I’ve had something I’ve been pondering for a while now. I began thinking about this a few months after I had begun to leave legalism behind me. So I’ve decided to write about it.
Recently I saw some pictures that an artist had created of modern depictions of some of our favorite Gospel stories; like Mary Magdalene washing the feet of Jesus, the Last Supper, and the attempted stoning of the Adultress Woman (you can see these photos below).
I must admit, upon first impression I was slightly offended. The women that were used in the pictures were modern-day prostitutes. The men at the Last Supper table were what some would call “questionable.” In that photo you see a wide variety of misfits: men and women that typical society would reject…and some that I’m sure many churches would try to change or avoid (sadly).
But why was I offended? Is it because I can handle the fact that Jesus spent a majority of His time and ministry with the misfits of that time, but I can’t handle that He would hang out with the misfit of our time? But aren’t they the same exact thing? Yes, of course they are.
It is a stunning fact to learn that most that call on the name of Jesus regularly reject those who we deem as “questionable,” “sinful,” or “misfits.” Many, including myself, have idealogicalized the Gospels. Many will say such statements like, “Yes, Jesus hung out with fisherman, prostitutes, and tax collectors. The Pharisees saw them as ‘sinners’ but that’s why Jesus came; to save them!” But when those same “sinners” arrive at the front door of our lives, of our daily routines and outings, we too, like the Pharisees, reject them. Please bear with me, for I wouldn’t be talking this way if I wasn’t guilty of the same behavior myself.
Jesus Christ came for men and women that are in need of a physician. He says so Himself that He didn’t come for the healthy, the righteous, or the clean. He came for the sick, the sinner, and the unclean (Mark 2:17).
When we claim to be righteous in and of ourselves, we are saying we have no need of Jesus. When we reject the very people who Christ came for, we reject Him. When we do all we can as Christians to avoid such people, we are doing all we can to avoid the atoning work of Jesus Christ Himself.
You may disagree and say that God is angry with the sin and corruption of the world. I will not try to argue with that. For Scripture is quite clear that God hates iniquity (look what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah). But if not for Jesus, you and I would suffer the same fate. We are no different from they. The Gospel testifies to this and the grace and mercy that God has freely given in Christ testifies all the more to this.
So what’s my point? It is this: let us not so easily reject the rejected. Let us not so easily try to avoid our calling to reach out to these people (though, in reality, they are just like us) by using Scripture and our own ideology to condemn them.
Take a few minutes to behold the pictures below. I have left out a few of them due to the graphic nature of some. But if you get a chance, check out the artist’s full gallery (disclaimer: some of his other pieces of art aren’t so “spiritual”. In fact, some are down right graphic. So, if you have a weak stomach, or don’t wish to view some things that are disagreeable, please don’t view the gallery). Also, I don’t think Jesus really looked like that. He wasn’t an American, He was a Jew.
All artwork found at the LaChapelle Studio at http://www.lachapellestudio.com/editorial/i-d_3/
Amen, Michael! I was recently challenged by a friend who walks with the Lord about hanging out with sinners. I had related to her a recent conversation with another friend that was pretty amazing. A friend having pre-martial sex, angry her Catholic priest was condemning people like her as sinners, frustrated with the endless list of rules in Catholicism, and believing her actions were not sin. Instead of condemning the Lord had me be silent and then reveal Christ. Truly amazing conversation that I know changed my friend’s outlook in a major way.
The friend I was relating this to challenged me that I was condoning her sins. My reply, “I can either condemn her and cast the first stone when I am sinful by nature, too. Or I can reveal Christ who will work everything out to His good purpose.” We were both changed the moment that statement was out of my mouth. Disturbs me that so much of Christianity is about preaching condemnation and then forgiveness of sins, rather than preaching Jesus Christ.
Isn’t it amazing how when we lay down our own opinions of people and situations, and turn to Christ instead, how much different each scenario looks? How much more people are touched by the hand of God when we do so!
Religion hinders God. But the Life that Christ has deposited in us (that is, His life), truly moves others to pursuing Him.
Thanks for commenting, sister
As always, Michael, you hit the spot. Jesus absorbed all our darkness so we might see others with His eyes of Love. We are to know no one after the flesh anymore.
“Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Cor 5:16-17)
Him, ourselves, and others. All blessings.
