What kind of people come to Jesus?
As we might expect, the Bible tells us. Jesus, the least likely Messiah, came for the least likely people. In fact, he often called them “the least of these my brethren.” The apostle Paul gave us an overview of this group when he wrote:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 (ESV)
So, our target group are the foolish, the weak, the common person, the despised, and those who are nothing in the world’s eyes. This doesn’t sound like a group that most churches would go after. Are we missing something?
Jesus came at it a little more obliquely in his teaching. The first example was a set of blessings we call the beatitudes. These describe people who will receive God’s blessings. In other words, these are people who will be open to Christ’s message and follow him.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3-10 (ESV)
The poor in spirit are spiritual beggars, who realize they have nothing to offer God in exchange for his blessings. They understand how desperately they need God’s help and are not too proud to receive “charity” from God. Those who mourn include people who are humble enough to be sorry for their sins. The meek are people whose humility propels them to recognize God’s sovereign authority over their lives. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are the opposite of smug self-satisfied people who feel no need for God. The merciful know they need mercy from God and extend it to others, unlike the proud. The pure of heart are willing to get rid of sin and other distractions in order to seek God. Peacemakers have learned to lay aside self-centered agendas to seek peace with God and other people through the gospel. The persecuted are those who are willing to endure snubs and pressure from people in order to follow God. They value what God thinks more than their reputation. That is a brief, though admittedly inadequate, explanation of the kind of people Jesus seeks. These are the kinds of people who will want to follow Jesus for the right reasons.
Today many times we share a “gospel” that attracts people for the wrong reasons. In poorer unevangelized countries, these have come to be known as “rice Christians,” who come only because of the free food. In the affluent West, we draw people by targeting other desires, often in the hope that, once we get them, they will respond to the true gospel. However, it is a timeworn truism that what we use to draw people is what we will need to keep doing in order to keep them.
Ask yourself: “What could be stripped from my church before I would stop going?” The honest answer to this question will reveal why you attend. Is it the preaching? The music? The children’s program? The building? If we attend church for the wrong reasons, perhaps we were drawn by the wrong thing. When we are drawn to Christ, nothing can deter us from following him. The Chinese church is perhaps the world’s fastest growing church, but they have little to offer their disciples, except the one thing that matters – Jesus. Chinese disciples are willing to suffer imprisonment and death to follow Jesus. They meet in homes secretly and often quietly in order not to attract unwanted attention and persecution. They are taught that every follower of Christ should plant another house church; so, they are willing to be fishers of men and take responsibility for growing the church. There are little or no consumerist enticements that we use in the West. How refreshing!
Jesus taught his followers to target a certain audience.
But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” Luke 14:16-24 (ESV)
Here Jesus corroborates Paul’s statement, which I quoted earlier. The self-satisfied and those who have “made it” in the world likely will make excuses for not following Christ, because there is nothing in them that hungers for God. Therefore God goes after those who are desperate – the poor, crippled, the blind, and lame. In his day, these were the outcasts, the hopeless, the “least of these.” Today we still have this group of people, but I believe it would be okay to expand the meaning a bit. The crippled are not merely those who cannot walk physically, but also those who are crippled mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. You know, the group of people that is most easy to avoid or ignore, the least likely to be any church’s target group. Can we be that far off track? Yes. Any time we fail to go after the people who are probably the most open, we are missing God’s heart.
The parable of the prodigal son is another clear teaching about this issue. Jesus showed us that those who understand their spiritual poverty will find mercy; whereas, those who imagine they are in no need of repentance end up pushing God away. Out of love, Jesus treated the proud Pharisees roughly, while being so gentle and kind to repentant sinners. He gave each what they needed. Mercy to the humble and a rebuke to the proud. Most of the time it was the humble who responded. The proud put him to death.
Jesus called his followers to become fishers of men. Fishermen are always on the lookout for good fishing holes, and should we be. A good place to fish for people is where the “least of these” congregate. The bait is the gospel of hope in Christ. Hopeless people will respond to this great news. Good fishing!Follow us on Facebook.