Jesus spent a lot of time ministering to messy people. Today’s churches seem to spend a lot of time serving the clean and tidy. So where did things go wrong? In this 5-day reading plan, Pete Briscoe dives into Jesus’ plan for those who come to Him in faith. Hint: It doesn’t involve making messy people more tidy.
Are You a Tidy Mess?
And this mess is so big and so deep and so tall, we cannot pick it up. There is no way at all! — Dr. Suess, The Cat in the Hat
Remember being in college and finding out your mom was coming to visit? Your dorm room was clean in less than 10 minutes. Sure, everything was crammed beneath beds and into closets. But it appeared tidy, and that made Mom happy.
We do this later in life, too. Only now we aren’t dealing with clothes littering the floor, but indiscretions littering our past. We hide our addictions and poor decisions.
I’ve decided there are two types of people in life: tidy people and messy people. If tidy people had their way, there’d only be one type of person—because tidy people are always trying to fix messy people.
This attitude finds its way into the church, doesn’t it? We see messy people, and we aren’t sure what to do. Do we invite them inside? Once they come inside, are we supposed to tidy them up?
Likewise, what’s the church supposed to do with tidy people trying to hide huge messes? Their lives look great; but if we poke around, we notice they’re only tidy by appearance. They’re really just people trying to mask their messiness. What’s the church to do with those folks?
Rather than asking the question, “What do churches do with people like this?” maybe we should ask, “What will Jesus do with people like this?” (The church is the body of Christ, after all!)
Here’s the good news—both for messy people and the tidy in disguise. Jesus came for messy people.
So let’s dive in and look at how Jesus dealt with messy people. If we look at what Jesus did then, we’ll know what Jesus will do now. For Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And the Spirit who indwells all believers will express Himself through us today just as He expressed Himself on earth back then.
Jesus, I invite Your Spirit to probe mine. Am I a mess, or do I appear tidy while hiding my mess? Show me if I’m trying to fix myself before coming to You. Bring to mind interactions with other messy people. Do I embrace them, or do I try to fix them? Amen.
There’s No Such Thing as Jesus Repellant
Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall. — Jodi Picoult, Salem Falls
The church has lots of well-intended but callous advice for messy people. To people who have lost everything—marriage, children, health, or jobs—the church has been known to see their struggle and say things like, “Real Christians don’t deal with depression.” Perhaps we forget that this person came to church this morning hoping to find a family.
How many times at church have you said hello to a person who smells like a smoke-filled bar and thought, If you were totally surrendered, Jesus would help you quit? Never mind that this person almost turned around after pulling into the parking lot.
Listen, these aren’t the types of conversations Jesus had with messy people. These conversations are an effort to make people tidy. But Jesus didn’t come to make messy people into tidy people.
I know that might be a shock for some. Your entire church life, you thought that was the point: Take messy people and clean them up. So, if Jesus didn’t come to do that, what did Jesus come to do?
In Luke 5:27, Jesus saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. Tax collectors were messy people. They had all sorts of entanglements with money and ethics. So Jesus said, “Hey, buddy, clean up your act!”
Not at all! Levi was messy, but Jesus never looked someone in the eye and said, “Clean up your act.”
Instead, Jesus looked at Levi and said, “Follow me.”
And Levi did. He got up, left everything behind, and held a great banquet for Jesus at his house—complete with a large crowd of messy people.
Jesus isn’t repelled by our messiness, friends. His goal is not to make us tidy.
Lord, I’ve heard of people overseas who live in unclean conditions, and I can’t imagine where I would rest in such a mess. But You know, don’t You? You came down from heaven to live on earth. As You walked among us, You invited the messiest to follow. You aren’t scared of my mess. I’m bathing in Your acceptance, Jesus. Amen.
The Shortfall of Pharisees
If Jesus feared guilt by association, he would have stayed in heaven. — Andy Stanley
Jesus isn’t repelled by our messiness. In fact, He has a habit of throwing open the doors of love to messy people. He does it all the time.
When the Pharisees and their scribes—also known as the tidy people—heard that Jesus was dining with tax collectors, they confronted the disciples and asked them, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Luke 5:30).
Stated another way, “Why do you hang out with messy people?”
To the Pharisees, messy people included any Jew who didn’t uphold the Law, its moral precepts, or keep themselves ceremonially clean. Those people had given up and weren’t even pretending to be tidy anymore. They were sinners and unclean, and the tidy people couldn’t figure out why Jesus, a rabbi, would hang out with such messy people.
