Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Jesus, (offensive) Friend of Sinners


Jesus “…came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13). Jesus also said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Luke 5:32).

From Sunday to Sunday, in true Christian pulpits all over the globe, that message is going out. Christ does not save us from physical pain and anguish so much as he alleviates our greatest need – he propitiates God’s wrath against our sin. He saves sinners! He did not suffer on the cross to create a social club that comes together on the weekends. He did not rise from the dead to take care of your personal concerns (though he cares about those) so much as he came to call sinners to himself. “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus breaches the chasm between God and his people, filling perfectly the greatest divide in human history. He bids you come to him, weary with anguish and guilt over the sins you have committed in this life. He promises rest for your soul if you will only come.

The point of Jesus’ ministry was this: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21, emphasis mine).

The picture of Jesus that arises out of the scriptures is a rather offensive one – at least to sinners. For Jesus to be a savior implies something from which we need to be saved. And the mission of Jesus’ earthly life tells us from what we must be saved – God’s wrath against our sin, to wipe away the debt we owed. We are the guilty.

Jesus did not come to this earth to be an “on the fringe” social revolutionary who overturned the tables of religious people. He did not come to right the social ills of his day. Jesus did not come to be an earthly King. Many Christians want Jesus not as their Lord and King but as a revolutionary to fix the world’s (and their personal) problems now. The emergent church has emphasized fixing social problems, fixing the “hell on earth,” at the expense of preaching the gospel of repentance to needy sinners on the path to everlasting hell.

Jesus came to save his people from their sins. In so doing, he pricks our consciences, and points out our sins, so that we who are his people might come to him. He will save his people from their sin by the washing of regeneration by the Spirit through his blood, and this involves the painful realization of the guilt we have before a holy and just God.

If Jesus was only a social revolutionary, why believe in him rather than Ghandi? If one desires only to alleviate social ills, the offensive preaching of the gospel will not help you nearly as much as the wisdom of the world. So why not believe in any other example of moral behavior we find from century upon century of human history?

The truth of the matter is what the Bible presents. We did not need another moral example! We needed a perfect satisfaction for the guilty debt we owed to God. If there was no satisfaction, then there is no forgiveness of sins. If there is no forgiveness of sins, then there is no hope for the believer.

Christ had to be the perfect savior, that is, truly God and truly man. He had to be truly man for God would only require that the same flesh which had bent itself in rebellion to him would pay the penalty for that rebellion. He must be truly God, for only God could bear the brunt of the wrath owed to all human kind.

We know that Jesus Christ was human:

Hebrews 2:17-18
“Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Hebrews 4:15
 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

Christ was beset with weaknesses. He expressed human emotions, such as deep sadness (John 11:35), and felt weary (John 4:6), hungry (Matthew 4:2), and thirsty (John 4:7). Thomas really felt the holes in Jesus’ punctured hands (John 20:27-28).

We know that Christ was also God:
Hebrews 1:3
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”

Hebrews 1:8
“But of the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.”

Colossians 1:15-17
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Jesus had to be (and was) a God-man.

The message of the gospel is offensive because it calls people to repentance. Repentance involves two things primarily: the first, a deep sorrow over your sin for offending a holy God (confession), and the second, a pursuit of turning away from those sins through the power of the Spirit. Tullian Tchividjian tweeted recently: “The problem in the church today is not cheap grace but cheap law--the idea that God accepts anything short of Jesus' perfect righteousness.” The fact of the matter is, if God did accept anything short of Jesus’ perfect righteousness in our lives, then he would no longer be God, for he would no longer be just and holy! If we do not have faith in Jesus’, but continue in our sins and unrepentance, then we will be judged. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). We must stop believing that God will accept us based on the fact that we've tried our best, or have succeeded at keeping the law, or done enough good to warrant favor. He only accepts us on the basis of Christ’s work! 

It is a popular idea today (especially among the youth) to believe that Jesus only ever called the Pharisees, the "religious people", to account; he hung out with sinners and chose their company because at least they weren't hypocrites like the Pharisees! 

Jesus may have eaten with sinners, but this does not mean he did not call them to repentance! The “love and acceptance” gospel so prevalent in our country is nowhere in the Scriptures. Jesus called both the Pharisees from their hypocrisy, and the sinner from their sins. I can think specifically of two instances where Jesus did not merely “hang” with sinners, but called them to repentance. 

The first is when Jesus met a woman at Samaria in John chapter 4:
"Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

Jesus asked her purposefully where her husband was so he could point out her sinful lifestyle and proclaim to her that he was the Messiah. But she didn’t want to talk about it: “I have no husband.” And from there Jesus tells her all that she had ever done. He did not accept this woman’s lifestyle. He crisply pointed it out, and proclaimed to her that he was the Messiah. Only he could give the water which, if she drank, would sustain her for life so she'd never have to drink again.

The second is the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. Jesus told Zacchaeus that he was coming to his house. It is here that Jesus’ mere presence prompts the tax collector to true repentance. Jesus says in response to Zacchaeus' heart change: “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (verse 9). Salvation always comes with a conviction of sin.

Lest we think that Jesus was the only one to do this, Peter also, when he stood up after the Spirit came down at Pentecost (Acts 2) and preached to the people, told them directly that they had killed the Son of God. They were cut to the heart because he preached to them what they had done in sinning against God. And this is what happened:

Acts 2:37-38
"Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

And do you know how many souls were saved that day? 3,000!

Paul also uses the conviction of sin in his epistles as a lead in for the good news, specifically in Romans. Romans begins with humanity’s overwhelming guilt under the law of God, and then turns to the gospel with the words, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…” (Romans 3:21). 

Everything flows from a realization of sin and guilt. If we don’t understand our sin first, we’ll never understand how entirely beautiful the cross of Jesus is! Let me say it once more: Jesus did not go to the cross to be an example. He went to the cross to bear God’s wrath for his people. Only insofar as people understand that will they be cut to the heart. If we don’t preach the way God wants us to, can we ever expect people to become Christians? 

I wish more ministers were direct in bringing us the true Word of God instead of beating around the bush. I want a minister who doesn’t mince words, but tells it to me straight. Like Paul. Like Peter. Like Jesus.

The message of Christianity is blunt. It is offensive (to the flesh). But accepting the message is the only way Jesus can be your friend.

To the sinner, it is the best news in the world.


For a further reading, see my blog post on Total Depravity.

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