In recent years, the secular world has been painting a picture of Jesus as a man who embraced all people with no questions asked. He dined with the sinners of His day and did not judge based on sin. They proclaim that Jesus was a minister of love who was all about accepting people for who they are.
The truth is that Jesus did expect repentance. He spoke often of the cost to follow Him. But throughout His ministry, His love came first. Jesus knew that once a person experienced the true love of God, they would never be the same.
The following passage in Matthew gives us a glimpse into the heart of Jesus towards the lost:
Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:35-37 (NLT)
Jesus had compassion for the lost. He saw them as lost sheep without a shepherd to guide them. There was no judgement. No condemnation. Nothing in Him said, “Wow. I can’t believe their sin. They are such sinful people.” Rather, His heart ached for them. They desperately needed Him.
When we look at the stories of how Jesus interacted and healed those He came into contact with, we see that repentance wasn’t a prerequisite for Him to work in their lives. He spoke up for the woman caught in adultery, saved her from being stoned to death, and then He told her to go and sin no more. (John 8:1-11)
Time and time again, we see Jesus healing people and casting out demons. He never asks them to repent first. In Jesus ministry of love, He helped those in need first and foremost. He demonstrated who He was; and in response, they chose to follow Him. He proved His love to be authentic, so that when the truth was spoken, His words were readily heard.
His love came first – repentance followed.
I’ve noticed two incorrect trains of thought recently within the church: One says that we have to get our act together before we come to Christ. The other says we don’t have to get our acts together at all even after we come to Christ. But the truth is that love is what compels us towards God in the first place. It’s His love for us that drives us to want to serve Him with our lives.
When someone has a true revelation of the love of God, their life will never be the same.
As Christians, we often hide in our church cliques and talk about how bad the world is getting instead of getting out there and demonstrating Christ’s love. (I certainly have been guilty of this…) But we are the body of Christ. We are called to share the love of Jesus to the world. Did Jesus ever embrace sin? No. But did He ever withhold His love from a sinner? Not once.
So how do we respond to this truth as Christians today? We embrace people. We serve them. And we love unconditionally. And then we let the love of God change their hearts and minds towards Him.
When Jesus healed and performed miracles, He did so with no expectations. While we were still sinners, He died for us.
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:6-8 (NLT)
Oh, how I love Jesus… Because He first loved me.
Have you ever wondered why sinners wanted to hang out with Jesus in the first place? How many “sinners” do you know that actually want to hang out with pastors and evangelists? (Probably not too many…)
Jesus served them. He loved them. But He also never sugar-coated His message. He never condoned their sinful behavior, but He probably didn’t put them down for it either (otherwise their response would have been to avoid Him rather than spend time with Him.) His love for them must have been evident enough for them to WANT to be around Him.
In the same way, our love needs to be evident to the world. Instead of telling the world how sinful they are, we need to be telling them how much they are loved by their Creator. And not just telling them, but showing them through our actions.
This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. – John 15:12-13 (NLT)