The Company You Keep (Why Jesus?, week 2)

May 2nd, 2011

This week we’ll take a closer look at a man who chose to be with the very people we typically write off – shaky business partners and women of the night, the physically deformed, and the emotionally needy. Jesus never wrote people off. Rather, he graciously invited the broken into His relational circle of hope.

You know, this Jesus series has a great potential of discovery for all of us as we try to figure out who this Jesus is. But how many of you all have ever been on a journey or started a project that really held great excitement for you, but you knew that it just might not end up the way you thought? Several years ago I was heading to North Carolina for a conference and I had a couple hours, and I love to hike, so I stopped in the Smokey Mountains. There was this trail I have always wanted to do. It was a two-mile trail to a waterfall. It was mid November, a brisk day, but it was really nice, and when I pulled into the parking lot of the trail head, there was not another car in sight. I thought, “This is excellent! I’ve got the trail to myself.” So I found a good hiking stick and I started out and I was about a mile down the trail and I popped over this little hill, and I ran smack into a bear. Now, fortunately, I scared him as much as he scared me; he went the other direction, and I turned around and went back to my car. See, that journey didn’t end the way I thought it would and that’s what scares me just a little bit.

I’m very intrigued about studying “Why Jesus,” but I’m also a little bit scared because I have this fear that the more I get to know Jesus and study him, the less I am going to like where my own life is leading. The more I get to love Jesus, the more I’m going to know that my life doesn’t compare to what Jesus’ does. You know, as I studied this week all the stories about who Jesus hung out with, who did he keep company with, I discovered two things. One, what I’ve come across is this godly man who seems to end up in some of the most ungodly places. And the places you expect God to hang out, He seems to find objectionable. See, not only did Jesus place Himself in the company of people that we would do everything in our power to avoid or ignore or dismiss, He relished keeping company with these kinds of people.

If you’ve got your Bibles, turn to Matthew, Chapter 9. If there is one story that characterizes Jesus the best, I believe it is this story. And while you turn there, I want to set up the scene for you. Jesus has just returned back to his hometown, and He has this argument with the religious leaders about mercy. And he forgives the sins of a paralytic man, and then he heals him, and immediately following that scene, look with me in verse 9. As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow Me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. Now before we move on, I want you to place yourself in the scene. Jesus has just had this confrontation about showing grace and mercy to a paralytic man. He walks out, walks down the street, sees a tax collector, and invites him to be a disciple. Now, Jesus intentionally chooses this man that nobody in that culture would have even invited to their home. Jesus chooses this man to be a disciple that none of us would even like.

See, as a local tax collector, Matthew would’ve been the most hated person in town. He not only would’ve been seen as a cheat and a thief, he would’ve been seen as a traitor because he served the Roman government. And the amazing thing about what Jesus did, Jesus chose Matthew and then Matthew chooses Him back. So you ought to believe there is something deeper going on here. I think it’s not just a random act of faith that Matthew had. Matthew had a deep longing to be chosen again. He had a deep longing to be part of something right – a deep longing to be special again – to have value and worth, because here is a man who has not only betrayed his countrymen, he has probably betrayed his values and made some very poor mistakes. Then Jesus comes along and chooses him and he responds.

You know, what I’ve discovered this week is that Jesus has a great habit of seeking out the un-chosen and choosing to hang out with them. His 12 disciples were like this rag-tag bunch of tax collectors, thieves, local fishermen, traders, you know, just your society’s nobodies. They were definitely not the elite. They were definitely not the best. It would be like trying to start a multi-million dollar business with maybe 12 high school drop-outs. It would be like trying to start and grow a mega-church with a bunch of common folk. Oh wait – so maybe Jesus is on to something. See, the problem is that what we do is we tend to lean  toward the influential? We lean toward the in-crowd. We try to lean toward what we view as the best and the brightest. See, I think we do that because we want to be a part of what we feel like the world says is the best, and we’re so easily drawn to this idea of what the world deems as best.

 You know, back in October when we did the Change the World Conferences here and we invited churches and church leaders from all over to come, and we spent three days talking about ministry and talking about reaching out to the poor and the oppressed, reaching out to Sudan. We talked about sending the Church out into the world. And, you know after three days of that – it was over on Friday at 4:00 – and Friday at 6:00 I was on a plane, so I had the opportunity to spend four days at a relative’s condo in Naples. Now when I got to Naples, I had never been to Naples, the first day there – just seeing all the wealth – it sunk my spirit. It was like how could there be so much money concentrated into such a little place when the whole world is starving to death. But, you know, after three days of sitting in a pool, I was thinking, “Man, I could get used to living here!” I got sucked in a little bit. We all get sucked in, don’t we? But, see, Jesus never gets sucked in. He knows what His mission is and he knows what his purpose is.

