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!