Half the Distance

Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.
~ Psalm 119:136

A modern fable and the interpretation thereof

Theoretical physicist, Grayson Eccles, BS, MS, PhD, solely occupied a table for two at his favorite restaurant. At the late hour he preferred, the dining room was quiet and sparsely populated. He cut a portion from his filet mignon and winced at the clatter of plates and knives and forks, which interrupted his reverie. The diner opposite Eccles had a white-knuckle grip on the circular table in front of him with both hands. Eccles was mentally noting the diner’s pallor when commotion set to.

“We need a doctor!” Lots of people were rushing about and talking at once, but that cry at least was clear. If Eccles had not understood it, it was repeated sufficiently so he could make it out. “Hey!” Eccles turned his head as his waiter nearly perched on his left shoulder. “Aren’t you a doctor?” Eccles sighed. “I am not that kind of doctor.” The waiter moved closer, though Eccles didn’t think that was possible and concluded the waiter must be attempting to resolve the dichotomy paradox.

“I think this guy’s choking! Don’t you know the Heimlich?” Eccles thought about reaching for the glass of wine on his table, but rather drummed his fingers. “Sir, I am in the unbroken line of intellectual investigators traced back to the Copernican Revolution. If you wish to know about Descartes, Newton, Lagrange, or Einstein, I will happily oblige. If you’re trying to work out an understanding of thermodynamics, general or special relativity, or quantum mechanics, you could not apply to a better man for assistance. While Dr. Henry Heimlich was a commendable researcher and accomplished thoracic surgeon, I am not studied in his maneuver.”

A deathly still descended on the room. The waiter looked up at the victim, no longer struggling. EMTs poured through the doors and knew they were too late. They set about their solemn work. Eccles looked at the remains of his steak with pursed lips. He finished off his wine and sat the glass down. He glanced at his bill, mentally calculated 18%, laid down his cash, and left to go home. The waiter, as he later recounted the events of the evening, said Eccles went through door, putting on his hat, and muttering something about “half the distance.”

What meaneth this?

It is natural to be disgusted or angry with the Eccles character. How could he sit nearby, eating and drinking, while a man choked to death? How could he return home in his own cloud of abstract thought without being affected by what had just happened? It’s unthinkable, but do we well to be angry? In Eccles’ defense, he was a brilliant physicist. He was a man engaged daily in the great work of life. He had no medical training—not even a simple class in CPR. Staying consistent with the story, had he stood up and rushed over to the man, he would not have been able to save his life.

You recognize I have a point here. We can hardly fault the man for not saving someone’s life when it was not possible for him to do so. But…But, though he was not able to save the man had he tried, his indifference to the man’s suffering and death are inexcusable. Aside from the interruption from the waiter, his evening went on much the same it would have if the man had not choked. This is reprehensible. How could he simply not care?

Thou art the man

How can so many Christians be coldly indifferent to the condition of their lost family, friends, and neighbors? How can they go on about life while the lost are dying around them? Many Christians are scrupulous concerning abstract points of theology and distinctive doctrinal formulations, but are unmoved by the lost around them. We have all heard the excuses for indifference.

“I can’t save anybody. God does the saving.”
“No use pleading with sinners to come to Christ.”
“God’s going to save his elect regardless of what I do or don’t do.”
“Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid or mine.”
“You will be eaten by cannibals!”

It is absolutely true that we cannot save anyone else. We cannot even save ourselves. However, to disobey the commands to evangelize and to be without compassion for the lost is to not follow or be like Jesus. Jesus was moved with compassion for the lost and wept over the lost (Mark 1:41; 6:34; Luke 7:12-13; 19:41-42). Paul was similarly moved concerning his lost kinsman (Romans 9:1-3; 10:1). Paul plead with sinners to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20). Even in the Old Testament we find a compassionate call to the lost (Isaiah 55:1-7; 65:2; Jeremiah 31:18-20). God has revealed himself as a God of wrath but also of mercy. Because he is so great in mercy, sinners are bid to come to him (Psalm 51:1; 130:7; 1 Timothy 1:15-16).

