“Jesus, Friend of Sinners”
A little boy was with his parents... visiting his grandparents house... when he opened up the big and old family Bible sitting on his grandparents coffee table. Fascinated, he flipped through the old pages...
When, suddenly, something fell out of the Bible. So the boy reached down a picked it up... It was an old leaf from a tree that had been pressed in between the pages.
Excited... the little boy called out, “Momma, Daddy, look what I found” the boy called out.
“What have you got there, dear?” his mother asked.
With astonishment in the young boy's voice, he answered: “I think it's Adam's underwear!”
When we think of God... so many things come to mind. God is our Creator and Maker, Lord and Master, Judge, Redeemer, Father, Savior, and much more.
But the most shocking truth is... the God who’s all these things and more... wants to be our friend!
It’s a theme that is echoed throughout scripture...
In the Garden of Eden, we’re shown God’s ideal relationship with us: Adam and Eve enjoyed an intimate friendship with God. God actually walked in the Garden in the “cool of the day” - alongside Adam and Eve. It’s a picture of perfection... no rituals, no ceremonies... no fear, no guilt... just a simple, faithful relationship between God and the people he created.
Adam and Eve delighted in God, and God delighted in them. It’s even reflected in the Westminster Shorter Catechism... in the very first question: “What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
We were created to live in God’s continual presence, and to enjoy God! But after the Fall, after Adam and Eve’s disobedience & sin... that ideal relationship was broken.
And after that, only a precious few people in the Old Testament had the privilege of friendship with God. Moses and Abraham were called “friends of God,” David was called “a man after my own heart,” and Job, Enoch, and Noah had personal, interactive relationships with God...
But the fact is... fear of God, not enjoyment... not friendship, was more common in the Old Testament.
Then... came Jesus... and all that changed.
The classic story from the New Testament is that of the calling of Matthew... Matthew, of course, was a Tax Collector - so he was the lowest of the low, at least in the eyes of the Jews/Pharisees. Partly because, tax collectors were expected to meet their “quota” (so to speak)... to raise the expected taxes, but anything extra, anything over the “quota” was theirs to keep!
But the Jews also considered tax collectors traitors... Tax collectors worked for Rome... They were constant reminders of an oppressive, foreign, pagan government.
And add to all that... Matthew, who was also known as Levi... was likely a Levite. Levites were those who’d been “set aside” to serve God... so, in the eyes of the Pharisees, that made Matthew’s collusion with Rome much worse!
But regardless: to the Pharisees, the fact that Jesus had called Matthew to be his disciple was unconscionable... and to add to their outrage... Jesus took it a step further! Jesus “ate” with Matthew and other “sinners” and tax collectors! (Matt. 9:10–11; Luke 5:29–30).
To sit down and enjoy a meal with others - back in Jesus day, and even TODAY - is to express a relationship. We go to dinner with people we generally know... family, and friends, and co-workers and neighbors. So by eating with sinners... Jesus was revealing his love, and mercy, and grace... to those whom others had deemed beyond forgiveness, beyond mercy and grace.
Think back to the Resurrection story for just a moment. When Jesus died on the cross... we’re told the “veil” in the temple (that symbolized our separation from God) was split from top to bottom... certifying and attesting that direct access to God was once again available.
The Bible says, “Now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God - all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us in making us friends of God” (Romans 5:11 NLT).
Friendship with God is a reality because of the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus. “All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends” (2 Corinthians 5:18 GNT).
Back to Matthew’s story for a just a moment: Jesus responded to the Pharisees’ accusations of “eating with sinners” by telling the Pharisees to “go and learn” the Scripture, specifically Hosea 6:6, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Matt. 9:12–13a).
Which is ironic because the Pharisees, of all people, should have known the Bible... which says our Creator is eager to forgive the repentant (Ps. 86:15).
Jesus came to save... to pardon of sinners; the righteous have no need of His work (Matt. 9:13b).
Of course, in saying this, Jesus wasn’t saying that the Pharisees are righteous in themselves. All are sinners, and only those who recognize that fact can even begin to understand what righteousness really means. In effect Jesus is saying, “Pharisees, you of all people should know that the Messiah came to save sinners, and, in fact, you should also see your desperate need for forgiveness... and you would... if you knew the Scriptures as well as you claim.”
The truth is... we’re all recovering Pharisees who’ve been called to move beyond our tendency to frown only upon certain sins. John Calvin said that we must “never think it strange that he should gather to salvation those who have been the worst of men, and who have been covered with a mass of crimes.”
As followers of Christ, we’ve been forgiven, and reconciled to God... and now... we’re called to be a people of reconciliation... a people who see others, flaws and all, as people for whom Christ died.
Jesus is truly a friend of sinners... and he’s called us to be the same.
“Since we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be delivered from eternal punishment by his life” (Romans 5:10 NLT).