Reading Time: 4 mins

In The Wild: Church for Those People

Reading Time: 4 mins

The gospel is for sinners – both the tax collector and Pharisee, both in need of the Great Physician.

Over the last year, I have had the privilege of preaching through the Gospel of John at my church. As we have been working our way through this beautiful Gospel, I have noticed a continued theme. Jesus finds himself in what Allan Dayhoff, in his book, Church in a Blues Bar, refers to as “The Wild.” Think about it. The story begins with the Word making his home among us. The first encounter we have is with a guy named John the Baptist, crying out “in the wild.” And it is this wild prophet rocking camel hair and eating locust and honey that is telling us about the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1). He picks guys to be his disciples, not from the esteemed seminary institutions but again “from the Wild.” He picks fishermen, tax collectors, political zealots, and more. Again and again, we see Jesus going into the established religious centers only to be met with criticism, anger, and potential violence (Just count how many times the Religious elite try to arrest and kill him before he gets to the Cross). 

Who else can be named as Jesus’ followers? A religious leader who uses the cloak of darkness to visit him in the middle of the night. A Samaritan woman who, as the great philosopher Gretchen Wilson sang, was “a redneck woman, she ain’t no high class broad.” It’s the lame and the blind who have spent their lives shunned and are even thrown out of their community as soon as they are welcome back in (John 9). No wonder Jesus lays the hammer down in chapter 10 when he declares he has come to rescue his people from the thieves, the wolves, and the hired hands. Instead of being a safe place for the bruised reeds, the faintly burning wicks, the fatherless, and the oppressed, the leadership was biting and devouring the sheep. And so, where do we find our Savior? On the outskirts of town, among those who – echoing the declarations of the Old Testament prophets themselves – needed hope the most. 

The truth is all of us are “those people.”

Chapter 10 ends on an interesting note. Jesus goes from Solomon’s Porch to the riverbanks where John was first baptizing. In other words, he goes from the Temple back to the Wild. What do we think the Spirit is trying to tell us here? What do we think John wants us to understand about what it means to follow Jesus? If his sheep hear his voice and follow him, where does our shepherd want us to go? 

Is there a church in the Wild? There is. 

In my years as a Christian and now as a pastor, it never ceases to amaze me how often I find myself in situations where I arrive somewhere, and it is as if Jesus is already there saying, “Oh hey! I was wondering when you’d get here. Join us!” A quick survey through the Old Testament will find the prophets time and time again calling the people of God back to caring for the widow and the orphan, giving a voice to those who can’t speak for themselves, coming alongside the brokenhearted. Is it possible that the very people Jesus pursued in the Gospels are the same people we often consider “those people?” You know what I mean. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, we usually have in our mind a type of person we think would never darken the door of our church or have their eyes open to the good news of Jesus. They are “those people.” But what would it look like to have a church for “those people?” What would it look like to enter  the Wild,” only to find that Jesus was already there waiting on us with “those people?” I believe it would look like Matthew 9:10-13: 

"And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice." For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."

Brothers and sisters, the truth is all of us are “those people.” In fact, if we are looking at Matthew 9, we are both Matthew’s friends and the Pharisees in this story. Paul says it another way in his letter to the Ephesians church. At one point, we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). That’s just another way of saying what Jesus said in Matthew 9: we were the sick in need of a physician. We were those “who were once far off” and now have been brought near by Christ (Eph. 2:13). The irony of Jesus’ statement in Matthew 9 is that there is no such thing as “those people” in the Kingdom of God. We all are those who are sick and in need of a physician. But, if we are honest, we often exhibit the role of the Pharisee in the story. We tend to think that we’ve graduated from the gospel and that “those people” need to be more like us. Notice the response of the shepherd here in Matthew 9, though. He doesn’t say, “You idiots, you don’t know anything, get out of here, I’m busy.” No, like a good shepherd and teacher, he says, 

“Go, and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13). 

And there’s hope to be had even in that. In those moments when our pride gets the best of us and we think better of ourselves than we ought to, the good teacher tells us, “Go and learn.” Why? Because the gospel is for sinners – both the tax collector and Pharisee, both in need of the Great Physician. And because Christ is for us, we can see the church with fresh eyes – a party we have been invited to where Jesus sits at the table, offering healing in and through himself. And at the table sit tax collectors, outcasts, rebels, and Pharisees - all gathered around our great teacher, shepherd, physician, and friend.