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I’m sharing a series of messages as we move toward Easter to help us review and crystalize who Jesus is.  We have talked about Him being the Ultimate Authority and the Greatest Emancipator.  Today, I want to remind us all that He is a Friend of Sinners.  Matthew’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus at the home of a sinner, a tax collector, named Matthew.  It wasn’t just a party for two, but the text says that many other sinners were there as well.  Apparently, Matthew called all his sinner friends and invited them over to meet Jesus.  That’s pretty incredible, isn’t it?  I wonder who they were.  I wonder what their lives were like.  There were definitely other tax collectors at the party, but we don’t know what other lifestyles were represented. I would venture to say that they were people who simply weren’t convicted by the religious laws and who were unimpressed by the religious leaders.  But Jesus, He was different.  

Matthew 9:9-13 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

So, this story, like most in the Bible, is a Cliff Notes kind of version.  We don’t get many details.  One day Matthew was a tax collector.  The next day he became a disciple of Jesus which came with a change of heart and change of life! 

Before we get too deep into the weeds, let me just say that it is obvious to me from this passage and several other Gospel stories that there was something about Jesus that gave sinners the indication that He would be a safe person to hang out with. Even though He was a Rabbi, He didn’t put off the same condemning vibe as the other Rabbi’s. Sinners were drawn to Him and were welcomed by Him without reservation. 

As a tax collector, Matthew was someone who was hated by most other Jews.  He was a lowlife to them for several reasons.  He worked for the enemy.  The Jews reviled the Romans who oppressed them, so Matthew got lumped in with their hatred for the Romans.  Matthew was a traitor, times two.  Not only did he work for Rome, but he stole from the Jewish people by demanding a higher tax than the government required. He helped himself to the difference between what he was expected to turn in to the Roman authorities and to what he actually received from the Jews.  Matthew wasn’t welcomed by any other Jews, but Jesus? He was different.

The fact that Jesus was in Matthew’s home and was eating a meal with him was another level of offense to the Pharisees.  To break bread with someone, to dine with them, was a sign of relational intimacy.  The fact that Jesus was in Matthew’s home, eating with Him, was a sign of His love for Matthew as a person.  Someone others avoided and hated was sought out and loved by Jesus.

The teachers of the law, the ones who promoted themselves to keep watch over everyone’s spiritual condition by making sure they followed the religious law to the letter, missed the spirit of the law entirely.  Wanting to discredit Jesus, they tried to undermine Jesus’ authority in the eyes of His disciples.  If they could place doubt in the minds of the disciples about who Jesus really was, about what He stood for, perhaps, they would turn on Him or simply disband altogether. 

Jesus overheard them ask why He would be eating with tax collectors and sinners.  Rabbis were supposed to be careful about ritual purity.  Maintaining spiritual cleanliness meant keeping your distance from anything that could defile you, from anything that could make you unclean.  Jesus wasn’t following the “rules of religious distancing.” 

Jesus’ reply was not only interesting, but I believe it is very helpful in giving us an understanding about how we should view sin and how we should interact with unrepentant sinners. In verse 12, Jesus likened sin to a sickness.  He said it wasn’t the healthy who needed a doctor, but those who were sick.  Doctor Jesus was making a house call to those who were sick.  In love and friendship, He was taking the antedote, the medicine, the solution to their problem right to where they were.  By joining Matthew’s sinner friends, in Matthew’s home for a meal, He was communicating incredible value and worth to them.  They weren’t people to avoid.  They were the reason He had come.

Luke 19:10- “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Mic drop!  Those are the words of Jesus.  He came for sick people.  In this verse He called them lost.  Lost.  Sinners.  It’s all the same. Jesus was called a friend of sinners more than once in the Gospels. Calling Him that was supposed to be an insult, but it was, in reality, an inadvertent admission of why Jesus had come. 

I should highlight that the religious leaders were also sick, but for the most part, they were people who couldn’t see their sickness or wouldn’t admit it if they did. Their definition of righteousness had to do with keeping the law.  It had to do with personal, human effort.  They would never accept that their best efforts would never be impressive to God.  They falsely believed they were righteous because of their religious behavior.  Only Jesus, who lived a sinless, perfect, holy, God-honoring life in every way was righteous.  We can never be righteous on our own. It’s interesting to me that of the 12 people who were called to be disciples of Jesus, none of them was a religious leader.  When Jesus was choosing a disciple for one of the twelve positions, He chose a sinner.  It’s pretty incredible.

