The Welcome of God

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This morning’s sermon is entitled “The Welcome of God”.
What does the word “welcome” mean to you?
Last summer, a Congresswoman from California, Maxine Waters, a Democrat, spoke at a political rally in Los Angeles. When she had the crowd sufficiently riled up, she gave them her instructions. If you want to see change, she said, you need to, in her words, “harass members of this President’s cabinet.”
She went on to say this: “The American people have put up with this president long enough. What more do we need to see? What more lies do we need to hear? If you see anybody,” she said, “from that cabinet in a restaurant, at a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”
And it didn’t take long before someone took Maxine Waters’ comments seriously and acted on them. Just two days later, news broke that the then-White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was kicked out of a restaurant in suburban Virginia just outside Washington, DC.
When the restaurant owner was asked about why she made this decision, she said she was driven by “certain standards I feel we have to uphold, such as honesty, compassion, and cooperation.” [https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/christian-hospitality-age-theyre-not-welcome-anymore-anywhere/ (accessed June 29, 2018) & https://albertmohler.com/2018/06/26/briefing-6-26-18/ (accessed June 29, 2018)]
Now, we have come to expect this kind of treatment in the world. But too often, I’m afraid we find it in the church.
How many churches have some version of the message “welcome” maybe outside on their doors or church signs, but visitors and certain church members find that inside the church it’s a different message?
How often do churches claim to believe in a God of compassion and love and yet refuse that love and compassion to people inside the church? I’m talking about members or visitors in that don’t talk or dress or act like them.
How many times, in other words, might we run into the trap of believing the gospel but not acting like it’s true when it comes to the actual people we encounter within these doors?
Our text this morning addresses this.

Without hesitation, God has welcomed us into His family

Without hesitation, God has welcomed us into His family. This necessitates that we kind of reverse order of these first two phrases in verse 7. “Welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed you.”
Let’s take that second phrase first: as Christ also has welcomed you. That’s the gospel. Right? Christ has welcomed you. What does that mean? Jesus invites us into His presence.
Why is that an amazing thing? Because by nature we do not deserve an invitation into His presence. By nature we deserve to be banished from His presence, as Adam and Eve were banished from the garden or as Israel was banished, exiled, from the promised land.
We do not deserve fellowship with God by nature. Indeed, because of our sin, we are unworthy to be in His presence, and in fact unless God takes the first step toward us, we are unable to be in His presence; He would be unable to tolerate our presence.
God is holy. We are sinful. “Your iniquities,” thundered the prophet Isaiah, “have made a separation bertween you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not year” (Isa. 5:2 ESV). God does not want things this way, church family; but it is this way for us until we come to the place where we are willing to confess to God that we are sinners, and ask for His forgiveness, and ask for His help, and plaxe our faith in Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord.
Doing that, we find that God has laid all of our sins upon Him and He has atoned for them, made satisfaction for them, absorbed the wrath of God for them, bore the guilt of them, and carried them away, as far as the east is from the west.
Then, our sins having been dealt with by our Substitute who dealt with them for us in our place, we find that God is not to us a merciless Judge; we find Him to be more tenderhearted toward, more compassionate, more loving, more gracious and kind than we ever imagined He could possibly be; we find Him to be for us and with us, we find Him faithful.
We find Him, in fact, to be not just a good and benevolent God, but a Father - not a divine Father figure, but actually a Father to us, the Father, the Father from whom earthly fatherhood derives its essence. We find, in other words, that God has not merely forgiven our sin, though that would be more than enough and more than we desercved; we find that God has adopted as sons and daughters; we find that He welcomes us into His family.
We call this the doctrine of divine adoption. We are not God’s natural children. God has one natural Son, and that is Jesus Christ. By nature, we do not deserve and are not able to be God’s children. We are His children by grace, through faith.
We find this in Scripture:
Galatians 4:4–7 ESV
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
God forgives us and invites us into His family. He does so without hesitation. No questions asked. Have you trusted in Christ as your Savior will be the only question asked.
Are your past sins too great for most people to accept and forgive you? God accepts and forgives you beacuse of Jesus’ life and death for you, no questions asked. Do you still struggle with the sins of the flesh now? Your Father is not ashamed of you. He is not disgusted with you. He is not disappointed with you.
This is not to say that your conduct doesn’t matter, but it is to say that God’s grace is greater than your sinful behavior. Without hesitation, God has forgiven us and adopted us. Without hesitation, God has welcomed us into His family. “Welcome one another…as Christ also has welcomed you.”
What a privilege!
Now, name one privilege that comes without responsibility…Being part of God’s family, being welcomed into His family, carries with it an obligation. It lays a responsibility upon us. That responsibility is our next point.

