He Gets Us Week Five: Rebel
Pastor Rick Henderson
May 20-21, 2023
The team of artists, pastors, and theologians who collaborated to make these videos and the He Gets Us campaign have masterfully achieved this blend of disruptive images with a completely orthodox description of Jesus and his life. The accurate narrative about Jesus combined with unexpected pictures has done two things. For some people who are devoted to Jesus, it’s made them uncomfortable. Maybe you can relate to that. For some people who’ve doubted Jesus, it’s made them curious. Maybe I’m talking about you.
If you really examine these video clips, Jesus is never portrayed in pictures. Jesus is only talked about. People are portrayed in pictures. Jesus came to be with people, among the people. If any of the images feel more like sandpaper than like satin, we should lean in. It’s a good time to do a double-check and make sure our hearts are calibrated to Jesus’ heart.
Today, we will look at a scene from the life of a guy who was embraced and welcomed into Jesus’ inner circle. We’ll dig more into this, but Jesus’ kindness and acceptance of this man was controversial. Do your best to imagine being surrounded by controversy. Look around. Imagine that half this room is gossiping about you right now. It’s 100% about and only about someone being kind to you. With that in mind, listen to how that very guy wrote about Jesus.
MATTHEW 1:23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
At the start of the biography that he wrote about Jesus’ life, he frames it by making sure that we understand that Jesus is nothing less than God getting down in the dirt with us.
In 1941, the BBC aired a 12-part radio drama called, A Man Born to Be King. It was written by Dorothy Sayers. She was a novelist, playwright, and poet. If she were alive today, she’d probably have a contract with Netflix. When the first episode dropped, people were livid. Stuffy religious people hated it because Jesus and the disciples talked like normal, everyday Britons. They thought it wasn’t reverent enough because they didn’t speak in King James English with thees and thous. One of the critiques was that Jesus and the disciples used slang like Americans.
Dorothy Sayers loved Jesus. She had a keen theological mind, and insight into church and culture, and she wasn’t easily intimidated. This is part of her response to the blowback she received.
The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore - on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him "meek and mild" and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. –Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957)
Boom. I like this lady. Don’t make Jesus boring. Don’t reduce him to something safe and something tedious. He’s the lion, not a kitten. Jesus is a shattering personality because he breaks and busts up our paradigms, our expectations, and our religious rules. Jesus is astounding. And those of us who know him, we live for him, not ourselves.
The overarching theme and mission of our lives is for other people to know him. We give ourselves totally to that and there is nothing we won’t give up to participate in that. Am I describing you? Am I describing us? I will ask every single one of you to be decisive today. If you haven’t yet followed Jesus, I’m going to ask you to repent and follow him. If you are following him, I will ask you to make the top priority of your life to join him on his mission of bringing the good news to everybody.
The He Gets Us campaign, their website, and videos can help us do that. Monday, I had the middle seat on a flight. Which is where every introvert loves to be assigned. As I was working on this message, I had He Gets Us material in front of me, and the guy next to me asked me what I was doing. That sparked a spiritual conversation. Turns out that he is a follower of Jesus. But like a lot of people, he hasn’t been back to church since COVID lockdowns. I did my best, hopefully, I was helpful in encouraging him to reconnect.
On Wednesday, I got to have another spiritual conversation with my Lyft driver. It really started to get good right as he pulled up to the airport terminal. Before I got out of the car, I shared the He Gets Us website with him, because his curiosity about Jesus can keep going even though our conversation couldn’t.
God got down in the dirt with us. That’s what the incarnation is. Right now I’m reading a fascinating book by Abigail Favale. As odd as it may seem, studying French, feminist philosophy launched her into a series of questions that led her away from postmodernism and into devotion to Jesus. She writes.
God is beyond our understanding, but he is nonetheless knowable, because he is able to make himself known. As a postmodernist, I focused all my attention on the inability of human language and understanding to reach out and fully grasp a divine being. I had lost sight of a divine being who reaches down to take hold of us. –Abigail Favale
When you see Jesus, you see God with us. He gets us and he wants us. He came to take hold of us. He wants all of us. He wants you. The guy who wrote the Gospel of Matthew also went by the name Levi. Whenever you hear Levi, think about Matthew. This is his story.
MARK 2:13-17 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Before we break this down, let take note of this.
Jesus accepts 100% of sinners and 0% of sin.
This is the framework we need to remember when are messed with today. If we get honest about what we just read, it’s going to mess with a lot of us. It messes with me. If at any point you feel scrambled, come back to this. Jesus accepts 100% of sinners and 0% of sin.
