Church On The Edge
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Church On The Edge

The Way of Jesus

The contrast between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day could not have been greater. From the disciples they chose to teach, to their interactions — or lack of interactions — with known sinners, women, lepers, and other outcasts and misfits. Even their teaching styles differed. The crowds were amazed at the teaching of Jesus. “He teaches with authority,” they said. The religious leaders, on the other hand, quoted the writings of other scholars, basing their authority on secondary sources.

But the most significant difference between Jesus and the religious leaders was in how they related to God. Jesus summed that difference up when he quoted the prophet Hosea — “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13)

It is a lot easier to perform religious duties than it is to love people, especially those people who are different or even antagonistic to us. This is the challenge of discipleship. It is the acid test of a pure heart and a faith anchored, not in religious performance, but in God’s transforming power in our lives, and the lives of others. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them,” (Luke 6:32, NIV)

Among the many challenges of the twenty-first-century church, I believe the greatest is to demonstrate God’s mercy and love to those with whom we differ ideologically, politically, morally, and in other ways. Jesus did.

Jesus dined with tax collectors who, by the very nature of their business, were excommunicated from the synagogues. He even chose a tax collector to be one of the twelve. Jesus allowed women to sit at his feet, receiving his teaching. Most Rabbis would avoid any contact or conversation with women in public, some even their wives!

Reaching out to lepers and other unclean persons was a recurring event in the life of Christ. In this way, he was constantly unclean according to the Law. But Jesus understood that these acts of compassion were at the very heart of the scriptures. This is why he instructed us, saying, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NIV)

This kind of discipleship is far more difficult than mere religious observance. It’s one thing to study our Bibles, do our daily devotions, and give our money and time to the local church, but engaging in a labor of love to those whose lives are so radically different from our own, well, that’s a different story.

I’ve encountered a lot of church members over the years who regard those with different lifestyles, political parties, and ideologies as enemies. But I believe that as we see these others through the eyes of Jesus, we will see them for what they really are — human beings created in the image of God.

This raises another unavoidable issue. How will those disciples who take seriously Jesus’ words that mercy is better than sacrifice be viewed by others in the church whose focus is more on religious practices than relationships with people? What happens when these disciples actually start making friends and building relationships with the “lepers” in our societies today?

The religious leaders labeled Jesus a friend of sinners. They accused him of the sins of hedonism — gluttony, and drunkenness. “He dines with sinners” was paramount to saying that Jesus condoned the sin of those with whom he spent time. When our Lord warned his disciples, saying, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you,” he wasn’t talking about the sinners; he was talking about the religious leaders!

Following Jesus means that we must be willing to endure criticism from unbelievers, as well as those in the church. But for those willing to follow the example of Christ, the joy of mercy practiced will deliver us from self-righteousness and make sacrifice the means, not the end of our faith.

In Christ,

Dan

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Seeking to live on the edge, like Jesus. danarmistead.com

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Dan Armistead

Dan Armistead

Dan is the former pastor of Seoul International Baptist Church and Adjunct Professor at Torch Trinity Graduate University in Seoul, Korea.

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