I’ve been reading through the Gospel of Luke and praying that God would open my eyes to see the things that I needed to see at this point in life. It would be totally impossible for me to share everything that stands out in this amazing story of Jesus life on this earth and his death for us. But there is something that stands out from the whole body of the book. It is obvious that Jesus and the religious leaders of the time saw almost everything differently. But what was it that caused such a deep rift between him and the people who were obviously real students of the Old Testament Scriptures and were deeply concerned about being God’s people on this earth? You can’t really doubt the sincerity of the religious leaders. They were scrupulously endeavoring to do everything just right as they understood the Old Law. Jesus came to fulfill the very law they were trying to follow. He declared that he didn’t come to destroy that law but to fulfill it and that the very smallest parts of the law wouldn’t pass until it was all fulfilled. So what was the difference?
I believe that the biggest difference was that they had grown to believe that faith and service to God was all about them and not about those who were lost and without God in the world. They were sold on the notion that they should keep themselves separated from the outsiders, the sinners, the people who had turned from God or had never learned of him. Instead of thinking of themselves as on a mission to save the lost they saw the need of building a wall around their faith so that it couldn’t be contaminated by the world or even the other religious folk who didn’t see things they way they did. Just as many want in the United States to build a wall across our borders to keep people out that want to enter illegally, religious people can start thinking that We are the chosen ones and we have the truth of God on all matters, so we need to build a spiritual wall around our people and our faith so that they won’t be contaminated by those who don’t agree with us on everything. Jesus would say that “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine just persons who need no repentance.” They sincerely believed that there was joy in heaven over one sinner that was obliterated.
Jesus was the friend of tax collectors and sinners. He took into his circle of friends Mary Magdalene out of whom he had cast seven demons. He took the risk of talking intently with a Samaritan woman out by the well, knowing she had lived a horribly immoral life. He led this woman to faith that would lead to a Samaritan village being reached for him. He defended the woman caught in adultery and offered her hope with the challenge to go and sin no more. He would even reach out to a fellow victim of the cross to tell the guilty thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” He took Matthew the tax collector into the chosen group of apostles to send out to reach the world. He went home with Zacchaeus the tax collector hated by his peers. There really seemed to be no place or no one that Jesus wouldn’t reach out to in order to bring them to salvation. His own analysis of his ministry was “I didn’t come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Now here’s the point of this discussion. When we think of the worship of any church and how it is conducted each week, are we intent on pleasing the people who are already saved or are we trying our very best to build our worship in a way that lost sinners can come and feel the love and grace of God as well as his people? Put another way, as you think of the worship services at church are we more like the religious leaders trying to protect the saved from the outside or like Jesus trying to bring in those who need help and wish to change? Please understand, I’m not talking about changing things that God tells us to do in our worship to him. I’m talking about our own applications of such so that the people who are already among the saved will be happy and not go to some other church around us? If you look through the pages of history you will learn that countries that start building walls to keep others out will eventually use the same walls to keep their people in. In church the very thing that was used for years to bring people in can become the tool to keep those in from leaving instead of making any changes that would lead to bringing more lost ones in.
When Paul discussed the church gatherings in I Corinthians 14 it is amazing how much he says about making certain that what goes on is clear and understandable for the untaught or unlearned that may be among you. Look at these verses, “If, therefore the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” (I Corinthians 14:23-25) When we consider our worship time one of the chief considerations should be, “How will this affect the outsider or unbeliever that is among us?” I’m sure some would respond, “Leon we haven’t had an outsider or unbeliever in our worship services in years.” My answer would be, “No, and until you start thinking and praying about what you can do in worship times that will attract, welcome and touch the heart of the outsider or unbeliever you never will have any there.” Think about the songs we sing and even how we sing them. Are they ones that an outsider would appreciate or understand and be moved by or are we singing songs that our own folks like and will keep them happy? When we preach, teach or even read Scripture is it done in a way that the outsider or unbeliever can understand and be touched by what is said or do we use so much religious jargon and insider language that we make the outsider feel like they have been thrown into the pit with a foreign tribe where they could never be accepted?
Jesus declared, “I’ve come to seek and save that which is lost.” Too often we are saying by our actions, “We are here to protect and satisfy the saved.” Personally, I want to be like Jesus, not the Pharisees.