Who are the outcasts in society today? I’m not just talking about people who don’t like the Broncos. I mean, who are the ones that we marginalize and would rather not be around?
The poor, the homeless, the sick, the mentally ill, republicans, democrats, non-Christians …the list can go on and on. Another way to ask this question, is “who would you rather not invite over for dinner or be seen with?”
The people that come to mind are your outcasts. But Jesus loved the outcasts. He was their friend, so much so, he was accused by the Pharisees. Jesus was accused of being a friend of sinners and he didn’t deny it because it was true.
That’s what we’re going to talk about today: Jesus the friend of sinners.
We’ll look at the setting for this friendship. The accusation against it, and Jesus’ authoritative statement in response.
- The Setting of Jesus’ Friendship with Sinners
- The Accusation Against Jesus’ Friendship with Sinners
- The Authoritative Statement Supporting Jesus’ Friendship with Sinners
The Setting of Jesus’ Friendship with Sinners
13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
So here’s the scene. Jesus was outside walking along the sea of Galilee. Large crowds were following him and he was teaching them as they walked. As they’re walking they get closer to a tax collector’s booth. Capernaum was near the trade route between Syria and Egypt so this is a logical place for one.
The setting is outside--not in the synagogue, not in church. What’s more he’s out where there were a lot of people. They wouldn’t have put the tax collector booth in an out of the way place. Jesus isn’t hiding out. He’s in the heart of things.
And he comes across a tax collector, an IRS agent, if you will.
Even today, people don’t want much to do with the IRS. When’s the last time you thought to invite seek out an IRS agent and invite him over for dinner? Not often.
But that’s what Levi was. He was a tax collector. Matthew’s boss was Herod Antipas, the same guy who had John the Baptist beheaded. Levi was a Jew who collected taxes and worked for the Roman government.
Levi was probably the name his parents gave him. But Matthew, which means “gift of God” was probably what Jesus and the apostles called him. He was a Jew who had figured out how to benefit financially from Rome’s occupation but it came with a cost because he would’ve been viewed as a traitor by his people.
He would’ve been viewed as an outcast. He wouldn’t have been allowed to enter the synagogue. He wouldn’t have been allowed to be a witness in court. If he touched you, you and your whole house would’ve been declared unclean because of all his contact with Gentiles.
Remember that kid in school who had “cooties” and everyone ran away from? That would’ve been Matthew.
So Jesus was walking along, teaching, and came up to Matthew. But instead of passing by, as everyone would’ve done if they could, he paused and asked Matthew to join his group. “Follow me” he says and Matthew does.
What’s amazing is that Matthew didn’t hesitate because there would’ve been no going back for him. Even as despised as tax collectors were, there would’ve been plenty of people looking to fill his spot and get rich. A parallel account in Luke 5:28 tells us Matthew “forsook all.” He gave it all up. There’s no discussion or negotiation with Jesus, Matthew just goes.
So Jesus was showing his love for sinners, but He wasn’t done. The scene moves inside. To make sure people understood his kindness to Matthew wasn’t an accident, He has a kind of “conversion party” in Matthew’s house.
15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.
Back then, like today, you eat and fellowship with your friends. When you have a party you invite people you like to be around. A the people Jesus invited were tax collectors and sinners.
A sinner to the Jewish mind would’ve been someone who didn’t follow the law either deliberately or out of ignorance. Shepherds, Sabbath breakers, and those who didn’t ceremonially wash before each meal were sinners. In many ways anyone who a Pharisee didn’t approve of was a sinner.
Sinners were outcasts, they were the people society had rejected, but they weren’t necessarily criminals. Some were, but not all of them.
But they were Jesus’ friends. He fellowshipped with them. He ate with them. And we’re told they followed him. Why? Because Jesus loved them first. Sinners loved him back because he first loved them.
So that’s the setting. Jesus is spending lots of time with those that society rejected. The tax collectors and sinners are happy but not the Pharisees so they accuse him.
The Accusation Against Jesus’ Friendship with Sinners
16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus’ behavior is offensive to the Pharisees because they can’t understand why he would hang out with a bunch of losers. “Why does he do this?” We’ll get to the answer in a minute, but they just can’t believe it.
