Based on the book “Friend of Sinners” by Rich Wilkerson, Jr.
Part 1 of 4, The Message…
Jesus came to Earth with a specific message. His teachings, His miracles, His reations to people, and His death and resurrection all communicate one main point. Yet, it’s way to easy to miss it. This can happen to all of us, and probably has. In fact, people have been missing the message for 2000 years now. Even the ones who lived with and witnessed Christ’s life missed it. Even will intentioned, good hearted, spiritually minded people can miss it.
We might have a portion of the message or a version of it, but we miss the main theme. The problem is, if we miss His message long enough we will end up somewhere God never intended us to be, and we won’t like the result. Many Christians are spiritually confused, tired or worn out. Not because Christianity is hard, or because God is an impossible to please tyrant, but because they have missed what Jesus came to say.
Some think Jesus taught about good works, like the goal of His life was to get us to talk better, to act better, to be better. Following Jesus therefore is about behaviorabl change. Getting yourself and those around you fixed up and acting right.
Others think Jesus came to establish a holier than thou, country club religion, made up of a bunch of abnormally self-disciplined and equally self-righteous people that would get together, call themselves the Church and spend their days dispensing judgment against a sinful world.
Still others think Jesus was merely a philosopher, He was a good man, a good teacher, who didn’t deserve what happened to Him. “Too bad He ticked off the establishment.”, they say, “only the good die young”.
Some say He was a rebel, some say a zealot who wanted to overthrow the Roman empire and failed. Some say He was an apocalyptic prophet who believed and preached the end of the world was imminent. Others say He was a con-man, insane, or a liar.
As we know from Scripture and from our personal relationship with Christ, all of those views and explanations fall short of who Jesus really is. Jesus didn’t just come for behavior modification, or to create a religious club or clique, He didn’t come as a life coach, philosopher, or a martyr only.
The message of Jesus is far simpler and for more powerful than any of those explanations.
So, what was the message of Jesus, what was He saying during His life and ministry on Earth and who was it for?
To answer this question, we can start by looking at a story from the book of Matthew.
Jesus Calls Matthew
Matthew 9:9-13 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the toll booth, and he said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him. While he was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came to eat with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Now when he heard this, he said, “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
1. Even the TAX COLLECTORS?
In Matthew 9:10, the Pharisees looked around Matthew’s house and saw nameless “tax collectors” and “sinners.” Jesus saw people he cared about, people He wanted to hang with….and He knew their names.
When we view what we do in Jesus’ name as faceless sacrifices, we’ve missed the whole concept of “love as I have love you”, John 13:34. It’s all personal with Jesus. It’s all about relationships.
Most of us probably don’t even get why dining and fellowshipping with tax collectors is such a big deal. Weren’t they just like the modern day IRS, out collection taxes, an honest days work for an honest days pay right?
In Israel at the time, the Romans had invaded and occupied the region. When they invaded an area, they would typically rape the women, plunder the village, enslave the men and separate families. The Romans were merciless, they were harsh and cruel. The Romans ruled by fear, they wanted the Israelite’s to live and serve them in fear. Part of this strategy was to hire some of the local Israelite’s to work for them as tax collectors or publicans. The Romans would invade your home, plunder your family and property, then hire your neighbor to use what he knows about you, against you and take full advantage.
It’d be like if your next-door neighbor and close friend that you’d trusted and confided it knew you had a $10k bass boat. The one you and he would take out on the weekends, and pull the kids behind on tubes, and have cookouts on. He is now telling the Romans you have a really nice boat down at the dock that you haven’t paid taxes on yet, and exactly how much it’s worth. Then he comes over to your house, demands payment of tax on the boat or threatens to have the Romans come back for a visit. Your neighbor tuned tax collector would lie to you about how much the tax is for the boat, extort as much money out of you as possible. Then he would take the extra money he extorted from you and go buy himself a new bass boat. And it was all fine in the eyes of the Roman authorities. That’s who these tax collectors were. Not good guys, not guys you wanted in your home or to have anything to do with. The more they knew about you, the more they could take advantage of you. There were some of the worst people in Israel.
But Jesus showed mercy toward tax collectors and sinners, not to condone their sins but to show tender feelings, similar to those He displayed toward the physically ill. Like when He touched leper in Matthew 8. ‘Right away a man with leprosy came up and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Reaching out his hand, Jesus touched him, saying, “I am willing; be made clean.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Matthew 8:2-3. This is the same merciful view Jesus has for tax collectors, sinners, you and me, Shouldn’t we cultivate the same view of those in need, especially by assisting them in their spiritual need? All truth without grace in brutality.
