This Man Welcomes Sinners and Eats with Them

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Luke 15:1-2

INTRODUCTION: Today is Communion Sunday, and I would like to look at a passage that doesn’t speak directly about communion, but I believe does enrich our understanding of communion and what it means for us as believers. (Read Luke 15:1-2 and pray.)

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This passage in Luke features three different people or groups of people. The first group is the tax collectors and sinners. Secondly there are the Pharisees and teachers of the law, and then there is “this man” who is Jesus. So, who exactly are these groups of people? The tax collectors obviously collected taxes. “Sinners” was just a derogatory term for anyone of low class who was not considered part of the religious class of that day. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were the Jewish religious leaders of that time. And Jesus, well, we will talk more about who Jesus was in a moment.

But as we get started this morning, I want you to picture what each of these people or groups of people in these verses are doing. The tax collectors and sinners are gathering around Jesus to hear him. The Pharisees and teachers of the law are muttering. And Jesus is welcoming those who come to him. All three of these actions are related to each other. The reason the Pharisees are muttering is because Jesus is welcoming the tax collectors and sinners who are gathering around him to hear his words. It is the actions of Jesus and the sinners which cause the Pharisees to mutter. The word used here for mutter means to grumble or complain. It is actually a word for community grumbling. It is always used of a group of people or a whole crowd that is complaining together.

And so, in these verses, the Pharisees and teachers of the law lodge a group complaint against Jesus. Not that this was anything new. The Pharisees had complained about Jesus many times before. Jesus was not real popular with the Jewish leaders of his time. In fact, they had not only complained about Jesus, they had slandered him in the past. When Jesus cast out demons, they called him possessed and said that he drove out demons by the prince of demons. They slandered his name, they denounced his actions, and one day they would falsely accuse him and put him to death. But for now, they just complained.

What exactly was their complaint? We find it in verse two: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Now these words of the Pharisees were absolutely true. Jesus did exactly what they accused him of here. Jesus did welcome sinners and eat with them. So, there was no slander involved this time. In the Pharisees’ eyes, this was closer to a scandal. In the Greek the word “sinners” is emphasized here – “this man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

The Pharisees were shocked by Jesus’ actions. But what the Pharisees muttered as a complaint, I proclaim to you as good news. “This man, Jesus Christ, welcomes sinners and eats with them!” It is not only good news, but it is startling news, especially when you consider who “this man” is. If he were a scoundrel or a thief, it would not be surprising at all. Of course, he would welcome sinners – you know, the more the merrier! Gossipers welcome other gossipers; thieves welcome other thieves; but this man was different. So, let’s begin this morning by exploring who is “this man” who welcomes sinners.

I. Who is “this man”, Jesus?

   A. He is a teacher and prophet

Who is “this man”, Jesus? Well, first of all, he was a teacher and a prophet. Most people in his day recognized him as such, even many among the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Many people today still accept Christ in these roles as teacher and prophet. Everyone knew that Jesus spoke with great power and authority. But this was what drove the Pharisees nuts. If Jesus was truly a prophet and teacher sent from God, why then would he associate with tax collectors and sinners? The Pharisees and teachers of the law were highly religious. They themselves would never share a meal with tax collectors and sinners. They could not reconcile Christ’s role as teacher and prophet with his actions, and so they muttered and complained.

   B. He is a miracle worker (John 3:2, 10:24-25, 14:11)

Secondly, Jesus was a miracle worker. He backed up his words as a teacher with supernatural signs and wonders. Nicodemus, a Pharisee who came to visit Jesus by night, said this: “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:2) Jesus himself pointed to his miracles as evidence that he was sent by God. When the Jews asked him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly,” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me.” (John 10:24-25) And Jesus told his disciples: “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” (John 14:11)

One songwriter imagined people’s response to Jesus’ miracles with the following words: “Some say he was a sorcerer, a man of mystery; he could walk upon the water, he could make a blind man see. He conjured wine at weddings and did tricks with fish and bread. He talked of being born again and raised people from the dead.” Who was this miracle worker, this teacher-prophet with supernatural powers?

