Jesus, Friend of Sinners

“…a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!” (Matthew 11:19b)

In the Bible, the word we translate in our English Bibles as “sin,” literally means “to miss the mark.”  If you’ve ever played darts, or you go to the shooting range, you know there is a large, often, round target with a series of smaller circles within the larger circle, the center, smallest circle, being the most valuable if you’re able to hit it.

Sin refers to “missing the mark” of Christ’s perfection and is God’s “standard” for goodness. That’s why trying to earn God’s favor by being “good enough,” is a losing battle. In Romans 3 the Apostle Paul writes: “No one is righteous – not even one.” And he goes on to say that every human being who has ever lived or ever will live, except Jesus, lives under the power of sin. Everyone is a sinner, because no one can live up to the standard of perfection that Jesus lived.

“Used by permission, © Ray Majoran,

However, in the period of Jesus’ life on earth, “sinners” were, as Strong’s Concordance defines the word, someone who was: “devoted to sin; pre-eminently sinful, especially wicked. Specifically of men stained with certain vices or crimes.” And the Concordance used for examples: “tax collectors, heathen.” Today we might include murderers, rapists, child molesters, etc. as “sinners.” But the fact remains, EVERYONE who has ever lived was born with a natural inclination to sin. It’s our nature, it’s what we, as human beings, do.

Why am I going into such detail? Because the religious leaders of Jesus’ day “labeled” Jesus as a friend of “sinners.” Not just anyone who sins, but those who have defined themselves by their sinful behavior. The Pharisees, who were the strictest sect of the Jewish faith, asked Jesus’ disciples: “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” (Matthew 9:11b NLT) Who were they talking about? Me! And you!

“Wait a minute! I’m a decent human being! I’ve never murdered anyone. I pay my taxes. I love my children. I resent being referred to as ‘scum.’ I’m actually quite a good person!” Yeh, I get it. That’s how I felt too, until I met Jesus.

Compared to Jesus, we’re all “notorious sinners.” Sin is sin. Here’s the point – Regardless of how far we’ve strayed. Irrespective of the “degree” of sin into which we’ve delved, from the least to the most horrific of sinners, Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sin, so we, too, could be called His “friend.” How could that even be possible?

From the Cross, when darkness fell across the whole land, Jesus cried out with a loud voice: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” It’s easy for us to read that verse and assume that Jesus was complaining to God, asking Him to “Explain Yourself! Why are you making me suffer like this?” But to think that is to miss the point. Jesus needed no explanation. He knew before He made the choice to leave Heaven EXACTLY why He was coming to earth. He knew what it would entail – every horrifying, agonizing, torturous second.

That’s why Jesus was in such agony of Spirit while praying in the Garden before He was arrested. He wasn’t asking His Father for an explanation. Jesus was asking Him to make it clear to all who would witness or later learn of His execution, then, and for as long as time would allow, what His sacrifice means to others. YOU and ME, and every other sinner who would ever be born on this planet. So, what did Jesus’ sacrificial death on the Cross mean?

Volumes have been written to explain in infinite detail, but let me give you the proverbial “Cliff Notes.” We’ll pick it up here tomorrow 😊.

Blessings, Ed 😊

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