Jesus Came to Call Sinners

words spelled on scrabble tiles

Hosea is an interesting prophet. God told him to take a wife who was unfaithful, which he did. God said, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord” (Hosea 1:2 ESV). Throughout the book of Hosea, God shows him what it is like when the Israelites forsake God for other gods. They had turned their back on God even though he loved them as his own bride.

In a strange twist, she leaves Hosea after having children and Hosea is told to take her back and love her. Even though Israel sold herself to the Baals, God reveals His heart for his people: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). Jesus quotes this passage when he was criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners: “Go and learn, what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).

The heart of the gospel is repentance, a theme that is dominant throughout the entire Bible. God’s plea to Israel is to return to him: “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity” (Hosea 14:1). He makes a promise that he will love his people and will heal their iniquity when they repent. We need to be reminded of God’s mercy for his people. It changes the way we treat “sinner and tax collectors,” the people who God calls to righteousness!

The Gospel Among Samaritans

old building on lawn behind rocks under starry sky

The Samaritans were a very unlikely place for the gospel to be preached. Even though Christ went there in the famous story of meeting the woman at the well, there was still a lot of tension between those in the south and Samaria. There was a very long history with Samaritans where the Jews in the south wouldn’t even step foot inside Samaria. They were considered worse than heretics.

But while Saul was ravaging the church, Philip made a trip to Samaria to preach the word. Once again the Samaritans were receptive, just as they were with Jesus: “And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. . . so there was much joy in that city” (Acts 8:6, 8 ESV). Simon the magician also believed. Interestingly, he had great credibility with the gospel because people had been amazed by him in the past because of his magic.

After being baptized, Simon continued with Philip and was amazed by the signs and wonders. Things took a dramatic turn when he tried to pay Philip for spiritual gifts. Philip rebuked him and told him to repent. He, in fact, did repent and asked Philip to pray for him that God would forgive him. Luke doesn’t record the outcome, but we can assume Philip does so. What happens next speaks to what happens when respected people repent: “Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans” (vs. 25).

The Rich Man and Lazarus

photo of a homeless man sleeping near a cardboard sign

Jesus told a story of a rich man who feasted every day. At his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, who was covered with sores, and who wanted just the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. They both died and Lazarus was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man, however, was in Hades being tormented. He saw Abraham far off and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame” (Luke 16:24 ESV).

Abraham replied, saying that he received good things in his lifetime and Lazarus received bad things. He went on to explain that Lazarus was being comforted and could not pass between the chasm that was between them. Realizing the severity of his circumstance, the rich man said, “Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house–for I have five brothers–so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment” (vs. 27, 28). Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”

The rich man still pleaded, saying that if they hear someone from the dead they will repent. In a rather chilling response, Abraham replied, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they by convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (vs. 31). This is a harsh reminder that people here on this earth need to listen to what God commands. After we are dead is too late to repent. God wants everyone to come to him but won’t give a free pass to Heaven. Paul realized the severity of eternal judgment and was determined to strain toward the goal, no matter the cost to him.

There Is no Fear In Love

scrabble tiles on the white background

Many people struggle throughout life because they fear something. Fear can be crippling. Fear keeps us from taking risks. It keeps us in our comfort zone, never really striving to become better. We can fear many things, but fear of holding onto what is good and right keeps many people from seeking God. I’ve known many people who live in a constant state of fear and their fear takes over.

One of the most repeated commands throughout the Bible is, “fear not.” Fear leads to anxiety and will take our focus off of God and His kingdom. Can you imagine if the apostles feared losing their livelihood when Jesus called them to follow him? What would have happened if they gave up when John the Baptist was beheaded? Or if they quit preaching when they were threatened and put in prison? Not only did they refuse to give in to fear, but they conquered great things by placing their trust in God!

John says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18 ESV). Whoever fears has not been perfected in love. What a powerful statement! When we have been perfected in Christ’s love for us we no longer have anything to fear. Remember when Paul said, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” He stared danger in the eye because he was not afraid. He trusted in God and that is how he was able to keep straining toward the goal. When we allow God’s love for us to be perfected, we no longer fear man. We will accomplish great things for the kingdom every time!

Always Look for the Helpers

here to help lettering text on black background

Mr. Rogers famously said that his mom used to tell him to always look for the helpers. She went on to explain that if we focus on the evil going on in the world we will lose perspective. There are always helpers out there sacrificing their time and efforts to help those in need. People will always have hope when they know that there are helpers who are willing to step in and assist those in need. Proverbs 19:17 says, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”

Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” And who can forget when Jesus made a distinction between sheep and wolves? What separated them was how they treated (or neglected) those in need.

Over and over again the scriptures command us to be helpers to those in need, pointing people to the generous heart of God. God cares for his people and expects his people to care for others. Always look for the helpers. There will be a time when we need helpers too. We have to live our lives in a way that brings honor to God. Our sacrifices for others do not go unnoticed by our Father.

The Faith of the Centurion

old couple holding hands in hospital

The word for faith comes from the root word peitho, which means to be persuaded. In all references, it is a divine persuasion and is therefore distinguished from belief. Where belief is something we do, faith is something we receive. We have faith because God has proved himself to be true, righteous, and just. A prime example is that demons can believe but they do not have faith: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder!” (James 2:19 ESV). There is an abundance of scriptures that show our faith is received from God. Colossians 2:6-7 says, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus as the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

Faith is vital to our spiritual wellbeing. In Luke 7, a centurion’s servant fell ill. The centurion sent Jewish elders to Jesus to plead with him to heal the servant. The centurion was friendly to Jews and even built a synagogue. Jesus went with the elders and when he got close to the house, “the centurion sent friends, saying to him, ‘Lord do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof'” (vs. 6). “When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith'” (vs. 9).

When the friends returned to the house, they found the servant well. We can either accept the faith or reject it. The centurion chose to accept God’s faith in abundance and Jesus was quite pleased. We often forget that faith comes from God and so we think we can “work on our faith.” A much better approach is to be like the centurion and fully accept the faith. Like the apostles, we should pray, “Lord increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5).

We Walk by Faith, Not by Sight

empty road leading towards high mountains with clouds above

Paul reminded the Corinthian church that our heavenly home is guaranteed. He said, “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:6-7 ESV). We all know that our faith walk to Heaven, if left to our own vices, is not a straight path. We have many ups and downs in life, including many successes and also life-shattering disappointments. However, Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

The only way to make the path straight is to trust God, acknowledge Him in all we do, and only then will he make our paths straight. James tells us how important it is to ask in faith in the context of meeting trials: “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). In fact, he says the one who doubts is double-minded and is unstable in all his ways. That’s a very strong statement, and it shows the importance that faith has in our life.

As we strain toward the goal of Heaven, we need to keep all of our faith in God. Man will let us down, but God provides. His salvation is beautiful and we Christians have a hope that others don’t. Our faith guides us and will keep on on the straight path. If we attempt to live by what we see, we will fail every time. We choose to walk by faith, always!