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Friday, June 02, 2017

Jesus, the Friend of Sinners

The quote is quite popular these days. "Jesus was the friend of sinners!" By which they understand it to mean, "Jesus was perfectly okay with the sin that sinners commit. Don't you be so judgmental." Is that what it means?

The text occurs in Matthew and Luke. Jesus was talking about John the Baptist. John's disciples had come to Jesus asking if He was the Messiah, to which Jesus replied, "Go and tell John what you hear and see" (Matt 11:2-6). He went on, then, to talk about John to the crowds (Matt 11:7-20). He said that John was "more than a prophet" (Matt 11:9), that "no one is greater than" John the Baptist (Matt 11:11). Then Jesus complains ... about "this generation" (Matt 11:16). John didn't eat or drink and they said he had a demon (Matt 11:18). Jesus was "a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Matt 11:19) and they discarded Him, too. The text then says, "Then He began to denounce the cities where most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent" (Matt 11:20).

Well, that's interesting, isn't it? It wasn't that Jesus claimed He was "the friend of sinners". Jesus was saying that His detractors claimed it. Further, if we are to conclude that Jesus as "the friend of sinners" happily embraced and condoned their sin, we're going to have a logical disconnect because the very next thing He does is denounce those who wouldn't repent. In fact, what follows are some of Jesus's harshest words (Matt 11:21-24). You remember ... the famous "I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you" (Matt 11:24). Yikes! Oh, wait! That doesn't sound "embracing", "affirming", "tolerant", "non-judgmental".

Jesus did indeed eat and drink with sinners. No doubt. When the Pharisees complained about it He told them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mark 2:17) Note that He didn't say, "You should be more accepting of these people." He didn't say, "That's very judgmental of you." He didn't even say, "God loves the sinner, but hates the sin." He said they were sick. They were not well. They needed "a physician".

"You should be more tolerant ... like Jesus." "You shouldn't be condemning ... like Jesus." "You should be more inclusive ... like Jesus." That's what they're saying when they claim (like His detractors) that "Jesus was the friend of sinners." And as far as the claim that we should be more "like Jesus", they're right; we should be more like Jesus. He never used "the friend of sinners" as an excuse to indulge in their sin; we should be more like Him. We should be among them without being a part of them ("keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1:27)). We should be reaching the sin-sick rather than shunning them like the Pharisees. We should be warning of coming judgment if they don't repent. We should be seeking to bring the lost to Him. But embracing their sin? Jesus never did that; neither should we.


Bob said...

The description used by Jesus about people being sick is just poetic licence.
The words He used are meant to describe a condition that requires intervention. but we must realize that these words are nothing more than a charitable characterization of our fallen nature. we are dead in sin, enemy's of God, deserving condemnation. harsh words but more to the point.
At times the evangelist will use words more fitting a patient in denial, to encourage them that their sickness/brokenness can be healed by the master physician. this form of appeal imply's that we can chase Jesus down for the purpose of being fed or healed.
The Cross is not about improving our condition, but rather it is about reconciling sinful enemy's from condemnation, and making peace between these same enemy's and an angry God.

David said...

Have to love things being taken out of context. The sentiment of the detractors wasn't that it was a good thing He was friends with sinners. It would be derisive, like saying He was friends with Hitler.