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
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Sinners Seem to Throw Amazing 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)

What’s so Bad About Tax Collecting?

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. Most folks viewed them as turncoats who collaborated with an occupying enemy. Their job basically amounted to legal extortion on behalf of Rome, and they made lots of money. Tax Collectors 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?

What Kind of Party Do Sinners Want to Go To?

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!

Sinners Party

Matthew threw a party and invited folks he knew;
According to the Pharisees, these friends were less than winners.
So, 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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Dishonor: What Is It? (Hint: It’s the Opposite of Honor)

Jesus was debating with the Pharisees when they decided to throw out the demon-possessed dishonor card. As often happens in social discourse, the side with the weakest points resorted to insults rather than intelligence.

“The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” (John 8:48-52, NIV)

dishonor

The Strategy Almost Every Loser Resorts To

Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees took place in the open courtyard of the temple, surrounded by observers and passers-by. Jesus’ opponents had already called him an illegitimate child in verse 41, so it is no longer “just” a theological discussion or discourse. (Hmm, still happens in “debates” today, doesn’t it? People often resort to name-calling when their viewpoint has obvious flaws…)

Since they could not overpower his claims or his civility, they made it personal and attempted to dishonor him. It probably doesn’t translate to us as well as it should have, but by calling him a Samaritan, they were throwing out something more inflammatory than the N word at a civil rights demonstration. Then they piled on with demon possession. Suffice it to say that they insulted his family, his momma, his legitimacy, his teaching credentials, and his mental health right there in public, in front of God and everybody.

The Answer Only a Man of Integrity Could Give

Jesus kept as cool as ice in a Yeti, and reminded them that:

1) He honored God with his words and behavior, even while they dishonored him;

2) His Father would ultimately judge their actions and their words (as He will for all of us); and

3) whoever obeyed his word would never see death.

I wonder, do we ever dishonor Jesus with our words or actions? Are there times when our language or attitude disregards him, and is more like the Pharisees’ than the Father’s?

The Real Question

The apoplectic scribes and lawyers, having unloaded all of their insulting vitriol against him, finished with a question, “Who do you think you are?” Given their frustration and their inability to debate, diminish or dismiss Jesus, it probably seemed like a logical question, the capstone on their attempt to dishonor him. Instead, it became a question for the ages: Who was Jesus claiming to be? Why did he make such incredible claims? What proof did he offer, and could he really grant eternal life to those who would follow him?

I’m sure that they felt smug and self-assured by asking that question, assuming Jesus was wrong and they were right… And that question is still being asked today by those who would seek to diminish his claims or deny his place in history. But what if Jesus was right, and his statements about himself were true? The dialog then forced the scribes and lawyers to consider whether their question had relevance or not.

While you consider their question, here’s a better one: “Who do YOU think he is?”

The Answer

The Pharisees believed that as a group they were the best,
And said that Jesus was impure, and probably possessed.
They threw dishonor at his mom, and called him a Samaritan,
But Jesus didn’t bat an eye. I don’t think he was scared of them.
They asked, “Who do you think you are?” although they made it plain
To anyone who listened that they thought he was insane.
After two millennia, that question still remains,
And I think it is worth consideration, just because:
Who did Jesus think he is, and who do you think he was?

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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Answer This Honestly: Do Preconceived Notions Keep You Blind?

Lawyers say that you shouldn’t ask a question in court if you don’t know already what the witness will answer. The Pharisees ran into that problem here: “So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:24-25 NASB)

Unusual Responses to an Unusual Event

Here, in John’s account about this particular Sabbath day, Jesus healed a man who had been born blind. This seemingly joyful occasion prompted some very unusual responses, and almost everyone seems confused besides Jesus and the man who received his sight.

People who observed it were so wrapped up in preconceived assumptions that they didn’t see the obvious answer. Friends weren’t sure what had happened because the man didn’t look or act the same; his parents didn’t respond because they were worried they might get kicked out of church.

The Pharisees, who were concerned with the fact that Jesus may have broken the Sabbath, could not fathom how a man who broke their law could perform such good works. Their rigid legalism did not accept the possibility that Jesus might be from God, so they refused to give him credit. Instead, they questioned his character… Their very assumptions about the truth kept them from seeing the truth.

answer

The Dragnet Response

The blind man, who knew nothing of Jesus’ past, took a “Dragnet” approach: just the facts. No assumption, pride, or agenda obscured his sight. The great irony in John’s account of what happened is that the man born blind could see clearly, but the Pharisees (who could see) were actually blind. They were so busy questioning God that they couldn’t even rejoice over what happened. Some of the most religious people are also the greatest skeptics when something falls outside of their dogma.

