October 28, 2014

The Friend of Sinners

I have often heard my friend Kevin Landis referring to Jesus as the Friend of sinners. I’ve heard it both in Kevin’s preaching, and in his praying – the Friend of sinners! It’s a delightful phrase, isn’t it? And this favorite designation of Kevin’s for the Lord Jesus has stuck with me as such a helpful reminder of our Lord’s goodness and grace!

The title comes, of course, from the New Testament. Jesus’ opponents used it as a slight … saying of the Lord Jesus: “Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34). And, while those first two accusations (concerning Jesus’ eating and drinking habits) will not hold water … Jesus’ critics got the latter two correct, didn’t they? Our Lord did indeed befriend “tax collectors and sinners”! He was (and is), truly, the Friend of sinners! And, of course, we praise God for that! Because, were it not true, He would have befriended none of us! For each one of us fits in that category of “sinners”, do we not? Every day, we fail the Lord. And every day, we need Him to befriend us in spite of ourselves. And He does, doesn’t He? He is indeed the Friend of sinners. Praise God!

But let me remind you again of how Jesus’ opponents used this title against Him. In saying that Jesus was “a friend of tax collectors and sinners,” they weren’t exactly thinking of themselves! They weren’t saying what we just said: ‘O, thank God that Jesus befriends sinners, because that’s who we are!’ That wasn’t the heart behind the criticism! No! The idea in these people’s minds was evidently that they were not really the sinners; that they were not the kind of riff-raff with which Jesus seemed so comfortable spending time. And so it was a scandal, in their minds, to see Jesus associating with the rabble and the irreligious. He should’ve have been courting the friendship of much more respectable people!

This was often the thinking of those around Jesus. They evidently didn’t realize that they also were among the sinners. And they apparently held their noses pretty high in the air when it came to rubbing shoulders with society’s undesirables. ‘Why is Jesus hanging out with such trash?’

And I want to say to you that we can fail in these things, too! Indeed, I want especially to point out how, while we may (technically, at least) get the first point right (admitting that we are sinners, and desperately need God’s grace) … I want to say to you that we can still find ourselves looking down our noses at, and keeping ourselves at arm’s length from, the people who seem to us to scrape even closer to the bottom of the barrel than we do.

Think about them – those co-workers who have such seamy stories to tell on Monday morning; those people who openly espouse alternative sexual lifestyles; those neighbors whose looks and hours seem to cry out, ‘drug addiction’; those kids who are always getting into trouble (and perhaps their parents, too); those family members who can’t seem to set down the booze for even one weekend.

Do we want to enable, or tacitly endorse, or get tangled up ourselves in their sins? Absolutely not! Jesus never did any of those things, of course! But somehow He was able to get next to such people, and to impact them, and to love them, and to speak hope into their sin, and guilt, and shame – so much so that people began to notice, and to call Him “a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” And I just want to urge you to find ways of doing the same! It can be time-consuming, and sometimes financially costly. The progress can be slow. Sometimes you will be taken advantage of, or deeply disappointed by those to whom you seek to minister. But read the gospels, and see if you can be like Jesus and still avoid the ne’er-do-wells. It doesn’t work. If Jesus is the Friend of sinners, then we must, in our measure, be the same!

October 13, 2014

Zeal ... and Compassion!

On two different occasions, the Lord Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem – turning over the tables of the currency exchange agents, and chasing off those who were running a livestock market inside. The apostle John records the first such occasion (John 2.13-17), and Matthew, Mark, and Luke each record the second. And, in both cases, we see an aspect of Jesus’ character that may at first surprise us. We’re used to seeing Jesus mild and patient, befriending the lowly, feeding the hungry, healing the afflicted, and teaching the masses with amazing skill. We’re even used to Him sometimes saying hard things to certain people. But we’re not used to seeing Him knocking stuff over, are we? We’re not used to seeing Him angry! And yes, I think that is perhaps the right way to describe Jesus as He twice cleansed His Father’s house – righteously angry!

His anger did not spring from any sin in His heart. No! Jesus was angry with the coin exchangers and the livestock retailers (John tells us of that first occasion) because He was zealous for the house of God! “ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME” (John 2.17). That was the Old Testament quote (from Psalm 69.9) which the disciples remembered, and which they realized was a description of their Master’s heartbeat. Jesus was zealous for His Father’s house; zealous for the purity of the temple of God. So zealous, in fact, that He could respond quite severely, if need be, against those who defiled that house.

It’s an amazing – perhaps an astonishing – snapshot of our Lord, isn’t it? And an important one, too! It seems to me to have great application to much that goes on under the name of Christianity even to this day. So let us note this well: Jesus does not trifle with this particular sort of sin; with turning the house of God into “a place of business” (John 2.16) or “a ROBBERS’ DEN” (Matthew 21.13)! He is zealous for the house of God!

