The surprising ones Jesus loves

In a movie or TV show, usually within the first few minutes, you can guess which handsome guy and which beautiful girl will eventually get together and fall in love. It’s different in the Gospels. They tell a love story that doesn’t follow the expected script.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were sure they were God’s favorites. If God wanted to be with anybody, He would certainly want to be with them. They were proud of how well they did at following the rules. They faithfully went to the temple and kept all the religious rituals. They expected the way the story was going to go was God would reward them more than anyone else because of how good and righteous they were.

Then Jesus came along. He knew the Old Testament better than the religious leaders. His wisdom was like none they had ever seen. He lived a life of integrity and they were unable to find any fault in Him, even though they tried hard to find some. But the people He enjoyed hanging out with and having meals with were sinners and tax collectors. Jesus didn’t follow the script the way the religious leaders thought it was supposed to go. They expected when the Messiah came He would choose them as the ones He wanted to be with. What was Jesus doing, wanting to be with those undeserving sinners?

Jesus chose a despised tax collector, Matthew, to be one of His 12 closest followers. Matthew had a dinner at his house and invited Jesus. And Jesus came. That wasn’t in the script. “When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and “sinners”?’” (Matthew 9:11).

Zacchaeus was another tax collector who had cheated a lot of people out of their money. But in a plot twist no one saw coming, Jesus went to his home. “All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a “sinner”.’” While He was there Jesus made the incredible declaration: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:7, 9).

Jesus treated as wanted, valued and loved a woman from the wrong ethnic group, who had had five husbands and was now living with a man she wasn’t married to. And He used her to bring her town to faith in Him. “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39).

Those who end up in a relationship with God aren’t necessarily those who are outwardly impressive and have the greatest accomplishments. That’s how the world would write the story. Those who God chooses to be His own are those who confess their sin and trust in what Jesus has done. It’s a crazy and unexpected love story. It’s a story of God’s love for the undeserving. It’s a story of how much God loves us.

Church is a family not an event

Church is not an event we go to but a family we belong to. Church should not be seen as simply a place you go to when you want to receive some religious goods and services. That kind of view of church leads to an emphasis on the quality of the production but not on the quality of the relationships.

God created us in such a way that we need to be connected to others. We need to be part of a family. Many biological families are broken and full of conflict. But even in healthy biological families, there is a need for something more. People need to be in a family where Christ is the Head and the unity is not based on similar DNA. They need to be in the family of God where unity is based on faith in what Jesus has done.

“God sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6). To the many lonely in the world the church extends a welcome and an invitation to be part of the family of God. This is to be a family different than any other, with a different kind of love and a different depth of commitment to one another.

When church is viewed as an event the emphasis is on the production, the presentation and “the show.” When church is seen as family the emphasis is on the people: How are they doing? Are they being built up? Are they being encouraged? When church is an event, if the product being offered doesn’t suit your tastes, you go shopping somewhere else. When church is family there is hopefully more patience and understanding.

“… be patient with everyone” (I Thessalonians 5:14). A family is a place where patience is sometimes tested and always needed. In a biological family you need to have patience with the little ones who are just learning to walk and talk. Patience is needed with the family member who is ill or disabled, or up in years and facing physical and mental challenges. It’s similar in God’s family. Some members might be just starting to walk with God. We need people to be patient with us as we stumble and fall at times. Some need patience as they wrestle with an illness of the soul. We are all disabled in some way. We all have patience-testing limitations.

When I’ve gone through trials and challenges in my life, I didn’t need an event to go to as much as I needed a church family to come alongside me and rejoice as I rejoice and mourn as I mourn (Romans 12:15). Sometimes I get tired of going to events. But I always need and I always give thanks that I get to be a part of the family of God.