Jesus preaches 5 sermons in 20 verses. His are shorter than mine, but you only have to listen to one from me. That you’re doing math in your head to see whether that’s a good deal already shows why He preaches these 5. The church is full of sinners. Each sermon is about that.
It’s an idea we’re ok with in concept, but when God packs a bunch of sinners into a box and calls it a church, our favorite thing to do is act surprised about finding out there’s actual sin in here. Not generic I-a-poor-miserable-sinners, but the kind that commit specific sins that hurt and anger in specific ways.
To be fair, a box full of sinners ends up being a poor representation of the Lord who loved the us enough to bear the cross for us. I get why so many people’s biggest problem with Christianity is other Christians. It’s easy to love the concept of a perfect Jesus. His fan club can be harder to deal with. We shouldn’t have petty grudges that boil down to ego. Or false teachers. We shouldn’t have anyone who falls away or disputes to resolve. Sin breaks stuff. Our Lord calls us to flee from it. War against it. If you’ve been a part of the visible church on earth for long, you see why. That stuff hurts. It’s not ok. It destroys souls. I understand why so many people want to try and find God without His bride, the church. It’s easier for me to talk about my “personal relationship with Jesus” because that doesn’t have to include you. It’s hard to look at the box of sinners, say this is holy Christian church, and feel good about being tied to each other in the midst of all that’s wrong.
That’s why when most people picture the ideal congregation, they picture one that doesn’t actually need Jesus. Most people want a church will praise His name and hold him on the fringe of what goes on, but not one that finds mercy in Him. Never one that puts the forgiveness of actual sins that cause actual pain at the center of her identity. It’s possibly the greatest insult we can hurl at each other while still clinging to the high road. We leave for each other a Jesus who can only be an example, but never a savior.
When we assume that Christ is a mere example for the church to follow, understand it for what it is. It’s protecting Jesus from the very people He’s trying to save. It’s holding Him at arms length from the people He draws near to help because they happen to have hurt you or someone you care about. We don’t want His reputation sullied by the people we don’t like because it’s easier to love the concept of a perfect Jesus than it is to love His fan club, but that leaves no room to talk about how He bore their sins upon the tree while He was mocked for them. It’s the thing each of Jesus’ sermons are about. Over and over, we look at Christians as the measurement of Christianity instead of Christ. It puts ourselves at the center of the church, not Jesus. It makes it our church, not His.
So our Lord preaches to the sinners in a box. His church. His bride. The greatest in the kingdom of heaven is not the one who can do the most. It’s the one who needs the most and receives it. Christians are not measured by what they do for Jesus, but by what Jesus does for them. The little child is not more innocent. He is born in the same sin you are. He is not more trusting, it’s why babies cry when I hold them because I’m funny looking, even if I’m also trustworthy. Little children are, more than anything else, helpless. If you want to do this based on what you can build, your box full of sinners will be nothing more than whitewashed tombs. To receive the kingdom of heaven as a child is to bring nothing to the table but still receive everything from the Jesus gives it all.
Whoever causes one of these little ones to sin should be drowned like the mob got involved. Because Jesus does not only love the helpless sinners in a box, He wants them kept from harm. Even the ones that have hurt you. He especially doesn’t want them taught that Christianity is measured in themselves. More souls have been lost to despair over trying to be good enough, failing, and giving up than false teachers have been disappeared, mafia style. What if you put your animosity toward your neighbor where it really belongs? Not on them for being a sinner, but on the false teachers who would see them called “a bad Christian” before they could ever be called “a forgiven one”? What if you held as much animosity in your heart for the ones who would leave Jesus only as an example for your enemies as you did for those enemies who Jesus redeemed from their sins?
