A few weeks ago, Brandon and I joined a rag tag group of believers that walks around the streets of the city of Lebanon, PA every Saturday to share the gospel with people that happen to be walking down the street. They strike up conversations with people waiting for buses or anyone just walking by. Brandon was assigned to one part of the group, and I went with the other half. As we were walking and connecting with people, I asked one of the men in our group if he would share how he came to believe in Jesus as his Savior. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but this man shared with me a story that I would not have expected based off of his person.
He shared that he had a pretty hard background. Abuse which led to alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse that led to drug abuse. Drug abuse that led to becoming a part of a motorcycle gang, but this wasn't one of those gangs that goes for joy rides on Sunday evenings down the highway together. This gang hardened his heart to the point where he could shoot a man in the middle of the eyes and then go home and eat a steak dinner. It was desperation and brokenness that led him to Jesus. He and his wife found themselves homeless, living in a park, but a man found them there and invited them into a local church for shelter and meals.
Through the love of the people there, his heart softened towards hearing the gospel. He looked at his life and saw the brokenness and sin, and thought he was too far gone for God's grace. A man shared with him that that was far from the truth. He wasn't too far gone. God wanted him, and Jesus died so that his sins would be white as snow. All he had to do was believe and accept the free gift of God's grace.
This man did accept the Lord's grace, and it was a wonder and a miracle. I was amazed as I spoke with him, hearing his story, and seeing the stark contrast between the man I was talking with.
We later encountered a young man walking down the street, who very much identified with my teammate's past. This young man said that he was too far gone for God's grace. The older man shared his testimony with me, and again I was amazed, watching this young man's eyes fill with life and hope. The older man shared the gospel with this younger man, and he prayed for his sins to be forgiven and washed clean by the blood of Jesus. The older man invited him to join him at church that Sunday to continue their conversation and help the young man learn more about God's grace.
As Brandon and I departed from the group that day, Jesus' words to the Pharisees came to life in my heart:
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.” (Matthew 9:10-13)
Jesus came to call sinners. As such, the citizens of Jesus' kingdom are sinners. The kingdom is not comprised of those that were good enough or perfect enough or did enough good works in this life. The kingdom is filled with those that have been forgiven and made perfect and righteous by the blood of Jesus Christ.
This is why Jesus later tells the Pharisees, "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you (Matthew 21:31)."
Those that enter the kingdom of God are those that understand they are the most unworthy. Jesus calls sinners, and their faith in him for the cleansing of their sins is what makes them citizens and welcomes them into the kingdom of God.
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