Without hesitation, we are called to extend that welcome to all who come into our church

Without hesitation, we are called to extend that welcome to all who come into your church.
My wife and I have a relative that we see on a somewhat regular basis. And what’s interesting about this relative is that when we go see them, they would welcome us into their home, but they never, ever thought to actually do the things that constitute welcoming someone into your home.
What do I mean? I mean thins like not having literally any clean towels or wash cloths. No bedsheets. One time there wasn’t even any food. And what we did manage to scrape out of the fridge we had to prepare ourselves.
That’s fine with me — I’m not hard to please and I don’t mind cooking my own food. But it’s weird, right?
“Oh yeah, we’d love to have you come and visit us....What’s that? You need to take a shower? Well, I hadn’t thought about that. Here’s a hand towel I guess you could dry off with. Don’t mind the huge stain on it. Oh, you’re hungry? Maybe you’ll find some cheese puffs in the pantry. What’s that? They’re stale? Moldy?” Such was our experience.
But this relative of ours has changed. Now this person has everything we could need and more if go visit them. And we didn’t change them ourselves - we never said a word about those visits. What changed, then? We think it might be that this person visited us over the years too, and saw that we always bought their favorite food and drinks for them before they came; we always had a bed already prepared with fresh sheets; always plenty of warm, good-smelling towels and washcloths. We clean our house for this person.
Is it possible that she learned how to welcome guests because of how we welcomed her? It’s possible. I don’t know for sure.
But you know what I do know? I do know that when God welcomes us, He expects His welcome of to be the pattern and the standard for how we welcome others.
In this letter of Romans that we find this verse in, Paul has been writing to them talking to them about how they should treat a certain type of church member in their midst. He calls this church member “the weak in faith.” He doesn’t mean that condescendingly. He’s writing to them to extend the utmost consideration for them.
Who is the weak brother or sister? What does it mean to be weak in faith? Well, most Christians back then, before they were Christians, they had often been involved in some kind of pagan idol worship. And usualy there was food or meat that the worshiper offered to the idol. This meat and food, of course, is not eaten by the idol or the pagan god because, well, the pagan god isn’t real. So the worshiper eats the food after the ceremony and ritual is over.
And this happened all over the place. It was very common to find meat being sold in the market that had been offered to an idol or to a pagan god.
And mostly everyone felt it was okay to eat that meat. After all, food is food. The problem with idol worship is not the meat you offer to the idol; the problem is that you’re worshiping an idol. Food is neutral. Alot of people in Rome felt this way and many Christians also felt like, you know, it’s okay, we think, to eat this, God has declared all foods clean. We can eat this meat without being reminded of our idol worship or led astray by those former associations. That was a perfectly fine Christian viewpoint to have.
But alot of people, if they were new Christians, they might not yet have learned that all food is clean and okay to eat. And they might still have those old temptations toward idol worship, and so they thought, “I probably shouldn’t eat that slab of beef thart was sacrificed to an idol. I don’t want to go back to that lifestyle. I don’t want to be reminded of it.” And that also was a perfectly fine Christian viewpoint to have.
But sometimes the believers who didn’t feel offended by the neat, they would make fun of the others who didn’t want to eat the meat - the weak in faith. “Yeah, we’re pretty mature and pertty experienced. We know the meat is fine for us to eat. Too bad you don’t see it the same way.” And they were made to feel less than.
[Be patient with the weak in faith slide]
Romans 15:1 ESV
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
So when Paul begins chapter 15, he writes this: “We who are strong” — those of us who are mature, grounded, stable, not led astray by former associations — “we who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” “Bear with them,” he says. “Be patient with them. Don’t look down on them. Don’t despise them. Don’t feel superior to them. Rather, if they’re offended by the meat, don’t eat it around them.”
In other words, “your primary guiding principle should not be what yoiu want to do or what your rights are; your pimary guiding principle is love for your brother or sister in Christ, and your primary priority is doing what is good for them, what will build them up.”
