Jesus Ate With Sinners. Know What? He Still Does.

Will the REAL Contestant Please Stand Up?

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, but they were not well-known celebrities. They were usually not someone that everyone in the audience or game show panel would know at a glance. The catch: the contestants came in groups of three, so there were two phony contestants answering as well. They acted as if they were indeed the actual person, and they usually presented 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).

Do Appearances Matter?

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. 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. They questioned Jesus about why on earth he would associate with “tax collectors and sinners”. “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) Apparently, Jesus did not hesitate to attend (and enjoy!) parties with less than respectable participants.

A Common Criticism

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 presented themselves as righteous, but they were sinners. Jesus hung 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.

Get Outside the Walls

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.

Only Sinners Need Apply

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?

A Surprising Guest List

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
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

The Scandalous Invitation That Shocked the Whole Nation

Guess who’s coming to dinner?

The Gospel of Mark recorded a scandalous invitation which must have shocked everyone who heard about it: “And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the place of toll, and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.” (Mark 2:14 ASV)

On the surface this verse doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but there are several things that make it noteworthy. First, look at Levi the son of Alphaeus. He is known to us as Matthew, who was probably the brother of another apostle, James the son of Alphaeus (who was known as James “the less” to differentiate him from James the son of Zebedee). He was identified as a publican or tax collector, and was sitting in the toll booth extracting fees from his fellow Israelites when Jesus called him.

Not the most popular career choice

Matthew was not the kind of guy who would have received an invitation to any of the church socials at the local synagogue… Nobody in Jewish society liked the guys sitting in the tax booths! Because they worked for the Romans, tax collectors were among the most despised of all Hebrews. In Luke 18, when Jesus compares the self-righteousness of a Pharisee’s prayer to the lowest sort of man imaginable, he picks someone who all of his Jewish listeners would have agreed was the worst kind of human: a tax collector.

scandalous invitation

That’s exactly how a good Jewish citizen would have thought of Levi, sitting there in the toll booth collecting taxes—and yet that’s who Jesus called and gave an invitation to follow him. By calling Matthew, he demonstrated that his followers don’t have to be perfect; in fact they can be FAR LESS than perfect…

Who’s the Sinner Here?

So Jesus called this tax collector to be a disciple. Now, Matthew made good money and had a lot of friends; they just weren’t the kind of folks acceptable in the local churches. It would have been considered scandalous for them to show up at the Temple. So, when Matthew throws a party for Jesus (Matthew 9), the Pharisees are quick to condemn Jesus for hanging out with “tax collectors and sinners”. In their eyes those people were one and the same.

The calling of Matthew tells us that there is often more to someone than meets the eye, that we shouldn’t be too quick to judge, and that Jesus did not call his followers based on status, position, or religiosity. He calls anyone and everyone who will repent and follow him. His startling recruitment of a lowly publican sent shock waves through the Jewish world; it also ultimately gave us the book of Matthew, a historic work of epic proportions.

What IS “the good life”?

The second noteworthy thing in this verse has to do with Matthew and his response to Jesus’ invitation. As a tax collector, he was probably wealthy. He lived in a nice house, and apart from the social ostracism he endured, probably had a pretty nice life from a material point of view. The latest fashion, lots of parties and plenty of friends. He had running water, a patio with a view, a nice car, a 70” HDTV, and a good sound system. (Ok I am probably stretching a little here). Most likely, Matthew had money.

But in leaving his job to follow Jesus (a relative newcomer who was really not connected with the powers that be in Jerusalem), Matthew took a big risk. It meant that he had to leave his wealth and security to answer Jesus’ call.

Now think about this: This was BEFORE everything about Jesus had been revealed, before everyone knew who Jesus really was, and Levi (Matthew) the tax collector just up and left his job to go with him… He didn’t yet have proof about Jesus being the Son of God, but he saw potential, and he responded immediately to the invitation.

What if Jesus asked you today to leave your high paying job and your future and your place in society to follow him? How would you react? Do you see potential? What if Jesus gave YOU the invitation: “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me”? (Matthew 16:24)

Guess what? He already has…

Scandalous

The Jewish world was shocked to find
That Jesus must have lost his mind,
Or deviated from the truth by calling Matthew from his booth!
Why, such a man was less than scum!
A traitorous, tax-collecting bum
Who helped the Romans get their tax. Why, such a man deserved the axe!
Yet Matthew went and shocked them all
By stepping out to Jesus’ call,
And leaving all his worldly wealth to go pursue his spiritual health.

He threw a party for his friends
To join a world that never ends!
But Matthew followed Christ. And look! We have his really awesome book
That helps us understand and see
“Take up your cross and follow me.”
Jesus called Matthew on the way;
He’s calling you and me today.
When he calls you: what will you say?

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