Big Idea: Jesus is the Friend of Sinners
Intro: Well morning friends and visitors. My name is Pastor Matt Johnson and today we continue our study of Lukes Gospel – looking at the different portraits of Jesus. So far we have seen 1) Jesus the Itinerant Rabbi and 2) Jesus the Fisherman AND today 3) Jesus the friend of sinners. So please pray as we begin…
Well Jesus the friend of sinners is a portrait that we will see again and again in Luke’s gospel. Jesus is a friend to tax-collectors, a friend of drunkards and even allows a woman (who is probably a prostitute) to anoint his feet with perfume. Jesus is the friend of obvious sinners.
Yet, I’d say most Protestant churches today are made up of nice, respectable hard-working, middle and upper class people. This tendency of Protestant churches – to attract nice middle-class people was wonderfully portrayed in this book “In His Steps”. (Show the book). In His Steps sold more than 50 million copies and it tells the story of a typical middle-class church in America at the beginning of the C20th. The minister is renowned as a faithful Bible teacher. They have great singing and the church is full every Sunday. By all appearances the church is a great evangelical church. But there is a section of society that the church doesn’t really care to know…
The book opens with a HOMELESS MAN coming to the Ministers house on a Saturday. But the minister is busy writing his all important sermon. So while being courteous to the homeless man, the minister hurries him along – so that he can get back to his important work. The next day (still desperate and now developing pneumonia) the man turns up in church. At the end of the sermon – he walks to the front of the church (and much to everyones horror) – he starts addressing everyone. Let me read just a little bit (page 8-9). Shortly after this the man collapses and dies.
So the question is left hanging – what would Jesus do? What would our lives and church actually look like if we truly followed Jesus?
Point 1: Jesus is the Friend of Sinners (are we?)
Show: Lk.5:12-14; 18-21 (READ)
Explain: Well the story of the leper and the paralytic make a similar point. Jesus is a friend to the least, the last and the lost of society. But before we look at the individual stories – I want to remind you of how Jesus has defined his ministry. (Slide 2; Lk.4:18);
NOTICE; Jesus talks about preaching good news to the poor? Luke’s gospel focuses on Jesus’ concern for the poor. Matthew and Mark only speak about the poor 5 times. But Luke speaks about the poor 11x. And where, Matthew says; “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, Luke simply says “Blessed are the poor.” Now the tendency among many Christians is to SPIRITUALIZE all the references to “the poor” in Luke’s gospel and say Luke just means the spiritually poor, like Matthew.
But if you do a GOOGLE SEARCH; “the poor in Lukes gospel” – you’ll find heaps of articles written on this subject. Luke shows us that the poor are often more humble than others. Those who are poor are usually accustomed to BEGGING and RECEIVING HANDOUTS. (And that is actually a good thing because that is how people need to receive the gospel. As a beggar receiving a hand-out).
Salvation is not 1) something we earn by doing certain things. 2) Nor can the rich buy it. Indeed, 3) the proud and self-reliant tend to miss out. Salvation is God’s gift to those who are humble enough to approach Jesus like a beggar – asking for help. Now if you want to thinkabout this more – simply do a google search on “the poor” in Luke’s gospel. But what we seeis Jesus seems to intentionally fish among the poor, perhaps because he knows they will be more receptive to the gospel.
Anyway, (with all this said) straight after Jesus calls his first disciples to be fishers of men – we get TWO STORIES about people at the bottom of society. In a context where there was no social security – both the leper and paralytic would have been left to beg, borrow and steal.
THE LEPER was probably the poorest of poor – because he had to stay outside the towns. If people came near him – he had to shout out “unclean; unclean”, so the other person could stay away. He would have relied on alms-giving and dumpster-diving to survive. Meanwhile – THE PARALYTIC is not much better. He probably survived by begging outside the synagogue or temple. So, the first two significant stories in Lukes gospel (after Jesus begins his public ministry) – involve the poorest of the poor. But in both cases Jesus’ focus is not just their physical needs, but their spiritual needs.
