“Now the 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.” – Luke 15:1-2
Jesus was perfect, but His righteousness did not drive sinners away, rather it drew them towards Him. Those who would not have been accepted by the Pharisees and who would have been driven away by their self-righteousness were welcomed by the only one who was truly righteous.
Why where sinners drawn to Jesus even though He was so different from them in regards to morality? What would make a “sinner” come and sit at the feet of one who never sinned?
The religious elite would not go to their houses or associate with them in any way. Jesus ate and drank with them freely, even making a tax collector one of His twelve disciples (Matthew).
Jesus did not gain their friendship by excusing their sin. At different times He instructed people to “sin no more” (John 5:14, 8:11) and with the woman at the well He confronted her about her sins in a miraculous fashion and she believed in Jesus partly because He knew her sin (John 4). Zacchaeus confessed and repented of His sin when Jesus visited His house (Luke 19).
Jesus did not compromise on sin, in fact He called people to a higher standard in regards to matters of the heart (Matthew 5). However, He also called people to much more liberal forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-22) and demonstrated ultimate forgiveness Himself.
In the story of Zacchaeus, Jesus says at the end,
“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:9-10
In Luke 15–after the Pharisees and teachers of the law point out the “company” Jesus keeps–He tells three parables about the “lost.” They are the Parable of the Lost Sheep (15:3-7), the Lost Coin (15:8-10), and the Lost Son (15:11-32).
In all three parables, that which is lost is seen as valuable, just as valuable as what is not lost. To love people like Jesus, to be able to have genuine relationships with those who are lost like Jesus had, we must see everyone as having value. We must see their worth in the eyes of God as the same as our own. If we don’t see their value or don’t see them as being just as valuable as we are, we’ll come across like the self-righteous Pharisees.
In the parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin, there is effort and time spent seeking out that which was lost. Intentional planning and preparation went into the search as well as travel in the case of the sheep.
In each of the parables there is perseverance. For the coin and the sheep the search continues until they are found. For the lost son the father waits each day, ready to receive their son back.
In each parable there is a cost to the person that receives back that which was lost. For the sheep and the coin, the people had to invest their time and effort into the search, for the father who received back his son the cost was primarily emotional, waiting for the day his son might come back thinking about where he was, but it also carried a monetary cost.
“In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” – Luke 15:10
Every story ends with rejoicing. There is rejoicing because there is love and care. There is rejoicing because each person is seen as valuable. One person out of billions, individually has value to God. While someone might be looked over, dismissed, demeaned or disrespected by other people, God sees value in them, He sees His own image.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He loves the lost. He welcomes them. He ate and drank with them, spent time with them, visited their homes and touched them. He let a prostitute anoint Him and wipe His feet (Luke 7:36-50).
How many of us would let a prostitute have that sort of contact with us?
The truth is, we are all lost before we are found in Christ. More lost than we may even realize. In the sermon on the mount Jesus says, “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28). Those who were self-righteous and looked down on anyone who was caught in adultery would have been cut down by this statement.
During the dinner in which He let the woman wipe His feet and anoint Him, Jesus told this story to a Pharisees that was judging both the woman and Jesus,
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?’
Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.’
‘You have judged correctly,’ Jesus said. – Luke 7:41-43
He who has been forgiven much, loves much.
The more we realize the depth of our own sin and how much and how completely we have been forgiven, the more we will love the Lord and love the lost. We will understand that we are no better or more valuable in and of ourselves and will see the value in others, value that God placed there creating by them in His image. When we rely on Christ’s righteousness alone, we no longer look down on others from a self-righteous point of view.
There is a saying, “But for the grace of God go I.” I think a more accurate saying is, “But for the grace of God was I.”