I’ve spent almost my entire life in church. That means that I’ve heard a lot of dumb things.
I’ve heard dumb things at the very beginning of the service.
“If you’d rather be here than the best hospital in town, say amen!”
I’ve heard dumb things after people sang solos.
“I’ll tell you what, church. If that didn’t start your fire, your wood is wet.”
And, of course, some of the sayings I’ve heard were equal parts dumb and annoying.
“We’re just going to sing one more verse. You come down here to these altars and you do business with God.”
But the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in church came from an evangelist in the middle of his sermon.
“We ought to take these altars and put them out in the parking lot. That way people can get right with God before they come in here.”
The congregation went nuts.
Thankfully, the gospel does not work this way. Jesus never told anyone to get their act together before they came to him. In fact, he said quite the opposite to a group of religious elites who thought they were pretty good at getting their act together on their own.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” Matthew 23:27 (ESV)
Dead people, it turns out, aren’t so good at getting their act together. Our best attempts may fool others and they may even fool us but they will not fool Jesus. And that’s the beauty of the gospel. Jesus, while seeing the “dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” that has taken up residence within us, still pursues us with his love and forgiveness.
“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:47-50 (ESV)
This is why the gospel is good news. Salvation is not a result of a stellar spiritual resume, good works or our ability to somehow find God through some sort of moral enlightenment. Salvation is a result of God finding us, dead in our sins, and transforming us into saints. This is really good news for adulterers, crooked politicians, drunks, gluttons, homosexuals, liars, home-wreckers, rebellious kids and Southern Baptist pastors that grew up in good Southern Baptist churches.
Religious elites have a long history of keeping people outside, in the parking lot, so to speak. It’s part of what they were doing to Jesus at his crucifixion. But just before he died, he managed to breathe out, “It is finished.” And then the curtain, the one in the temple that reminded men of their very limited access to God, was torn.
Jesus came to earth to live among the folks in the parking lot.
He died and rose again for the folks in the parking lot.
And his death purchased them the right to come inside from the parking lot to enjoy full access with God.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)