Understanding the Red Letters Part 20
Even a casual reading of the gospels suggests that Jesus’ ministry had a particular focus toward “sinners”. In fact, we see now that coming to save sinners was the heart of Christ’s gospel mission. “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (I Timothy 1:15). Paul wrote it. Jesus said it. And Jesus lived it!
“Friend of Sinners” is one of the most overlooked, but powerful titles ascribed to Jesus. It was initially given to Him as a criticism by the religious leaders of His day. Jesus had a penchant for hanging out with sinners. He seemed to make a point of gathering with sinners. And it was a constant angst for the religious leaders. They accused Him of being “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ “ (Luke 7:34).
Accepting a dinner invitation and eating with tax collectors and sinners was considered the worst by the Jewish religious leaders. “Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them’ ” (Luke 15:1-2).
But Jesus had an answer for their complaints. When Matthew gave a big reception for Jesus that was attended “by a great crowd of tax collectors and other people, the Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?’ “ (Luke 5:29-30).
Before the disciples could answer, Jesus spoke up. “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance’ “ (Luke 5:31-32).
This is Jesus’ answer to their charge of “friend of sinners”. Jesus said, “This is exactly why I came and who I came for!”
This was us! Sinner is who we were. Sinner is who we were when Christ first found us, loved us, and saved us. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Praise the Father and the Son for finding, loving, and saving sinners!
Let me close with three quick points on Jesus’ answer, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” First, we lose the “sinner” label immediately when we believe the gospel. Holy and beloved saint is our new name. Our sinner label is in our past.
Second, Jesus did not come just to be a friend of sinners, as beautiful and reassuring at that is. He came to call us and them to repentance. Jesus did not require the tax collectors and sinners to change their behavior to come to Him. Their requirement to join Jesus’ kingdom was the same as ours; repent, change your mind, and believe the gospel. Change would come to them the same way it came to us; change over time as we allow Jesus to live His life through us.
Finally, the “righteous” who seem to be left out of His call? These are the self-righteous who had no interest in repentance. High on their own perceived moral superiority, they were unable to see that they were sinners as well; sinners who needed a Savior.