This should wake us up.
One day, a man went to visit a church, He got there early, parked his car and got out. Another car pulled up near the driver got out and said, ” I always park there! You took my place!”
The visitor went inside for Sunday School, found an empty seat and sat down. A young lady from the church approached him and stated, “That’s my seat! You took my place!” The visitor was somewhat distressed by this rude welcome, but said nothing.
After Sunday School, the visitor went into the sanctuary and sat down. Another member walked up to him and said, “That’s where I always sit! You took my place!” The visitor was even more troubled by this treatment, but still He said nothing.
Later as the congregation was praying for Christ to dwell among them, the visitor stood up, and his appearance began to change. Horrible scars became visible on his hands and on his sandaled feet. Someone from the congregation noticed him and called out, “What happened to you?” The visitor replied, as his hat became a crown of thorns, and a tear fell from his eye, “I took your place.”
What do we learn from this?
Jesus Christ is our substitute. We as sinners deserved death and eternal condemnation. But Jesus took our place and thereby took our punishment upon himself. This is what the Old Testament prophet Isaiah said about this: “Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:3-5. We as sinners can be saved by coming to the end of ourselves in repentance and trusting Jesus Christ and the fact that he took our place and nailed our sin to the cross. Jesus Christ took even your place because you and I were sinners by birth and not just by deed. The fact that Christ died in the place of sinners prevents those who trust in Christ to die in their sin and spend eternity in hell forever separated from God.
We also learn from this that we should not despise others. There is a principle established by the Lord Jesus that as we honor and love others, we love Him. We read in Mt. 25:34-40:
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
What we do to others and esp. the least among them is what we do unto Christ. That is why Christ commands us to love others as ourselves and even gives the new commandment that we should love others as Christ loved us (Jn. 13:34). This was the love of a shepherd who cares and feeds his sheep and carefully seeks out the straying one and leads it back to the fold (John 10). Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd who is not affected by a hireling spirit that is more interested in collecting offerings, salaries and numbers instead of the genuine welfare and sacrifial ministry for the good of the sheep in the fold. Christ also gave us the command to “Do Unto Others”, which is often called the Golden Rule. If we go to a church for the first time, we don”t want the long-time members to look down their noses on us, ignore us or treat us like second-class people. We want them to welcome us and be hospitable. This should not lead to hypocritical love-bombing known from cults. But it should be the genuine sense of Christian brotherhood and the willingness to minister to others.
In the book of James we find good advice for churches in James 2:1-9. We are commanded to have no respect of persons. We should not become partial and become judges of evil thoughts. Such an evil thought would be to judge a new church member by his money, career or looks and treat him differently based on his social status. A wealthy church member who gives a lot to a church might get away with sin and not get disciplined by the church while a church member involved in sin with very little social standing gets excluded immediately. In Christ there is no respect of persons. Partiality is sinful. 1. Tim. 5:21 tells us we should do nothing by partiality. James 3:17 says that godly wisdom is without partiality. Parents need to be sure that they are not partial in loving their children. Churches should have no respect of persons to leaders, people of wealth or high social standing.
Let us not end up like the Laodicean church that had Christ excluded. He had to knock at the door and ask to be allowed inside (Rev. 3:20). This self-conceited church thought they had it all, but they did not have Christ inside. Let us be truly hospitable because what we do unto others is what we do unto Christ because He identifies with them. The quality of a church can probably be gauged by the way they treat visitors. Are we irritated because they sit in the pew that we usually sit in. Then shame on us. Let us repent of this selfishness and deny ourselves and begin to understand that Christ called us to wash one another’s feet by ministering to one another (John 13:15). The way we treat others is not determined by the fact what these people did for us in the past. It is determined solely by the fact what Christ did for us. What he did to us, we do to others.