Religious people, have often fallen in the trap of being hypocrites, and holier than thou. It was true in the days of Jesus, and if we are not careful, it can be true of us today as well. In Luke chapter 7 this is pointed out clearly. Many people mocked John the Baptist because he did not look like them. He did not dress like them. He did not eat and drink like them. V. 33 tells us that because of John’s abstaining from these things many people accused him of having a demon. In their mind, it was the only explanation for his actions.
Jesus enters the picture. He isn’t dressed like John the Baptist. He is behaving differently, in fact, He is found eating with “tax collectors and sinners.” Now, these same people who mocked John the Baptist for abstaining from certain things and activities are chastising Jesus for doing the opposite. In their rage against Christ, they mocked Him. They called Him a glutton and a drunkard. They called Him a “friend to tax collectors and sinners.”
I would submit to you that the label that they gave Him, “friend of sinners” although they meant it in the negative, Christ took as a compliment. Jesus was (and is) a friend to sinners. I for one am grateful for this!
What being a friend to sinners means:
Naturally, there are those that want to apply their own ideas as to what it means to be a friend to sinners. They may twist a verse here and there and abuse this idea. Some will teach that in order to win the lost, Jesus joined them in their lifestyle. Meaning that He either participated in or gave approval to their sin.
Jesus did not in Luke 7, nor any other text participate or give approval to sin. However, He did go out of His way to make sure that the sinner was, and felt, loved.
He wanted them to feel important: As we read of the lowly tax collector named Zacchaeus in Luke 19. A man that was despised by many for his profession, and possibly for personal corruption. We find Jesus singling out this little man saying, “I’m going to your house today.”
He wanted them to be heard: We read of a lengthy dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. Not only did Jews not typically pass through Samaria, they did not speak to the Samaritans. When Jesus came, that changed.
He wanted to calm the fearful: In John 3 we read of Nicodemus coming to Jesus by the cover of night. The text does not tell us for certain, but it isn’t a stretch to assume he did so out of fear of being seen with Jesus. What does Jesus talk to him about? He spoke to him about being born again so he could see the kingdom of heaven.
He wanted to show love when no one else did: John chapter 8 details for us a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. A mob brings this woman to Jesus to test Him and see what needs to be done with her. After causing the angry mob to look at their own sinfulness, Jesus told her to go and sin no more.
What motivated Jesus to be a friend to sinners?
We must keep in mind in this discussion that never once was Jesus friendly toward sin. He was however friendly toward the sinner. Why? Simply put, He valued their soul.
Jesus was painfully aware of man’s lost condition. So much so that He spoke more about it than any one else in the NT. Out of the 14 times that the Greek word for Hell (γέεννα ) is used 12 times it is used by Jesus Himself. He knows better than anyone that people are lost and it broke His heart. It led Him to being a friend to those who needed it the most.
How can we, be a friend to sinners?
We start by determining to actively seek souls: We must stop with the idea that “If people really want to know the truth, they know where to find us.” No, they don’t. They don’t know what the truth is, and they sure don’t know where to find it. We must take it to them.
In John 4:4 in the text dealing with the Samaritan woman we find an interesting phrase. The Bible tells us that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria.” If you look at a map, the quickest way for Him to get to Galilee from Judea was to pass through Samaria. Some have speculated that perhaps He was in a hurry and that is why He broke the custom of going the long way around to avoid the Samaritans. However, in V.40 the people asked Him to stay, and so He stayed for two days. It is apparent that Jesus “had to” pass through Samaria not because He was in a hurry, but because He needed to go to the lost.
We need to prioritize people over our schedule: Examine Matthew chapter 8-9 in your spare time. Look at all the interactions that Jesus had with people needing His help. He healed the leper, the centurion’s servant, healed the multitudes, calmed the storm, healed demon possessed men, healed the paralytic, answered doctrinal questions, healed blind men, healed the man unable to speak. Time after time, Jesus put people over His schedule.
Jesus was a friend to sinners. No, He did not sin. No, He did not condone sin. He did however, offer love, compassion, and help to those who were in sin. As a man who has sinned, I am eternally grateful for Jesus’ friendship with sinners. It is my prayer that the church collectively and individually will do a better job of extending friendship to those who are lost.