Summary: Jesus is friend of sinners, and that is a good thing, for each of us is a sinner, and if we are to be like Jesus, we need to befriend sinners also.
Jesus, Friend of Sinners (Luke 5:27-31; 7:36-50)
Series: “Portraits of Christ” – Steve Simala Grant
February 16/17, 2002
Before getting into this morning’s sermon, I want to address two things. The first is that I want to publicly praise God for working in power in my family this week. Last weekend I stood before you in uncertainty, some fear, and great concern for the health of my son who was facing a test for Cystic Fibrosis. I asked for your prayers. And then I preached about our God of power. Well God demonstrated that those were not mere words; He answered our requests abundantly. All of Thomas’ tests came back clear – he doesn’t have any of the diseases we prayed against. And so I praise God this morning, as I have been all week, for answered prayer. Let me tell you about a second miracle in all of that – Joanne and I were both at peace throughout Monday when we had the tests and as we awaited the results. We were calm, even happy. I don’t understand that except as a miracle from God as He answered our prayers. God answers prayer, God is all-powerful, and God is good. Thank you for your prayers and support.
Second, I want to comment just briefly on the news from our search committee presenting my name as a candidate for our Senior Pastor position. I’m anticipating a wide range of reactions to this news, and I want to say that I welcome those reactions. This whole process is really one of discernment and decision-making, and it is a congregational process. The search committee has done a great deal of work, but the process is by no means complete! The next step is for our congregation to pray, to discern, to discuss, and to decide whether or not we believe God is leading us together in this direction. It is my desire to have a climate of openness around this decision – for you to feel free to ask, to question, and then to decide, prayerfully, where you believe God is leading us.
I think some of you might react with surprise. Until the beginning of November, that would have been my reaction also! I’ll share more about how I’ve felt God leading Joanne and I in the weeks ahead. I think some might react with a feeling of disappointment: I know the anticipation has been great, and we have been expecting a really huge change with someone new that we don’t know coming to fill this role. There will be change, I can guarantee that, but that change will come from someone you know, and it might not be as much change as there would be with someone completely new. Please feel free to express that reaction, and to ask questions along those lines. I hope to that some will react with joy and excitement. In all of these reactions, my prayer is simply that God’s will be done. It is now the job of the congregation to pray, discuss, and discern whether we believe God’s will is for me to fill the role of Senior Pastor here. I welcome that process, and all of the reactions and questions that come with it, and I welcome the end result, positive or negative.
Let’s have a word of prayer, and then look at God’s word.
The course was nearly over. My professor had demonstrated an incredible knowledge of the subject, had been insightful and inspiring and deep. And as he summed up the entire course on the life of Christ, he said these words: “You know, looking back over the whole life and ministry of Jesus, the thing that sticks out most is that Jesus really did come for sinners. That was what His life and ministry was really all about. He came for sinners.” That is the portrait of Christ that I want to look at this morning – Jesus, friend of sinners. To do that, I want to compare two stories of Jesus being invited out to dinner: Luke 5:27-32, and Luke 7:36-50.
Jesus eats with Levi (Luke 5:27-32)
I tried to think of a contemporary parallel to the “tax collector” in Jesus’ day, to help us understand how despised and hated these people were. “Olympic Figure Skating Judge” came to mind… so did “Alberta Learning Minister”… and of course “tax collector” is still a decent bet…
A bit of background might help us better understand why tax collectors were so hated. First, they made their living by overcharging, with the full backing of the Roman government. It could easily become extortion. So people hated them because they were cheats who profited richly at the expense of others, usually quite poor people. Taxes at the time could be extremely high – up to (and you’re not going to be able to believe this…) 50% of their income – what kind of society is that?? Second, tax collectors were traitors – they had sold out to the Romans and were punishing their own fellow Jews for personal profit. This also equaled an abandonment of their Jewish faith, or at least a lot of the ceremonial aspects that called for very limited contact with Gentiles, and of the rules governing the Sabbath. So they were cheats, traitors, and backsliders. We see even as we read the Gospels that the Pharisees often refer to “sinners” in a derogatory way, and when they want to take the point even further they refer to “sinners and tax collectors.” They were the bottom of the pile.