had five husbands in the past and was at that time living with a man who was not her husband.
Even the woman was impressed that Jesus knew all about her, even though they had never met, but the point is that, though everyone in her city rejected her, Jesus did not. He was willing to give her the chance to change her lifestyle, in that way defending her.
Again I wonder. When Kathleen Parker was defended, the words of her teacher encouraged her to fulfill what the teacher said about her ability to write. I wonder how the woman at the well reacted to Jesus’ defense.
We know she got off to a good start in responding in a positive way. As the disciples returned to the well, the woman returned to the city. She did that excitedly, shown in the fact she left her water jar behind. She was suddenly more interested in spiritual things than in physical water.
When she arrived at the city, the woman talked to people, which is amazing. She was a rejected person. She was not in the habit of talking with much of anyone except the man with whom she was currently living. But now she talked to other people, not caring how they might react.
She said to all she met, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.” What a wonderful evangelistic style. Not a demand, but an invitation. In her case, a forceful one, but an invitation. “Come, see.” And the question, “Can this be the Christ?”
What the woman did after that day - if she continued to live up to Jesus’ defense - we do not know, but we can hope she did. We can hope she worked at living up to Jesus’ defense of her. That she worked at changing her lifestyle, thereby drawing closer to God.
Jesus defended children. He defended a woman at a well. In Romans 5, it is proclaimed Jesus defended another group of people. A group made up of all of us who are now saved. We who are Christians who, before we accepted Jesus, were sinners. Romans 5:6 and 8. “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
We will consider Christ’s death in more detail as we approach and enter Holy Week, especially on Good Friday. But let’s think about some of the things associated with Jesus’ crucifixion, beginning with a statement about His love. Beginning with the fact Jesus came to earth in the first place.
Think of it. Jesus was in Heaven. He had the glory of Heaven all around Him. He left that to come to earth.
And He came, not as an adult with immediate recognition of His authority, but as a baby. One who had to grow up like we grow up, which, humanly speaking, is not always easy.
One who eventually began a ministry. A ministry that had many successes, but that also included much opposition. How many times was Jesus argued against and threatened, even before the Thursday night that preceded the Friday He was crucified? A horrible time of being arrested and taken to a number of trials, many of them illegal because of the times they were held and how the verdicts were decided. Then the physical and emotional suffering He endured - being beaten, being whipped, having a crown of thorns slapped on His head, being stripped and hit and mocked.
All that came at the hands of Jewish and Roman authorities. Suffering also came from common Jewish people. I am thinking of the Roman governor Pilate claiming at least twice that he found no guilt in Jesus. He wanted to release Jesus, but both times, the people demanded that Jesus not be set free.
Remember what the people said when asked what should happen to Jesus. “Crucify Him!” was their demand. “Crucify Him!” That was the demand from the very people Jesus had come to save.
Jesus was crucified. He was nailed to a cross. The cross was lifted up. Jesus did die.
We know, do we not, that at any point from His coming to His death, Jesus could have stopped the process? Troubles growing up? He could have returned to Heaven. Arguments and threats? He could have zapped the trouble makers. On the cross? He could have called 10,000 angels to rescue Him.
Yet He did none of those things. Why? It was because He came to defend sinners - to keep teaching them, to keep challenging them, to keep giving them - and us - opportunities to do better, so that all who accept Him would be and will be and are saved from their sins.
And again listen. Jesus died for us while we were still weak. While we were yet sinners. Which means we were no more worthy of His love than was the shameful woman at the well. Yet He still cared enough to defend us.
What the children did after the time they were blessed, we do not know. What the woman did after that day - if she continued to live up to Jesus’ defense - we do not know.
We can hope the children took advantage of what Jesus offered them. We can hope the woman took full advantage of what Jesus offered. But the question for this message is, “What about you - and me?”
If you are not a Christian, will you take advantage of Jesus’ defense, like it is hoped the children and the woman at the well did? He died for you. Will you accept Him as your sacrifice? Will you honor His sacrifice by accepting Him?
For those of us who are Christians, will we continue to take advantage of His defense?Will we continue to learn His ways and obey His teachings? Will we, like Kathleen Parker did in a worldly way, do what we can to live up to His words?
And how about this? Will we be defenders of those Jesus defends?Will we teach and challenge and give opportunities to the young and the defenseless and the vulnerable - and the sinners?
It may not be easy to do that. It was not always easy for Jesus. But will we show the love of Jesus so well that we will join Him in doing what is necessary to develop in others the humility, the trust, and the obedience to enter the Kingdom of God?
Today’s closing song is based on the last verses in this message - Romans 5:8. It is I Ought to Love My Savior. We will sing verses 1, 3, and 4.
I ought to love my Savior;
He loved me long ago
Looked on my soul with favor,
When deep in guilt and woe:
And though my sin had grieved Him,
His Father’s law had crossed,
Love drew Him down from Heaven
Yo seek and save the lost,
Love drew Him down from Heaven
To seek and save the lost.
I ought to love my Savior;
He pardoned all my sin,
Then sanctified my nature,
And keeps me pure within:
He fills me with His glory,
And bears my soul above;
This world, O wondrous story!
’Tis love, redeeming love,
This world, O wondrous story!
’Tis love, redeeming love!
O Christ, I can be love Thee:
What heart could e’er withhold
A love that cost so dearly
The offering of Thy soul?
O king of love immortal,
Reign in my heart alone,
And flood this earthen temple
With glory from Thy throne,
And flood this earthen temple
With glory from Thy throne.
Throughout Lent, we are reminded about the journey Jesus made. A journey of coming, and teaching by word and example, and doing miracles A journey that continued with His death and through His resurrection and His return to Heaven.
Through it all, Jesus defended us. He did that even while we were yet sinners. He did that, even to death.
Let’s make sure we have taken advantage of His defending. Let’s help others take advantage of it. May we do that all through this Lenten season and beyond. Amen.