This morning, we’re beginning to transition onto the third part of the vision that God gave us this year, to be connected with the world around us. Though this is the third part of this year’s vision, it is the first part of our overall vision for the church; to gather in the lost. In fact, this was the mission of Jesus and should be one of the primary missions for every Christian today!
Jesus, however, was far more effective at reaching the lost people around Him and leading them to salvation than we often are today. Today, people seem to be running from the church. It seemed that no matter where Jesus went, people came running to Him. What has changed and what can we do to be more like Jesus? This morning, we take a look at His life to gain some insight on how to be more successful at reaching people for Jesus.
1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
One of the things that I love about Jesus is that Jesus was Jesus. He was the same man whether He was talking to a Pharisee, prostitute, elder, fisherman, ruler, or tax collector. He saw people as people and valued each and every one. Jesus didn’t follow the trend of His culture that separated “religiously devout” people from “sinners.” In fact, Jesus spent quite a bit of time both in the synagogues as well as going out to be with people not welcome anywhere near the synagogue.
Sometimes we get this concept a bit backwards. Jesus didn’t go into the synagogues looking to seek and save the lost. Jesus went out into workplaces, communities, and homes to seek and save the lost. Too often we have the idea that our job is to invite people into the church and the pastor and leaders will get people saved. That’s not at all how Jesus ministered! Jesus went out with people and genuinely cared about them and it was there that He transformed people’s lives with His salvation.
Church is were believers gather together to worship God and to encourage one another. Church is a training and equipping center. The mission field where people come to know Jesus begins as soon as each one of us steps out these doors and go out into our everyday lives. It is there that true ministry should begin. After all, that is where Jesus’ primary ministry occurred. He taught in the synagogues almost daily, yet none of those teachings are recorded in the gospel accounts. The important teaching and ministry happened during His travels. That is where the signs, wonders, and miracles occurred and that is where He met the people who needed Him most.
Jesus reached people where they were at and He connected with them just as they were. This short testimony shows just how powerful of a response Jesus received when He simply chose to connect with Zacchaeus. There was no doubt that Zacchaeus was saved because he chose to cast off the very thing that defined him as a sinner and became the most generous tax collector ever! There was a clear change in Zacchaeus’ heart as his faith was revealed through is works. He voluntarily chose to donate half of his possessions and to pay back four times the amount to anyone he had cheated. This all happened as Jesus simply connected with him.
Jesus reached out and so should we. We shouldn’t worry about what people are going to think of us if they find out that we are hanging out with so-and-so. We shouldn’t worry about going into people’s homes that aren’t exactly living up to God’s standards. We should live as Jesus lived. Listen to what Jesus said about those people:
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”
Which person is going to be proved right by their actions in the end? The religious people who called Jesus names and gossiped about Him, or Jesus who befriended sinners and brought them into God’s salvation? What kind of people ought we be? Often what we label as “Christ-like” doesn’t actually look or act a whole lot like Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong, it is true that bad company can corrupt good character (1 Corinthians 15:33). However, most of the time, Christians don’t want to be around unsaved people because of their attitude against them and not because they find their character becoming corrupt. Right? Jesus maintained an attitude of mercy and compassion toward unsaved people and actively reached out to them in friendship. Let’s keep a truly Christ-like attitude towards people who haven’t been changed by the grace of God yet!
Not only did Jesus reach out to people where they were at, but Jesus was also relevant toward them.
For some reason, we feel that quoting 1611 King James English at people is effective at reaching them with the gospel because it is what speaks to us. We think that singing songs written in 1525 are going to draw the current generation into the presence of God through worship just because it is what draws us into His presence. Much of what we desire a church experience to be is defined by our preferences and what we want. Jesus laid down His life, His opinions, His experiences, even His preferences in order to reach out to those who needed His salvation. Jesus made His life about others and not at all about Himself. Philippians 2 teaches that we ought to also be like Jesus in our relationships with others, looking to their needs and not to ourselves.
In fact, Jesus didn’t go around speaking 3000 BC Hebrew to people when He quoted the scriptures. It is absolutely the language that He learned the scriptures in and even the language that He would have likely used to quote from it within the synagogues. When He walked outside of those walls, however, He used wisdom and cared more for the people than His own preferences and experiences. Instead of ancient Hebrew, He taught the word of God using the modern day language (likely Aramaic or Greek) and by using object lessons that people understood from their everyday lives. Take these accounts into consideration:
1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
Jesus went out where the fishermen were laboring away for a living and taught the word of God. He even taught the word of God from a fisherman’s boat who was completely worn out from pulling a long night shift. It was also right then and there that Jesus called His first disciples. After still serving Jesus after a long night shift, Peter, James, and John all left their trade behind to follow Jesus. Of course, they left their jobs at the height of their success for sure! Jesus made sure that their workplace was blessed through them before calling them away from it.
What I love about this account is that Jesus didn’t call Peter, James, and John away from being fishermen to become accountants for His ministry. He didn’t call Peter, James, and John away from being fishermen to become personal assistants for His ministry. Jesus called Peter, James and John away from being fishermen to be fishers of men. Instead of fishing for slimy fish, they’d be fishing for unsaved people with Jesus. Jesus also richly blessed their workplace by enabling them to catch more fish than they ever would have on their own!
Jesus is relevant to all people no matter who they are or what their passions are. Yes, Peter had a radical life transformation after He encountered Jesus, but that transformation changed His sinful nature, not His talents and gifting. Jesus used those three men’s talents and understanding of fishing to become some of the greatest evangelists of all time! In fact, even after Jesus died and rose again, Jesus still chose fishing to reveal His resurrected self to these same men. Jesus is relevant!
1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Following His death and resurrection, Jesus still reached out to John, James, and Peter and related to them in a way that they would understand. Not only in these two accounts, but also in all other recorded events about Jesus. He is always found reaching out to people and valuing them enough to lay down His life for. Jesus is always found relating to the people around Him teaching and living out the word of God in a relatable fashion. He laid down His preferences and reached out to people where they were at and in a way that met them where they were at.
How then should we live? The gospel never changes, but our methods should. Jesus never changes, but the way that He relates and connects with the world around us should. Like Jesus, we should be connecting with the world around them. We should be reaching out to them with the hope that dwells within us.
We should reach out to them in a way relevant to them. For lack of a better term, speaking their language, caring about what they care about, sharing experiences with them. Think about this for a while. Jesus was a carpenter by His family trade, yet there He was fishing and kicking back with the disciples eating their fresh catch. Jesus was a carpenter, but became a fishermen just for the sake of reaching out to Peter, James, and John. They became His closest friends, too!
Paul carried this same attitude after encountering Jesus. Though he once wouldn’t give the time of day to a Gentile, though he once saw them as the scum of the earth and was justified before God for viewing them that way, meeting Jesus face-to-face radically transformed the way that he viewed and valued others. After that transformation, he wrote:
1 Corinthians 9:19-22
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
Who are the people that God has placed in your life that do not know Him yet? This was no accident! You have been placed there by God, anointed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and commissioned by Jesus to lead them into discipleship with Him. What are the things that they are interested in? How can you reach out to them in a relevant way? We are being called by God to be connected with the world around us.
Pray that God give you His heart toward them, breaking up your heart of stone and replace it with a new heart of compassion and passion for those around you. A heart like Jesus had. A heart that lays down our own opinions and preferences so that the lost might be saved. A heart that turns thieves into the most generous of people and vulgar fishermen into the most effective of evangelists all simply be connecting with them.