[Why must I be patient with the weak in faith slide]
Romans 15:2–3 ESV
Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”
That’s what he means in verse 2: “bear with the failings of the weak. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” “But I have a right to eat that meat!” “Well, not really. You gave up your rights when you became a follower of Jesus. Jesus too gave up His rights.” Verse 3: “For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’”
So when he says “welcome one another”, he means treat everyone around you as God has treated you. How has God treated you? He welcomed you into His family, without hesitation. We don’t have a perfect record with God. Yet He welcomed us anyway. Does it say God tolerated us? No. He welcomed us. Turn to the person to your left. Okay? Now, with a big smile on your face, say “I tolerate you.” Doesn’t sound so llving does it?
Does it say that Jesus has merely greeted us? No. He welcomed us. You welcome one another, love one another, enjoy one another, accept one another, serve one another, no questions asked, no hesitations. Because that is how we have been welcomed by God.
Who must I welcome at church? This is where it gets hard. The people I like? The people who I’m comfortable around? Or am I called to also welcome and accept and love and serve the people who make things difficult for me?
Jesus tells us what our responsibility is toward those folks too.
Matthew 5:46–47 ESV
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
[Who am I called to welcome? Everyone slide]
James 2:1–4 ESV
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Now let me ask you a question: Who are you thinking of right now?
This is the person you find it difficult to accept. This is the person who when you see them coming, you cringe. This is the person who you hope you don’t get stuck talking to. This is the person who, when you hear me say “welcome one another, as Christ also has welcomed you”, you’re thinking of how you can get out of having to welcome this particular person. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s real and honest.
Yet when you look at that person, you are looking at Christ. Christ commands us to love our neighbor, to love our brother and sister. And because Christ indwells our brother and sister in Christ, we encounter Jesus when we encounter them. And this makes every encounter with every person in this church an encounter with Jesus.
Do you ever feel like you can’t get away from Jesus? Every where you turn, there He is, right? The reason for that is that Jesus is Lord over all, over every aspect of our lives.
I was really struck by what I read about this from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
“The exclusion of the weak and insignificant, the seemingly useless people, from a Christian community may actually mean the exclusion of Christ; in the poor brother Christ is knocking at the door.” [Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p38]
So take a moment, and silently ask God to forgive you. [PAUSE]
1 John 1:9 ESV
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
[PAUSE]
Now, make this your prayer: Father, help me to see this person as you see them.
Endeavor to see Christ in other people. If you can’t do that, pray for grace to be able to do that. And in the meantime pray for eyes to see him as Christ sees him. See every person as someone who has been graciously welcomed into God’s family. Because God has welcomed them into His family, He has also placed them here among His people.
We do not get to choose who we love at church. At work we can choose our friends. We don’t have to be friends with everyone there. We just have to work together. In your neighborhood you can choose which of you neighbors you want to hang out with. Common personalities or common interests bind us to some people and exclude us from others. That’s life in this world.
But in the church things must not reflect the way it is in this world. The church is like a colony of heaven; it’s an embassy of the coming kingdom of God. And in the church things must reflect, to the best of our ability, what they will be like in heaven.
That means we don’t get to choose who to love at church. We don’t get to choose who we will accept or talk to or love or welcome at church. Those people are given to us by God. He did not ask us what he thought of this person or that person before He brought them to our doorstep. He plants them here and says, “Love them.” And He gives us every reason to do that. And He gives us the ability to do that.
Without hesitation, God welcomes us into His family. Without hesitation, we are called to extend His welcome to all who come into our church. Lastly, welcome others without hesitation brings glory to God.

