Jesus Shows us His Ideal Church
Jesus Describes the Ideal Church
Genesis 6, Luke 7
I’d like to focus on Luke 7 today, but I will begin by pointing you to a great commentary on Genesis 6. Genesis 6 twice describes how God saw the earth and what it had become and what man had made it. Not only does the curse in Genesis 3 lead us to chapter 5 where death becomes the standard bearer for all of life, but it also leads us to chapter 6 where twice we read some variation of this: The earth was a wicked, terrible, horrifying place to be. Man didn’t learn from all the death he saw in chapter 5 and change his ways. Instead, he grew more and more sinful, more and more wicked, more and more vile. (See verses 5 & 11-12). For a superb commentary on this chapter, I suggest you watch the movie The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger’s Joker is, beyond doubt, the personification of Genesis 6. Genesis 6 is a story demonstrating that man is the problem. His heart has grown dark. If death is the King of an empire, sin has become his vassal; man has become his serf.
“Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Luke 7:22)
Jesus said, and it is recorded in what we call Luke 5:31, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” In this verse Jesus tells us what an ideal church looks like. In chapter 7 he begins to show us what an ideal church looks like. It is certainly not what we think an ideal church looks like. I imagine it is not anything like what those who heard him preach thought it looked like either. Who wants a church full of the outcasts and the devil’s rejects? You know how it is, people are used and abused by the devil, he promises to be their friend and when he is done destroying their lives—well, he is done with them. Then whatever is left of them is on display for all the world to see.
I think the reason Jesus doesn’t say something like, “I came to save everyone,” (even if it is implied) is twofold. First, the powerful, rich, and righteous really need no saving, do they? They are self-sufficient, self-reliant. They can save themselves and don’t need any help even if they do need help. Second, the poor, the sick, the weak, the broken—well, these are the ones who know they need help. I like William Willimon’s words…well, I’ll just let him tell you in his own words as he comments on Luke 10 and the parable of the good Samaritan:
“Like most of Scripture, the story of the man in the ditch is a story about God before it is a story about us, about the oddness of our salvation in Christ. I’ve used this interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan before, and I can tell you that my congregation didn’t like it. They like stories about themselves more than they like to hear stories about God. They are resourceful, educated, gifted people who don’t like to be cast in the role of the beaten poor man in the ditch. They would rather be the anything-but-poor Samaritan who does something nice for the less fortunate among us. In other words, they don’t like to admit that just possibly they need to be saved.
“I’m saying that more difficult even than reaching out to the victim in the ditch (which is hard enough for us) is coming to conceive of yourself as the victim, learning to live as if your one last hope is the Savior whom you tend to despise.
“When Jesus was criticized for the company he kept at table, he was clear that he saves only the abandoned and the dying…Jesus reacts to our situation in the ditch, not with more rules and regulations, not with harsh condemnation, but with a sort of love that can only be called reckless, extravagant, prodigal. There is, dare I say it, a kind of promiscuous love in his extroverted love.” (Who Will Be Saved?, 10-11)
Do we recognize ourselves as the people in the ditch? Those are the ones Jesus came to save.
So Jesus shows us what a church looks like, at least an ideal church. It consists of centurions—those powerful soldiers, Gentiles—who have faith; it’s full of grieving widows whose tears only Jesus has the courage to wipe away and the authority to command a halt to; it’s full of doubters like John the Baptizer who sometimes have second thoughts but won’t stumble; and it’s full of ‘sinful’ women who weep and are thought with no better words than ‘if he knew what kind of woman that was.’ These people Jesus can command to halt their tears (widow) and encourage their tears to flow freely (‘sinful woman’). He can pronounce the doubters (John) blessed who do not stumble and the faith-full (centurion) as models for the rest of us. (Oh, and don’t forget about the children Jesus has singing and dancing. I wonder if there is room for them?)
I think they recognized it too. Consider what they said, “A great prophet has appeared among us. God has come to help his people” (Luke 7:16). Oh, I have heard this before haven’t I? “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hands of Egyptians and to bring them up…” (Exodus 3:7-8).
This Jesus—I have asked before—what sort of person is he who welcomes in such riff-raff? Won’t they mess up our church? Won’t they break things and get stains on the carpet? What of these blind who see, what if they try to get us seeing the way Jesus has them seeing? What if the deaf try to get us hearing the way Jesus has them hearing? What if the lame try to get us walking the way Jesus has them walking? What if the poor try to make us as rich as Jesus made them? What if the dead try to get us living the way Jesus has them living? “The Son of man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
“Blessed is anyone who does not stumbled on account of me.” And stumbling over Jesus, this Jesus who welcomes into his embrace these kind of people, is quite the possibility and rather simple to do.
But blessed! This is his ideal church. A motley collection of people whom God came down to rescue, whom he brought up out of Egypt, whom he has set free. The ideal church; one that even I can belong to.