MARK 2:13-14 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them.
Do you know why we do events like ARC 1:8? It’s because Jesus was always looking for ways to get closer to where crowds and communities of people were. He wanted to engage with them on their turf. He’s our leader. We’re going to follow him. It’s no secret that we want people to move toward us and join us in worship services and join in small groups. A church’s relationship with its community can’t be passive. We are thrilled to intentionally move toward the crowds in our city so that we can build relationships.
Last year was basically an experiment. This year, people from the community called Riverside Elementary, asking us to come back and do it again. It’s a privilege to be invited into a neighborhood. We get to keep building relationships and be the incarnation of Jesus in this town. Will you join us in that?
MARK 2:13-14 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them.
As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
We could talk for hours about this. But we don’t have hours. So, let’s summarize this using the words of another pastor.
People who were nothing like Jesus, LIKED Jesus, and he LIKED them back. (Andy Stanley)
There are lots of reasons that there was often a crowd around Jesus. I think one of the reasons that people wanted to be around him was that they sensed he wanted to be around them. He didn’t give off a vibe of being interrupted or inconvenienced. He intentionally and continually invited people to him.
Jesus would be the easiest person to have a conversation with. If you were talking with him, he’d make you feel like the only person in the room. He’d be the one stranger who you were happy sat in the middle seat, next to you on a flight. Are you offended yet? Looks like I need to try harder.
What was Levi’s, or Matthew’s job? He was a tax collector. Here’s how that worked. He was employed by Rome, to collect taxes. That money funded the Roman occupation and added to the growing wealth of the empire. Rome set what each tax collector was supposed to collect from a district. Wealthy people bribed tax collectors to charge them less. Levi would have pocketed that money. The overall amount that Rome required stayed the same. That cost was passed on to people who couldn’t afford bribes. Not only that, he collected more than was necessary so that he could pay himself.
He was a government-sanctioned, military-protected, extortioner of his own people. And Jesus said to that guy, I want you on my team. I want you in my inner circle. I want to make you an Apostle and I pick you to write my story, to write part of the Bible. Are we starting to get just how scandalous the grace of Jesus is?
Let me keep pressing. This is dangerous because my wife might get mad at me for this one. A couple of weeks ago I shared about a renter I had who craftily worked the system, trashed my house and cost me and my wife thousands of dollars. To climb out of that hole we lost our savings and retirement. Adding insult to injury, we paid this guy to move out of our house. We’ll call this guy JJ.
Now imagine that Jesus literally, physically shows up, and invites JJ to follow him and be in his inner circle. Imagine that Jesus picks JJ to be a pastor, and he’s the guy who I listen to preach every Sunday. Levi is JJ. Are we starting to get just how scandalous the grace of Jesus is.
I bet that as many of you think about that scenario, you’re not just imagining with me, you are smuggling in assumptions. Don’t’ be a smuggler. Here’s an assumption that I bet some of you are smuggling in right now. Some of you are just assuming that Levi paid people back when he followed Jesus. You’re assuming that Jesus made him make everything right financially before he got to go on tour with Jesus.
The other reason we smuggle in that assumption is because this isn’t the only tax collector who Jesus befriended. The other one was named (let them say it). Zaccheaus. He paid people back, with interest! But the text doesn’t say that about Levi. We have no biblical reasons to believe that Matthew gave anybody any money back. Instead, it tells us that he threw a dinner party.
MARK 2:15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.
He threw a dinner party. Lots of people showed up. This is a big affair and it attracted attention and gossip. Where do you think that he got the money to finance this soiree? And Jesus went to the party. Can you see why people who love rules and religion had a hard time with Jesus? Can you see that he was a shattering personality?
MARK 2:16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
There are some questions that are designed to get information and there are some questions that to give information. Which one is this? This question is a statement. The statement is this. If Jesus really was good, he wouldn’t join with people who were bad. If you’re going to accept and embrace these people, you are approving and endorsing all the ways that they break God’s law. Does that sound familiar to anyone?
Let’s get real. There are too many good hearted, Jesus-loving people who have been deceived by anti-gospel thinking. Maybe even you. Maybe even me.
- If I have dinner with someone who believes or lives in a way that I know is wrong, I’m approving of sin.
- If I welcome in my home someone who believes or lives in a way that I know is wrong, I’m approving of sin.
- If I socialize with someone who believes or lives in a way that I know is wrong, I’m approving of sin.
When we follow that advice, when we follow that way of thinking—we are no longer following Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t afraid to have a GOOD time with BAD people.
