Do you recall when the scribes and Pharisees murmured against the Lord and His disciples because they ate with publicans and sinners? In those days publicans were the notoriously wicked tax collectors. They were looked down upon with such disdain that if a Pharisee’s robe were to touch a publican, he would not be able to go to the synagogue for one day. He had to ceremonially cleanse himself from being “defiled” by this “gross sinner”. Publicans, by the way, were forbidden, not by God’s Word but by man’s “by-laws”, from entering the synagogue. Our Lord’s reply to the question as to why He ate and drank with people like this blows the dust off our traditional views of evangelism and opens up the door of true fulfillment of the great commission.
Every creature is in need of salvation. I fear that we lose touch with the common people, but Jesus didn’t. Jesus introduced us to “radical evangelism.” The organized religion of the day no longer had a sense of the presence of God. Consequently, they were no longer introducing people to the true and living God. Instead, they were molding people (with their self-righteous attitudes) into their own “hellish” image.
In His response to this questioning from His critics, note that the heart of the Lord was (and still is!) toward those who are sick; the word “sick” meaning either physically or morally amiss, diseased, evil, or miserable. Some of us, because of our traditions, have already begun to lose our evangelistic effectiveness because we’ve established a caste-system mentality. Instead of going into all the world, we’ve “roped off” certain areas or people. (Unclean! Unclean!)
Have we sterilized the gospel of Jesus Christ? Have we given the lost the impression that God doesn’t care for them? Are we afraid to follow our true Biblical convictions about evangelism because of what the “organized” church may think? I’m not encouraging careless, prayer-less evangelism that has as its basis the attitude that “I’m radical and I’ll prove it!” I’m talking about holy evangelism: eating and drinking with the lost; praying for them and with them; leaving open that door for them; being available for God to use us in their lives.
The nature of Jesus is to reach out to all people in all walks of life. There is no one evangelistic method or program. Staying in fresh communion with the Lord is the key. Too many times we leave the lost with the impression that they are like the publicans – unclean. We’ve probably alienated more people with our witnessing ideas than we’ve drawn. We’ve gone in the name of Jesus, but certainly not in His nature.
The call of the gospel is that of repentance and remission of sins. A self-righteous individual thinks he/she has no need for Jesus. We must be willing to enter “unholy territory” to win souls to Jesus. The “highways and hedges” are places where souls are won. A true soul-winner will attract someone to Jesus because he or she, like the Savior, is approachable. Though we can never be yoked together with unbelievers, the bottom line is that we will never reach them unless we are obedient to the Spirit of God who, at times, will lead us into “roped-off areas” – where He calls sinners to repentance.