What Does It Take?
What does it take to be a follower of Jesus? For many, a long list of moral reformation immediately pops into mind. Stop drinking. Stop smoking. Stop cussing. Stop looking at porn. Stop sleeping around with people you aren't married to. Stop being attracted to someone of the same gender. Stop voting for liberal democrats. Stop voting for conservative parties. Stop hanging out with all your friends because they'll only bring you down. Stop lying. Stop stealing. Stop...you get the picture.
Here is the scandal of the love of Jesus. None of those things are required to be one of his followers.
In our text this weekend, Mark 2:13-17, Jesus continues his ministry along the Sea of Galilee. In the midst of his teaching, he calls Levi, the tax collector. Now, this might not sound like a big deal to us, but in Jesus' day it was. Tax collectors were considered to be among the worst kind of sinners. They were seen as traitors, and their treason was ultimately seen as opposing God. They were lumped in among those who were murderers and thieves, and they were seen as more unclean than a leper, because a leper had no choice in the matter of his uncleanness. A tax collector did.
But these are the kinds of people Jesus was friends with. In Matthew 11:19, Jesus says, "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'" What's startling is that his friendship with them included no agenda. No strings attached. In other words, Jesus didn't require anyone to "clean up their act" before they could hangout with him! Instead, Jesus just hung out with people as they were. The result was that Jesus was constantly surrounded by those who were the most unclean and rejected.
Jesus presented a real challenge to the religious separatist culture of his day, and he continues to do the same to ours. You take a look at the church (as people, not a building) and seldom do you think of the unloved being loved. The popular opinion is that the church is far more hostile than loving.
But if Jesus were among us today, he would still hang out with and call to himself the same people he did then. We would no doubt see him with a house full of sinners, functioning as the host to: alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, porn-stars, homosexuals, adulterers, fornicators, corrupt lawyers and politicians, extortioners, terrorists (even of the ISIS sort), rapists, child-molesters, thieves, and so on.
And the chances are, many of us do the same thing the religious people of his day did: look down our noses at him and those he kept company with wondering, "Why is he hanging out with those people." Not realizing that our hearts might just be more wicked, sick and desperate for salvation than theirs.
This text is challenging. As I've prayed and prepared this week, my heart is challenged. I don't love people the same way Jesus did. Truth be told, I'm afraid to. I'm afraid of what might happen if I invite these "worst of all sinners" into my home or the gathering of my church. I like my comfort. I like my safety. I like what is familiar to me and everyone else around me. I like to know that people appear "right" before I let them get too close to Jesus. I think I have the control.
But then I'm reminded of the gospel. Jesus came into this world to pursue sinners! I am among those. In coming, he was met with hostility so intense that he was brutally killed by being hung on a cross. The question that needs to be asked is, "Who put him there?" It wasn't the "bad company" he was always with. No. It was the religious people. The one's who had it all together. The one's who thought themselves righteous. Their religion was far more hostile to the scandalous love of Jesus than any murderer ever was, and their hearts were farther away too.
You see, the beauty of the scandalous love of Jesus is that he invites us to follow him while we're sinners. He calls us to himself, as we are, in the midst of our disgusting, unclean, un-put-together lives. In so doing, he confronts the heart of the religious and the sinner. The religious did not recognize their uncleanness before God the sinner does. He draws us close so that we would know him and be near him. And then in experiencing his love so amazing, we can't help but want to be more like this Jesus who was crucified for us.
We have much to talk about this weekend, church. I'm inviting you to pray along with me, that our hearts would be challenged to love in the same way that Jesus has loved us.
Christ is All!