Remember, Matthew is the one who wrote about this encounter.  This was his real-life story.  He called himself a sinner.  He knew who he was, and when his life intersected Jesus, he was willing to admit his condition and accepted Jesus’ invitation for life change. Only those who are willing to agree with Jesus about who they are can have their sin covered and have a brand-new life.  And listen, agreeing with Jesus about our sinful condition isn’t God’s attempt to shame us or to put us in our place, but it is about His desire to restore us to our rightful place, the place He intended us to occupy from the beginning.  He didn’t create Adam and Eve to be sinners separated from God.  He created Adam and Eve to be servants and partners with God, living in fellowship with Him, without any reason for shame. 

Before I go on, let me just say that Jesus doesn’t come where we are to become like us, but He comes where we are so that we can become like Him.  In other words, Jesus wasn’t visiting Matthew’s house because He wanted to rub elbows with sinful behavior or to experiment with sin, see what it was like, or learn how to do that way of life. That is what the Pharisees alleged.  Also, His visit wasn’t an approval of or acceptance of sin. That’s what a lot of people who take liberty and license with the Scripture want to believe. Listen, Jesus visited Matthew to help Matthew see that he was sick.  He visited Matthew to help him his need for a change. He visited Matthew to demonstrate the genuine love of God. And Matthew found Jesus to be someone awesome to hang out with, to do life with.  When Matthew found Jesus, he found a best friend for life!

And when Jesus called Matthew away from a life of sin, he left behind his way of life for life with Jesus. Even by the time Jesus and Matthew arrived at Matthew’s house, Matthew was an ex-tax collector.  He had quit his job at the invitation of Jesus. He left a sinful life behind to embrace the life Jesus offered. What a beautiful testimony Matthew is sharing as he shares his conversion story.  He was an ex-traitor, an ex-thief, and he was so excited about leaving that way of life behind and doing life with Jesus that he literally threw a party to invite all his sinner friends to come and consider becoming ex-whatevers themselves.  Anybody in the house an ex-something?  I know I am, and it is thanks to Jesus!

Jesus responded to the Pharisees by telling them they needed to go back to school and spend some more time learning what the Scriptures really said. They had failed to understand the intent of the Scriptures. They knew information, but they had twisted information to accomplish a selfish and sinful agenda.  Notice, in verse 13, Jesus told them to go back and study what the Old Testament Scripture not only said, but to learn what it meant:  Verse 13.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

God is full of mercy, full of grace, and full of forgiveness, and through Jesus, He wants to be our friend. Performing some kind of religious ritual or routine isn’t what Jesus is after.  He is after our hearts.  He is after a relationship with us.  He wants to be our friend.  And if a religious spirit or a religious routine keeps us from real friendship with Jesus, we have missed everything.

What does this friendship with Christ look like?  Well, Romans 5:8 says that when we had nothing to offer Him in return, while we were sinners, Christ died for us.  Most people are looking for friendships that have some equity to them. People look for a good reason to befriend someone.  They may see a quality in someone that inspires them.  They may like how the person makes them feel and want to get to know them for that reason alone. Perhaps you look for people who make you laugh or for people who are more knowledgeable than you in some way, making them someone you can learn from.  We all have reasons for choosing what friendships to invest in. We don’t typically gravitate toward people who make our lives harder or who take without having anything to offer.

But Jesus?  He isn’t like us. We have nothing to offer Jesus but our sin. Literally nothing. He gained nothing by becoming our friend and had to give everything for us to do so, and yet that is the sole reason He came.

We were on the chopping block.  We were the guilty, but He died in our place.  He took our sentence, suffering the death we should have died as punishment for our sin. And He did it willingly.  Who does that? Jesus is a sacrificial friend.  He gave His life for us. 

Y’all, I’ve had some friends run errands for me.  I’ve had some friends offer to take tasks off my hands when I have been overloaded.  I’ve even had some friends help me clean my house.  When my father died, now several years ago, I was going to have people descending on my house within 24 hours of his passing, to stay with us and beds and bathrooms weren’t ready for that kind of traffic. Good friends gave of their time to help me.  They made food because they knew I was going to have a house full of people to feed.  To do so was a sacrifice on some level. They had to give up something, alter something, to sacrifice some time and resources to provide something I needed.  I was truly grateful.  But none but Christ has ever sacrificed their life for me.  Jesus is a sacrificial friend. To be your friend and mine, He had to give His all. What a friend we have in Jesus!