Apply: Look at Luke 5:14 (READ – Lk.5:14). The whole process of cleansing a leper took 8 days.On the first day – the priest would go through a special ceremony that involved two doves. Then, the leper would come back on the 8th day – (and if he was still clean) – he would offer two sacrifices. One lamb as a SIN-OFFERING and one lamb as a GUILT OFFERING. Now Jesus orders the leper to go and do this. Yes, Jesus helps the leper – physically. But Jesus also wants to help him spiritually. He reminds the leper that he is still a sinner who needs to go and offer the necessary sacrifices for sin.
A similar focus on the SPIRITUAL occurs with the paralytic. Look at Luke 5:20 (READ). So the paralytic comes to Jesus looking for healing. In fact, the paralytics mates are so keen to get Jesus to heal him that they climb on the roof, rip off the tiles and lower their mate though the hole. (Talk about, making a spectacular entrance). But after all that effort Jesus responds; “Your sins are forgiven.” Now if you were the paralytic you’d be like; “What are you talkin about – sins forgiven? Isn’t it obvious – I want to walk.” But Jesus’ first concern is the problem of sin. Sin is worse than leprosy and paralysis. Now don’t get me wrong – being a leper or paralytic in the C1st would have been a kind of hell. But it is still nothing – compared to actual hell. Without God’s forgiveness – we face an eternity isolated from God and other people. Forever tormented by our own guilt, shame and remorse. And that will be a worse prison, than leprosy or paralysis.
So the biggest need of everyone is forgiveness. So Jesus says to the paralytic; “Good news – your sins are forgiven.” Now the question everyone is thinking is “Can Jesus really forgive our sins?” If our sins are ultimately against God, then only God can forgive us. So the Pharisees think “you can’t say that Jesus – because you’re not God.” But Jesus responds; “why are you thinking this?” Now the scary thing is Jesus knows what they are thinking? Butprove that he is God AND he does have the authority to forgive sins – Jesus says to the paralytic – “get up and walk” and he gets up and walks.
Apply: The reason Jesus can forgive sin is because he is God. Jesus is God’s Son in human form. So if Jesus says “your sins are forgiven”, that is as good as God the Father saying your sins are forgiven. This is the one thing you really, really need to know before you die. Are your sins forgiven? But I also want you to notice – that Jesus’ primary concern for poor people is still spiritual. We often think that what the poor really need is social justice or liberation theology or food. But MEZ MCCONNEL who works among the poor in the social housing of England; says lots of Christians think the poor need love, love and more practical love. But he says no. He writes (slide 3). The biggest need of everyone whether rich or poor is Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
Point 2: Jesus Eats and Drinks with Sinners (do we?)
Show: Lk.5:27-30 (READ)
Explain: Well please note: Jesus’ disciples are a pretty motley crew. In a time before showers and washing machines – the fisherman would have been a pretty smelly bunch. They probably had special seats in the synagogue at the back and definitely near a window. They would have stunk like fish. Interesting choice if you want to save the world. Also gives new meaning to “the aroma of Christ.” Yes. Fishy. But then Jesus also chooses Levi and you’re like “Jesus do you know what you’re doing?” Levi was a Jew collecting taxes for the Romans. This means he was despised. In Jewish eyes Levi was a traitor and a sell out. He was despicable.
If the fishermans seats in the synagogue were at the back, near the window – Levi was probably out the back door and down the street. He was excommunicated and on par with the leper. Now the word TAX-COLLECTOR in verse 9 means regular tax-collector. Later in Luke 19 we meet Zacchaeus who was a “CHIEF TAX-COLLECTOR”. But Levi is just a regular tax collector – not as wealthy as Zachaeus, but still equally despised. And yet, Jesus singles out Levi to become one of the 12 apostles. I feel like saying “Jesus, there’s this great book by Dale Carnegie called “How to win friends and influence people”, perhaps you should read it.”
Given Levi’s status in Jewish society – you can imagine the sort of people who came to his banquet. No doubt, those at the bottom of the social ladder like himself. Probably some real dodgy people like ex-cons, drunkards, prostitutes, homosexuals and maybe even some Samaritans and Gentiles. (No. I’m not describing our church on Sunday. I’m describing Levi’s party). But I am pleased to say there are some similarities between Levi’s party and our church.
Illustrate: In the 1960’s there was a famous movie called THE DIRTY DOZEN. (Slide 5 – Anyone remember it). It’s World War II and the army picks 12 criminals to undertake what is basically a suicide mission. The men are brought out of jail, trained and then sent on a suicide mission to break the German chain of command. Now you’ll have to watch the movie to see what happens.
Apply: But the original smelly – dirty dozen were the 12 disciples. Jesus didn’t pick significant people to be his disciples. The only men of standing were the apostle Paul (and maybe Nicodemus) who both arrived late to the party. Time and time again in Lukes gospel – Jesus chooses to associate with the bottom rung of society instead of the top. And in this story the Pharisees (who are well respected and well-versed in the Scriptures and generally well-behaved) take offense because Jesus seems to prefer the company of sinners, to them.
So, Jesus responds (end of verse 13) “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Now this is true. Jesus came to save sinners. Of course, it is also true that we are all sinners. But this intentionally misses Jesus point. The problem is many rich, capable, religious and socially acceptable people don’t recognize they are sinners – in need of salvation. So sharing the gospel with such people is like pushing the proverbial snowball uphill. It’s hard work. Now that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to save middle class, educated and socially acceptable people. Everyone needs saving. BUT IT IS WORTH NOTING that Jesus seems especially keen to evangelise those who know they are social outcasts and sinners.
(Slide 6) If you look at this cartoon you’ll see a line up of criminals in a police station and in the middle of the line up is Jesus. Now outside looking through the one way mirror – you have a church (see the cross at the top) saying “I don’t recognize any of them.” The church doesn’t recognize any of the criminals in the line up (because their not welcome in church). But neither does the church recognize Jesus in their midst. And perhaps this is A SAD TRUTH.
I suspect that many of us have turned our portrait of Jesus into a kind of 1) Archbishop figure or 2) a Moore College lecturer 1) who speaks proper English, while 2) hobnobbing with premiers and the leading lights of society? Yet, time and time again Jesus chooses the bottom rungs of society, much to the disgust of the top rungs of society. So why does the modern evangelical church so often do the opposite? The National Church Life Survey has proven Sydney Anglican Churches are predominantly middle and upper class, educated and well respected people in society. For example, in 2016 – 25.8% of people in Sydney had university degrees. But in Sydney Anglican churches 53% of people had university degrees. That’s double. (Now I’m not saying this is necessarily wrong). But why have evangelical churches become so adept at fishing at the top, when Jesus seemed to prefer the bottom? And what has been lost as a result?
Point 3: Jesus is the Solution to Sin, not Fasting
Show: Lk.5:33-35 (READ)
Explain: Well these verses go with what Jesus has just said. The two sections are joined by the words “eating and drinking” in verse 30 and again in verse 33. Now here’s the Jewish logic. If Jesus is calling sinners to repentance (ie verse 32) why doesn’t he get his disciples to fast (verse 33). You see, repentance and fasting go together.
In the Old Testament – God commanded the Jews that each year on the Day of Atonement – they all had to repent and fast. First, they’d confess their sins; then they all had to fast for 24 hours and then they’d offer sacrifices. So repenting from sin – was linked to fasting.
Now God only ever commanded the Jews to fast once a year on the Day of Atonement. But by the days of Jesus – pious Jews were fasting twice every week on Monday’s and on Thursday’s. You may recall Jesus’ parable in Luke 18. He says (Slide 7 – Lk.18:10). You see, the Pharisees solution for sin – was at least partially fasting. They believed that if you learnt to deny the desires of the flesh in one part of your life (ie fasting and not eating), then you’d learn to deny the sinful desires of the flesh in other parts of your life as well. Its all about learning to control the desires of the flesh. So, if Jesus is serious about calling sinners and tax-collectors to repentance – why isn’t fasting part of his solution?
Now first Jesus responds by saying – “well it’s not the time for fasting.” Fasting on the Day of Atonement was associated with bewailing your sinfulness. It was like a funeral. The more grief you showed – obviously the greater your sorrow and repentance. But Jesus is sayinghis presence with the disciples is more like a wedding than a funeral. This is not the time for fasting and wailing. Now this would have confused the Pharisees. What the?!
But the question remains; how do you fix the problem of sin? Do you just need A LITTLE PATCH or perhaps a NEW WINE BAG? Throughout Israels history sin and repentance – remained a problem. It didn’t matter 1) how many sacrifices they made, or 2) how many prophets yelled at them or 3) how many days a week they fasted – sin remained a problem.
Jesus’ point is “if I’m calling sinners to repentance why would I just advocate more of the same.” Jesus’ point is sin is too big a problem to be fixed with fasting. Nor can sin be fixedwith a small patch on the old Jewish system. Jesus can’t just pour a little new teaching into the old established Jewish methods and wulla problem of sin solved. No! Jesus has to introduce a whole new way of calling sinners to repentance. It requires something new. And that new way of salvation is BASED on relationship with Jesus, not religious practice. It is BASED on grace rather than good works.
Now you’ll notice in verse 39 – Jesus says “and no one after drinking old wine wants the new wine, for he says the old is better.” This is a truism. Aged wine is usually better than new wine. But in this case the aged wine is the Mosaic Covenant – based on good works and the new wine is the New Covenant – based on God’s grace. The problem is those who have gained a taste for works righteousness, will always tend to prefer works righteousness. Works righteousness allows us to hold our head high, stick out our chest and pat ourselves on the back. I did it. I earnt it. I’m a good person. But Jesus righteousness must be humbly received like a beggar taking a hand-out. It says you can’t do it. It says you must humble yourself and accept God’s forgiveness. But many proud and self-righteous people don’t want that. They prefer the old wine. So naturally, Jesus goes to people who are used to receiving hand-outs. He goes to people who know they don’t quite fit. To those who know they need help and are humble enough to accept it.
The truth of the gospel is that no matter what you do or how hard you try you’ll never be good enough for heaven. Never. But if we come to Jesus and ask for help, ask for forgiveness – he will give us whatwe cannot do for ourselves. If we simply hold out our empty hands like a beggar and say; “Please sir do you have a penny. Please Jesus, will you forgive me and take me to heaven when I die?”, Jesus responds; ”Your sins are forgiven.”
Just like that – as a free gift; a handout of grace – Jesus forgives us. But to those who denythe seriousness of their sin – and think they can fix the problem 1) with a bit of fasting, or 2) a patch to hide the problem, or 3) a bit of new teaching in old wineskins – Jesus responds; “away from me you evildoer, I never knew you.”
The question is whether we are HUMBLE ENOUGH to receive the gift of forgiveness or A) will we pretend we don’t need it or perhaps B) try to earn it. There are certain people in the world who have been humbled by life and are far more used to the idea of receiving handouts. And there are other groups of people who are far more accustomed to earning everything they have and far better at hiding their sin – behind patches of respectability. And the question for the middle class evangelical church to consider – is are we fishing in the right pond? Of course, Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations and all people groups. But we need to remember it is hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Not impossible. But hard. Jesus seemed to recognize that some people in this world may be more primed towards humility than others. And these sort of people are often prime candidates for fishing. It took me a while, but I am now truly thankful and consider myself blessed to be a pastor in this particular church in Redfern. We have the sort of people around us that Jesus chose to befriend – the least, the last and the lost of Sydney. And I absolutely love thisbecause I know that if Jesus came to Sydney today – his first stop would not be St Thomas North Sydney, it would be somewhere like Redfern and Waterloo?