And before you get all choppity-chop for Jesus and gouge your eye out or add to the sacred scriptures, “If your smartphone causes you to sin, throw it away,” remember that this box full of sinners is called the body of Christ. If you really believe nobody ever gossiped before Facebook, coveted before Instagram, or lusted before websites dedicated to the same, ask yourself why Jesus needs to teach this to people who lived and died before any of it? Here’s the thing though, you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it. Not all of you can be the eye, and right now I call dibs on being the mouth, but each part is held in honor because we are the ones made holy in Him who is the head, Jesus Christ. He is your worth. He is your honor. He is what ties us together. But sometimes a part of the body goes so evil and rotten it starts to spread to the rest of the body because sin never stays in the neat little boxes we wish it did. Sometimes, as sad as it is, a part of the body must be removed from the church before their evil spreads to the rest and drags everyone into hell. It’s called excommunication. It’s not as complex as it sounds. There’s a difference between sin and unbelief. Sin is easy to forgive. In the stead and by the command of my Lord and savior Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins. They’re gone. No more sins. Jesus died for you. Your sins are forgiven. He equips His church to handle sin just fine. His cross was plenty. His word is enough. Sin isn’t ok, but Jesus makes forgiveness free. Unbelief doesn’t want forgiveness. That’s why it’s so dangerous. It wants war. It wants self-justification. It wants to blame others. It just never wants mercy. Unbelief says “I don’t care what the Lord says, this is not a sin” or “here’s why that doesn’t apply”, not “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.” This cannot be. The church taught not to need forgiveness is the church taught to race to hell, because even if you cut out your eye and cut off your hands, you’re still a stumpy sinner that needs Jesus.
But even if a part of the body should be taken off, don’t rejoice. Pray that the Shepherd will not leave the lost gone astray, but seek him out to call him back to forgiveness. It’s too easy to find someone fleeing from God and assume God wouldn’t want them either. Yours is the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost, even if they got lost on purpose. Jesus saves sinners. Pray He never stops.
That way when you deal with your brother who sins against you, saying “Matthew 18” can mean more than a checklist to follow in order to get rid of someone and not feel bad. It isn’t a checklist. It isn’t about how to lose your brother. It’s about how to gain them. It’s a desperate attempt to let mercy win them back. The point of this chapter is reconciliation and forgiveness, not loss. This is about helping your neighbor caught in sin, not winning. This is not about being right, but sinners made righteous in Christ. Sometimes someone would rather be right than righteous. Sometimes someone would rather win than be helped. Lord have mercy on that person. If it ends before the whole church with a brother still lost, it’s not because everyone jumped through the right hoops. It’s because mercy was rejected over and over and over again in favor of self justification which can’t save. But when Jesus calls this person to be treated as a tax collector and gentile, remember it’s tax collectors and sinners who He ate with and preached to, so they would once again hear mercy.
Sometimes sin hurts so bad that things can never go back to the way they were before. Call it what it is. Terrible. But don’t think the Lord pulls back His hand from the sinner or the sinned against. Each of these five sermons is about how messy things look when the gospel is given to sinners. Five sermons dare you to let the gospel define the church, not the law. Call the sin what it is. Deadly and wrong. Call the church exactly what it is. A box full of sinners. Just don’t you dare assume it can’t be Christian because we actually know some of the reasons the people here need Jesus. Rejoice that our Lord puts Himself on that altar for sinners, for you, so that the sinners who have hurt you would receive what they need: forgiveness. You can watch them be forgiven so you don’t have to go by your broken heart to measure them. Then receive the same and be forgiven too.
Christians are measured by their Christ, not their works. Your sins are forgiven you. Thank God for this box full of sinners. Even when you are painfully reminded that they actually sin. Thank God He would boast to call the church His own. His bride. Because the church is where God puts Himself to forgive you all, to tie you together based on something more than your ability to get along. Here He names you holy, the box of sinners-made-saints. You are the holy Christian Church because Christ is here to make you that way. You can see it in action each time we kneel together to receive this gift. Eat, drink, and know that holiness was never earned by the people on your left, your right, or in between, but holiness was most certainly given.