Why were they so bothered by Jesus’ company?
- Pharisees define people by their sin. They label you with the name of it.
- Pharisees like to punish people for their sin. You can never do enough.
- Finally, Pharisees are blind to their own sin. They rely on self-righteous acts.
Put it all together and we’re looking at some tidy, difficult people. When the tidy Pharisees questioned Jesus’ disciples, it’s Jesus who answers, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance”(Luke 5:31-32).
Jesus isn’t telling the Pharisees that they are righteous. He’s telling them they’re so convinced of their self-righteousness that they have no need for Him.
That’s the sad deception of a proud, tidy life apart from Jesus.
Jesus, in what ways do I carry with me self-righteousness? Name them for me, Lord. Don’t let my ears be closed to Your gentle rebuke! As I acknowledge these parts of me and set them before You, I am undone by Your grace. You do not call me by the name of my illness, but You call me “son” or “daughter.” It is good to be accepted. Amen.
I admit I’m a mess. My heart’s a disaster. I don’t have it all together. I was born this way. But I can be born again. —Lecrae
The Pharisees were a great example of self-deceived tidy people. Because they didn’t identify as sinners, they had no need for a Savior.
They were tidy. Healthy. Self-righteous. They had no time for Jesus and His love for messes.
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick.”(Luke 5:31)
Jesus was very clear. He called people to repentance and told them humility is being able to admit they are sick. Humility is saying we need help; we can’t do it on our own. We’re terminally ill.
When we recognize just how sick we are, persistence kicks in. Think about this physically: Once we know we’re sick, we call for a doctor’s appointment. If there’s nothing available, we insist to the point of impatience. We’ll call and call and call, hoping to be squeezed in. It was the same with Jesus.
There was a guy in Luke 5:18-20 who was paralyzed and desperate to be healed. The house where Jesus was had crowds so thick there was no way to reach the door. So his friends went up on the roof and lowered the paralyzed man down into the middle of the room. They set him right in front of Jesus.
This man knew he was sick, and he was desperate for healing.
Listen, some of you believe you can’t come to Jesus until your life is all tidy. You think Jesus isn’t going to have anything to do with you until you clean up your mess. This isn’t true. The Good News is better than that: Jesus can’t do anything for you until you admit you’re a mess.
Admitting we’re a mess is the repentance Jesus was talking about.
Jesus, if I’m a mess and need to admit it, this prayer is it! Come live in me. If I have already given myself to You, then may I become like the friends of the man who was lowered through the roof. How incredible! Who in my life needs to be carried? Embrace others through me in the same way You embraced me. Amen.
Out with the Old, In with the New
Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new. —Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven
Once we admit we’re messy, what will Jesus do with our mess?
In Luke 5:36-37 Jesus shares a parable with the Pharisees,
“No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment… And no one pours new wine into old wineskins… the new wine will burst the skins.”
Jesus was saying, “Don’t mix the old with the new.”
He knows there are holes in our character, but Jesus says to us, “I’m not going to try to patch you up. I’m not going to try to fix you. That’s not why I came.”
Well, Jesus, why did You come?
Seven times in this short parable, Jesus uses the word new. When we come to Jesus and set our old lives—our messiness—before Him, His goal isn’t to make us tidy. His goal is to make us new.
Jesus makes messy people into new people. He will make us new and pour new life into us.
Sounds awesome, but it isn’t always easy. In fact, Jesus closes this parable with an astute social observation, “And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better’” (Luke 5:39).
Friends, Jesus knows the newness can be scary. He knows we are comfortable in the old. But still He asks us to leave familiarity and follow Him. He asks us to dismiss comfort and embrace this new life He has for us.
Did you notice how often Jesus sought out messy people? He sought out messy people then, and He still seeks out messy people now. Through His Spirit living in us as believers, Jesus invites messy people to Him, makes them new, and pours new life into them. And, after we’re made new, we get to be part of the inviting.
Jesus, give me eyes and ears for all the messy people around me. Give me love for them and patience with their untidiness. I release the need to fix people and will leave the “making new” to You. Holy Spirit, I can’t wait to see whom You invite through me! Amen.
- What is Jesus’ purpose for His people—and what is it not?
- How can Jesus’ purpose be reflected in your life and in your church?
- In what ways has Jesus made you new?