In Luke, Chapter 14 – if you want to turn there – Jesus is invited to a dinner party by a prominent Pharisee, and when Jesus is invited, He usually shows up. But the amazing thing about this story is that instead of Jesus being honored to be at this gathering, instead of even just sitting back and eating and relaxing and hanging out with prominent people, Jesus always seems to throw a wrench into the festivities. This is what he says in verse 12 – Jesus said to his host, “When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers, or your sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors. If you do, they may invite you back, and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, invite the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and then you will be blessed.” Now, as a host of an exclusive dinner party, what do you say to that? How do you respond to that? See, I think Jesus not only took a shot at them, Jesus took a shot at all our parties, and more than that, Jesus took a shot at our attitudes - our attitudes of pride and our attitudes of prejudice. You know, I can’t think of the last time that I went out of my way to befriend or invite somebody who didn’t look like me just to hang out. And even here at Ginghamsburg, as Cell Group leader, when I look for leaders – when I look for hosts of house churches – do my biases get in the way of the people God wants me to use? Am I looking in the places Jesus would look? See, I’m not totally sure what to do with this, but what I’ve learned this week is this: Jesus has great affinity for our society’s rejections, and I don’t know about you, but that speaks volumes to the way I live. Jesus desired to be with the undesirables.

Back in Matthew, Chapter 9, let’s finish the story of the calling of Matthew. Jesus has called Matthew. Matthew has responded. This is what happens in verse 10: When Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples, and when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” I love Luke’s account of the story because Luke says it like this, “Matthew held a great banquet for Jesus, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with Him.” See, the first thing Matthew did when he met Jesus was he wanted to invite Jesus to meet all his friends. The problem is this – Who were Matthew’s friends? They are people just like him, and the outrage by the religious leaders is louder and clear, is it not? Not only, Jesus, did you choose to a disciple that is a tax collector, now you’re hanging out with them? How dare you lower yourself to be with people who blatantly break the Commandments of God? How dare you hang out with people who flaunt their lifestyles of sin and really say nothing or do nothing about it?

Now before we get too negative with the Pharisees, I honestly believe they were only trying to do what God had told them to do, and that is to separate themselves from sin, to separate themselves from sinful people and the influence that they have. You know, we’re known by the company we keep, right? But what we see in Jesus is not a philosophy of withdrawal; we see Jesus’ philosophy of getting involved with sinful people to build relationships with Him so that He could share the grace of God with them. Now, no doubt, you and I, we can be influenced by the people we hang out with, but Jesus was never afraid to get into places of darkness so that He could shine a little light.

You know, if we look at the church in general, there are basically two kinds of people that we see here in the United States. The first group is what we call “soft secular.” These are people who are so determined to live in the real world, not be isolated from it, that they adopt the world’s standards. And then we see the second group; these are people who are so determined to live a holy life and not surrender to the standards of Jesus – they withdraw from the world altogether. Both are wrong. Jesus did neither of those. Jesus identified with undesirable sinners in order to include them in a relationship with God. See, unlike most of us, Jesus never writes anybody off.

One of the great ironies of the 21st century Church is that as Christians - most of us as Christians - only hang out in circles of other Christians. Will you do a self-test with me? How many people do you hang out with regularly who are not Jesus followers? Or how many people do you invite to your house that don’t have your values or don’t look like you? Or how many people have you befriended lately that candidly participate in sinful activity? Well, if I am going to be honest with you today, I could count that on this one hand. Jesus said this, “I did not come to judge the world but to save it.” But we tend to judge the world and then we turn our back on the world, especially when the world has need. You know, it is way too easy to become self-righteous. That is just what happens to us. It is way too easy to become self-righteous and miss the people that Jesus sought out.

You know, when I was 12, I accepted Christ into my life as a 6th grader, and one of the things I wanted to do after about three months was to become a witness. And so I started wearing a cross – simply wearing a cross in my 6th grade class. Now, there was a kid in my class; his name was Phillip, probably the problem kid of the class. Always getting in trouble. He wasn’t really a bully, but he was definitely not somebody I wanted to hang out with. So one day, he walks up to me and he sees my cross, and he says, “So, Kevin, are you a Christian?” And here was my chance to become the great witness of God. I said, “Yes, I am, Phillip; I am a Christian.” And he said this to me, he said, “You know what? I am way too bad to ever be a Christian.” And I just literally laughed and walked away. Now in my maturity, I missed a great opportunity to show the love of God to somebody that Jesus loved. I missed a great opportunity.

