Jesus Once Ate With Tax Collectors and Sinners. Guess What? He Still Does.

There was a TV show years ago named “To Tell the Truth” where contestants would try to fool a panel of judges who could ask them questions about who they were. They could have been Jokers, Sinners, Lovers, or Winners, and they were usually not someone that everyone in the audience or game show panel would know at a glance… The catch: there were two phony contestants answering as well, usually presenting themselves pretty well as the “true” contestant.

sinners truth

At the end, the host would say, “Will the REAL _____ please stand up”, and the audience would gasp because they had bet on one of the phony ones based on what they could tell from surface appearances (and the lies with which they presented themselves).

The same thing happened in the New Testament: the people who presented themselves as righteous were often sinners. And real sinners were engaged by God Himself. “And when Jesus heard it, he said unto them, “They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17 ASV) When Jesus called Levi (Matthew) from his tax collecting job, Matthew threw a big party for Jesus and invited all of his tax collector-type friends. The Pharisees were scandalized because religious men like them did not associate with such low-class people, and they questioned Jesus about why on earth he would associate with “tax collectors and sinners”. He seemed to attend and enjoy parties with less than respectable participants.

When you read through the gospels, this was not an isolated complaint about Jesus and his companions. Matthew and Mark certainly mention it, and John pointed out that the first miracle Jesus did was to turn water into wine at a wedding party. Luke’s Gospel refers to the way the Pharisees criticized Jesus several times: Luke 5:30-32 says, “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” In Luke 7:33-34 [Jesus said] “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’

And also, in Luke 15:1-2 it says “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The Pharisees were presenting themselves as righteous, but they were sinners. Jesus was hanging out with sinners, but he was righteous. Will the REAL sinners PLEASE STAND UP? This issue comes up over and over. One of the amazing hallmarks of Jesus’ earthly ministry was who he found acceptable, and who he hung out with. Clearly he was quite comfortable with sinners, and apparently they in return were comfortable with him.

There are two different aspects of his approach that make me stop and think. First of all, I wonder sometimes if we the church are really emulating Jesus by hanging out primarily with “we, the church”. I have a feeling that our mission calls us far outside the walls of the institutional church and into authentic relationships with people who wouldn’t darken the doors of a church. This is such a challenge because we all tend to gravitate into safer, insulated positions with folks who make us feel comfortable. It’s funny—the Pharisees talk about sinners like they are another group of which they are not a part. You know, “there’s sinners, but then there’s us.” Sometimes we, the church, give that impression as well. One certain application of these verses is to pray that God would introduce you to someone who is an outsider so that you can love them into the family, and never forget that everyone in the family started out as, and STILL REMAINS a sinner.

That brings me to the second application, which is more personal, and more direct. Jesus said he came “not to call the righteous, but sinners.” We aren’t acceptable to God because we are perfect, He doesn’t call us or use us because we are better than others, and He doesn’t love us only if we perform according to His specifications. He loves us as the rotten selfish disobedient sinners we are, and he calls us in the midst of our sin to become heirs to his glorious kingdom.

If you have ever sinned, if you struggle with sin, and if you think that you are somehow unworthy of God’s love or that you are not good enough to go to church, just remember what Romans 5:8 says: “But God commends His love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Italics mine) If you, like me, happen to STILL be a sinner, this is some seriously good news. All of us sinners, whether in the church or outside of it, have a lot in common. We’ve all been invited to a wedding party. We all need to bring along as many other sinners as we can. Who you gonna invite?

In Bible-quoting contests, all the Pharisees were the winners,
And they looked down on Jesus just because he ate with sinners.
Their grand self-righteousness was earned,
Because of all the church they learned,
And lowly folks (like me) were spurned.
But Jesus talked to sinners, and he didn’t ostracize them,
Or worry when the Pharisees would scorn and criticize him:
He merely said, when “righteous” folk would sneer and ask him why,
“It is the sick for whom I came, and sinners for whom I die.”

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Sinners Seem to Throw All the Best Parties. Should We Go?

“Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them. And the scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Luke 5:29-32, NIV)

When Jesus called Levi the tax collector (known to us as Matthew), he sent ripples of social indignation through the synagogue. It was a dramatic cultural statement about values, righteousness, and the gospel. Tax collectors were a totally unacceptable social group in Judea. Their job basically amounted to legal extortion on behalf of Rome, and they lived comfortably in large, opulent homes with richly dyed fabrics and plenty of first century bling. (Think “The Godfather” meets “Scarface” in terms of style and general social acceptance…)

Because their wealth was built on Roman oppression, they were despised by their fellow Hebrews as traitors and criminals. I would imagine that as they sat by the pool in their private courtyards, the tax collectors took solace in the creature comforts their lifestyle provided (even though they weren’t welcome at church anymore.) When Jesus called Levi from the tax collector’s booth at the city gate, it was a radical move. It was one thing to call fishermen, or John’s disciples, but it was unthinkable to good Jewish citizens that Jesus would call someone like Levi. To make it even worse, Levi went and threw a big party for Jesus at his place!

sinners party

He invited his friends—the OTHER tax collectors and their girlfriends, and Jesus ACTUALLY WENT. Ok Christians, here’s a couple of things to chew on. How many friends do you have who would even qualify to go to this kind of party? If most of us Christians threw a party, wouldn’t it be too lame for any non-believer to want to attend?