But then I want you to notice, also, the very next thing that Matthew reports, just after the occasion of Jesus’ second temple cleansing. I never noticed this until today ... but the very next thing Matthew reports, after Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, is that “the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them” (Matthew 21.14).

Isn’t that fantastic? Jesus has just finished knocking over all those tables, and running all those people out of the temple, and indicting them for making the house of God into a “ROBBERS’ DEN.” – and yet the afflicted still find, in Him, a compassionate healer! Jesus is not so zealous and righteously angry that He does not also have time (and a heart) for ministries of mercy!

What a picture of the stunningly balanced perfections of our Lord – with such zeal for God’s house that He is willing to take up drastic measures against those who defile it; and yet still pouring out marvelous compassion on hurting people! Absolute, impeccably balanced perfection! That’s our Jesus! And this is why we love Him so! This is why we can’t stop singing His name; and why we come to hear Him preached Sunday by Sunday; and why we want our neighbors and co-workers to come and join us! Because Jesus – in all His flawlessly rounded perfections – is altogether marvelous to behold; altogether worthy to be praised; and altogether fit, I might add, to be our Savior!

Is He your Savior? Is He marvelous to you? Look at Him again, in the four gospels, and see if you don’t come to the conclusion that there is no one more worthy of your admiration, and desire, and trust!

October 6, 2014

Desperate and Eager

A wise person once taught me that we should read the four gospels, looking primarily for what they have to teach us about the main character, Jesus … and not primarily for how the various secondary characters might mirror ourselves. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are theological biographies of Christ, first of all. And so, when we read them, that is what we should expect to learn, principally: about Jesus – about His person, His work, His life, His death, His teaching, and so on. In the same way that, if you picked up a biography of Abraham Lincoln, you would expect to learn mainly about Lincoln. Yes, you’d also learn a good bit about the American presidency, and the Civil War, and the issue of slavery, and so on. But all those things would create the backdrop for the chief portrait the author hopes to present to you – namely that of Abraham Lincoln. And that is a good way to think about our reading of the four gospels. We read them first of all, hoping to see and learn of Christ.

And yet, there are other people who come onto the scene in the pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – men and women who interact with Jesus; who believe (or disbelieve) in Jesus; who love (or hate) Jesus. And, while these men and women are not the primary characters in the gospel narratives, they do often have a great deal to teach us – especially in the realm of how we should (or should not) also respond to the same Jesus whom they encountered. And I came across an interesting pair of them (one right after the other) as I read in Loraine Boettner’s A Harmony of the Gospels this week – Bartimaeus and Zaccheus.

Jesus met both men on a trip to the city of Jericho. And it would appear that these two men were from quite different sides of the tracks – one a “blind beggar … sitting by the road” (Mark 10.46); the other “a chief tax collector” who “was rich” (Luke 19.2). Two very different men … outwardly at least! But have you ever noticed how similar they were in one respect? Both of them were all-out in their desire to get to Jesus!

Bartimaeus could hear a whole mass of people going by him on the way into the city. And he began asking what the hubbub was all about (Luke 18.36). And when he found out that it was Jesus making His way down the road … well, Bartimaeus couldn’t contain himself, and began to holler out for Him! And when some good and proper folks began to try and quiet him down, Bartimaeus only increased the fervor of his cries! Because he just had to get the attention of Jesus! He just had to have His help! And he wasn’t going to ssshhh himself until he got it! And what an example he is – what a rebuke to me in my often lackluster prayer life. Why don’t I cry out to Jesus like that? Why am I not so desperate?

And why am I not so eager as Zaccheus, too? Do you remember him in Luke 19? He was ‘a wee little man’ as we sing – "small in stature", as Luke 19.3 tells us, a little less colorfully. And so he couldn’t see over the crowds to get a good look at Jesus. But Zaccheus just had to see Him. Just had to. And so he climbed up into what became probably the most famous sycamore tree known to mankind … and got himself a front row seat! Zaccheus was eager to see the Lord! But why am I not always that eager to see Jesus? Why do I so often leave my Bible shut beside me? Why do I so little anticipate His coming again?

O, to be more like these two men of Jericho – to be as desperate for Christ’s help as Bartimaeus was; and as eager to see Him as Zaccheus! I hope that you will be convicted by their examples, too … and encouraged by how Jesus responded to them both with such mercy! The Lord loves to hear, and meet, and answer, and bless desperate, eager souls. So let’s be eager to be more eager; and pray desperately that we might become more desperate … for Jesus!