WHOM DOES JESUS ACCEPT?
(Article for the September 24, 2014issue of The Seward County Independent)
By The Rev. Dr. Daniel K. Schroeder, Pastor of Mighty Fortress Ev.LutheranChurch
As I was driving down the street the other day, I spotted the following message on a church sign: "You aren't too bad to come in, and you aren't good enough to stay away." The idea here is to let you know that regardless of how good or bad you think you are, God sees you with an accepting love, and there is a place for you in his family.
Just think for a moment what you would think if you were to see a list of people's names posted on the church door under the heading, "These people are not accepted." If I saw such a list, I would first look to see if my name was included. And if it was there, then I would try to find the person who put it there and demand to know why my name was on the list. I would insist upon some solid and concrete answers as to why I was being rejected.
Thankfully we don't post such a list because of the promises God gives us in the Bible. Think of how the Pharisees criticized Jesus in Luke 15:1-2: "Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them.'" Jesus also says in John 6:37 & 40: "...whoever comes to me I will never cast out.... that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life."
This certainly doesn't sound like God is out there creating arbitrary lists of people. In fact, the idea of such a list even existing is about as anti-Christian as you could imagine. The Pharisees did things like this, but Jesus never did.
I think the following paragraph hits the proverbial nail on the head:
"We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, filthy rich, or dirt poor. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying newborns, skinny as a rail, or could afford to lose a few pounds. We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli, or you can't carry a tune in a bushel basket. You're welcome here if you're "just browsing," just woke up, or just got out of jail. We don't care if you're overdressed, underdressed, or haven't been in church since little Joey's Baptism. We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. And if you are a Husker fan, a Bulldog fan, a Blue Jay fan, or even a Hawkeye fan, come right on in! We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, or junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or are still addicted. We welcome you if you're having problems, or you're down in the dumps, or you don't like "organized religion" (we'll try to be more disorganized). If you blew all your offering money at the casino, you're welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who are working or unemployed, who can't spell, or came because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church. We welcome those who are inked, pierced, or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down their throat as a kid, or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome those who laughed, and those who gasped at this welcome. We welcome students, tourists, seekers, doubters, bleeding hearts...and you!"
So many times in the Bible, Jesus goes out of his way to show love and compassion to those whom society and the Church in Jesus' day rejected for one reason or another. They believed that a person needed to show a type of outward perfection in order to find favor with God. They also believed that God's love was reserved for only a few select people.
But God isn't trying to create a breed of self-righteous people who think of themselves as being too good to associate with sinners and society's outcasts. Through faith in Jesus Christ, everybody from all walks of life receive some of the best things possible: love, acceptance, forgiveness, restoration, healing, comfort, joy, peace, and hope, just to name a few. The rewards of faith are just that, rewards of faith and not of good works. These are things that cannot be bought at any price. And God's promises are for everybody, regardless of sex, age, race, ethnic background, or social/financial status.
In Matthew 11:28-30 we hear Jesus speaking some very comforting words: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Through faith in him, Jesus takes all of those burdens of life that weigh us down. He removes them and takes them upon himself. He carried our sins and burdens all the way toCalvary's cross where he paid the ultimate price for our salvation. He gave up his life for us out of nothing but the undeserved love he has for each and every one of us.
So we don't need to go looking for lists to see if we've been rejected. As Christians who know Jesus as their Saviour, the only list our names are on is what is recorded in the Lamb's Book of Life, which is indelibly written with the blood of Jesus in his own hand.