Everybody knows that if you want to be successful, you need to surround yourself with successful, beautiful people. Successful people don’t hang out with losers.
Losers. That’s what these people were. Jesus was doing it all wrong from the Pharisees point of view. Maybe they have his best interest at heart with their accusation. Maybe they want to save him some embarrassment but I doubt it because they don’t approach him directly.
They go to his disciples and make their complaint. Why would they do this? Probably they hoped the disciples would take their side in accusing him and talk some sense into Jesus.
See, in Jewish society “reclining at table” with someone was one of the most intimate forms of fellowship. When you ate with someone you made a bond with them so it was very important not to eat with the “wrong” people. You could ruin your reputation.
The Pharisees had a reputation for being separatists. In fact, that’s what their name literally means. It’s what they strove for. They were not priests and they didn’t have political power. They were a group of laymen concerned with living differently than everybody else.
Are evangelicals the modern day equivalent of the Pharisees? Some might say that we are. Especially when we make our primary goal to be separate from everybody else.
The Pharisees viewed themselves as the “good guys.” They were just trying to preserve their Jewish way of life. The Greeks and Romans had come in and changed everything. Their culture was being changed before their very eyes and they were trying to stand fast against all the liberal Jews who were succumbing to it.
That kind of sounds like the situation we find ourselves in today and Jesus was hanging out with the wrong group. Jesus was on the wrong side politically and socially.
The Pharisees were just trying to preserve the Jewish way of life. But as good as their intentions were the Bible describes them as…
- Hypocrites: they prayed a lot and quoted Bible verses yet their hearts were far from God.
- Prideful: They used religion to elevate themselves in the eyes of others. Instead of serving they needed to be served.
- Judgmental: they condemned the woman caught in adultery. They spent far too much time condemning what everyone else was doing wrong while spending too little time thinking about what was wrong with them.
That’s what they’re doing here in Mark 2:16. They’re accusing Jesus of hanging out with the wrong people.
It was the rules of the Pharisees that mattered, not what God says. We see this in evangelical churches too. When we see problems (according to our own set of standards) instead of “reclining at table” with sinners we say “I’m out of here.” We make those people outcasts instead of loving them. This happens every week in Evangelical churches around the world.
Instead of loving the way Jesus did, we separate ourselves either physically or emotionally. No, we don’t have to physically avoid people to be separate. We can check out mentally thinking we are better than everyone else.
That’s what the Pharisees were doing in accusing Jesus, but Jesus corrects them.
The Authoritative Statement Supporting Jesus’ Friendship with Sinners
17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to 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.”
Isn’t that just the perfect response to the Pharisees? Jesus tells us why he is the friend of sinners. He’s their friend, He calls the sick, because they understand their need to be made well. The self-righteous don’t understand their need.
Have you ever been around someone who was physically sick but refused to admit it? There’s not much you can do for them. You can beg and plead with them to get the treatment they need but if they refuse there isn’t much you can do.
It’s hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Why? Because we are self-sufficient and don’t see our need.
But salvation is a gift. It’s a gift that sinners know they need and will readily accept. Jesus, the great physician calls sinners and they come because they know only he can heal them.
Lastly, Jesus means for us to apply this to how we treat others. We too, should be helping to heal the sick not accusing and condemning Jesus for being with them.
Why does a surgeon scrub before operating? Is it just so he can show everyone how clean he is? No, he gets clean so he can be a blessing to others. Why is God making us righteous? So we can go around strutting about how different we are? No.
Do we welcome sinners into our church, into our house? Are we trying to be their friend? Do we isolate ourselves from outsiders? Or do we invite them into our home?
Jesus isn’t telling us to be like them in their sinfulness. No, but we are being told to love them.
Jesus was a friend of sinners, and as his followers, so should we.
For our final prayer I’d like to use these words from a song called Jesus, Friend of Sinners. Please bow your heads.
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 loved like You did
Oh Jesus, friend of sinners
Open our eyes to world at the end of our pointing fingers
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
You love every lost cause; you reach for the outcast
For the leper and the lame; they're the reason that You came
Lord I was that lost cause and I was the outcast
But you died for sinners just like me, a grateful leper at Your feet