When was the last time you entered a room and no one greeted you? It probably was not a great feeling. All of us want to be acknowledged. But even more than that, we want to be seen, to be truly known and cared for. And those who believe in Jesus Christ—his church—play a crucial role in caring for others. And in order to reach our communities with the gospel, it begins by becoming a welcoming a church, a church that truly sees and cares for outsiders.
The reason the church cares for outsiders is because God does. As Ed Welch points out in his book, Caring For Another, God always makes the first move towards other. We do not come to him, but he comes to us. Welch points to God’s action in Ezekiel 34. In Ezekiel 34, God’s people Israel are symbolized as sheep. God’s flock has been abused and exploited by their shepherds, their leaders. But the flock has no intention of returning to their True Shepherd, the Lord. To remedy the situation, it is God who moves toward them: “I search for them and I will seek them out” (Ezekiel 34:11).
It’s hard for me not to imagine that Jesus had Ezekiel 34 in his mind when he told the parable of the lost sheep:
So Jesus told them this story: 4 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away! (Luke 15:3-7, NLT).
Jesus the Good Shepherd searches out and moves toward those who are lost and separated from God.
So what does God making the first move have to do with us?
Jesus Moved Toward Us, So We Can Move Toward Others
Being united to Jesus by faith, we can now live out his character qualities in the world. And since Jesus moves towards others, so can we. To put it practically, moving towards others looks like talking to people you don’t know before talking to your friends. Moving towards others looks like listening to others we don’t really know before listening to our friends. Moving towards other does not mean that we neglect our friends, of course. But it does mean that we prioritize reaching out to others we don’t know. We do this because this is exactly what Jesus did for us.