The world is changing rapidly around us. We have entered into a time in history where there are multitudes of cultures and sub-cultures that exist within our own cities and nations. The term multicultural is truly a reality in many nations throughout the West. I see it vividly demonstrated where I live in Southern California. If a people group, movement, religion, non-religion or way of life exists somewhere on the planet there is a strong chance that you can find it represented in a neighborhood near you. The proliferation of communication and information through internet narrow-casting has made it possible to find others and to connect with them based on any common denominator you can choose. Some of this has caused growth for the Kingdom of God and for the preaching of the Gospel and some of it has presented challenges to the established way of communicating the message of Christ.
I want to take a few moments of time to challenge you on reaching people that the traditional church might classify as “lepers”. I know that everyone is theoretically welcomed in every church, especially your church, but watch what happens if “those” people show up this Sunday. Throughout the Gospels we find the Lord Jesus Christ conversing with sinners; we find Him reaching out to those that the Pharisees and Sadducees deemed unworthy or too far gone. Jesus said He came to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10 KJV).
Many Christians and churches consider reaching the “lepers” of their community as outreach ministry, local missions or they will even have a special service for them. The challenge of the gospel is that there is one body of Christ and each of us who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb are members of it.
Leprosy is an infectious disease that has been known since biblical times. It is characterized by disfiguring skin sores, nerve damage, and progressive debilitation. In the Old and New Testaments those who had contracted the disease were not allowed to live within society; they were considered “unclean” and lived a lonely and stigmatized existence. Lepers were banished from their families, their communities and even worship within the synagogues of the Old Testament. Consider the how challenging and difficult life would be like knowing that you are “unclean” to those whom you love as well as to the rest of the world. It was a man like this that we find coming to Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel:
Jesus is willing
Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside. Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. “Lord,” the man said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”
Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. (Matthew 8:1-3 NLT)
This is the greatest news anyone who has ever felt unclean and separated from God can hear. Jesus is willing to touch our uncleanness; He is willing to deal with the things in our lives that separate us from the rest of “normal” society and He is willing to make us clean.
Sinners are the heartbeat of the Savior
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.
Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13 NLT)
I love how the New Living Translation states verse 13, “I have not come to call those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
Everyone has a past. Everyone has sins they are ashamed of. Everyone sitting in a church was once “unclean”. We were all separated from God by our sins and it is only through grace that we can lift our hands and call on the name of the Lord. Sinners are the reason Jesus is the Savior; we are the reason He died upon the cross.
Jesus did not die upon the cross so that we could hold church services; He died upon the cross so that every person who is separated from God because of sin may be redeemed, cleansed and born again.
For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:19-21 NLT)
Our mandate is to bring people back to God; regardless of who they, where they are or what they have done. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation.
Who are the church’s lepers?
There are many lifestyles of sin that the church is comfortable in dealing with and there are others that seem to be our modern day class of “lepers” or those who are considered “unclean”. Most believers realize that any sin separates a person from God but there are some sins that are more intense; opening the door for the “unclean” label. Jesus came across a situation like this:
Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
“No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:1-11)
Are we as the church providing an open door for men and women who are coming out of lives of intense sin or are we forming a mob to stone the “unclean”?
Hypothetically, let’s say the following people answer an altar call at our church on Sunday morning and sincerely repent and give their hearts to Jesus Christ:
- A wife-beating, alcoholic husband
- An adult film actress
- An owner of a liquor store
- An abortion doctor
- A convicted sex-offender
- An IRS agent
- The owner of the company you work for
- A Muslim terrorist
- A homosexual activist
- A university biology professor
- An ACLU attorney
- A politician
This list of people is by no means exhaustive nor is it meant to be. I just jotted down a list of the “usual suspects” for most Christians. Many of the men and women on this list are regularly preached against as those who are furthering sin in the earth. For most believers the men and women listed above are those they recognize need Jesus Christ. My question is, “Are we ready to make disciples of the men and women that fall outside of the mainstream of society?” Notice my question was not, “Are we willing to share the gospel with those men and women who fall outside of the mainstream of society?” Are we ready to let our lepers in? Are we willing to say with Jesus, “I am willing”?
If we are going to function according to the New Testament model of Christianity we must firmly believe that the message of salvation through Jesus Christ is for every person. We cannot stratify sinners or castigate those who we are uncomfortable with as “unclean.” Salvation is not about where we have come from or what we have done. Salvation is about Jesus, our faith in Him and where we are going. There can be no one outside of God’s grace. There can be no one who has gone too far. There can be no one who is unwelcome in our assemblies. There can be no lepers.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13 NLT)
Please read what I have written and not what I have not written. I am not advocating the acceptance of sin, nor am I promoting any laxness in holiness or sanctification. I am promoting love. God’s love is bigger than our narrow experience in the world. God’s love goes beyond what our brains can fathom; it goes beyond our prejudices and beyond our political ideologies. The love God hung the perfect Son of God on a cross to save the people our carnal brains want to call “unclean”.
For God shows no partiality [undue favor or unfairness; with Him one man is not different from another]. (Romans 2:11 AMP)
For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. (James 2:10 NLT)
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. (Romans 3:23 NLT)
Grace levels the playing field; no one has an advantage with God. We have access to God because of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and because of what He has done for us our sins are forgiven. It is with these thoughts that we must approach a world that lives outside of a covenant with God. It is with these thoughts that we must share the gospel. It is with these thoughts that we must live our lives. There is no one without hope. There is no one whom Jesus has not died for. There are no lepers in the New Covenant.
Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom. A number of you know from experience what I’m talking about, for not so long ago you were on that list. Since then, you’ve been cleaned up and given a fresh start by Jesus, our Master, our Messiah, and by our God present in us, the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 MSG)
We were all unclean. We were all without hope. We were all lost. It was at the time when we were in this situation that Christ Jesus the Lord died upon the cross to redeem us (Romans 5:8). I wrote this message because there are walls that need to come down in each of our minds. There are men and women in our community that have been shut out of churches because of what they do for a living or the sins that they habitually commit. These are men and women that Christ died for in the same manner that He died for you and me.
My prayer is that our churches would be filled with every type of sinner. My prayer is that our churches would be filled with the rich and the poor. My prayer is that our churches would welcome everyone to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, reflecting the love that God has for every person. My prayer is that we would have the heart and mind of Jesus Christ.
Let the barriers fall down in your mind and let the power of God rise in your heart. “Nothing is impossible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23). God is able to save anyone and everyone who comes to Him through Jesus Christ.