We could fill this page with the names and titles that the Bible gives for Jesus – from the Old Testament through Revelation. And each of us would have names or titles that spoke most closely to our hearts. Maybe for you it would be the Prince of Peace or the Good Shepherd or the Alpha and Omega. (In fact, please feel free to share your favorite titles in the comment section.) These preferences probably change depending on the time and circumstances of our lives.
At this time in my life, the title of Jesus that I most resonate with is one that apparently was used in a derogatory manner by his enemies: “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Matthew 11:19) On one level that speaks to me because I am a sinner and I need a friend like Jesus. On another level, that is what I want to be. I want to have the same kind of heart that Jesus did for those far from God and whose lives aren’t what God intended for them. I want our ministry to be one that is known as a place that is “sinner friendly” – where those not walking with God can feel loved and that they are in a place that will help them move into a relationship with God.
One of the amazing things from the biographies of Jesus is that those who were most attracted to Jesus – and to whom he seemed to be most attracted – were the ones far from God. The rough crowd of sinners loved being around Jesus and he really seemed to enjoy being around them. He wasn’t like those with a reputation as religious people, who went to great lengths to emphasis their separation and moral superiority. Jesus lived out a kind of holiness (what the authors of The Tangible Kingdom call a “winsome holiness”) that was attractive to those around him. Jesus was holy – all the time and in every way. He was sinless, but his wasn’t a holiness that was just based on the “don’ts” that we often focus on. It was a holiness that exuded a life and values – the fruit of the Spirit – that attracted people to him. Of course, Jesus didn’t just leave people where they were. His most common message was one of repentance.
Those who “knew” God best – who knew their Scriptures and said their prayers and gave their tithes – were the ones who had the hardest time with Jesus. They were the ones who eventually arranged for his death.
Somehow, we have done a good job of turning that whole paradigm upside down. For the most part, we practice a Christianity with which religious folks are real comfortable and of which those far from God want no part. We live out a holiness that is more about separating ourselves from the world and those in it than it is about incarnationally living out the character of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. And, I suspect, that if Jesus became a part of one of our ministries and started to live out the life he lived in Scripture many among us would have a hard time with him.
I could keep writing, but I better stop before you do. Here are some questions for you to think about:
Are you a friend of sinners? Do you have meaningful relationships with those whose lives aren’t connected with God? Do you find your heart going out to them or do you feel yourself being judgmental toward them? Does your life look more like Jesus’ or the life of a Pharisee?
Is your church or ministry a place where those whose lives aren’t connected with God feel cared for? Is it a place where they can safely explore the person of Jesus and their relationship with Him?
I spoke on this topic yesterday morning and the podcast should be available online soon at www.christoncampus.org.
Finally, I had decided to write this yesterday. This morning, Alan and Debra Hirsch posted an article on the same topic. Of course, they develop it better and in more detail than I have. Be sure and read it, as well.