Tuesday, February 3, 2009

This Week's Sermon: To All Creation

Acts 21:17-22:30.
Paul runs into some trouble in the temple with a crowd of his Jewish brothers. They beat him, tried to kill him and were only intercepted when the Roman soldiers stepped in to break it up. Even then, they continued to physically assault him so severely that at one point the soldiers had to pick him up and carry him back to the barracks. We have seen Paul assaulted before, but this time it was for a different reason. The issue the crowd had with him was not that he believed in Jesus, but that he preached the gospel to the gentiles.

The Jews of the time hated the gentiles. In their minds they didn’t deserve God’s mercy, they weren’t worthy of God’s love. They were unclean, they were sinners, they were the scum of the earth. And Paul had the audacity to preach that God’s chosen Messiah was not only for the Jewish people, but for everyone. This teaching is a scriptural concept, though. The prophets say it over and over: from God’s original promise to Abraham that all nations would be blessed through his seed, to Isaiah’s declaration that there would come “A light to the gentiles.” But it didn’t matter what the prophets wrote, the people had it set in their mind that as God’s chosen people, they were the only people that mattered to God.

Good Jews did not associate with gentiles, they didn't eat with them and sometimes didn't even do business with them. Who are today’s gentiles? I don't mean literally, but figuratively, who are the people that we as Christians have come to regard as "outside of God's favor?" The homosexuals, the terrorists, the abortion doctors, Hollywood movie professionals, street walkers, liberals—these are the people that mainstream Christian culture has, at times, deemed un-savable. Sometimes these are the very people we don’t want to be saved, we have come to despise them so much.

Sometimes as Christians, we get it in our mind that as God’s chosen people, we are the only people that matter to God. We get that so ingrained deep in our hearts that we forget that Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” If there is a person sitting next to you, they are God’s creation. If there is a person that you pass on the street, they are God’s creation. If there is a person who lives in your neighborhood, they are God’s creation.

All of these people, no matter who they are, no matter how big of a sinner, no matter if they are fat or thin, gay or straight, liberal or conservative, clean or dirty, terrorist or stay-at-home mom, these people are the ones to whom Jesus has commanded us to preach the gospel. We don’t get a choice. We don’t get to pick and choose who we want in the Kingdom, Jesus said everybody is invited to his party. And we have to remember it is his party. He gets to set the guest list, and everyone gets a chance to RSVP. Jesus said, "it is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick." And Jesus doesn’t believe in triage. He is calling us to reach out to even the sickest sinner with the good news.

In this scripture, Paul was harassed and thrown to the authorities by who? The “sinners?” No, but by the religious people. When he gave them his testimony, they listened until he told them that God was interested in saving even the Gentiles. Then, they not only harassed him, they said, “KILL HIM!” "Rid the earth of him!" Is that how we would treat someone who joined our fellowship who felt a burden to preach grace to the homosexual? Is that how we would respond to someone coming to our church who was witnessing about God’s love to the abortion doctor?

"Oh, no, of course not, we would never do that."

But how would we respond if God told us to go to the streetwalker and tell her that God loved her? What would we do if we had our eyes opened to the pain and self-hatred of those who work in the abortion trade? What if God called you to go and share the gospel with sex offenders in the prison? Would we be obedient to go? Or would we decide that these people aren’t worth saving?

I can hear the responses of some heart out there, “But they are living their lives in open rebellion to God’s commands.” That is true. But guess what, if we aren’t telling them about Jesus, so are we. If we aren’t preaching the gospel to all creation, we are living our lives in open rebellion to the commands of Christ, and we know better. At least many of "those people" are living in ignorance. Our sin of omission is in spite of the revelation we hold in our hands.

If we find ourselves at that place this morning, we need to repent. We need to fall on our faces before our King and leave our bitterness and hatred of all “those people” at his feet. We need to repent of our rebellion, our pride, and self-righteousness; because what we are saying when we refuse to invite someone to Jesus’ party is that their sin is worse than ours, that we are better than they are and deserve God’s grace.

"Jesus couldn’t possibly forgive that sin." But of course he has. When Jesus died on the cross, he didn’t just die for liars and petty sinners, he died for everyone. We say that we believe that, but do our actions show it? Jesus died on that cross for Hitler, for Jeffrey Dahmer, for BTK, for Mr. Phelps, for Dr. Tiller. And just in case you were wondering, he died for Bush, McCain, and Obama. And we need to let people know, so that their lives can be changed, so that they can become new creations in Christ.

Tell people about Jesus. Tell everyone about Jesus, even if they don’t fit your idea of who makes the cut. Witness about God's love to the biggest sinner you can find. Often they are the ones who will respond the best, because no one has ever told them that they can be redeemed. Preach the gospel whenever you get a chance, even if other Christians string you up by your toes. Your loyalty is to Christ first. Who cares what other people think.

Follow Christ, obey his commands, let your mission be his Great Commission. Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” Are you showing yourself to be his friend?

No comments: