When Jesus Christ came to earth there was a well-established religious system. There were the scribes and pharisees, these were the keepers of the law, the ones schooled in the specifics of the keeping of the law.
These were the leaders of the Jewish religion and the ones that enforced and taught God’s ways. They were the ones living their best to be good and right and perfect and by this managed to appear better than anyone else.
At that same time, when Jesus came to earth, there were the common people like you and I. These common people were living their lives trying to do as God might have them do, trying to be as God might have them be. They were working hard but perhaps, in contrast to the religious leaders, felt inadequate and not quite measuring up.
And then, at the time of Christ there were the outcasts, the people who were both ignored and despised by others, hated for their lifestyles and the choices they had made. These ones were marginalized and scorned by the rest of their society and lived in deep awareness of their failure and condemnation.
Now, I imagine that when the religious leaders, the scribes and pharisees, considered the Messiah coming to earth that they may have imagined the Messiah applauding them for their great goodness and effort of perfection.
I imagine that when the common people considered the Messiah coming to earth they may have imagined that they would have no place in his kingdom. They may have believed that they had little to bring or to offer.
And I imagine that when the outcasts, those living with failure, with sin, with compromised lives, considered the Messiah coming to earth that these ones (who had only known rejection and scorn) may have imagined that the Messiah would not even look in their direction.
But, as we read the gospels we come to find that the Messiah, that Jesus, upset this well-established religious system and any expectations for a Messiah, as he came in a very unexpected way.
Now, when the Messiah came to earth he did NOT applaud the scribes and pharisees, the religious leaders of the day, but he chastised and rebuked them. He called them whitewashed tombs, declaring them to be neat and tidy and clean on the outside but filthy and dead on the inside. And he warned others about them also. They were living seemingly perfect lives but their hearts were not impacted by the love of God; they seemed to have missed the heart of the Lord.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” Matthew 23:27
“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Luke 20: 46-47
In addition to this, when the Messiah came to earth the common people were NOT dismissed but they, in fact, found him to be the key to purpose and meaning. Jesus invited them into meaningful and important work within the Kingdom of God and he said that to any who come to Christ are in fact given the keys to the Kingdom of God. Jesus elevated the state of the common person bringing to them participation in the great work of the Kingdom of God.
“For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:18-22
“He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:15-20
And, when the Messiah came to earth he did NOT avoid, or shun, or ignore, the ones scorned and hated, but in fact he looked them in the eye and invited himself to eat with them and they with him. To those with sin and failure, with regrets and condemnations, he drew close and became their friend, and their lives in turn, were transformed.
“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him,
“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:1-10
The coming of the Messiah turned the entire religious system upside down. Those who thought they were perfect were brought low, those who thought they had nothing of value were made integral to the work of the Lord, and those who had made bad choices and felt condemned, these were brought in close as friends and companions and healed in the presence of Christ.
Jesus is still doing this same work today. And so if we are to know and understand God we must see the world and experience the Messiah in this same way.
The pharisee in each of us, the part of us that believes we are better than others, must be brought to the cross to die. Our self-righteousness, our goodness, our effort, our sacrifice, must be put aside and cast off so that Christ might genuinely live in us and through us not as any kind of outward focus or effort but as a deep transformation from the inside out, pure and clean clear-through.
To the common person in each of us, the part of us that believes we have nothing to offer to the Lord or within his great Kingdom, the part of us that thinks we don’t really have a place with him, the part of us that shrinks from work beyond ourselves, we must come into agreement with the meaningful work that God has ordained for each of us. As common people we must take our eyes off of ourselves and allow the Messiah to make us into integral and necessary partners in the Kingdom of God.
“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:8-10
To the outcast in each of us, the part of us that is still in shame or condemnation, perhaps in embarrassment that shrinks back, the failure in us, the regrets in us, we must lift our heads to the Messiah and meet him in the eye. Here we will see that there is now no condemnation in Christ. Here we will find a friend, a companion, and our comforter, the Lord Jesus Christ and we will find our lives profoundly transformed by his very presence.
“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power[a] of the life-giving Spirit has freed you[b] from the power of sin that leads to death.” Romans 8:1-2
The Messiah tossed the entire system upside down. To the good people he declared “Stop trying so hard, you are fooling yourselves, come to me, allow me to remake you.”
To the common people he declared, “Stop thinking about your own commonness, enter into my presence with faithfulness and I will give you purpose, deep satisfaction, and significant roles to play in my Kingdom.”
To those with failure and condemnation he declared, “Stop shrinking back, stop hiding, and stop sinning, come and sit with me, I’d like to have a meal with you — we can change your life forever”
Today, who are you? Have you been the pharisee in attitudes of superiority and pride, puffed up by your own effort and goodness? Come to the cross today so that this can die along with Christ.
Have you been the common person doubting your own calling or compelling into work and influence that feels beyond you? Come to Jesus today and let him show you and lead you into the Kingdom work that has been prepared for you from before the beginning of time.
Have you been the outcast, the one with deep regrets, bad choices, with a pervading sense of failure and still carrying shame and condemnation? Today come to Jesus, turn to him, and allow his love and his grace and his friendship to penetrate your heart and life. Let him in, you will not remain the same. He wants to be your friend and your Savior and in him your life will become brand new.
Let me tell you a secret, each one of us are a mix of all these three. Each one of us has opportunity for dying to our own self-importance, for taking up meaningful work and participation in the Kingdom of God, and each one of us must learn to simply sit with Jesus, partaking of a meal laid out by his heart and his hands, bringing our sins and failures to him.
Let’s be faithful to bring to him our whole hearts and find the Lord in a brand new way today.
“But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” 2 Corinthians 3:16-18