Pastor Judah Smith of Churchome in Kirkland, Washington succinctly stated in a sermon entitled “What Happened to My Passion” that Christians are more often known for what they stand for than for who they follow. I couldn’t agree more. In America, Christians are often viewed as a people with sets of beliefs or political stances, rather than a people who have a saving relationship with the living God. America’s political landscape over the past few years has become as divided as it ever has been. I almost daily come across social media posts full of divisive political opinions, from Christians and non-Christians alike. So, how should the Church in America respond to the present “cancel culture” climate? As Pastor Judah Smith stated, we need to be known for WHO we follow, not WHAT we stand for. It is important to have sound biblical opinions that align with God’s will, but it is all the more important to live the way Jesus lived and act the way he acted towards the lost and sinful people of His day. In this blog, we will look at how Jesus approached sinful people during His ministry and how He used compassion to impact those who were far from God in their opinions, thoughts, and actions.
The Wee Little Man
If you grew up attending Sunday school classes, you are certainly familiar with the story of the wee little man, Zacchaeus. In Luke 19:1-10, we see the compassion of Christ at work, as he interacts with Zacchaeus:
“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.””
Tax collectors were despised amongst Israel in Jesus’ day. They often were Jews working for the Roman empire, who oppressed the people of Israel, so these tax collectors were viewed as traitors. On top of that, tax collectors were not paid wages by the Romans but were told to collect more than what was owed on taxes, keeping the leftovers for themselves. It is understandable that the Jews detested these money laundering traitors. However, we see in this text how Jesus interacts with the tax collector named Zacchaeus. It is important to note the heart of Zacchaeus in verse 3. Luke notes that Zacchaeus had a desire to see Jesus, which is why he climbed the fig tree in verse 4. How can we apply this to our presently divided and opinionated society? Well, a lot of people are looking for and seeking something that will fulfill their desires and mend their hearts. Many people are climbing the fig tree. As we will see in the remainder of this text, it is how we as the Church interact with the lost that defines how they view Jesus.
In verse 5, Jesus sees Zacchaeus in the tree and says, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” The word “must” in verse five is derived from the Greek word dei, which means “it is necessary” or “there is need of”. Matthew uses this same word in Matthew 16:21 when describing Jesus’ explanation of the necessity of His death and resurrection. Jesus didn’t just kind of want to hang out with Zacchaeus, rather He made it clear that it was necessary to do so. Why? In verse 10, Jesus makes it clear His purpose in visiting Zacchaeus’ home: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Jesus came to this broken world to seek and save those who are lost and far from God. It is also important to note HOW Jesus chose to seek and save Zacchaeus in this interaction. Jesus didn’t condemn Zacchaeus for laundering money from God’s chosen people for his own wealth (Luke 19:2). He didn’t demand Zacchaeus to change his behavior. He didn’t turn to the crowd to tell them how disappointed or disgusted He was with Zacchaeus. Instead, the God-man demands to stay at Zacchaeus’ home. It was the simple act of Jesus’ compassion towards a sinner that resulted in the salvation of the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:9).
It should be expected that non-believers will have thoughts, opinions, and actions that go against God’s will as revealed in Scripture. Zacchaeus was living a life that directly went against God’s will. However, our response cannot be that of the crowd in Luke 19:7. The crowds following Jesus and praising Him were the ones who grumbled against Him for spending time with a sinner. Our knee-jerk reaction should not be to condemn, ostracize, or point out the faults and opinions of lost people. Instead, we as the Church should show the compassion that Christ showed Zacchaeus and provide people outside of the Church a picture of the heart of Who we follow, not the stances we take or the opinions we hold fast to.
The Adulterous Woman
I was scrolling through Instagram one day and I saw a post that read, “Jesus Hates Abortion”. The first thing that came to my mind when I read this was John 8:1-11, in which Jesus forgives the adulterous woman in front of a crowd of fuming Pharisees:
“but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him, but Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.””
I didn’t disagree with the Instagram post I mentioned, but the post did not reflect the heart of Christ to the non-believers that interacted with it. Yes, it is true that God opposes abortion, but it is also true that God revealed himself through Jesus Christ to be compassionate, forgiving, and patient. Similar to the Instagram post, the Pharisees in this text bring forth the Law to condemn the woman who was caught in adultery. In verse 5, the Pharisees bring up the Law before Jesus that this woman was to be stoned for her actions. Jesus, the author of the Law (2 Timothy 3:16-17), responds to the Pharisees' accusations against the woman by taking some time to write in the dirt. John didn’t mention what Jesus was writing, but the point of including this action is to show the patience of Christ. He did not lash out against the woman for her sin, but instead of siding with her accusers, He takes a few moments to write in the dirt. In verse 7, Jesus breaks His silence by telling the crowd of accusers that the one among them who has no sin can be the one to throw the first stone. While it is true that this woman was an adulterer, it is also true that her accusers were sinners, as well. Jesus notes the hypocrisy of the Pharisees' accusations because they too had been unfaithful to God’s Law. In verse 10, after all of the woman’s accusers had left, Jesus asked her who was left to condemn her. He then states in verse 11 that He does not condemn her either, and He tells her to go and leave her life of sin. Jesus is the only One who had the right to condemn the woman. He was the sinless One. He has been given the right to judge (John 5:22). However, Jesus chooses not to condemn the adulterous woman but provides her with great compassion and mercy. It is important to note that Jesus sends the woman out with the command to leave her life of sin. Jesus is compassionate but does not condone sinful behavior.
What can we learn from Jesus’ actions in this story? It can be easy to point out sin and accuse people who accept or live sinful lifestyles. My biggest issue with the Instagram post “Jesus Hates Abortion” was not the message it was sending, but how the message was sent. It was accusatory. It did not reflect the heart of Christ revealed to us in Scripture. As the Church, we need to treat the lost in the same manner that Jesus treated the adulterous woman. We need to leave our opinions and accusations at the door and stand beside lost people, in an effort to show them the immeasurable grace that Christ offers those who are far from Him. If the judge of all people chooses not to condemn, then neither should His church condemn those who are lost in thoughts, opinions, and actions of sin.
More than anything, it has been my own actions that pushed me to write this blog. I have been the self-righteous Christian who posted his divisive opinions on social media about abortion. I was the self-righteous Christian who made sure to note what the Bible says about homosexuality. I was the self-righteous Christian who failed to show others the immeasurable grace of God that is shown to me daily. Through my own mistakes and the ministry of Christ, I learned that loud opinions and accusations are not what draws non-believers to Christ. However, it is His compassion, grace, and patience that draws outsiders to grab the hand that Jesus extends to all people. Jesus stayed at the house of a thief and a traitor. Jesus stood beside and defended an adulterer in the face of accusations from religious people. In our increasingly divided and opinionated American culture, the Church needs to reflect these same actions and spend time serving, seeking, and walking beside those who are lost. In the end, the Body of Christ needs to be known for who we follow, not what we stand for.