February 22, 2015

By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor

Mark 2: 13-23

The Church in general is in kind of a mess, e.g.: full of conflict, problematic behavior, and even messy teaching. Many young Americans are leaving the Church, and only one in ten pastors will still be in the ministry when they retire. How did Christ Himself respond to the messy lives around Him as we see glimpses in Mark of how He was building His Kingdom on earth?

1. Jesus Christ is building his Kingdom with sinners who follow him

The Pharisees, the religious self-righteous, certainly raised their eyebrows in disapproval when Jesus asked the tax collector, Levi, to “Follow me.” (Mark 2: 14) Tax collectors were viewed by them as despised, ceremonially unclean, and dishonest. How could Jesus call these sinful, disputable people with the same words as He had earlier called His other disciples? Even further, how could Jesus share in a dinner (socialize) with a group of tax collectors and sinners? (Mark 2: 15,16)

Jesus answered these questions with a medical comparison: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come for righteous but sinners.” (Mark 2: 17) As the sick need doctors, sinners need a Savior.

Jesus is intentionally building His Kingdom with non-reputable sinners. Jesus builds His Kingdom only with sinners who need a Savior; there is no room for the self-righteous and self-sufficient. These sinners have one common characteristic in addition to their sins: they choose to follow Jesus.

As we see glimpses elsewhere in Scripture, in the process of following Him, these disciples led a life of repentance, and their sinful lives were a continual work of transformation to the likeness of their Master. Like Jesus’ followers, our lives are in the “messy middle”; none of us has arrived at perfection. We are all just sinners who love Jesus. Church, our church, has to be a “safe place to bring our mess”. (Quote from a Grace Community elder)

2. And He is going to keep on doing it….Building His Kingdom with sinners.

Underneath, the Pharisees with their questions (Mark 2: 16) really wanted Jesus to build His Kingdom with people like them, considering themselves to be righteous and pious. But Jesus taught the crowd that, like the Bridegroom (a comparison to God in the O.T.), His divine presence was right there with them, and while He was on earth, He was teaching about a new kind of Kingdom where repentant sinners were welcome. (Mark 2: 19-22)

Jesus’ inner circle of disciples continued to be messy, and at his death, all his disciples had deserted him as He died alone on the Cross. The Church universal has been messy through history, e.g.: widespread splitting over the tiniest of issues, the Crusade, the Inquisition. The Church is messy today, even at Grace Community.

Yet, Jesus taught us that in His Kingdom, He deliberately chooses to welcome sinners who follow Him with a life of repentance, and He rewards them for this choice by saving and empowering them with His grace, not their perfection.

Jesus builds His Kingdom on “knuckle heads” and sinners just like you and I who were not perfect when we decided to follow Jesus, and continue to be imperfect. Yet He offers us His Righteousness, His grace, His forgiveness, His power. As His followers, we will face messes in our lives and the church with repentance and hope, daily seeing our love for ourselves and others being more developed through Jesus’ transforming power.

We now know that there is certainly room in His Kingdom for ourselves, and any other imperfect person who wants to follow Jesus. We are sinners working with other sinners to call sinners to Jesus Christ.