I simply love what just said, “Jesus abosorbed all our darkness so we might see others with His eyes of Love.”
Thanks for commenting, Dean. I’m still surprised we haven’t met yet face-to-face…some day.
Thank you so much, Michael. Since 2004, Dotty & I have been helping people trapped in the sex business. Trust me, it is not a pretty picture. Since most of these folks are women, obviously Dotty has done the more focused help. In 1989 I wrote an article for the Voices in the Wilderness magazine called, “Are We Eating With the Right People?” which was based on Paul’s remarks in 1 Cor 5. Here it is:
“When I wrote in my letter to you not to associate with people living immoral lives, I was not meaning to include all the people in the world who are sexually immoral, any more than I meant to include all usurers and swindlers or idol-worshippers. To do that, you would have to withdraw from the world altogether. What I wrote was that you should not associate with a brother Christian who is leading an immoral life, or is a usurer, or idolatrous, or a slanderer, or a drunkard, or is dishonest; you should not even eat a meal with people like that. It is not my business to pass judgment on those outside. Of those who are inside, you can surely be the judges. But of those who are outside, God is the judge.” 1 Cor. 5:9-13
Many churches today are faced with a very serious problem and are not even aware of it. If people who were poor or homeless or immoral or generally lower-class were to appear as visitors or new converts in many churches, our initial response would be negative. We would be put off, perhaps, by the way they smell. Or we would say “we don’t want our children around such undesirables.” The result of these attitudes is that churches have isolated themselves from those with needs, and feel threatened when the security of their homogeneous, white, middle-class atmosphere is violated. Why is this the case?
Its ideology, at least, has to do with the doctrine of “separation” that was crystallized in many denominations earlier in this century. Church leaders taught those in the pew that Christians were to be totally separate from unbelief and sinful lifestyles, using 2 Cor. 6:14-18 as a proof-text. To be sure, there is an important element of truth in such sentiments. Christians must not mingle with society in ways that compromise gospel values. However, this separation doctrine seems to have translated into church practices which flatly contradict both the example of Jesus and the teaching of Paul in l Cor. 5:9-13.
Apparently the Corinthians had misunderstood what Paul had tried to express in a previous letter. They thought he had meant for them not to have any association with the immoral people of the world. But here Paul emphasizes that we must mix with unbelievers to some degree in the normal course of life. The apostle finds nothing wrong with that. His concern is that we do not have social relationships with professing Christians whose lifestyles are obviously out of line with the gospel. Paul leaves the judgment of unbelievers to God, while urging the community of faith to exercise discipline among themselves.
We have missed the apostle’s teaching in at least three critical ways. First, while Paul assumed that Christians would rub shoulders with unbelievers, much of the contemporary evangelical church functions on the assumption that believers should have nothing to do with outsiders.
This clearly, does not follow Jesus’ example. Having come to seek and to save the lost, he purposely sought out those who were shunned by the religious leaders. Christ was severely criticized, but rightly perceived, as a “friend of sinners.” I wonder how many Christians today would like it if people thought of them the same way. But no need to worry: we hardly ever deserve the title. Unlike Christ, we don’t have the problem because we don’t eat with the wrong people.
Author Gib Martin tells the story that as a depressed school teacher he began to frequent a bar after work. There he met a Christian – a former alcoholic – who went to the bar every day, sipping coffee and sharing the gospel with patrons as the opportunity arose. Gib was drawn to this man, and ultimately became a Christian as a result of his concern, prayers, and message of hope. The man encouraged Gib to begin attending a particular church, and he did. The irony, however, was that this church had a very negative attitude toward the man because he ministered in a place frequented by sinners. As a result, this church and others like it often become monasteries, except that only the affluent and well-behaved are welcome.
Second, Paul maintains that believers must withhold table fellowship from those who identify with Christ’s name but whose way of life flagrantly contradicts the gospel. How many times do we ignore the unpleasant fact that our fellow Christians are inveterate gossips or engage in shady business practices, even though Paul explicitly says we should never tolerate slander or dishonesty. In too many cases in American Christianity, we calmly maintain fellowship with deliberately sinful believers, while avoiding healthy contact with unbelievers in the name of being “separate from the world.” We have reversed the apostle’s concerns, and sealed ourselves off from effective ministry to those who are most in need of the touch of God.
