Receptivity of the Tax Collectors, Sinners and Others Who Understood Their Helplessness

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Those most expected to respond often don’t and those who are unexpected appear out of nowhere. I have seen this countless times in ministry where you are praying for God to impact the congregation expecting it to come through certain people. The next thing you know there are people you never expected doing the things you asked for!

God has a pension for doing the unexpected and particularly doing things through the people you least expect. Part of it is God’s sense of humor. Another part of it is the fact that God is already doing things before we even knew to ask to and through people not on our radar. This is truly humbling.

This was the case in Jesus’ ministry. The “powers that be” were not universally unaccepting of Jesus’ message (e.g. Nicodemus and more in Acts, see Acts 15) but by and large they rejected him. Then you have people like Zacchaeus who was a tax collector who had salvation two things come to his house – salvation and Jesus. The Samaritan woman in John 4 was another unexpected. She became a missionary in her community before Jesus ever sent the 12 or the 72. In Mark 10 we find Bar-timaeus who was blind. Bar-timaeus heard Jesus was walking by yelled out to Jesus calling him the “Son of David” which is a recognition of Jesus being the Messiah. It was the man who couldn’t see who had eyes to see. Those who had seeing eyes rebuked him for yelling out to Jesus but Jesus gave this spiritually seeing man the ability to see physically as well.

Tax collectors, sinners, the lame, the blind, and the poor. We could go on and on. We could point out Jesus’ family tree in Matthew 1 or the unclean rabble of shepherds who came to see Jesus after his birth. We might point to the Centurion who confessed Jesus’ divinity at the cross (Matt 27:54) or any of a variety of other people who we would never expect to be the ones more receptive and more responsive.

What is the common denominator for most of these?

The difference in receptivity had little to do with Bible knowledge and more to do with spiritual destitution…helplessness…a recognition that they were insufficient to get out of the mess they had made. Like the prayers of the tax collector vs the Pharisee praying in Luke 18 there is a recognition of inability that leads one to receptivity. It is those who are most confident in themselves and their ability to judge things and do things that are least open for God to do the unexpected like have a Messiah be born in a manger much less be crucified for the sins of the world.

How receptive are you to the work of God in your life and in the world around you? How confident are you in your own ability to figure it out yourself. Maybe this election has made it hard for you to be receptive to the idea that God is doing the unexpected. Challenge yourself to see things through the eyes and hear things through the ears of faith that allow us to anticipate with eager expectation that God is truly up to something great that He just hasn’t let us in on. Too often we overestimate our ability to predict outcomes that are far more complex than our ability to comprehend them much less predict where things are actually headed. I believe this overestimation of our ability is the exact thing that makes us less receptive and open to eagerly anticipate the work of God through unexpected people.

2 Responses

  1. Great article. It is when we think we are self-sufficient in works and even amount of knowledge that gets us into trouble. We become less receptive to God and listening to God. God never promoted one who thought they were righteous, but promoted the “poor in Spirit”, even when they arguably more sinful, they at least had the spirit of change within them.

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