What effect does skepticism have on us? Can a real skeptic ever find the truth? Does a skeptic ever dance with joy? If you think about it, skepticism is essentially a selfish act, because it places one’s ability to doubt above the power of faith. Show me a cynic, and I’ll show you someone who has made an idol of their own intellect.

See, Look, and Ask

Do you have any assumptions that keep you from seeing the truth? Before you decide, take a real, unfiltered look at Jesus. Don’t look at him based on what I say about him, or what someone else says. And don’t let your own assumptions keep you from seeing Jesus the way he really was. Read what he said with your own eyes. Take a look at what he did. Ask some honest questions, and give yourself an honest answer. You might be surprised by who you find.

Now I See

The man born blind received his sight,
Which made the Pharisees start a fight,
Since all of them could not agree
On how this thing had come to be.
According to their theology
This hadn’t happened legally.
No evidence that they could find
Encouraged them to change their mind.
Though they could see, they stayed quite blind.

The man born blind was quite surprised,
Since he could see with both his eyes!
He said, “What is it with you guys?
I don’t know Jesus’ pedigree,
Or who has the authority,
But, I was blind. And now I see!”
And all of us are one of these,
Either the man who suddenly sees,
Or someone who just disagrees.
You say that Jesus doesn’t heal,
And there’s no proof that He is real?
Well, I would say, just look at me:
I once was blind, but now I see!
I was in bondage: now I’m free!
For the man they sent to Calvary,
What will your decision be?

To purchase my newest 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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A Timeless Statement in Response to an Eternal Question

Who Is This Man? In the Book of John Jesus made a statement that defied human logic. If his statement was false, it truly deserves skepticism; but if it was true, it demands an investigation. Take a look at it for yourself and decide…

The Pharisees Did the Math…

[In a conversation with the Pharisees] Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I AM!” (John 8:54-58, NIV)

statement

This is another of the “I am” statement from Jesus that is NOT usually listed as one of the seven great “I am” statements… Here he asserts not only connection with and validation from his Father, but also a present-tense existence BEFORE Abraham. When he said this, the Pharisees took up stones to cast them in judgment. This was heresy! How could this Galilean Rabbi claim to be equal with God, or use the name of the Almighty?

They were shocked and offended that Jesus would say such a thing. Jesus claimed he existed in the time of Abraham. How could that be? No mere man could say that he had lived hundreds of years ago! To falsely make this claim is to commit perjury or blasphemy; to believe this if it were not true is lunacy. This statement is a preposterous claim, so ask yourself: was Jesus immoral or crazy? Or perhaps you could just consider a third alternative: was he just stating the facts?

The Unspeakable Truth

Jesus uses the same statement here about identity that he did when he spoke with Moses: “I AM”. To the Pharisees, this claim directly tied Jesus to the name that YHWH used, an unthinkable thing to do. It links Jesus to the unspeakable name of God. And why on earth did God call Himself “I am”? Why do you think God identified himself this way?

Here are three things from this statement to consider about the nature of God: (which would be true about Jesus if they are true about God.) 1. He is the eternal God who transcends time, who pre-existed it and presides over it. The fact that Jesus Christ transcended time gives us assurance that we will, too. (I AM going to heaven…)

NOW is the Time

2. He is in the moment with you– not stuck in the past, or even pie in the sky when you die by and by– but NOW. He comes to us NOW, wherever and however we are. It can be said that the only time you truly experience heaven on earth is when you pray, because in those moments you are connected to the eternal Father, transported into heavenly time as long as you abide in Him.

This statement claims that every bit of relationship you build with him here is eternal. It will outlive earthly time and connect you with him both here and in heaven. You don’t have to wait for eternal life because yours has already started!

And consideration number 3: He is the God who knows us and meets our needs… In a world full of temporary distractions and broken promises, He tells us, “I am sufficient for you”. Do you need forgiveness? That’s what I am! Do you need love? That’s who I am! Do you need encouragement? That’s what I am. Whatever you truly need… I AM.

An Eternal Statement

The Pharisees took up stones because
When Jesus told them who he was,
They didn’t believe, and couldn’t see
How such a thing could ever be.
The sheer impossibility
Suggested immortality
And, if untrue, was blasphemy.
They picked up stones with hateful scorn—
They knew when Abraham was born!
Yet Jesus said of Abraham,
“Before his life and birth, I AM.”

He must be mad to make this claim;
They grabbed their rocks, they all took aim—
But then they didn’t follow through;
No rock was thrown; no judgment flew…
It was as if they somehow knew
That everything he said was true.
If that’s the case, friend, what about you?
If Jesus was God, what will you do?
Since Jesus was God, what will you do?

To purchase my newest 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