Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near Jesus to listen to Him. And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to complain, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2 NASB)
In the verse above we see a conflict arising between the religious leaders and Jesus based on an unwholesome interpretation of the holy scriptures. Can we agree that we as Christians have the potential to do things in the name of God that are not from God and do not glorify God? Some of our religious ideas that miss the mark can seem innocuous while others are downright dangerous and destructive. I have seen it first-hand in my own life. We need to understand that the devil is called the father of lies for a reason and we have not been completely freed from the influence of sin so we can very well miss the mark. We as Christians have the potential to set up a religion in our lives that does not reflect the heart of Jesus. We hope to curb faulty scriptural interpretations through the witness of the Spirit in other well-grounded members in the church, accountability from the larger Body of Christ, and a healthy respect for the historic church’s witness. When the church is operating at her best though, she is not just a stop-gap against misunderstanding but a life-giving entity. Her primary function is to point people to Jesus, compelling people to consider His great love and spurring us on to live our lives for Him by His Spirit (Hebrews 10:24-25).
True Christian ministry flows from the love of Christ birthed in our hearts by God’s Spirit (Ephesians 3:14-19). In this knowledge of God’s love for us we receive our identity as children of God and our calling as disciples of Christ. The test of Christian ministry therefore is God's divine love expressed through us. Without love, all that we do is of know value to the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 13:1-8).
When my oldest son Joe was a toddler, as I would leave for the day, I would stop at the door saying to my wife and kids “bye, bye everybody, daddies going to work!” then drive to work. When the summer came, we bought my son a Little Tikes car for the walkway in front of our apartment. When I would come home my son would be pushing it along on the walkway with his feet saying “bye, bye Daddy, I’m going to work!” They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery and it certainly made me smile to see my 3-year-old son copying his dad. Children often copy their parents to express affection in a loving relationship which is why it is so touching to see. In the same way, in our loving relationship with Jesus, we look to imitate Him because that is what beloved children do and that is what disciples do (1 John 4:19).
Going back to the verse shared above, I always found Luke 15 to be so formative revealing Jesus' heart for broken sinners and challenging my own thoughts and ways as to whether they reflect the love of Christ. In this account Jesus is surrounded by notorious sinners and tax collectors. Did I forget to mention that these same people are hanging on every word coming out of Jesus’s mouth being refreshed by His presence and all that He says and does? The religious leaders have taken a stern and judgment stance closed off to what they are seeing unfold, criticizing Jesus and His ministry, questioning His choice to receive sinners and eat with them. Jesus answers their criticism with a series of parables which are among the most well-known stories in the Bible. Might I add that these stories still resonate in our culture by people who have never even cracked open a Bible or showed up to a church service. Jesus uncovers His heart for people by sharing the same message in three different stories (the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son). He shares the message from three different viewpoints to put an exclamation point on what He is saying emphasizing the importance and ensuring the message cannot be missed.
Now allow me to put you in the audience as Jesus is sharing these parables. He is saying to you that no matter what you have done and how bad of a mess you have made of your life that He desires you back and is willing to suffer loss and invest time, resources and energy to have you be with Him for all eternity in paradise. When someone receives Jesus’ invitation to come back to God into a loving relationship and receives His forgiveness All of heaven rejoices! He is also talking to you when you are sitting in the seat of judgment toward people who you may view as unworthy of forgiveness, grace and mercy, these are just the people who all of heaven is waiting to receive. We as children of God and followers of Christ do not want to forget our need for mercy committing the religious sins of self-righteousness, self-reliance, and callousness which can creep its way into those experiencing the blessing and protection of God. We should also remember that God’s mercy is boundless and even these sins can be forgiven! Jesus often needs to bring us self-sufficient Christians back into his will and ways to show love, mercy, and forgiveness once again and putting people in front of our ideas of right religious observance. He brings us back to sit at His feet again and then sends us out refreshed with His perspective to see the world through His eyes. Jesus sees people and wants them to receive all that He has for them especially those who have experienced the outcome of their own ways or the brokenness of the “best” the world has to offer. When we spend time with Jesus and meditate on His ways, He shines through us (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
The test of our Christian ministry is when we are so filled with His Spirit and His boundless love that Jesus shines through us toward lost and broken sinners. People weighed down by sin weary by all they see in this world are drawn to this. They will want to be in our presence and hear what we have to say about God. When we have been filled with an understanding of the love of Jesus we are generous with what we have, compassionate to what people need, and forgiving toward the faults of others because we know we have been forgiven much and this world is not our home.
When you are aligned with the heart of Christ you may be accused of being extravagant, wasteful, hanging out with the wrong crowd. You will likely conflict with people who are self-righteous moral reformers and religious zealots believing people need to get their act together, follow their set of rules based on their interpretation, and get with their program. This road can often be lonely as the people who come to appreciate you have no power or influence and those who can help will stay away not wanting to get involved in the mess. This is where we can join Christ in His suffering. Oh, how wonderful our Lord Jesus is to us who not only took on a criminal’s death but lived His life in love giving of himself in all ways. He had no place to lay his head and went to the darkest corners to snatch us out of the depths of our own personal hell that we created for ourselves.
Jesus' heart is to go after the One who is lost with love and bring them home. When our hearts are aligned with His, we desire to do the same. May the Lord put this same heart in us so we may have eyes to see those He wants to reach and may we be His hands and feet participating in His glorious mission to reach the lost and broken.