There is no one that Jesus would not pull a chair out for. There is no one who Jesus would not pull a chair up next to.
If you’re not sure who are the good people and who are the bad people, let me tell you a story. In the 1700s there was a well-known preacher and evangelist in our country who condemned the mistreatment of slaves. He said things like, if slaves were ever able to get the upper hand, it would be the providence of God, and what slave owning colonies received in that imagined scenario would be just.
He talked to African Americans when he preached. He purchased 5,000 acres to build a school, solely to educate slaves. This was in the 1700s. The man was out of step with culture. During this man’s ministry, many thousands of Americans, from all kinds of backgrounds, repented and followed Jesus. His preaching is credited with igniting something called the Great Awakening in our country.
This man started an orphanage in Georgia. Doesn’t this sound like I’m describing one of the good guys. The man I’m talking about was George Whitefield.
He was a great preacher. He did good things. But like all of us, he was a complicated mess of moral contradictions. By 1747 the orphanage he started was struggling financially and was going to shut down. Under that pressure he caved. He let friends purchase a plantation and slaves for him to provide ongoing funding for the orphanage. Shortly after that he participated in slave trading, himself.
I share that with you as a way to shine a spotlight on another expression of anti-gospel thinking.
- There are good people and there are bad people.
We know the truth, right? There aren’t good people and bad people. There’re just people. And we are all sinners. We are all a moral mess. Every single one of us keeps falling short of God’s standard. We all keep falling short of his glory. Whenever any of us get grace from Jesus, it’s scandalous.
The Apostle Paul turned the spotlight of scrutiny on himself when he wrote this.
1 TIMOTHY 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I was the worst.
Is that correct? Some of you have already spotted what’s wrong. This is what it actually says.
1 TIMOTHY 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
Only Jesus is good. And if you are a follower of Jesus, God labels you as good and as righteous. It’s not because of anything we do. It’s not because of something we might potentially do. It’s not because we somehow limit how much bad we do. It is a scandalous gift of grace. The status of good and righteous is given to us because of what Jesus did. That’s the good news.
Let’s go back to the dinner party at Levi’s house. The Pharisees asked, “why does Jesus eat with such bad people?” They asked it loud enough for people to hear it over all the background noise of the party.
MARK 2:17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Do you remember earlier when I said that if you get scrambled today, remember this framework: Jesus accepts 100% of sinners and 0% of sin. That should come shining through now. There’s no one that Jesus wouldn’t pull a chair out for. There’s no one that Jesus wouldn’t pull a chair up next to. His grace is nothing short of scandalous.
But that doesn’t mean that your sin and my sin isn’t really that big of a deal. Your sin and my sin is a far bigger deal than we know how to calculate. Jesus was answer was basically this. I’m here, at this party tonight, because everyone here is messed up. Every one here is sick with sin. And the doctor is in. Can we think about Jesus in this way.
Jesus was WINSOMELY OFFENSIVE.
No one will ever love you as honestly and truly as Jesus. And no one will ever be as honest with you about you than Jesus.
Irenaeus was a bishop and theologian. He was discipled by a guy who was discipled by the Apostle John. He summed up Jesus’ response like this.
What competent doctor, when asked to cure a sick person, would simply follow the desires of the patient, and not act in accordance with the requirements of good medicine? –Irenaeus of Lyons (AD 130-202)
Sinners are safe with Jesus, but sin isn’t. Don’t get caught in the trap of only looking at half of Jesus. Some people just want to look at his love and grace. Some just want to look at truth and his holiness. His love and grace will never make sense without truth and holiness. Truth and holiness will never make sense with his love and grace. When we see both, we see that he is anything but a safe and declawed kitten, surrounded by religious tedium. He is a lion, a disruptive and shattering personality who comes crashing in. And he says to us all, follow me.
If you’re debating whether or not to follow Jesus, but hoping that you can stay where you are, as you are—you’re actually asking Jesus to follow you. Would you humbly repent. This is what that means. It means to turn from the direction you were going and now turn toward him. Would you be willing to say to Jesus, “I know that I’m a sinner and your grace is my only hope. I believe you died on the cross for my sins and that you rose from the dead. I give my life to you.”
For the rest of us who have crossed the line of faith and are followers of Jesus, this is a decisive moment for us as well. What is the mission and purpose of your life?
Is there anyone you won’t pull out a seat for?
Is there anyone you won’t pull up a seat next to?
Is there anything you wouldn’t do to make sure there is always a seat open for anyone who wants to come?
May we be people who follow him and never get bored with this amazing, scandalous grace.