Third, I commonly hear preachers fill their sermons with emotional rhetoric describing how bad it is in the world, sprinkling negative remarks about gays, those with AIDS, teenage mothers, and needle users throughout their diatribes. But Paul rejects such misguided preaching, knowing that judgment outside the body of Christ is left to God. He urges the community of faith to focus on discerning and solving the problems within its own context. Further, it is cheap and easy to hurl denunciations at those outside the confines of a church building, but who is taking the initiative to go out and minister to these needy groups?
Jesus made a conscious effort to reach out to the “sinners” of his day. He mingled openly with the wrong people, those declared “unclean” by the experts in the Law. But now the church is perceived as an institution that is a haven for the “right people,” the upwardly mobile. Our doors are often closed to the undesirables.
A French pastor related to me an experience which, though somewhat corny, helped him break out of his churchy shell and begin a significant ministry. He had set up a dinner appointment with an eye surgeon to discuss the possibility of surgery for his wife. After dinner they retired to the living room. The surgeon asked the pastor if he would like a cigar. He did so mostly out of politeness, anticipating a negative reply at so “worldly” an activity as smoking. The pastor’s initial mental reaction was to say, “No, thank you. I don’t smoke.” However, he felt that he should resist this inclination and replied instead, “Yes, I will; thank you.” As it turned out, the pastor’s action broke a barrier with the surgeon and they ended up having a long discussion about the gospel. The surgeon was later converted and became very active in the local church.
Now eye surgeons are not exactly among the undesirables in society. Nonetheless, the pastor had to shrug off a piece of his churchy culture in order to break through to him. We must very often do something similar. In mingling with people outside the body of Christ we must discern what is merely cultural and what is true truly central to the gospel. We need to know what is really Christian and what is just churchy.
A recent public television documentary on religion in America examined the ministry of a large, inner-city, upper and middle-class church. It showed a wealthy Sunday School teacher giving instruction on prosperity from Proverbs to a slickly-dressed class. Then it showed a different teacher from the same church preaching hell-fire and brimstone to skid row people at a rescue mission run by the church. The first pastor was asked why lower-class minorities were not present in the main church. His reply was disconcerting: “Birds of a feather flock together.” One could hardly imagine reversing the situation and hearing the prosperity message unfolded at the mission and the hell-fire proclamation booming from a pulpit surrounded by affluent, white Americans. Yet that reversal may be exactly what is needed.
We will not change this perverted image of the church until we become a compassionate people who will step out of our comfortable edifices and reach out to the needy. Jesus was marked as a person who ate with the “wrong” people. It’s time we started eating with them, too.
Christ was severely criticized, but rightly perceived, as a “friend of sinners.” I wonder how many
believers today would like it if people thought of them the same way?
Thanks for the insightful comment! Much needed and really put a lot of language behind what I’ve been thinking. (Maybe you should’ve wrote this one 🙂 ).
When we take Scripture in bits and peices to satisfy our own thinking, we are really selling ourselves short. But when we look at Scripture as a whole, we really begin to see Christ; His character, His behaviors, His suggestions, and His beauty and love. So thanks for giving us a broader picture of Him by giving Scriptural examples.
Thanks, as always, Jon!
I love this art,Jesus is current and modern in all ages.
The first time I saw it (a few months ago), it really changed my whole perspective!
Thanks for commenting, Mark.
Bless you, dear Michael!
What comes to mind is the Laodicean church Christ warned in Rev. 3:14-22—those He referred to as “lukewarm,” living in the gross deception of self-importance, pride, and arrogance! In His estimation they were “poor, wretched,miserable, blind and naked” He strongly warned them to REPENT, return to Him so they could become rich, have their nakedness clothed with His righteousness,their blindness removed, etc. Or face judgment: being spit out of His mouth!
As “unpopular” as it is these days to speak of REPENTANCE, the fact is there is no real FEAR of GOD among His children—not to the extent that we are AWED by Him, by His WORD. Not to the extent that we truly “seek Him first—intimacy, oneness with Him, loving Him above all others AND loving others (e.g. those pictured in their unvarnished state) as ourselves,” recognizing that He alone IS our very life. As a matter of fact, too often, we don’t
see ourselves as “sinners.” As the WORD says: those who’ve been forgiven much, love MUCH!
