Our Lord told His disciples that, “Nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known” (Mt. 10:26). In this, He is affirming the words of Samuel the Prophet who said, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7).
I’ve heard it said that “irrational self-confidence will get you further in life than rational defeatism ever will.” And we see this principle exemplified in the account of Our Lord’s ministry to outcasts and sinners. He came, “not to call the righteous, but sinners” to repentance and life (Mk 2:17). “So, everyone who acknowledges Christ to be Lord before men, will by Him be acknowledged before His Father who is in heaven” (Mt 10:32).
In Luke chapter 15, we see that, “tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Lk 15:1-2). These sinners were behaving irrationally in their confidence and boldness to draw near to the Saviour. Contrast them with the seemingly righteous Pharisees, who kept to the letter of the law and rationally adjudicated their superiority; notice how they stood back from Our Lord and spoke harshly against Him saying; “This man welcomes sinners.” Praise be God! He welcomes sinners.
Our Lord taught us that the things which are highly esteemed by mankind are also capable of being an abomination in the sight of God; and it’s safe to assume that the opposite of this is also true – those things that God highly esteems can sometimes be the very things mankind finds abominable. This is at the root of the Pharisees muttering about Our Lord being, “The man Who welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
If you are among those who praises God that He welcomes sinners, then it might be difficult for you to identify with the intensity of disgust here being expressed by the Pharisees. True, holiness must oppose wickedness. Yet the point is – and here we learn the error of the self-righteous Pharisees – that opposition towards wickedness can itself be devilish when it springs from a belief that our seeming righteousness makes us better than other sinners. The Apostle Paul puts it this way, “But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom 14:10-2).
In Our Lord’s condescension towards sinners, we discover the very thing which defines His glory and His crown. His condescension, humility, meekness… are how He makes a people for Himself. The Psalmist foretold of Him; “Thou hast delivered me from the strivings of the people; and thou hast made me the head of the heathen: a people whom I have not known shall serve me” (Ps 18:43).
To be clear, sympathetic identification with sinners rather than humble compassion for them is shameful. By this I mean, we must not make excuses for ours or other’s sins; rather we must be grieved by sin and seek for ways to oppose and end it. It is our Christian duty to not only keep ourselves from sin, but to help others sever their association with intemperate, licentious, dishonest and scornful behaviour. Again, Saint Paul warns; “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Gal 6:1). For Christ has taught us, by his life and by his word, that for the man of Faith to mingle with the sinful in order to offer consolation and guidance is an act of supreme goodness. This is the very thing which Jesus Christ came to do: “To seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk 19:10). This is the principle He patterned perfectly for us; and it luminously illustrates the moral grandeur of His Spirit and the beautiful beneficence of His Life.
The Pharisees sought to dishonour Him, instead their words praise unwittingly Him; “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” We are Christ’s servants and since the servant is not greater than his Master (Jn 13:16), it is this which will constitute the best tribute that can be paid to His disciples now and anytime. Praise be God that He “welcomes sinners!” We must “welcome sinners.” Not to continue in sin, but to be free from the slavery, oppression and death of sin.
We cannot fully appreciate the significance of beauty and tradition until those things have been taken from us; likewise, we cannot fully appreciate God’s love for us until we have experienced separation from Him. Our moral frailty – the ease with which we can fall into sin – should make us crave God’s consolation and salvation. This week I challenge you to be irrationally self-confident in your approach to God instead of rationally defeatist. Always keep in mind that He, “welcomes and eats with sinners.” “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16).
*Image borrowed from http://shephillslc.blogspot.com/2010/07/events-of-july-4-2010.html