[July 11]--Sinners Welcome!

Luke 15:1-2

I love how the Bible, and of course Christ’s message, is perfectly balanced. We’ve just spent much of the last few chapters expressing the “negative” side of his message: You’ve got to repent, there’s no fence-sitting, you’ve got to surrender everything, Jesus really isn’t looking for half-hearted followers, etc. The entire fifteenth chapter, which we’ll discuss over the next three days, is filled to the brim with illustrations of God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, and overwhelming desire to see people come to salvation. If all you had was the material from the last few days, you’d get the impression that Jesus is perfectly willing to let people walk right into Hell. It almost seems like his attitude is “Oh well (sigh), if you really want to come, then here are the hoops you need to jump through first. I’m going to put up as many barriers as I can in order to keep just as few people from coming in as possible. The less people who find out about this and respond to it, the happier I’ll be.”

That’s why we need the whole Bible, not just bits and pieces of it. This chapter, like I intimated, is the perfect balance to what’s come before. The God that we worship is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” He “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth..” He “[takes] no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”

This chapter brings that home to us in personal way. When we’re talking about people “perishing,” we’re not just talking about some number on a list. We’re talking about a real, live, breathing person. This person had hopes, dreams, and fears. He/she was made in God’s image. Sin has marred that image and damaged it but not destroyed it. And if nothing changes, then the only lasting effect of that image will be to make the end more tragic. When Jesus saw a crowd, he didn’t a see a blob or a mass or a name on a list. He saw each individual person. And each individual person was someone who desperately needed him.

When the Pharisees and teachers of the law saw the people around Jesus, they saw nothing more than a collection of sinners. That means that, as far as they were concerned, the sin in each person’s life defined him. That person is an “adulterer” or a “tax collector” or a “thief” or a “drunkard.” Their sins were all the religious leaders needed to know about each person.

And of course while they called all these people “sinners,” they certainly would never include themselves under that label! Sins are what other people do!

So Jesus was eating with “sinners,” which meant to in that culture that he was associating with them on an intimate basis. It meant that he was accepting them, which was partially true. He could never accept or excuse their sinful behavior, and eventually they'd have to make a choice to abandon their old way of doing things in favor of his way. The standards about things like “repentance” were not nullified.

But to Jesus, their sins, as bad and as unacceptable as they were, didn’t tell the whole story about the person. This person is created in God’s image, and is infinitely precious. He’s redeemable.

So for the rest of the chapter we see three stories, each one telling us something a little different about God’s attitude towards sinners. In the meantime, this chapter has two main messages to two different types of people. There are only two types in the end: Those who know they desperately need a Savior, and those who don’t know. If you know you need One and haven’t received him yet, then you know what to do. Or if not, read this.

If you are saved, then maybe you’ve forgotten what he’s saved you from. Maybe you were saved at an early age and didn’t get involved in a sinful lifestyle, or maybe he got a hold of you later in life after you got a taste of what life on the outside is really like. If you’ve been his for a while, then maybe he’s had some time to clean your life up somewhat. But it took just as much blood to redeem you as it took anyone else. Don’t forget.

Lord Jesus, anytime I start to get self-righteous and look down upon anyone else, squelch it. Take that thought out to the desert and bury it with a stake in its heart. Whatever it takes, please.

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