Friday, May 22, 2009

This Man Receives Sinners

One of the most beautiful truths about Jesus is the way he received people and the way people felt comfortable with him. In Luke 15:1-2, we see this played out in a rather dramatic way. First, the outcasts, the failures, especially the religious failures, were coming to Jesus, and not only listening to Him, but actually straining to hear what he had to say. Something about Jesus made them feel at home not condemned, accepted and welcomed not scrutinized. Jesus treated broken people like old friends. They wanted to know more. Second, the Pharisees seized Jesus’ love as their longed-for proof that Jesus could not possibly be from God. “This man receives sinners, and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). You can almost hear the Pharisees’ gnarling, sardonic whispers, ‘Ha! Some man of God you are.’

The assumption of the Pharisees and of their whole religion is that God could not receive sinners, and certainly never eat with them. For eating with someone is an act of intimacy, fellowship and solidarity. Thus Jesus could not possibly be connected to God in any way. The Pharisees of every generation cannot cope with Jesus’ oneness with the Father. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). For such a oneness and unity simply means that what Jesus does, the Father does, and what the Father does, Jesus does. “Truly, truly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing…” (John 5:19-20).

So the act of Jesus, summed up by the Pharisees’ accusation, “This man receives sinners, and eats with them,” is either the living expression of the Father’s heart and being, (the ultimate truth about God and humanity, and thus the gospel) or it is a glitch in the otherwise ongoing oneness between the Father and Son, a sort of momentary act of independence, dissimilarity and disunity on Jesus’ part, and thus an act that cannot be trusted as a reliable expression of the Father’s heart at all.

It seems to me that while confessing the oneness of Jesus and his Father, almost all of Western Christianity operates with the Pharisee’s assumption that God could not possibly receive sinners and eat with them. Hence we cannot see that the presence of Jesus is in fact just that, the act of God in person receiving sinners and eating with them. Jesus is the Father’s Son standing in the far country of human brokenness and religious pride. He is the living embodiment of the Father searching the cosmos for us, finding us and receiving us into his life.

Just like his Father, this man receives sinners and shares life with them. Indeed this man’s very existence as the Father’s Son incarnate is the living embodiment of the Father receiving sinners, pharisees, and the lost children of Adam to himself. In Jesus we are received and embraced by the Father forever.

We either live with the assumption that this embrace cannot be so, and thus doom ourselves to the emptiness of religion, the pride of the Pharisees, or the sadness of the failures, or we believe Jesus and learn to live embraced by his Father.

Come, Holy Spirit, Spirit of truth and adoption.


Anonymous said...

Hi Baxter,
I've been having conversations with a close friend of mine on subjects such as this very one. We keep reaching points of being at logger-heads, not emotionally, but with our ideas. During our last talk I was filled with a deep, all pervasive fear as she outlined what was basically a 'yes, but' model of god (such as I grew up in).
Reading just now shut down fearful thoughts in me. I saw a picture of myself settled at table with Jesus, and as that sense became clearer, I saw another part of me sitting across the table. She looked up and asked me, "What's all the fuss about? Why are you afraid?" She had paused with food halfway to her mouth, and was almost alarmed by the fear I felt for Jesus. It was that foreign to her. She then looked at Jesus, shrugged her shoulders as if to say, 'She's yours, you deal with her', and continued eating.

I'm thinking we'll all end up at table with Jesus eventually, and I feel released from returning to this conversation with my friend. What can I do anyway?, when it's Jesus who laid the table... I'm not the host here, and am at a complete loss as to how it came to be.

Is that just copping out of a conversation?

Unknown said...

Thank you for this post Baxter.

It is refreshing to know that in my sin Jesus is embracing, not accusing or forcing, but gently letting me know through the Spirit of adoption that I have been forgiven, made right, and do not have to judge myself or my neighbor anymore as the Father’s thought, purpose and action has come and embraced all mankind. May we come to change our mind and believe from His faith that has been deposited in us! jg

Anonymous said...

Hi Amy,
You wrote "Is that just copping out of a conversation?"

I too have been faced with a couple (or three) good friend who wants what Baxter has been saying to be true, but fear that if they do not speak of hell (speaking of God's grace, let me tell you about hell), their prospects will continue towards hell. They cannot come to the fullness of grace of the Father.

Are you copping out? No. Like me and my friends, you may feel you have to get them straightened out and understand this stuff. Hey, it took me several years to understand, so I too need to show patience towards my friends.

When I backed off for a while, I have not heard much from them. Then one day, one came up out of the blue and admitted his arguing with me because he did not understand and is actually opening his mind to it. He now claims to support my ministry instead of calling it "the Anti-Christ"

I had to sit back (continue enjoying the meal your vision portrays beautifully) and hand it off to Jesus. I gave up so to speak.

You are right, it is Jesus' problem and I think you finally got it!

Now my friends are still struggling but are still with me and at least will consider the fact that there may be some crumbs in this cookie I'm giving them with some value.

It's time now to just be friends and enjoy your meal with Christ. They'll get hungry enough to take a bite eventually.


Anonymous said...

I like Baxter's challenge at the end, either we continue in our religious ideas, or learn to embrace the Fathers embrace.

I found when hold my little girl (who is growing like crazy) in my arms, it is much easier when she throws herself to me and embrace me. But when she is fighting it, she gets quite heavy all of a sudden! She is light as a feather when we are both sharing the embrace.

"My burden is not heavy" Jesus said. Maybe that is why.

Another thought about Jesus accepting sinners. It occurred to me that Jesus HAD to accept sinners or there will be nothing at all for anyone! If we try to clean ourselves up to be acceptable, that in and of itself is a sin! Therefore, based on our former (we hope) assumption, we will never be accepted because we sin trying to be acceptable enough!

Whew! What a waste of time and effort!

Now, Jesus accepted us, called out into the streets and invited us all in to the Supper!

He is cleaning us up (washing our feet) and making us whole. He gives us his robes of righteousness, not our own raggy ideas.

We either accept it (let me wash your feet or you will have nothing to do with me) or continue in our darkness.


Philip Edwards said...

Hi Baxter,
As I thought about the contrasting approaches to thinking about God as you have reminded us in this blog, I realised that the Pharisees had a "biblical" theology in that they could probably point to texts that backed up their teachings and attitudes, but that "biblical" theology was what ultimately crucified Jesus.
So the important thing is not that our theology is "biblical", (that can mean almost anything as illustrated by the myriad of breakaway groups and denomominations that exist), but that our theology is Christian., ie, that it comes from what Jesus showed and taught about the Father.
Where we end up in our theological thinking depends on where we start, and we must start with Jesus if we are to be truly Christian.
Thank you for leading us into this way of thinking about God.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr. Kruger for this post. It is so refreshing to read and remember how wonderful it is to be delivered out of religious Egypt and into the arms of Love Himself. Jesus truly is our promised land, amen! Thank you again sir.