The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children. (Jesus, speaking in Luke 7:34-35, ESV)
This past Sunday, I concluded the sermon (Luke 7:18-23) arguing that our contemporary situation is similar to that of John the Baptizer and his contemporaries. Namely, we live in the exciting age of waiting for the coming of our Messiah and King! It's just that we are waiting for his second coming.
Which begs the question, "What will you do while you wait?"
I think Jesus is pretty clear on that one. We must be like John the Baptizer: proclaiming the coming of the Messiah, sharing his message, and calling people to repentance. It is the great commission and command that he has given to us.
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV)
In the TableTalk that followed the service (every fourth Sunday, from Noon-1:30pm, with free pizza provided), over 150 people shared in a very lively discussion on following and obeying Jesus by making more and maturing disciples of Jesus Christ (our purpose statement at Calvary).
It was so encouraging to wrestle together with the reality that, for a 130+ year-old church, it is far easier to operate in the realm of maturing those who already know Jesus, at the expense of our mandate to see more people come into a saving knowledge of Jesus.
Don't get me wrong - both have to happen. They are both part of the great commission and command (see above). It's just that I don't see many of us in danger of spending too much time on making more disciples.
So what is the answer? How do we change? Well, I think we need to repent, believe, and follow.
We need to repent of our sin of disobedience to our King. He has issued a straightforward, understandable command: Go and make disciples for me. The only way to understand our lack of doing this is to see it for what it is - active disobedience. But the beauty of the very Gospel we must proclaim is that this sin, like every other sin, was paid for at the cross. So repent, and be forgiven.
Next, we need to believe. Believe that Jesus has given us everything we need in his message and in his Spirit to do the work that he has called us to do. He isn't the kind of God who gives commands without providing the ability to follow those commands.
One of the most common obstacles to sharing the Gospel with others is fear. Fear that we won't know what to say. Fear that there will be a question we can't answer. Fear of what people will think of us. And one of my favorite promises from Jesus about this is found in a discussion he is having with his followers:
...do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Mt. 10:19-20, ESV)
So believe. Believe that God will supply what you need. And remember, it is just your story. All you need do is share the story of how Jesus saved you, share with them your knowledge, relationship, and experience of Jesus Christ.
And finally, follow Jesus. As we continue on in the story of Luke this week, we will listen as Jesus explains and defends the ministry of John the Baptizer. In that explanation, Jesus reveals something important about himself: in the early stages of his ministry, he is already known for being a friend of sinners. What a reputation!
"What is my reputation? Am I more known for hanging out with 'church people' who fancy themselves quite familiar with God, or for hanging out with sinners who don't know the first thing about grace, the Gospel, and Jesus?
Would people think of me as a friend of sinners?"
Maybe the reason we would not be guilty of such a tag is that we've lost sight of the example of our Savior and King. Maybe the reason we don't spend more of our time with sinners (instead of with the saints) is because we've forgotten what it is like to be in their place. That someone, at some point in our story, took the time to reach out to us with the message of Jesus, pulling us from darkness into light. At one point, we were all lost, and had a really big problem...
None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18, ESV)
Read those words one more time.
Think about the people Paul is describing. Who in the world would want to hang out with people like this? People that act like this and talk like this? Who would expose themselves to that kind of behavior?
Jesus would. He was described as a friend of such people. He was such a friend of people like that, he died for them.
One final thought here. I realize that many of us could actually answer the question, "Are you a friend of sinners?" in the affirmative. Your life is filled with people who don't know Jesus - people you live near, people you work with, people you participate in a hobby with. They are folks you would call your friends. But let me be explicit about what is assumed in the question: are you clearly, regularly sharing the Gospel with them? For what kind of friend would you be if you weren't?
So let me ask it more clearly:
Are you a Gospel-sharing friend of sinners?
I look forward to exploring this with you some more this coming Sunday, and talking about a plan over the coming year for being like Jesus in this area of our lives.
See you then.