A Welcome from Jesus Christ

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Our worship service liturgy opens with a call to worship. For many years, this consisted of the reading of a passage of scripture, usually from the Psalms. But for the past couple of months, we’ve been using a call to worship which originally came from the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. It goes like this:

To all who are weary and need rest,
To all who mourn and long for comfort,
To all who feel worthless and wonder if God cares,
To all who fail and desire strength,
To all who sin and need a Savior,
This church opens wide her doors with a welcome from Jesus Christ,
The Ally of his enemies,
The Defender of the guilty,
The Justifier of the inexcusable,
The Friend of sinners.
Welcome!

I like this call to worship. It puts Jesus front and center as our host. It sets a solid tone of grace as we begin the service. And it assures all who have come to the service that there is nothing that excludes them from coming to Christ. In short, it magnifies the wonders of the gospel!

A Welcome to All

The first five lines indicate who all is invited to the service. Anyone who finds themselves in need can come. Are you weary? Are you sorrowful? Do you feel worthless? Do you need strength? Are you a sinner? Then, come.

The only ones who are not explicitly invited are those who have no need. This mirrors the comment of Jesus in Luke 5:31-32. When asked why Jesus feasted with sinners, he answered, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” The only qualification for receiving a welcome from Jesus is to be in need of what he can supply.

In reality, Jesus does not turn away anyone who desires to come to him. “Whoever comes to me,” he said in John 6:37, “I will never cast out.” You might think you have need of nothing, but if you come to him you will find that, like the church of Laodicea, “you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev 3:17).

Who Is This Jesus?

The last part of the call to worship gives four identifying descriptions of Jesus. Who is this one who serves as host at the worship service? He is not what you would expect.

He is “the Ally of his enemies.” Even though we were all by nature children of wrath (Eph 2:3) and hostile to God (Rom 8:7), our sins do not drive him away from us but toward us. In his book, Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortlund writes that Jesus “sides with you against your sin, not against you because of your sin. He hates sin. But he loves you” (p. 71). Like Adam and Eve, we hide from God because of our sin. We have rebelled against him and now expect him to go to war against us. But this God, this Jesus, goes to war against our sin in order to save us.

He is “the Defender of the guilty.” This Jesus is a Defense Attorney, a Public Defender. He is our advocate (1 Jn 2:1). And he’s the best one there could ever be, for not only does he plead for us and on our behalf, but he also “is the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 2:2). He doesn’t find some loophole in the law to get us off the hook. He doesn’t merely negotiate a plea deal for a lesser sentence. He makes no excuses for our crimes. Instead, he steps in and pays the full price, atoning for all our sins.

He is “the Justifier of the inexcusable.” Even though we have no grounds for getting ourselves off the hook before a holy God, the Son of God came, not to condemn, but to save (Jn 3:17). Before the throne of God, we have no excuse. Every mouth is stopped; the whole world is accountable to God (Rom 3:19). There is absolutely nothing we can do to excuse ourselves. Jesus doesn’t make an excuse for us either; instead, he justifies us. He pardons (not excuses!) all our sins and declares us to be righteous in his sight. How? By faith in Jesus (Rom 3:26). On what basis? By his grace, because of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom 3:24).

Thus, this Jesus is truly “the Friend of sinners.” Yes, this is what people accused Jesus of being (Lk 7:34), and he did not deny it. His heart beats for sinners, for those who need him the most.

Going Too Far?

There is always the danger that some may hear these words of welcome, or the words of the gospel itself, and come to the wrong conclusion: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Rom 6:1). The problem is that many (most? all?) who think that way are not taking the gospel of grace too far—they are not taking it far enough! And this is the same root issue that plagues the legalist, the one who tries to justify himself by works. This root is, as Sinclair Ferguson shows in his book The Whole Christ, “a divorce between God’s revealed will and his gracious, generous character.” One person denigrates the first (and thinks: “I can continue to sin and be justified anyway!), the other denigrates the second (and thinks: “I must not sin or I cannot be justified!”).

The solution for both is to be found in Christ, who is indeed gracious and generous in character, who welcomes the weary and those who need comfort, who feel worthless, who fail, who sin. The full weight of the glorious and gracious paradox of who Christ is (the “Ally of his enemies”? the “Defender of the guilty”? the “Justifier of the inexcusable”? the “Friend of sinners”?) ought to intrigue us all and urge us to come and see for ourselves how good this Savior is.  

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