The Church Must Go Where the Hurt Is

[9] As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
[10] And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. [11] And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” [12] But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. [13] Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13 ESV)
Salvation doesn’t come from seclusion. You cannot be true to the Great Commission without getting your hands dirty, to go to where people are hurting, to find the outcasts, the despised. Jesus went out to the highways and byways to build his church, to seek and to save those who were lost. He associated with those people. Those people with whom none of the religious leaders of the day would be caught dead with, let along be caught talking to.
Jesus went where the pain was, to touch the lepers, to free those possessed by demons, to comfort those who were downcast. This was his mission; this is how he built His church.
He shared table fellowship with Those people. You know who Those people are, don’t you? In that days, to share one’s table is an expression of deep intimacy.  Jesus showed love for these people by fellowshipping with them in this way. It doesn’t signal acceptance of their sinful ways, but that he cares for them. In His central ministry of the forgiveness of sin, it meant that He had to entangle Himself, to get his hands dirty, with sinners like you and like me. He came to call the despised and disgusting elements of society.  His was a ministry characterized by mercy. He said that he did not come to bring condemnation, judgment, on the earth. Judgment day will indeed come, but until then, it is a day of mercy and grace.
As a church, we must seek out, come alongside and minister to people not like us. To seek out the broken men, women and children in all socio-economic, ethnic, and racial groups. The divorced and hurting insurance executive and the abused child. The depressed housewife and the prostitute and drug pusher, to reach out and come alongside to minister and be with homosexual men and women, to the outcasts. This doesn’t mean that we join in their sin, but we do reach out because Jesus first loved us and gave himself for us.  We love Him because he loves sinners like us – and we do so with the clear understanding not just in our heads but down in the heart, that we all need God’s grace and mercy.
He saw himself as a doctor, treating the sick. Those who are well feel no need of a doctor’s ministrations. He came to heal, to save, and those who felt that need, who understood the direness of their situation, received it. He came, as Calvin put it, “to quicken the dead, to justify the guilty and condemned, to wash those who were polluted and full of wickedness, to rescue the lost from hell, to clothe with his glory those who were covered with shame, to renew to a blessed immortality those who were debased by disgusting vices.”  It is not the self-righteous, but sinners Jesus came to save.
Both John the Baptist and Jesus came preaching repentance from sin. The object of repentance is God’s forgiveness, and that is the dual theme of the gospel – men must turn from sin for God to forgive, cleanse, and save them. And if we consider ourselves righteous in our own striving, then we see no need of the righteousness of Christ for us. And we are dead in our sins and trespasses. The penitent tax-collector in the Temple who cried out, “God be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13), finds that mercy and grace. Augustine said, “Lord, save me from that wicked man, myself.”
God receives the sinner and rejects the self-righteous. The good news isn’t for good folks. It is for those who are bad and know it, and seek from God forgiveness and cleansing.  Jesus has come to seek and to save the lost. While we do notice the people in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus with terrible track records, terrible sins, even though who were from idolatrous, pagan backgrounds and were murders, adulterers, and a prostitute; if truth be told, every single individual in Jesus’ genealogy deserved the righteous wrath of God. And everyone in our own family tree. And we ourselves, as well. There is no one righteous, no not one. Except Jesus, who knew no sin.
There is immense hope for those who would like to follow Christ, but who doesn’t feel good enough. The truth is if you feel good enough for Jesus, he does not want you. He came for the sick and sinful, the broken and needy. He invites sinners to Him, and he forgives them and transforms them. He does so because he died and rose again for sinners. If you hunger for forgiveness and relief, hear this: Jesus came not to save the righteous, but sinners he came to save.