Into the Cities—Jesus'
What does Jesus see when He looks at today’s cities?
By Mark A. Finley
The scene is etched in my mind forever—as vivid today as it was more than 40 years ago. It was one of those sweltering July days in the summer of 1968. We were waiting for the traffic light to change at an intersection in New York City’s Bowery. We often returned from our home in southern Connecticut to New York City to visit Dad’s childhood neighborhoods. New York City was in Dad’s blood. Somehow he wanted his children to understand their heritage. Dad’s stories of growing up in the city were priceless family treasures, heirlooms to pass on from one generation to the next.
In the late 1960s sections of the Bowery were havens for men and woman using alcohol to escape from the reality of life. The run-down tenement apartments, dingy storefront bars, and trash-littered streets told tragic stories of broken lives, shattered homes, and ruined futures.
As I sat gazing out the car window thinking about the lives of the unshaven, bleary-eyed men lying on the sidewalk in a drunken stupor, I noticed a red-faced man with a shabby plaid shirt staggering over to the car. As he approached he simply said, “Could you spare a man a dollar?” A dollar to buy another drink, no! But food, yes! We rummaged around and came up with a semblance of a lunch.
Reaching the Unreached with Hope
As I handed it to him, he reached through the open window, cupped his hands around my head, and pulled my face toward his. The stench of alcohol on his breath was overpowering. As I looked into those bloodshot blue-green eyes, he quietly said, “Thank You, Jesus,” and turned and staggered away.
Although years have passed since our chance encounter, his words have lingered in my mind. I have wondered: If Jesus were here today, where would He be? Would He be basking in the comfort of His suburban home writing books about reaching city people? Would He be preparing a “how-to” fully illustrated DVD to reach the cities? Would He be taking a demographic study to assess city needs? Or would He be there in the context of human need ministering to the poor, the marginalized, and the disadvantaged? Would He be there pointing the educated, the sophisticated, and the wealthy to life’s true meaning?
Jesus and Cities
Jesus loves the cities. He loves the cities because that’s where people are, and Jesus loves people. Cities have no shortage of one thing, and that’s people. They’re everywhere. Matthew’s Gospel records: “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matt. 9:35).
The gospel record is too plain to be misunderstood: Jesus immersed Himself in the lives of people in cities. He brought hope to the hopeless, peace to the troubled, forgiveness to the guilty, and power to the powerless. His heart overflowed with love to broken, battered, and bruised people living in the cities. His ministry in the cities was not only to those who were economically disadvantaged. It was also to the wealthy who were spiritually impoverished.
The rich were attracted to His authentic revelation of the Father’s love. Nicodemus, a respected, well-to-do religious leader, secretly sought Him out one night. Matthew, a cunning tax collector, responded to His call. A Roman centurion was transformed at Calvary. Jesus appealed to young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, religious and skeptical. Male and female, Jew and Gentile, were attracted to Him. His care, compassion, and concern for each individual was unequaled.
Matthew’s Gospel states that He had compassion on the multitudes (Matt. 9:36). Luke adds, “Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it” (Luke 19:41). You can never weep until you draw near. Your heart can never be broken in love over the city until you “behold” it in its raw wildness.
Cities are places of incredible contrast. They are places of sugarcoated pleasure and heartbroken sorrow; abject poverty and staggering wealth; starry-eyed greed and selfless sacrifice; sheer excitement and absolute boredom; cultured sophistication and open rudeness. They are filled with honest-hearted, committed believers, as well as skeptics and those who could care less about religion. Jesus’ heart of love overflows to each one of them.
Have you ever wept over the poverty of children who are not your own, but His? Has your heart ever been broken over the emptiness of hollow lives consumed with greed? Have you ever wept “soul tears” for millions in the world’s cities attempting to eke out a meager existence but who do not know the meaning of their own existence? They have little or no knowledge of God’s everlasting gospel to an end-time generation.
Listening to Jesus’ Heart
If we pause long enough, we may hear His sobs—the heartbroken, agonizing cries of Jesus for lost people living in the cities. Ellen White wrote: “Our world is a vast lazar house, a scene of misery that we dare not allow even our thoughts to dwell upon. Did we realize it as it is, the burden would be too terrible. Yet God feels it all” (Education, p. 264). And the Old Testament prophet wrote: “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isa. 63:9).
Jesus experiences the pain of this world’s sin in ways we can never imagine. Lost people are the object of His love. He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The one thing that matters to Him more than anything is people saved in His kingdom eternally.
If we have little interest in reaching lost people, are we really following the One who came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10)? If the burden of His heart is not the burden of our hearts, are we fully surrendered to Him? If we are complacent about sharing His love with lost people, can we really claim we are His disciples?
The call of the cities is a call to passionate prayer. It is a call to rally tens of thousands of Adventists to set aside significant time each week to pray for this world’s population centers by name. It is a call to members living in the cities to compassionately witness to their friends and neighbors. It is a call to young people to dedicate a year of their lives to mission in the cities. It is an appeal to church leaders on all levels to plan comprehensive definitive strategies to reach the cities of their territories with the three angels’ messages. It is an urgent appeal to re- allocate our financial resources. Ministry in the cities is not inexpensive, but it is absolutely imperative if the church is going to make an impact on the cities. This urgent appeal to city mission is an appeal to the self-sacrificing ministry of Jesus.
In this crisis hour, when we are living on the knife-edge of eternity, the status quo will not do. Whatever success the church has had in the past in reaching people in the cities is not sufficient for today. This is a time for aggressive action. This is a time for creative thinking. This is a time for a commitment to action. No halfhearted efforts will reach the cities in this final hour. God calls for our best efforts and all our commitment. In the light of His incredible love and the immense sacrifice He made for us, can we do any less?
Mark A. Finley is an assistant to the General Conference president.