Today’s Bible reading is Mark 2.
Who is most deserving of the chance to hear the gospel?
You and I both know the right answer to the question, “Who deserves to be saved?” The right answer is “nobody” because we’re all sinful and guilty before a holy God. But who among us guilty sinners most deserves to hear the gospel message? If not everyone on earth can receive the gospel witness in his or her lifetime, then who should we evangelize first?
Jesus answered that question here in Mark 2:17 when he said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” This statement of Jesus was in response to the Pharisees’ criticism that Jesus ate with “tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus explained that these sinners received his attention because they needed it the most.
At this point in his ministry, a disinterested observer might argue that Jesus should have spent his time with the Pharisees because they had already demonstrated a clear interest in spiritual things. The sinners he chose to be with, by contrast, had turned away from God’s word. They had heard it in their homes and synagogues growing up but had chosen to live a different kind of life. For these reasons, the Pharisees would appear to have been a more receptive audience to Jesus than the tax collectors and other sinners. But the key word in that last sentence is “appear.” The Pharisees were all about appearances and their spiritual interests were about appearing righteous before others, not really becoming righteous. Sinners, by contrast, had the appearance of righteousness ripped from them when they sold out to become tax collectors, or thieves, or prostitutes, or whatever. The benefits they had received at first from their sinful lifestyles were diminishing when Jesus came into their lives and they were now experiencing the heavy costs of a sinful lifestyle. In a society as judgmental and rigid as theirs, it would be impossible to reverse course, stop collecting taxes, and become a respectable man again. These companions of Jesus–these sinners–were ripe for the grace of repentance and faith. That’s why Jesus wanted to be with them.
Who then is most deserving of the chance to hear the gospel? Well…, all sinners need it, of course, so we shouldn’t be picky when opportunity comes along. When it comes to who we intentionally try to reach, however, we should think like Jesus did. So many churches have started in our area recently. How many of them are seeking to reach the poorest areas of Ypsilanti. How many are attempting to reach the working class family that’s out of work or the single mother on welfare? How many of them are reaching out to the Muslims who have moved into our area? How many have created prison ministries or outreaches to addicts?
How about our church? Literally surrounded by corn, we are a church located where the suburbs and the farms meet. That’s where God put us so we should try to reach those around us. But God also put us right around the corner from the only women’s prison in our state. We have a ministry to that prison called Bridge Builders, but they can always use more servants who will go in to share the gospel. In addition to the Bridge Builders ministry, there are women entering that prison every week who are willing to meet and talk with someone personally. Would you be willing to talk to them about Christ? They are as ready to listen as anyone you may ever meet.
We have poor people around us, too, that we serve through our food pantry. There are addicts and alcoholics in every place–urban, suburban, and rural–so we have those around, too. Have we done as Jesus did and looked for people who may be ready to hear about true hope in Christ?