Jesus is also a faithful friend.  He became like us in every way except that He didn’t have a sin nature and although He was tempted, He never chose to sin.  What the first Adam didn’t do, Jesus did perfectly.  That’s why He is often referred to as the “second Adam.”  He became human.  He experienced all the challenges and highs and heartaches of life like we do.  He understands our need, our woes, our sorrows, our temptations, and our struggles.  He walked alongside of humanity.  He still does.  Proverbs 18:24 calls Jesus the friend that sticks closer than a brother.

He won’t only escort us so far and then say, “You’re on your own.”  He will accompany us wherever we go.  He will stick with us in trials.  He will comfort us whenever we need comfort.  He will pick us up when we fall and will take us back even when we fail Him.  We may be unfaithful to Him, but He will never be unfaithful to us.  He won’t kick us to the curb when we are drama and become a lot to handle.  He won’t kick us when we are down.  He won’t wash His hands of us.  He will never be “done” with us.

In Luke 15, Jesus was accused of welcoming sinners, and when He heard what was being said about Him, He responded to the Pharisees and teachers of the law by telling a parable about a sheep that wanders away and gets lost, gets disconnected from the shepherd and the rest of the flock.  He talks about someone who has 100 sheep but when that guy learns that one is missing, he goes looking for it.  He leaves the 99 to find the one.  And when he finds the one, because the one means SO much to him, he doesn’t just shut the sheep pen and go to bed with a grateful heart that he found the one lost sheep, but he makes a big deal out of it.  He carries the sheep on his shoulders all the way home and then calls his friends and neighbors together and has a time of celebration. 

The parable is meant to convey how He feels about each one of us.  When we stray, when we get off track, when we mess up and get displaced from the flock, He doesn’t just say, “Oh well, I still have 99 sheep to care for.  Losing one isn’t a big deal.”  He doesn’t say, “What’s one lost sheep in the grand scheme of things?”  No, Jesus is the kind of guy who loves His sheep so much, He not only personally goes after them, but He celebrates in a big way when He brings one back to Himself. Oh, and just how did the shepherd know that one was missing?  He counted each and every one.  Every sheep mattered to the shepherd, just like every person matters to Jesus.

Jesus is a faithful friend. Anybody here ever had Jesus come looking for them when they had lost their way?  Aren’t you glad He was willing to?  Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times.”  Jesus is that kind of friend.

Jesus stayed committed to His friends, His disciples, even when they were self-absorbed.  He stayed committed to them when they misunderstood His teaching and He had to explain Himself over and over again.  He remained loyal to them when they didn’t have His back, when they betrayed Him, when they walked away from Him. 

I’m glad Jesus is a friend of sinners. We’d all be lost without Him.  We’ve all needed His friendship.  Semi recently I checked on a family.  I invited them to church.  This is a family with some church history.  The response was interesting.  They wanted to know if one of their children, someone who was caught up in a sinful lifestyle, would be welcome here.  Do you know what my answer to that question is going to be every time?  Any friend of Jesus is a friend of mine.

When you think about the fact that Jesus is a friend of sinners, I want you to know that Jesus is proud to call you His own.  I want you to remember He knows everything about you and still loves you.  No matter what you’ve done, you haven’t outsinned the sacrifice of Christ or His love.  I want you to be confronted and comforted by the One who wants to spend time with you, the One who is always there for you.  You are always on Jesus’ mind.  He is always praying for you.  He is always fighting for you.  He has chosen you.

Second, when you think about the fact that Jesus is a friend of sinners, I want you to remember that we are to be like Him.

Casting Crowns has a wonderful sing titled, “Jesus, Friend of Sinners.”  I close with the words from that song:

Jesus, friend of sinners, we have strayed so far away
We cut down people in Your name, but the sword was never ours to swing
Jesus, friend of sinners, the truth’s become so hard to see
The world is on their way to You, but they’re trippin’ over me
Always lookin’ around, but never lookin’ up, I’m so double minded
A plank eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided

Oh, Jesus, friend of sinners
Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers
Oh, let our hearts be led by mercy
Help us reach with open hearts and open doors
Oh, Jesus, friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks Yours

Jesus, friend of sinners, the one who’s writing in the sand
Made the righteous turn away and the stones fall from their hands
Help us to remember we are all the least of these
Let the memory of Your mercy bring Your people to their knees
Nobody knows what we’re for, only what we’re against when we judge the wounded
What if we put down our signs, crossed over the lines and love like You did?

Oh, Jesus, friend of sinners
Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers
Oh, let our hearts be led by mercy
Help us reach with open hearts and open doors
Oh, Jesus, friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks Yours




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