Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Friend of Sinners

               I'm planning to start this Sunday's sermon with a rather harsh story, but at least this week, no horses will die (you have to have heard last week’s sermon to get that reference…).   I won't tell you the story yet, but I will tell you the point of it: All around us people are literally dying.  They may not know it, but they are lost, separated from God and the joy and purpose and love He wants them to experience; and worst of all, they are in real danger of spending eternity that way.  God sent Jesus into the world to make a way for the spiritually dead to experience life—new life, abundant life, and eternal life.  Our primary purpose as followers of Jesus is to be His Body on Earth, to do what He would be doing if He were here in the flesh...the same thing He did when He WAS here in the flesh: Setting people free.  Raising the dead.  Changing lives forever.  2 Corinthians 2.14 says Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through Him spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.  Here is what I think that means: If we are living for Christ, devoted to Him, being conformed to His character, we won’t need any kind of fancy evangelistic program.  All we need to do is live out our faith naturally, and the Lord will use us to draw people to life, just like the smell fresh-baked cookies draws a hungry kid into the kitchen.  But here’s the problem: If you talk to irreligious people today—and by the way, they represent the fastest-growing religious group in our nation—you will find that, overwhelmingly, they don’t see Christians as the inviting smell of chocolate chip cookies.  They see us as a mean old lady smacking their hand with a spatula. 
            The irony of course is that the irreligious people of Jesus’ day saw Him in the exact opposite way.  They flocked to Him, couldn’t get enough of Him.  Jesus’ enemies called Him “A friend of sinners.”  They meant it as an insult, the way people in this country years ago would have called someone a Communist or a Nazi sympathizer.  But to Jesus, that was a compliment.  That is exactly what He set out to be.  “Sinners” in Jesus’ day were anyone who was considered far from God.  Jesus wanted to be their friend, because He was God in human flesh, and God’s deepest desire is to take people who are far from Him and bring them home, so that they can have life again.  For many years, most irreligious people in this part of the world knew that if they ever got fed up living life on their own terms, they could come to church and find a new way to live.  They could get right with God.  Today, people don’t seem to feel that way anymore.  It’s not for me to determine how or why that change occurred in our culture.  What I want to do this Sunday is take a look at one story that illustrates why Jesus was known as a friend of sinners, in Mark 2:13-17.  Then I want us to talk about two things we must do if we want our church to be a friend of sinners as well.

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