Do not blame doctrine for indifference. We could not produce a sounder theologian than Paul, or even Jesus himself, yet they both were moved with compassion toward the lost. Brother pastors and preachers, have we misplaced the emphases in our preaching such that we have lost Gospel-centeredness, and Christ-centeredness, producing a people with calloused indifference toward the lost and dying world? If so, we are actually leading people away from following Jesus and becoming more like Christ. Brothers, we must repent of such disobedience and misleading of God’s sheep and return to knowing nothing but Christ crucified and the preaching that manifests Christ in the sight of all (1 Corinthians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6).

May God break our hearts and loose our tears over those who go on in unbelief. Let us never sit coolly by, eating and drinking, while thinking abstractly with people dying around us. And as far as our moral fable is concerned, we have only covered half the distance.

John 11:35

“Jesus wept.”
~ John 11:35

We have before us the shortest verse in the entire Bible. It may be empty of words but it is full of matter. In the eleventh chapter is the account of the raising of Lazarus. His sisters, Mary and Martha, had sent word to Jesus saying, “Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.” After He received this message he tarried where He was for two days before setting out for Bethany.

By the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus “had lain in the grave four days already.” As He approached Bethany, Martha met him first and later Mary met him. They were weeping and grieving over the loss of their brother. The Jews that followed Mary were also weeping audibly. Jesus saw all this mourning, the Bible says “He groaned in the spirit and was troubled,” and He asked, “Where have ye laid him?” When He was about to come to the grave of Lazarus, “Jesus wept.” As we stand in awe and behold the God-Man weeping, I shall endeavor to answer some questions, at least to provide us with comfort and encouragement.

First, Why did Jesus weep? He had testified, “This sickness is not unto death.” Could He have felt sorrow for Lazarus? He knew Lazarus’ state. Lazarus had escaped the sin and sorrow of the world. If Christ did weep at all for Lazarus, it would have been in sorrow that he was going to return to this sin-cursed world and leave a perfect rest.

Jesus was brought into sympathy with Mary, Martha, and the other Jews that were mourning. We see here His humanity manifested. He took up the robe of flesh and traversed the whole human experience. The scriptures declare He “was in all points tempted like as we are” (Hebrews 4:15). He knew exhaustion, hunger, thirst, pain, sorrow, grief, and the like. The prophet of old said He would be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He is not a cold stony god of men’s imaginations. He is the living God and He is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15). We find here a great compassion. It is a cold heart indeed that is not moved at the sight of a grieving family bidding farewell to their departed loved one. Jesus Christ was moved with compassion and wept with those that wept.

Second, What can we learn from this instance? We certainly know that we should have compassion, mourning with those that mourn and seeking to comfort them and be a blessing to them. Paul instructed the Romans to “condescend to men of low estate” (Romans 12:16). He also wrote, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). We are our brother’s keeper and we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. From example as well as precept, Jesus teaches us to have compassion. We also have a golden key to prayer supplied in this verse.

Jesus said, “Follow me.” He also said, “Come ye after me,” and “learn of me.” The child of God is to be a student of the life of Christ. We ought always to be tracing out His steps, seeking to walk there ourselves. If Christ has suffered and been tempted like we, then we find matter for our petitions. Are you sorrowing? Have you been visited by death and lost that one who was close? You should find encouragement here to pray. Go to Christ, plead His own experience and apply for sufficient grace. If you are weeping, go to Him that wept. If you are in pain, go to Him that suffered pain. Whatever your plight, He knows your experience and He will take care of you. It is precisely these instances that appeal to us making Jesus so approachable and accessible.

We find here a compassionate Savior. We find here a friend and a loving God. How much did Christ love His people? How much did He identify with them? “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). The love of Christ “passeth knowledge.” But finding one so in touch with your weakness urges you to be “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

“Hallelujah, what a Savior!”