   C. He is the eternal Son of God (John 1:1-2)

Well, let me assure this morning, he was no sorcerer or magician. The Scriptures proclaim Christ as none other than the eternal Son of God. The gospel of John says this about Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1-2) Jesus was not born into existence at Bethlehem. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Through him all things were created. Apart from him nothing was made that has been made. When Abraham responded to the call of God, he was also responding to the call of Jesus. When Moses heard the voice from the burning bush, he was also hearing the voice of Jesus. When Isaiah saw the glory of God in the throne room of heaven, he was also seeing the glory of Jesus. Jesus is God’s Son and very God Himself from all of eternity. And just one glimpse of his divine majesty today would cause the most stubborn of sinners to fall at his feet in worship and in fear. That’s who Jesus is – the eternal son of God.

   D. He is the perfect God-Man

But Jesus is even more than that, because the Bible tells us that the Son of God became a man. Jesus was born of a virgin. He became a true human being. He entered our sinful world unstained by sin himself. He lived a life of perfect holiness, righteousness and love – unselfishly serving those around him, ultimately giving his life for those who had rebelled against him. That’s who “this man” is. Jesus is a teacher, prophet, miracle worker, the Son of God and the perfect man. And “this man” – miracle of miracles – welcomes sinners and eats with them. It boggles the mind.

   E. He is our coming judge and the king of all creation

But there’s even more to consider, for Christ is also our coming judge and the king of all creation. I don’t know many judges who “welcome” law breakers, much less eat with them, unless once again the judge happens to be a law breaker himself. But it’s hard to imagine the judge in a murder trial sitting down over a Big Mac for lunch with the accused. And when it comes to kings, well, kings usually don’t have a lot of time for the common folk like you and me. Jesus Christ is both judge and king, and yet he welcomes you. He desires to have fellowship with you.

II. This man welcomes sinners.

   A. Jesus welcomed tax-collectors and all other “sinners”
      – Luke 5:8-10; John 6:37, 8:11

This man, Jesus, welcomes sinners. If you ever doubt that, look at the people whom Jesus welcomed. These were the same people whom the Pharisees and teachers of the law despised. Jesus welcomed the tax collectors when no one else would. Think about it: how many IRS agents have you taken out to lunch lately? I don’t know if you have ever seen any of those cartoons that are labelled: “Unclear of the Concept.” I like the one when the husband comes in with the mail saying, “Look honey, it’s something from the IRS. I wonder what we’ve won!” It doesn’t usually work that way with the IRS, does it? So even today tax collectors are not real popular, but the tax collectors of Jesus’ day had it even worse. They were viewed as among the lowest of society. They were seen as traitors who had sold out their loyalty to the Jewish nation in order to serve the Roman Empire. They were known as thieves who cheated the people and kept the extra money for themselves. Jesus welcomed them.

Jesus welcomed all sinners. When the fisherman Peter said to Jesus, “Go away from me Lord, I am a sinful man,” Jesus told him, “Come follow me.” (Luke 5:8-10) Jesus welcomed thieves and drunkards, prostitutes and adulterers. Jesus never approved of the sin. He told the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11) He never approved of the sin, but he welcomed all who came to him, and he said, “Whoever comes to me, I will never drive away.” (John 6:37)

   B. Jesus welcomed Zacchaeus
      – Luke 5:31-32, 19:1-10; Romans 2:4

The man Zacchaeus is a good example of how Jesus welcomed sinners. Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax-collector who was despised by the people as a “sinner”, yet Jesus chose to spend the whole day at his house. And because of Jesus’ kindness, Zacchaeus changed. He gave half his possessions to the poor and paid back anyone he had cheated four times the amount.

Jesus welcomes us as sinners because he knows our need. But we must first admit our need to know him as Savior. If the Pharisees had only seen themselves as sinners and Jesus as Savior, they would never have complained about him. Instead they would have rejoiced that “this man welcomes sinners.” Really, that is our only hope! But as Jesus said: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) Christ issues the welcoming call, “Come as you are and let me love you, let me forgive you, let me change you.” The Bible says, “It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.” (Romans 2:4)

   C. “Sinners” loved Jesus
      – Luke 15:1; James 4:8

And as a result of Christ’s kindness, the tax collectors and sinners loved Jesus. Luke 15:1 says “they were all gathering around to hear him.” That word “gathering” comes from a word meaning “to approach or draw near.” It’s the same word used in James 4:8 which says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” The tax collectors and sinners drew near to Christ. They found him welcoming, loving, approachable. Jesus was able to strike that perfect balance between standing strong against sin and yet still loving and welcoming sinners. And you know what? The sinners loved him for it. They drew near to Christ. They gathered around to hear him.

