Have you ever considered the scandalous grounds of Christ’s invitation?

We are raised in a world where invitations are given to those who successfully reach a standard or excel in accomplishment. If you are a student and your GPA and ACT/SAT scores meet a certain standard, you are given an invitation to attend a college or university. If you are an athlete and your excellence performance on the field or court qualifies you for an athletic scholarship, you are invited to play for the team. If you apply for a job, and your resume indicates from your previous experience you are qualified for the job, you are invited to join the company or business. That’s the way it works in the world no matter what arena you find yourself in life.

But not so with Jesus.

Jesus undermined the world’s way of thinking with the first words of his first sermon. Talking to a culture dominated by those seeking to be rich in spirit, Jesus declared that the kingdom of God belonged to those who were poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3). By inverting the standard, he was showing the kingdom of God is upside-down and inside-out. Those who are qualified to inherit the kingdom of God are those who know they are unqualified in and of themselves spiritually to do anything to earn their acceptance with God. The riches of heaven are given to the spiritually bankrupt, not the religious elite.

Jesus confirmed the inverted nature of his invitation at a dinner party with a bunch of tax collectors. The spiritually “healthy” had major problems that Jesus would be spending time in an intimate setting with such spiritually “sick” people. And yet, Jesus made it clear that he is not interested in the sacrifices of hard-working religious people, flexing their legalistic muscles. Rather, he came as a physician to heal those who were sin sick and had nothing to vouch for except sovereign mercy. As a subversive insult, he told the religious intellectuals to “go and learn what this means.” Apparently with all their learning, they had not learned the ways of God with men.

Finally, leading up to his invitation, Jesus expresses himself in prayer to the Father, thanking him that he has hidden “these things” from the wise and understanding but revealed them to “little children” (or babes). These things–the kingdom of God and the saving purposes of Christ–are a gracious revelation granted by the Father’s will to save those who are “child-like.” They are those who understand themselves to be needy, helpless, dependent, and with no accomplishments or successes to bring to the table. The only thing they can do is cling wholeheartedly with confidence and trust in the Father who loves them.

It is at this point Jesus makes the remarkable invitation, “Come to Me.”

Come those who are poor in spirit.
Come you who are sin sick and need a merciful great physician.
Come all who are helpless and needy, looking alone for the heavenly embrace in the arms of Jesus.

The invitation of Jesus inverts the invitation of the world. He invites us not because we meet a certain qualification or level of deservedness, but because we don’t. The scandalous grounds of Christ’s invitation is the sheer grace of God. Grace says to the poor in the Spirit, Jesus is rich in righteousness and will clothe you with his royal garments. Grace says to the spiritually sick, there is more mercy in the bloody wounds of Christ than there is sin in your wicked heart. Grace says to the helpless children, you will not be left as orphans in the world but have the right to be called “children of God” and adopted into His family. The grace of God alone is the hope of sinners, for when sin abounded, grace abounded all the more!

The great hymn “Come Ye Sinners” concludes with this marvelous truth:

Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.

The fitness, the qualification for Christ’s invitation is simply to feel your need of Him. It is to look away from yourself as though you had anything to warrant His invitation and to look toward the cross. Look to the cross, for that is where the gracious invitation is extended with arms open wide for sinners to know there is abundant pardon and full redemption in the life and death of our great Savior.