Welcoming others without hesitation brings glory to God

One of the hardest funerals I have ever had to preside over was during my first pastorate in Louisburg, my first year as a pastor, in fact. It was a 17 year old boy in our youth group.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the morning that it happened. It was Monday. Two things happened on Mondays back then: I slept in, one day a week, and our dear friends would come over to our house or we would go to theirs and hang out and have dinner.
But that wouldn’t be a normal Monday. Before 9am, the Franklin County sherrif’s department called me and told me that this young man had been found dead in his car earlier that morning. I didn’t know who they were calling about at first and I didn’t understand why they had called me until they told me who it was and told me that the family was asking for me. It made sense, then. Of course they didn’t have the presence of mind to call me themselves.
His cause of death was never officially determined or if it was, I never knew. But it seemed to most people that he had probably taken his own life.
I had met with this young man several times for counseling. Immediately there were memories of those meetings that came flooding bak for me. Suddenly everything he said I saw in a different light.
He had never felt accepted by his parents. His dad wasn’t supportive. He had struggled with addiction issues and he said it felt like his own had already labeled him the addict. He was afraid he would never be normal again, that they would never see him as normal, that they would always treat him differently.
Then he was dead. With a note left for one of his cousins telling her goodbye. It seemed that she was one of the only ones, in his mind, that still loved him.
Of course his family loved him. But that didn’t matter - it was his perception that they didn’t.
Our decision to welcome someone or not to welcome them has consequences.
How does welcoming others without hesitation produce the best consequence? How does welcoming others honor God? How does extending the same welcome to others that He has extended to us bring glory to God?
The word “welcome” in the NT is a word that comes out of the ancient practice of showing hospitality. What is biblical hospitality?
[What is biblical hospitality? slide]
§What: Welcoming visitors and guests sincerely and generously
§How: Involves meeting basic needs – food/shelter/rest/safety (Gen. 19:1-3)
§Who: Includes the poor, people of other ethnicities (Luke 14:12-14), our enemies (Matt. 5:44), and fellow Christians who are weak in faith (Rom. 14:1)
§Why: God has welcomed us in Christ (Rom. 15:7b)
§What is at stake: the glory of God (Rom. 15:7c)
§Failure to do so is sin (Deut. 23:3-4)
Welcoming our enemies? Clearly that honors God in a world that says that some people are subhuman, not worthy of basic human rights. That brings glory to God. Whe we do that in His name, it makes the God we know and serve look tremendously attractive to the world that does not know Him.
God desires and deserves to glorify Himself in all things (slide)
You see, God desires and deserves to glorify Himself in all things. This can be hard for us to wrap our head around because our culture encourages us to prioritize ourselves above everyone else. It strikes us as odd that God would not put us at the center of His orbit. God is at the center of God’s orbit. He desires to glorify Himself in all things, and that is not egotistical. It’s prideful and egotistical for a human being to demand that kind of attention. We don’t belong at the center of the universe. God does.
Westminster Catechism
Q: What is the chief end (purpose) of man?
A: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever
One of the main ways that God is at work now to glorify Himself is by showing mercy, showing grace, welcoming sinners.
God desires and deserves to glorify Himself by showing mercy (slide)
Romans 15:8–9 ESV
For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”
How many of you remember Experiencing God? How many of you completed that Bible study?
One of the main points of that lesson was that we are called to see where God is working and join Him there.
What God is doing right now is drawing people from every tribe, nation, tongue, and language. He’s drawing them and as they trust in Christ and are born again He is saving them, making them new on the inside, gradually changing them on the outside to conform with the new on the inside. We are part of that. God is welcoming sinners and showing them grace, and it glorifies God. It glorifies God because had we not fallen into sin, God would have had no occasion, no reason, to show His grace and mercy. God is showing forth the full beauty of His perfections, chief of which is His love and grace.
But the way He’s doing that is through us.
God is glorified when weak and strong belivers fellowship and worship together (slide)
Romans 15:5–6 ESV
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And we’re called to embody that in the church. And when we do that, God is glorified.

Conclusion and call for response

So two questions for you today. Two questions that come right out of the text. Two questions. You guys ready?
Are you walking in the welcome of God?
If you haven’t trusted in Jesus for your salvation, there is no welcome to speak of. But the good news is that if you haven’t done that, today can be the day you do that. You can walk out of here a different person than when you came in. You can walk out of here with joy and peace and freedom. Give your life to Jesus. Commit your ways to Him. Rest your hope for heaven on Him. You aren’t good enough on your own to be welcomed by God into His family but not one is good enough. And you don’t have to be. You simply have to come to Him in faith. He’ll take care of everything else.
I’m not asking, do you know that God has welcomed you in Christ? I’m asking whether you believe it for yourself.
Who is God calling you to welcome?
Here I’m not asking whether you believe that God has welcomed you. I’m asking whether it has impacted or changed you. Does it bring you joy to think of it? Has it made you a grateful and merciful person? Does it make you want to extend His welcome to others?
God is drawing men and women from every nation and language, but He’s doing so through the church. So when we’re part of that, when we join Him in welcoming sinners, we throw the spotlight on His matchless love. We’re showing the world how attractive and supremely beautiful He is. Through that, aided by the Holy Spirit, they see and want to taste it for themselves. And the cycle begins again.
Welcome one another, as Christ also has welcomed you, to the glory of God.
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