God bless you. Keep up the good work He’s given you to do.
Yes, Marie, repentance can be a beautiful thing. I know without it, I wouldn’t be a Christian today. It’s good to evaluate such things that have been given a bad name by hell-fire and brimstone preachers a fresh look. Because, after all, repentance (change of mind) is something that happens after we see Christ…after we see is grandness and vastness. That’s what happened to Paul on the road to Damascus. First He say Christ, then he repented.
Thanks for commenting 🙂
That picture of the “Last Supper” looks like several of our organic church fellowships here in northern Virginia. Seriously! We have been actively planting vibrant fellowships in the homeless community, the local jail, and other improbable places. We have another fellowship with a high percentage of alumni from the jail and the street. Each of those fellowships (other than the ones in jail) has attracted and now comprise about 50% of those we sometimes jokingly call “normies”, because of the life that’s there among the recovering addicts, pimps, prostitutes and ex-felons. The fields truly are white with harvest. It’s the best example of real church that I’ve ever enjoyed being part of!
It is so good to hear that, Jim. So refreshing, so needed, so sadly unheard-of. Continue strong, brother!
And thanks for the comment
I live in Northern Virginia and I’m familiar with the Local Church Community in Manassas Virginia, as well as the Organic Church Community here. Jim Wright presents himself online in a way that appears to me designed to create an online persona or impression that is very much out of line with many who know him or know of him and his past history.
Please weigh his words against the information presented in this post as well as the links at the end of the article.
Great post…and such poignant paintings. May we be Jesus to this world.
Amen. May He continue to grow and be expressed in us and through us. Not only for our sake, but the sake of the lost world. He is the answer, but until His own people see that fact, our effectiveness will be diminished.
Thanks for commenting
I really appreciated reading this blog. These words are needed to be written and spoken among each other. May we step out in faith and walk among the crowds and find those whom the Lord identified with the most- those we think are ‘the least’.
“The Kingdom of God belongs to the least of these…”
Somewhere I once read, “If you think your s**t doesn’t stink, maybe Jesus didn’t come for you.” Obviously there are a lot of theological questions with that statement, however there is also some truth. The point you clearly make is that Jesus is the “Friend of Sinners,” just like me. True, I may not wrestle with the same sins as others do, but I do wrestle with my own. In a perhaps strange and twisted way, I am thankful that my s**t does in fact also stink and that Jesus came for ME just as much as He did for that hooker on the corner. Contrary to the way some folks seem to think, perhaps we would all do well to remember that sin is sin and that there aren’t better or worse degrees of sin. We all equally need the Saviour, and He meets us in the cesspools of life where we are, not necessarily where we think we would like to (or need to) be. That’s the way I see it anyway.
Thank you for sharing, Michael. I enjoyed it. I also want to say to your commentators how much I’ve enjoyed reading their comments as well. Blessings all 🙂
Will…..haha! I love it.
Yup, in the eyes of God, all sin is the same. Whether it’s an inner sin like pride or lust, or a more outward one like addiction or prostitution, they are all the same in His eyes. However, we know from Scripture that there are sins that “lead to death”. But the glory of the Gospel (well, one of the many) is that all that sin has been cancled, washed, and covered by the Blood of Jesus.
I like the sight of my two African-American brothers at the last supper. And yes I know they don’t seem very right in human perspective and our standards of those who should have qualified to be there that day. But they are there anyway! Isn’t Christ so much wonderful?
Yes, He is! Thanks for commenting, Jim. 🙂
Thank you for writing this article and sharing the artwork, Michael. I found the pictures you showed very moving, and they led me to thinking about how Jesus viewed (and views) those who the world (and often the church) consider outcasts. While we look at those around the table and see the external appearances, Christ sees directly past these things to our heart. We may find ourselves in different positions in our society, but before Christ we all stand on equal ground in our hearts as sinners. It seems that Christ’s rule of thumb was different than ours. We see the external, Christ sees the internal.
Jesus said that He came to heal the sick, not the healthy. But before God, we are all diagnosed with the incurable disease of sin. So we are all sick, yet Christ makes a distinction. What is the distinction? I believe it is that those who realize they are sick are quickly willing to accept the antidote – the cleansing blood of Christ. Those who are self-righteous are not sick in their own eyes, so it is difficult to convince them that they need anything. As Christ said, the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are poor in spirit.
