Are you tattooed for Jesus?

We love to see lists, don’t we?  We are inundated with all kinds of lists such as the top wealthiest people in the country, the top candidates for G.O.A.T. status in every sport, or the top ten popular songs on iTunes.  The Church likes lists, too.  We often see lists such as the “largest churches in the country” or the “fastest growing congregations,” and so forth.

Some of these lists are not very flattering.  For example, when I was in Seminary in 1981 I read a list of the “top ten worst cities to live in.”  It was a list of cities facing severe challenges of unemployment, severe weather, high crime, drug use, etc.  On the list that year was the city of Haverhill, Massachusetts, a city not far from where I attended seminary.  In the late 19th and early 20th century, Haverhill was a booming city right on the banks of the Merimack River.  It was a mill town and one of its claims to fame was that it was once said that if you wore a pair of shoes, they were likely made in Haverhill.  Sixty percent of all shoes and boots in the USA were made there!  They also were famous for making hats.  This boom continued well into the early 20th century.  Then, shoes and hats began to be imported from other countries and gradually all the mills in Haverhill went silent.  The town has struggled ever since and this is why the city of Haverhill landed on that infamous list back in 1981.

Some years later I had the privilege of being the interim pastor of West Congregational Church in Haverhill.  Let me say that Haverhill may have its share of struggles, but I never met nicer people anywhere.   Despite the ongoing challenges in Haverhill, it was also the most vibrant church I had ever experienced.  The church was pulsating with a natural heart for evangelism.  People regularly brought their unsaved friends to church.  Their involvement in the community was not cosmetic, but meaningful and substantive.  The worship was truly amazing.  They had small groups before they became popular around the country.    I have many memories of seeing people at the altar receiving Christ or praying through challenges.  One of my favorite memories was of a young man who was brought to church by one of our members.  He had no meaningful background in the church.  Yet, by God’s grace, he was gloriously saved.  The most notable feature of him was that he was covered with tattoos.  He seemed to have tattoos in all the visible places.  I noticed the first week or so after his salvation experience that one of our members had given him a Bible and he was using a jack of diamonds from a set of cards for his bookmark.  He was clearly fresh in the faith.  His life just seemed to pulsate with the power of Christ changing his life day by day.   A few weeks after he was saved, he approached me before one of our services and with excitement in his eyes, he said to me, “Pastor, I need to see you in the bathroom.”  With some trepidation I followed him into the bathroom where, with a big grin on his face, he proceeded to unbutton his shirt.  He opened it to show me a new tattoo.  It said, in bold letters, JESUS IS LORD!  He told me, “I don’t think I’m going to get any more tattoos, but I thought it would be good to have this one as my last one!  He was now “marked” with the Lordship of Jesus Christ right over his heart!

You may not have any tattoos (and just for the record, I don’t have any), but the Scriptures tell us that we are all “marked” by the gospel.  Paul says in Galatians 6:17, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”  Commentators have wondered if Paul is referring quite literally to his whipped, scarred back on which he received “40 lashes minus one” five times (See 2 Cor. 11:24).  Others say Paul was speaking more figuratively.  It was a common practice in his day for slaves to be literally tattooed as a sign of their ownership.  Here, Paul is saying that even though he had never been a slave (He was a Roman citizen) and didn’t have any of those physical tattoo marks, he, nevertheless, spiritually speaking, now regarded himself as the “bond-slave of Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 7:22).  He was “marked” for life as the bond-servant of Christ.

I think my friend from Haverhill was trying to convey this same idea. He had been marked by worldliness for his entire life up to that point.  However, now he was drawing a line and he was going to be heretofore a servant of Christ:  Jesus is Lord!  He wanted everyone to know that he now stood within the gates of Zion, as a full member of the church of Jesus Christ!  This is a wonderful reminder to all of us.  We should all be so transformed by the gospel that we live as those marked for life such that all that we do and all that we think is an expression of that earliest Christian confession:  Jesus is Lord!


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