In Luke, Chapter 7, Jesus is again invited to another party by a Pharisee, and I love this story because Jesus never forgot His mission. So, at this dinner party of this prominent Pharisee, in comes a prostitute. And she comes into the party; she literally cries tears on Jesus’ feet; she wipes his feet with her hair; and then she pours perfume on his feet. Now, can you imagine what is going through the host’s mind? Well, we kind of know because he said it under his breath evidently. This is what he says, and he probably said it this manner, “Well, if this man were a prophet, he would know who was touching him and what kind of woman she is; man, she is a sinner.”

Now before we judge the Pharisee, we don’t say anything under our breaths, do we? What kind of place is this that allows people like that in here? And I’ll let you fill in the blank. Or – “I can’t believe that person is serving here at Ginghamsburg after all they’ve done.” Or – “Man, that person is so annoying – I hope they don’t come up to me; I don’t want to talk to them.” Or – “Man, that person is just not right.” We don’t do that, right? Jesus has a lot to say about that. This is what He says to His hosts in Luke 7:44, “Simon, do you see this woman? I came into your house; you did not give me any water, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman from the time I entered has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you her many sins have been forgiven as her great love has shown.” Then Jesus turned to her and said, “Your sins are forgiven; your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” Jesus shows great mercy to the prostitute and little mercy to the Pharisee, and it’s not because of who they are but it’s because of this attitude that they exhibited.

You know, three years ago I went to Thailand and I took a team. We were doing a “Not for Sale” mission trip. We were going to experience and try to work with ministries who are getting people out of human trafficking. Our first stop was Bangkok, and we were going to work with a ministry called Night Life. The whole mission of Night Life is to go into the bars and strip clubs and befriend prostitutes and bring them into a different way of life and then tell them about Jesus. But before we actually went to that ministry, we went to a place called Patpong just to walk through it. Now Patpong is the oldest red-light district in all of Bangkok, and it’s two long streets up and back, and we were just going to walk through just to experience it. Now in Patpong all it is – bars, strip clubs, pornography shops, and venders with pictures, and all the way down through there I could feel this self-righteous anger just boiling up in me as people are soliciting and trying to give me pictures, and I’m thinking, “How could these men be here doing this? How could these women be doing this? God, you’ve got to do something about this place. You’ve got to judge this place!” But you know, the next day as we were working with some of the ladies at Night Light, and we saw what Jesus was doing to change their lives – not just change their life but change their character – it dawned on me – Jesus doesn’t see a prostitute; Jesus only sees a child of God. You know, if Patpong isn’t a place for a man of God, it is exactly the kind of place where I would expect to find Jesus – find Jesus showing grace and mercy, walking the streets and saying, “Come, follow Me.” Walking the streets and saying, “I love you; let’s eat; let’s talk; let’s have a relationship. Your sins are forgiven; go in peace.”

Jesus had a heart for all of us who make big mistakes. Jesus has a heart for all the word’s “throw-aways,” and he is seeking them out no matter what they or you or I have done. Jesus never writes anybody off. And do you know why Jesus never writes anybody off? It is because his mission – his whole purpose – was to seek out the broken and to restore them back to life. This is what Jesus says about his mission (finishing in Matthew, Chapter 9): “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. Go and learn what this means. I desire mercy, not sacrifice, for I have not come to call the righteous; I have come to call the sinners.”

You know, when we look at Jesus’ whole life, he spent quality time in synagogues teaching; he spent quality time with his disciples; he spent quality time with God. But when you look at his whole life, the place you will find him the most is in the streets of the towns. The places you will find him the most are in local houses, on the roads, because he is seeking company with regular people who are broken so that he can bring the Kingdom of God to them.

One of my favorite stories in all the scriptures – it’s just a little story: Jesus is walking and he has a crowd with Him, and it seems like a random thing. He walks to this town, and coming out of the town is a funeral procession, and the scripture says that it is a young man who died, and his mom is there and she is crying, and she is a widow; she had already lost her husband and now she has lost her son. This is what happens: When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her. Isn’t that just like Jesus? And he said, “don’t cry.” And then he went up and he touched the coffin they were carrying him on; the bearers stood still, and He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up,” and the dead man sat up and began to talk. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. See, her whole life was probably over. Not only had she lost her special loved ones, but being without a man in that culture would have put her whole life at risk. And then one encounter with Jesus, and there is life again! Her life is restored.