And of course the big question: when was the last time you threw a party at your house for sinners? A party that had other folks at church questioning your motives and behavior? There’s an Australian church called “Matthew’s Party” that reaches out to street people. I love their name and their mission. Tell me: Is their mission any different than ours? Jesus said, “It is not the righteous but the sinners who need to be called to repentance.” Is your life so insulated among the righteous that you’d have a hard time coming up with a good guest list of sinners who needed to come? Maybe it’s time to throw a party!

Matthew threw a party and invited folks he knew;
According to the Pharisees, these friends were less than winners.
They threw shade at Jesus there, and his disciples too,
Criticizing them for hanging out with such big sinners.
Jesus said, I’m here because the sinners need me most;
Besides, I like this party and I really love the host.
You should be glad I’m here instead of being mad I went;
I came to call the sinners, not the righteous to repent.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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The Worst Sinners Often Make the Best Kind of Repenters

Here’s a question: Who is the worst sinner you can think of throughout history? Or who is just the worst sinner you know? Think before you answer this one…

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16, NIV)

We all think of the Apostle Paul as a holy man. He was an amazing convert, a dedicated missionary, and an amazing theologian. But that’s not how Paul thought of himself. Based on what he wrote, I’m pretty sure Paul believed himself to be the worst of all sinners. And since he had been not only a self-righteous “Pharisee of the Pharisees”, but also a persecutor of the early church, I’m sure he had a lot to answer for. But what I have been learning over the last few years is that every one of us has a lot to answer for—and that what YOU have to answer for should matter to YOU, and what I have to answer for should matter to ME. I’m not sure the Holy Spirit convicts us about OTHER peoples’ sins, and I have observed that often the people who think they are close to God are righteous and indignant over the wrong person’s sin.

worst sinner

You may think you have been relatively good, but the more I read Scripture, the more concerned I am about all the things I have done. I’m concerned even more about all the things I haven’t done. I see things in Scripture that hold me accountable not just for what I have done, but for what I have thought. (And I hate to admit this, but I have committed far more despicable sins in my mind than I have even had time to physically commit.) Based on my rough assessment of my own personal inventory of sin, I’d have to say that Paul might need to move over and accept his place as the SECOND worst of sinners; he may have over-staked his claim to being worst.

In the real world, my ACTUAL sinfulness has cost me opportunities and relationships, and it has caused immeasurable harm to any number of people, including those I love the most. It has also diminished my own usefulness: how much time have I wasted on sin that could have been spent serving others, or spending time with my Father. How do I account for that? Paul says that it took the “immense patience” of Jesus Christ. His brutal, painful death paid the penalty for sin, and made it possible for a Righteous Judge to offer mercy to all sinners.

So here’s the thing: even if I were the ONLY sinner to ever live, Jesus would still have had to go to the cross for my redemption. It’s nice that Jesus died for the sins of the world, but the main thing to me is that he had to die because of ME. MY sin was incredibly costly. Salvation is free but it’s not cheap: It cost God his Son. It cost his Son his life.

It has become clearer to me that the closer we get to God, the more our own sins matter, and the more convicted we become—and not in a morbid, negative way (oh I feel so guilty! Whatever am I to do?), but more in an ‘awareness of the majesty and mystery of Grace’ way (oh I feel so grateful! What, Lord, should I do?). I hope you are aware enough of what Christ did to be grateful. I hope that we sinners can be aware enough to be deeply convicted as well… If you feel like you’ve been pretty good overall, and you are not somehow devastated by the price that has to be paid for your sins, then you probably ought to do a quick position check. You may not be as close to God as you think.

Of all the righteous Pharisees, Paul said he was the first;
But out of all the sinners he proclaimed himself the worst.
Now, Paul preached Christ in every town and prison he was in,
But he still felt inadequate because of all his sin.
We all judge sin from time to time–it’s what we see in others;
We even notice faults among our Christian friends and brothers.
Surely Paul’s assessment of his sins was overrated,
And when He called himself the worst, perhaps he over-stated…
Perhaps we’d see Paul differently and understand him clearer
If we felt worst about the sin reflected in our mirror.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread