- What person in your life “gets” you? What I mean by that question is this: “Who is it in your life and world that you look forward and long to spend time with?” Who is it in your life that loves and accepts you for you?
- Some of you may have had that someone in your life who you thought was that one person you were convinced accepted and loved you for you. Now that person wants nothing to do with you, or because of death, can’t be with you… and today it still feels like your heart and soul is hemorrhaging.
- All of our friendships have a limit that can be withstood or a ceiling of what can be tolerated…
- There were some who were offended that Jesus spent so much of his time at parties with sinners.
- He was accused by the pious and religious leaders of his day: “Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”
- The religious leaders meant this as an insult, but Jesus said that he came for sinners, and the sinners, “…were all drawing near to him” (Luke 15:1).
- The religious leaders believed that they were too clean to risk rubbing shoulders with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other types of sinners.
Jesus is Faithful to the Unfaithful
- To be criticized by the religious leaders was one thing, but to be doubted by the man who previously announced Jesus as the Lamb of God was quite another.
- The context of Jesus’ statement in verse 19 is John’s question about Jesus’ identity.
- John was arrested by Herod because he rebuked the king for taking Philip’s (his brother’s) wife, to be his wife.
- According to Josephus (an early Jewish historian), Herod had John imprisoned in a location five miles east of the Dead Sea in a fortress that was both hot and secluded.
- John’s question he had his disciples deliver to Jesus was simple: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another” (v. 3)?
- Now to be fair, John was not the only one among God’s prophets who experienced disillusionment and doubt.
- John prophesied of Jesus that not only would he baptize people with the Holy Spirit, but he would also Judge sinners: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:1).
- John’s question was legitimate, for he understood that Isaiah 61:1-2 was about the Messiah, which included more than miracles: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God…” (Isaiah 61:1–2).
- John was still in prison with very little hope of ever being free again, and Jesus was supposed to bring freedom to God’s people and avenge his people who have been victimized like John.
- Jesus’ answer to John’s question is telling: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:4–6).
- In other words, Jesus came to first preach good news to the poor, provide freedom to captive sinners, provide sight to the blind, liberty to the oppressed, and the year of God’s favor which was forgiveness to indebted sinners (see Luke 4:18-19 and notice that Jesus never read the second part of Isaiah 61:2).
- But what Jesus wanted John to understand was two things: first, that the day of judgment was for a later time. Secondly, that John would not be getting out of prison on this side of eternity.
- John’s perception of what Jesus would do in his lifetime did not line up with God’s plan for both Jesus and John. What John failed to see was that before the coronation of the Messiah, there had to be the cross.
Jesus is a Friend of Sinners
- Some didn’t think the one preparing the way of the Messiah should have been unkept, dressed in camel’s skin, and eating locust and honey. Others, especially the religious leaders, did not think the Messiah would ever hang out with tax collectors and sinners. Not much has changed today.
- Every time Jesus exposed his deity and/or holiness to others, the response was either fear or discomfort.
- On one such occasion, after Peter, James, and John had fished all night, and while washing their nets…
- Peter responded: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” Once their nets were in the water, they had caught so much fish that the nets began to break and that Peter’s boat and his partner’s boat got so full of fish that the boats began to sink.
- Peter’s response was not to see if Jesus could get him more fish, but fear. We are told that Peter, “fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (see Luke 5:1-11).
- While sleeping in the stern of the boat, during a violent storm while out on the sea, the disciples woke Jesus up and were then surprised to watch him calm the storm; we are told all of them were filled with great fear because they understood that according to Psalm 107:23-32 that only God can calm storms (see Mark 4:35-41).
- When Jesus was seen by the disciples walking on water, all of them were terrified (see Matt. 14:22-33).
- When Judas betrayed Jesus and led a band of soldiers, some officers, the chief priests, and Pharisees to arrest Jesus, Jesus asked the group who they were looking for. After they answered: “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them: “I am he.” The apostle John said that the soldiers and those with them, “drew back and fell to the ground” before they arrested him.
- For “tax collectors and sinners” to be drawn to Jesus is shocking, dare I say scandalous. Many of the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus because he threatened their power and prestige, while the sinners and whores seemed to love him and wanted to be near him.
- The religious leaders often asked when sinners got close to Jesus or dare touch him, whether Jesus knew or understood who it was who touched him.
- On one of the rare occasions Jesus was invited to the home of a Pharisee named Simon to eat with him, a prostitute invited herself to the meeting and poured an expensive flask of perfume on Jesus’ feet and with her tears cleaned his dirty feet with her hair.
- The Pharisee said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner” (Luke 7:36-39). Jesus turned to the prostitute and said to Simon:
Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven…. (Luke 7:44–47a)
- The expectation of Simon and his friends, who were also in his home, was for Jesus to be disgusted with the woman who cleaned his feet with her perfume, tears, and hair.
- Because of this, Jesus developed a reputation: Jesus, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!
- What we learn of the life of the Son who was given, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of sinners, and the High Priest who offers us his righteousness, is that he is a friend who does not refuse the sinner and loves such people too much to leave them as they are.
- Listen to Dane Ortlund’s explanation of Jesus, the friend of sinners:
Here is the promise of the gospel and the message of the whole Bible: In Jesus Christ, we are given a friend who will always enjoy rather than refuse our presence. This is a companion whose embrace of us does not strengthen or weaken depending on how clean or unclean, how attractive or revolting, how faithful or fickle, we presently are. The friendliness of his heart for us subjectively is as fixed and stable as is the declaration of his justification of us objectively.
Won’t most of us admit that even with our best friends, we don’t feel fully comfortable divulging everything about our lives? We like them, and even love them, and go on vacation with them, and sing their praises to others—but we don’t really, at the deepest heart level, entrust ourselves to them. Even in many of our marriages, we are friends of a sort, but we haven’t gotten naked in soul the way we have in body.
- Unlike anyone else in your life, Jesus sees the worst parts of you and invites you into friendship with him where there is no limit to what he can withstand, and no ceiling on what he will put up with.
- The scandalous message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is not only that Jesus is a friend of sinners, but that all who come to him, he will not turn away… he will never betray us.
- What he will do is forever provide us a better way to live that will no doubt make us better humans who look more like him and less like the sin that once shaped the culture of our once sin-hardened heart.
- The one who the book of Revelation describes as one who, “stands at the door and knocks. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20) was given for you and for me.
- “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6).
- The friend of sinners was given to us, the question is, if you have received him yet.
 Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly (Wheaton, IL: Crossway; 2020), pp. 115-16.