Life of Christ 127
Christ's life was marked by compassion and mercy. As such, He drew people in need of those characteristics to Him like moths to an open flame. They hungered for those things to be poured out on them, and consequently this meant that, at various times, there were a number of disreputable types around Him. Of course, this provided ammunition for the Pharisees' attacks on Him. After all, why in the world would the so-called Messiah hang around with such people?
Jesus' response to this attack is found in Luke 15, and is composed of three stories. The first story is of a shepherd with 100 sheep. If the shepherd loses one of them He goes after it until He finds it. The second story is of a woman with 10 pieces of silver. If she loses one of them she searches diligently until she finds it. The third story is the world famous one about the prodigal son. While still a young man, he demands his inheritance. Receiving it, he promptly runs away and wastes it on a party lifestyle. In extreme want he goes back home, and finds that his father welcomes him with open arms.
In these three stories Jesus is clearly trying to get across to the Pharisees that they ought to be receptive of sinners, indeed, that they ought to pursue sinners, and that they ought to rejoice when those sinners are found. These stories are familiar to us so today, instead of devoting space to explaining the story, I am going to take the space to emphasize three lessons from these stories.
First, a pursuit of religious purity that is not accompanied, at the same time, by a pursuit of sinners will eventually become pharisaical. The Pharisees were committed to a pursuit of religious purity. They were zealous about the most minor of things. However, there was in them no concern for the lost and dying world around them. There was in them no compassion for those outside the truth. And this fashioned their religion into a hard, cold, demanding, impatient, harsh system. No one could possibly measure up to their demands, and they did not see any problem with that.
Christians that are carnal, fleshly, and worldly, and who combine with that no desire to share Christ with the lost are in bad shape, but they are not necessarily dangerous to the health of a church or a religious movement. This is because such Christians do not greatly influence a church simply because they just do not care about church very much. On the other hand, Christians who are sincere, knowledgeable, and committed to following the Bible carefully, who combine those graces with a lack of compassion for and time spent going after sinners are incredibly dangerous. They inevitably turn into sour, harsh, controlling, unkind, uncharitable, unmerciful, critical people. No one else is ever as right or as good as them. No one else in the same spiritual class. No one else is as close to God as they are – in the legend that is their own mind.
May God deliver us from such people and such churches! Let us continue our passionate pursuit of religious purity. Let us continue our commitment to follow the Word of God painstakingly. But let us always be after sinners with the good news of Calvary and the empty tomb – or else we will become the Pharisees we so routinely disrespect.
Second, the reaction on our part when sinners come to Christ ought to be joy. The Pharisees were mad that the sinners around Christ wanted mercy. Edersheim, in his wonderful book on the life of Christ, literally quotes extant Talmudic writings of Jesus' contemporaries as saying, 'There is joy in heaven when those who provoke Him perish from the world.' To combat that He explicitly included the idea of joy in each of the three stories He told (Luke 15.5, 6, 9, 10, 32). There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repents.
Sometimes those sinners are poor and unclean and they do not smell very well, but they want the mercy of Christ. Sometimes those sinners are loud and aggressive and they do not behave very well, but they want the mercy of Christ. Sometimes those sinners, deeply scarred by sin, have mental and emotional baggage, but they want the mercy of Christ. They do not look like church people, dress like church people, sound like church people, or act like church people, but they want the mercy of Christ. We ought to be glad that they do.
Third, we are not to wait for them to come to us; we are to go after them. If I could pick one thing to get across to the majority of Christians I have known in my life it is that we must be after people with the Gospel. 'What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?' (Luke 15.4). We are to be hard at work taking the Gospel to sinners where they are.
How foolish would it be for a fellow to call off of work, pack his lunch and his gear, tow his boat to the lake, launch it, jump in, find a good spot, and then sit there and wait for the fish to jump into his boat. How foolish would it be for a telemarketer to drive to work, clock in, put his headphones on, adjust his script, and then sit there and wait for someone to call him. How foolish would it be for a fireman to tune the engine, polish the paint, coil the hoses, practice sliding down the pole, and then sit there and wait for someone to drag a burning home over to his firehouse. How foolish would it be for a Christian to go to church, study His Bible, pray for the sick, put his check in the offering plate, and then sit there and wait for the lost to show up and ask how to get saved.
Many a Christian of my experience will nod their head knowingly at this, and verbalize their agreement – right before they offer up the excuse for why they themselves cannot participate in such evangelism.
'I don't know how.' Then learn.
'I just don't have time. I'm sorry.' Then rearrange your priorities.
'I'm scared of what people will think of me.' Then appropriate the power of God.
'I don't want to offend people.' They are already headed to hell now. Where are you going to run them off to, hell number two?
'Building a church doesn't work this way anymore.' So? Who said that was the point?
'Witnessing just isn't my gift.' I agree; it is not a gift. It is a command.
'This is the pastor's (insert any other position here) job.' Nope. It is your job.
'People cannot get saved in one quick conversation. All that leads to is false conversions.' Tell that to the woman at the well and the thief on the cross.
'I have a different ministry.' Soul winning is not a ministry. It is a command.
'Well, I've seen sloppy soul winners in the past, and they just didn't do it right.' Then do it right.
The simple truth is that the entire point Jesus was trying to get across in Luke 15 is that we are supposed to be after sinners with the Gospel, and that we ought to be happy when they respond. If you cannot remember the last time you witnessed to someone then tell someone about Christ today.
After all, somebody told you.