2. Jesus Loves Sinners
In fact, Jesus only loves sinners.
(We’re all sinners)
Matthew 9:11-12, When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Now when he heard this, he said, “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick.
Jesus doesn’t turn anyone away who comes to Him for forgiveness. He came and suffered and died on the cross for sinners, not just for the respectable ones.
Luke 18:9-14, He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people — greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’ “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner! ’ I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
It was exactly for a man like in the passage above that Christ died. Sinners that recognize their desperation and cry out. Jesus suffered took on the yoke of sin, He became sin for humanity. He suffered so terribly on a cross, so much so that it was almost impossible for Him to bear. So dreadful, that He said in Mark 15:34,”My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” He did all that for sinners, and tax collectors and the hateful, the murderers, the sexually immoral and all of us! When we realize that we are all sin sick and headed for death apart from Christ we can come to the end of ourselves. Then, and only then, we can pray in our brokenness, “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner”
3. ” I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” But what does that mean?
As quoted by Jesus from the OT, Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings. Jesus also quotes this same passage in Matthew 12:1-8. At that time Jesus passed through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick and eat some heads of grain. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and those who were with him were hungry: how he entered the house of God, and they ate the bread of the Presence — which is not lawful for him or for those with him to eat, but only for the priests? Or haven’t you read in the law that on Sabbath days the priests in the temple violate the Sabbath and are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
So, what is Mercy instead of Sacrifice?
Is it going to the food pantry and working a few shifts, or building a wheelchair ramp at a widows home, or even filling some shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child, to send overseas to a child in need?
I don’t think so, at least not in and of themselves.
If we want to move beyond sacrifice to mercy, we need to get our hearts involved.
When the opportunity to coach a rocket football team came up last summer, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me. I love football, my son is playing, and I’d love to coach him. Any we might even have some fun and maybe I could share the Good News of Jesus with these kids.
Why? Notice the prominence of “me, my and I” in the sentences above. My acts of sacrifice were all about me. What I could get out of it, how it would benefit me.
As the season went on, I came to know the boys and some of the families personally and some of the issues they were facing. Pretty quickly it became about more than me coaching football. What I thought would be a good time for me, soon became not about me at all. There are several boys on the team who don’t have their Dad at home to follow and learn from. I’m not just talking about teaching them football or how to put their shoulder pads on, or even how to be aggressive, but how to be a man, how to follow Jesus and lead others, how to do stuff every young man needs to learn. These boys need godly male leadership and that’s what coaching has become. It’s a heart thing, not just a football thing. Some of these boys may never witness godly leadership outside of this opportunity. To me, this is what Jesus is talking about when He says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. It’s not about me or what I can get for the time and energy sacrifices being made. It’s a selfless giving of ones God-given gifts and talents to the work of Jesus by building connections with all people…it’s about knowing these boys and building a godly relationship with them that may lead them to Jesus someday.
That’s what Jesus was doing with these “worst of the worst” sinners He was hanging out with. Jesus sought Matthew out, He developed a relationship with him, He spent time with him, even while he was Levi the tax collector. Jesus considered him worth while and a friend. Jesus didn’t approach Matthew with sacrifice in mind, He wasn’t concerned if this interaction would be a good investment of His time, Jesus just wanted to let Matthew know that he was loved and not out of reach for God’s grace and mercy.
4. So, what is Jesus’ message?
It wasn’t that good people do to Heaven, it wasn’t that bad people will be judged, those are cheap imitations of His message.
Jesus’ message is GRACE, it’s salvation for all who choose to believe in Him. It’s unlimited mercy and compassion and forgiveness for all who would put their faith in Him. Jesus is the personification and embodiment of grace. In other words, Jesus Himself is the message. Jesus is the purpose and the point. It’s not dogma or doctrine, it’s not behavioral modification. The message is that no matter who you are, no matter how bad you’ve messed up, grace and forgiveness are available to you through Jesus. Jesus didn’t just come in the flesh to tell about grace, but to be grace for us. His life is His message and His message is His life. The more we follow Jesus, the more we become channels for mercy and grace. We are not just kind people, we are messengers.