Matthew 12:20 probably describes Jesus best, and this is what it says, “A bruised reed he will not break; a smoldering wick he will not snuff out until he has brought justice through to victory.” Jesus seemed to have a way with broken people, and the more I have studied this week, I have discovered the key. Do you know what the key is? He had a way with people because he dearly loved people; he dearly loved them, and not just loved them for what they can give in return, he loved them because they were children of God: The weakest of the weak, the lowly, the desperate, the totally forgotten. You and I, we are all in good hands with Jesus.

You know, one of our inclinations as people, we tend to only give when we are expecting something in return, and Jesus’ life and actions ask us those tough questions about that because Jesus came to give grace, mercy, and love, and healing, and he finally gave himself, without anticipating anything on return. You know, even dying on a cross – Jesus could not help himself but to give one last invitation, one last relationship with a condemned thief who was dying next to him. “Today you will be with me in Paradise- is how that story ended. Doesn’t it make you wonder who is going to be at the great banquet when we get to Heaven? Who is going to be there? You know, sometimes I wonder if Jesus is even present with us this morning. Now, before you call me a heretic, I fully believe the Holy Spirit is here. The Holy Spirit promises to teach us and encourages. He promises to convict us and promises to raise us up and help us to understand. The Holy Spirit is here this morning, but if I’ve learned anything about Jesus this week, His favorite place is not necessarily in the company of the faithful. His favorite place is out there with the prostitutes, the poor, and the broken. His favorite place is to be out there with the unwanted, the least, and the lost, and to everybody that we might reject. His favorite place was to be with people who needed Him the most. That’s where Jesus would be.

Jesus taught me a great lesson years ago, because I didn’t quite understand this idea that Jesus is with the poor and the lost. I went to Venezuela eleven years ago just to scout out a mission trip, and when I got there we were going to work in this barrio of about 11,000 people. And while we were there, just wandering the streets, all these children would come around us – literally hundreds of children – and they would just touch us, and they would love us. I couldn’t even understand them. They would just hang out with us, and after three or four days it finally dawned on me – I really don’t know how to explain it to you – but Jesus was present in those children. Jesus was present there, and it took me weeks of crying because these kids had nothing. They literally had no hope in life to understand that Jesus is present with those who need him the most.

So, the question I have for all of us this morning is: What do we do with this Jesus who kept company with the unwanted, the undesirables, and these people who are broken? What do we do with that? Let me give you two things. The first thing I think we need to do is embrace our own brokenness. We are all broken. The great irony of talking about other broken people is that we are “it.” We are the people that need restoration. We are the sinners. We are the people that have broken our promises to God. We are the people who have guilt and shame. We are the people who are sitting at a banquet of loneliness, and Jesus continually asks to hang out with us – thank goodness! We need to embrace not only our own brokenness; we need to embrace that relationship with God, who wants to restore all of us at all times no matter what we have done, and if you have never taken a step to meet Jesus, Jesus is here asking even now to be with you and to hang out with you no matter what you’ve done, no matter who you are, no matter where you have been, and all the mistakes you have made – Jesus is asking right now: “I want to hang out with you; I choose you, will you choose Me?”

The second thing I would say is this: We need to embrace not only our brokenness but the brokenness of others. If you look around this room, there are probably people in here you probably don’t even like – well, maybe not. We are the Body of Christ, and we are called not only to embrace our brokenness but to embrace the brokenness of this congregation that Jesus is restoring back to life so that we can embrace the brokenness of those outside our walls. How many people have you invited to be a part of this relationship with Jesus? How many people do you hang out with that are not like you? You know, if Jesus’ mission was to save and not to judge, how can we do anything else but to follow in his footsteps? Jesus came to connect the world so that he could save the world because he loves the world, and we are the light of the world to go take Jesus in those places that he is needed the most.

Pray with me. Dear Jesus, we just thank you so much for loving us and for continuing to choose us. I pray even now if there is somebody in here who has never met you, Jesus, that you would just become real to them right now. I pray, Jesus, that not only do we thank You so much for all that you do for us, but help us to embrace those people around us who really, really need to see you and meet you. God, we thank you so much. Challenge our lives. Challenge our actions this day and help us to be the light of the world, and we thank You in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Transcribed from Kevin Applegate’s March 20, 2011 message. Copyright 2011, Ginghamsburg Church, all rights reserved.

comments powered by Disqus