I think that one of the highest compliments a Christian can receive today is when non-believers are drawn to you because of your love for them. That is being Christ-like. I pray that as Christians we would all be welcoming, loving and approachable. I pray that as a church we would always be welcoming, loving, and approachable. It doesn’t mean that we compromise God’s word or water down the teachings of Scripture. We can speak the truth in love. But I would love it if people said about our church or the people in our church what the Pharisees said about Jesus: “That church welcomes sinners. Those people welcome sinners.” The Pharisees spoke it as a complaint. I would take it as a compliment.

III. This man eats with sinners.

   A. Jesus shared food and fellowship with sinners
      – Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34

But there was a second part to the Pharisees’ complaint as well: “This man eats with sinners.” (Luke 15:2) You see, Jesus not only welcomed tax collectors and sinners. He ate with them too. He shared fellowship with them. Sharing food together is one of the most basic types of fellowship. For example, in just a few minutes, we will share the bread and the cup as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. We also call it “communion,” which is really just another word for fellowship. Most Sundays we also have a more informal time of fellowship in the fellowship hall. And as we gather for coffee and donuts, we once again share food and drink together. On holidays what do most people do? We get together with family or friends to eat together. Why? Because when you share food, you share fellowship. It’s that simple.

Sharing a meal is also a sign of friendship. You don’t normally sit down and share a meal with your enemy. When Jesus sat down to eat with the tax collectors and sinners, he was extending his friendship towards them. That’s why elsewhere in the gospels Jesus was denounced by some as “a friend of sinners.” (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34) Once again, you would only see that as something bad if you didn’t consider yourself a sinner. But once you realize that you are a sinner, and that Jesus came as a friend to sinners, then just like the tax collectors and sinners in Jesus’ day, you too will want to draw near to Jesus.

Remember, this is something the Pharisees would never have done. They would never share a meal with a tax collector or a drunkard. They wanted nothing to do with those that they considered “sinful.” The Pharisees believed themselves better than others, and they feared that they would somehow be contaminated by their sin. But Jesus, the eternal Son of God, the perfect God-Man, the coming judge and king of all creation welcomed sinners and ate with them.

   B. God has always desired fellowship with men and women
      – John 1:10-12, 3:19; Revelation 3:20

God has always desired fellowship with men and women. The Bible tells us that God created us in order to have fellowship with us. And one of the ways that God reveals his desire for fellowship with us is by inviting us to share meals with him. God wants to eat with us.

There are three main meals with God we find in Scripture. There is the Jewish Passover in the Old Testament, the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament, and the Wedding Supper of the Lamb that we will celebrate one day in heaven. But we find many other examples as well. God shared a meal with Abraham in front of his tent. (Genesis 18:1-8) Moses and the 70 elders shared a meal in God’s presence on Mount Sinai. (Exodus 24:11) One of the offerings in the book of Leviticus is called the Fellowship Offering. This was a special offering where part of the animal was offered as a sacrifice to God, and the remainder was eaten in the sanctuary by the priest, the offerer of the sacrifice and his family as a common meal in God’s presence. (Leviticus 3)

When Jesus as God’s Son welcomed sinners and ate with them, he wasn’t doing anything new. He was just being God. He was just doing what God has always done. God wants to have fellowship with you. God loves you and wants to have a relationship with you. God sent his Son Jesus to be a friend of sinners and a Savior for all who would place their trust and faith in him. This man, Jesus, the Son of God, welcomes sinners and eats with them.

CONCLUSION: It is a miracle of God’s kindness that Christ welcomes sinners, but it is a tragedy of human sinfulness that sinners do not always welcome Christ. We read in the gospel of John: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19) “He [Jesus] was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:10-12) To those who believed, he gave the right to become God’s children, the right to enter the family of God, the right to sit down at God’s family table for food and fellowship with the living God.

The Pharisees complained, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” People, that is God’s grace and our glory. Are you a sinner? Do you confess yourself as such? If you confess yourself a sinner before God, then know that Christ welcomes you. He died for you. He is able and ready to change your life. Not only that, but he wants to eat with you, that is, he desires to have fellowship with you. Jesus says this in Revelation 3:20: “Behold! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Christ welcomes you, but the question remains: will you welcome him? Will you receive him into your life?

© Ray Fowler

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