My grandmother currently lives in a nursing home with severe dimentia. She was told years ago that she had diabetes and needed to change her lifestyle or she would suffer serious medical consequences, especially at her age. She refused to believe the doctor that she was sick! She continued her lifestyle as it was and refused to acknowledge her body’s weakness and need for help to become well. She eventually had a stroke-like episode that caused her to have dimentia and require full time support, thus having to sell her home and possessions and move into a nursing home, most days not even having memory of her past.
The affluent of the world often act like this in regard to spirituallity. They baulk at the notion that they “need” something from Jesus, something from outside of themselves. However, those rejected in our society are often open to the loving arms of Christ.
If only His body would more actively open His arms and invite them in…
Praise the Lord oh my soul, this precious morning. I am filled with awe at this saint who has blessed me this auspicious moment. I seize this blessing Lord. I thank Your Spirit for indwelling Your people like this one man/woman I don’t know, and revealing in him what the prudent and wise in their own eyes and those of the world have not been revealed to.
Lord you came for the sick. But they are them who must acknowledge help. You don’t force medication down their throat. but the world thinks it’s well, So the doctor stands alone with the balm of Gilead for the dry, stinking wound.
Lord Jesus, help Your world to understand that they are sick. Speak to them that think they ‘rich’ to know how poor, naked and exposed they are. That repentance is the only way to received the medication.
Even me, cause me to break down because of the burden of sin. Let me die that You may live inside me, and not me but You, working a new thing every morning in me. I am teary this morning, dear daddy. Please have mercy upon my stinking wound and pour just a few drops of the ointment over it, that I may be refreshed.
I have always been intrigued with the fact that Jesus was called “the friend of sinners.” He could have easily had the faith of a pharisee, but he didn’t. He came to our earth to spend time with its sinners, giving chances to people who would never deserve them. It’s incredible that He gives us the blessing of having a real relationship with Him. I love when you wrote: “When we claim to be righteous in and of ourselves, we are saying we have no need of Jesus. When we reject the very people who Christ came for, we reject Him.” We will never be perfect enough to not need Him, and that will always be the truth. I absolutely love this blog post!
My dear brother in Christ, Michael, it was the Lord who placed you on my path and I have enjoyed much of your writings and those who placed their comments on your blog. I have shared this article of yours on my Facebook with my quote: “It is easier for Jesus to convey his message to sinners than to righteous people and the law keepers.”
Human being is the most complex creature of God’s work, because it was made in the image of God and have the ability to judge the right and wrong. The first man and the first woman have fallen into sin at their first temptation, hence the entire human race is subjected to temptations of the devil (Mar 14:38). I pray every day for God’s grace to come upon the criminals (the outlaws) and young people who are desperately in needs of spiritual guidance. I pray for the Holy Spirit to guide them back to the path towards the Heavenly Kingdom.
I am very much disappointed at the hypocrisy (Mat 18:6) of many church leaders and also by the ideology that the church doctors, theologians, pastors and priests have created and quarrel with each others about their hyper knowledge of the holy scriptures and the right and wrong according to their gift of intelligence.
The internet has allowed me to surf around the knowledge of the world and what I have seen so far are always the fingers that pointed out to one another accusing for the wrong doings. The law keepers say the only salvation way is to keep God’s law (the Thora), while others invented their own rules and convey that salvation is theirs.
Therefore God’s Love (the essential cause) has been left hanging high on the cross while Christian churches organise their own battle fields. But God’s Spirit silently works in individuals and there is no boundaries and barriers that can hold people away from God. The proof is your healing and the healing of many other humble, despised and rejected of churches and societies (Mat 11:25 ; Mat 18:14; Mat 18:3; Mat 18:5; Mat 19:14; Luk 7:47).
There are also many beautiful souls in the world who are silently working to bring hope to the poor and the “sick” of the society. I am overjoyed every time to meet those individuals.
Man may judge one another according to the appearances, the Law (God’s Law) or their laws but God see the hearts and make His judgement according to His Love (Christ the Redeemer; Joh 5:22).
May the Lord bless you and help you to overcome your daily challenges. May His grace guide you and make you fruitful. May His Light shine on you and reflect on many other brothers and sisters.