Sermon: The God Who Welcomes Sinners – Luke 15:1-6
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” – Luke 15:1,2
Anyone who has read the New Testament Gospels knows that Jesus was repeatedly ridiculed for befriending sinners. That ridicule usually came from the Pharisees– which name means “separate ones.” These Pharisees, and their associated scribes, were among the acknowledged theologians of the day, yet their hypocrisy was palpable. They honestly believed that they were better, more holy and righteous than others. Consider the famous story of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee at prayer in the temple, in which the Pharisee prayed “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:9). Convinced of their own purity and holiness, they were incensed that Jesus would choose to befriend and even sit down for supper with
tax collectors and other sinners. Jesus explained his purpose simply: He spent time with sinners hoping to call them to repentance and faith. “The healthy do not need a doctor, but the sick do.”
Unfortunately in our day there are still plenty of Pharisaical hypocrites who think they are morally superior to others, and who berate those who befriend and try to help sinners. But there is another extreme that is just as destructive. There are those who read about Jesus befriending sinners, and then twist and distort the Gospel record so as to imply that Jesus winked at or approved of people living lives of sin. Jesus the friend of sinners is made out to be Jesus who ignores sin, sweeps it under the rug, and invites people to follow him without giving up their sin. Nothing could be further from the truth. In every case where Jesus ate with and befriended tax collectors and other publicly known sinners, he used the occasion to teach them, to lead them to awareness of their sin and its awful consequences, and to call them to repentance and faith.
Jesus was not the friend of sin or of those who stubbornly, proudly disobeyed God’s law and boldly continued to sin. But Jesus was the friend of sinners yearning for a way out. Sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes constantly crowded in to listen to Jesus. His Gospel held out the opportunity for God’s forgiveness, for strength to overcome the sin that captivated their lives, and the appeal to start with God’s help a new, righteous life. The Pharisees and hypocrites offered sinners no hope, no possibility of forgiveness, no way out of the bondage of sin and the crushing weight of their guilt.
Jesus through His Church still wants to be the friend of sinners. No, he does not want His Christians to wink at sin, or to justify sinful behavior, or to excuse away the commandments of God as “no longer relevant” today, or to participate in any way in the sins of others. But he also doesn’t want us to become like the Pharisees, behaving as if the sins of some others cannot be forgiven. He doesn’t want us to become like the Pharisees who believed some were so obnoxiously, perversely sinful that God would never under any circumstances accept them. Jesus believed, and we should also believe, that the shedding of his holy, innocent blood was powerful enough to wash away any and every sin, and powerful enough to redeem and restore even the most notorious sinners.
We should find precious comfort in Jesus, the friend of sinners. If the world knew your sins… your deepest, darkest yearnings… your secret desires… your clandestine sins…. the sins of your youth that you’d rather forget….. the world might think you are the kind of obnoxious, notorious sinner unworthy of being in the presence of Christ. But Christ welcomes all to come into his presence, to acknowledge sin and repent of it, to hear the Gospel of forgiveness, to be washed clean through Baptism, to eat and drink His body and blood in the sacrament as the ultimate assurance of forgiveness and eternal life. Think of it— If Christ had welcomed only some sinners, or offered forgiveness for only some sins, how could you ever be certain that Christ would receive and forgive you? But Christ befriended all sinners, and Christ offered forgiveness for every sin to those who repented and believed in him. If Christ welcomed the woman caught in adultery, and the woman who had lived with seven six husbands, and the prostitutes, and the tax collectors who heartlessly stole from the people, and even the dying thief crucified next to him who at first slandered and ridiculed him, then Jesus will also receive and forgive a sinner like you.
Jesus, the friend of sinners? You bet he is. And so his church also must be