Nov 26 2023 Jesus - A Friend of Sinners (are you?)

We have been doing a series on things we’ve learned as a church. Last week – I mentioned this quote:

Brennan Manning “Though it is true that the church must always dissociate itself from sin, it can never have any excuse for keeping any sinners at a distance.” (Ragamuffin Gospel)

As I read that – I can see – for some, how they might have trouble and disagree with the first part – and for others – they might have trouble and disagree with the second part! Of course, this is someone’s opinion – and you need to read the book to know what he really means.

I have read the book – and I think he means this – if sin is left unchecked, it can do tremendous damage. We all know that – we have seen it in ourselves, and in church itself. We must guard and protect the church and people from the danger of sin – yet at the same time, to welcome all people – who are sinners. It is just what we need to do!

Then, for the next part – he is not talking about dangerous people – predators, bullies, those who have restraining orders – but regular people – to keep sinners at a distance.

The question comes up – what about Church Discipline? And it is true, that at times, there are those who are causing damage to others by their sin. The Bible is clear – the way to do that – is to restore that person to the community in a way that is safe.

Galatians 6 – if someone is trapped in a sin – you who are spiritual – go and restore that person to the community with a spirit of gentleness and humility, knowing that you were that person at one point – and probably will be again at another point – and at any time that can happen. We go to others knowing that we all have our failing and flaws, and the purpose is restoration and relationship.

Jesus spoke about sin a lot. The Bible speaks about sin a lot. Some would complain that the Church does not address sin anymore. I hear it all the time – maybe because it is my job. But how do we speak about sin and welcome the sinner? First, we speak about OUR SIN – not THEIR sin. Because – our sin – and their sin – are all sin! That’s just it! And we just went through Romans not too long ago. Paul uses the word sin more than 50 times in Romans. That is a lot in one letter. But what we talked about – chapters 1 and 2 – he is saying – look – your sin is no different from their sin. That is his whole purpose. Your sin is no different from the sin you are judging.

Second – sinners know they are sinners unless they are self-righteous sinners. People know they are flawed – they don’t need us to tell them that. Jesus always corrected the self-righteous sinners. And the sinner sinners – those who knew they were sinners – He forgave.

We should be no different.

So, I mentioned this parable in Matthew 13 last week in the discussion time – and I want to look at it more in depth -

Matthew 13: 24 Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 "The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'

So, This is called the parable of the wheat and tares. When He talks about sowing in the field – the field is the world and He talks about the enemy – the evil one – the devil (Jesus used these interchangeably at will).

Scholars believe that these tares looked just like wheat – until – they bear fruit. I don’t know anything about agriculture – I only read books – and they might all be lying – but I’m going to go with it – how much is it like Christianity and church – there are those who look the same – until there is a need for genuine fruit to come out of our lives and that is where we recognize the difference. We have all seen people who claim faith and then we see fruit that doesn’t look like faith. This is an in the world but not of the world parable. That is what Jesus is getting at. The parable continues:

28 " 'An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'

(referring to the weeds)

29 " 'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time, I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.' "

When we talked about Esther and this concept of being in the world but not of it – we are not to isolate ourselves from the world – but to not conform to the world while we are in the world – to participate in the world without conforming.

Jesus is saying – our job – is NOT to uproot evil in the world. It is not to remove evil from the world. Now, we are to overcome evil – with good. But there is a difference between overcoming evil and trying to remove it.

I’m going to step my toe into the theological waters here…

I learned this 1980ish – for 1700 years – there has been a small, but not insignificant segment – that believes that the role of the church is to Christianize the world – meaning – making the world’s systems Christian systems. Dominion theology.

It started with Constantine. I don’t agree with this. I would say it is impossible to remove evil from the world without destroying the Church – and history bears this out.

There is a huge difference between Christianizing the world and making disciples of all nations. Those disciples will live scattered in and throughout the world in and amongst the weeds – and they will bear fruit in and amongst the weeds – and it will be that way until Jesus returns. That is God’s job. That does not mean we don’t do good – we do. The god of this world is the devil – until Jesus returns – and the Bible is clear on this.

As we talk about being in, but not of the world, rather than Christianizing the world – Jesus has a better way – Grace and Friendship.

Friend of Sinners

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look at him, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' But wisdom is vindicated by her deeds." (Mat 11:19)

Friend – this is not a social media type friend – it is speaking of intimate relationship – close, affectionate relationships. And the people who are calling him this? The Bible people – the religious leaders of the day – they are INSULTING Him! We think of it as a good thing now – but it was an insult! The way He interacted with sinners was SHOCKING to the devout people of His day.

What would this look like today? For Bible people to call you a friend of sinners in a bad, insulting way?

Glutton? Drunk? Jesus went to places where the alcohol flowed freely. To be honest – amongst the Christians I know – I don’t think that is an issue either! The issue – tax collectors – we don’t hate the people down at the city hall…

The Pharisees were speaking of specific type of sinners. The self-righteous Bible people – who do they despise the most? Fill in the blank? We might fill in different blanks – and then go be that person’s closest friend!

But the Pharisees and the experts in the law were complaining, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." (Luk 15:2)

Welcome – to receive and accept into your heart and inner-circle! Wow! Those specific people who are despised most today are to be received into our heart and inner-circle.

I have often thought – it is easy to welcome sinners – from a distance. Volunteering at a homeless shelter – and that is good – but this is something more. This is talking about bringing them into your life!

Back when Bob Bizub was volunteering here – many years ago – his job let him do that – it was great. There was a homeless guy who would come around – and Bob invited him in and became his friend. And then he disappeared – we don’t know what happened – but we fed him and hung out –

There are so many ways the despised can look.

I think one thing – continuing -

As Jesus was having a meal in Levi's home, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. (Mar 2:15)

I just love this – many tax collectors and sinners were following Jesus. Does that happen today? I think it IS happening – but the bigger question – is it happening around my life?

Today, the Church – in its efforts to try to uproot weeds rather than befriending sinners cause us to miss significant kingdom opportunities. I don’t think we have many tax collectors and sinners – some may – but not many. There might be entire groups of people who would follow Jesus if we welcomed them into our hearts and inner-circle.

That is what Jesus did. And had huge numbers of people following Him.

Let me give you a couple examples that may or may not relate to you.

I have been a Christian for almost 50 years. During the late 70s and 80s – I noticed – the church has certain people it loves to hate. Hate might be a strong word – but those it is antagonistic against. It goes through phases. What is happening – I think it is somewhat innocent, but they believe they are fighting against evil – but they don’t understand that their antagonism falls on people – real, human lives -and they are the ones who experience antagonism. Let me give an example. At one point – there was an anti-public-school phase. Christian schooling, Home schooling, Public schooling – they are all fine – wherever God leads you – that is what you are to do – and we should respect and honor that. But for some, public schools have been listed as the enemy – and let me say this – The Church has missed significant kingdom opportunity. It is not because you home schooled or sent your kids to a Christian school -but because of this anti-public-school attitude.

Here is another one – Immigration.

Most agree that there should be security of borders and that legal immigration is important. However, there is massive disagreement – in this country – in the churches – and in this room – about HOW TO DO THAT. And the problem – it is an area of antagonism and something we love to hate. There is only one thought for Christians to have – and it is the important thought – your thought ought to be this – Immigration, whether legal or illegal – is an incredible opportunity for the Gospel.

I heard someone say this week – Immigration has saved the American Church – because that is where ALL of the growth is coming from. Everything else is declining.

The government will do whatever it wants to do – and it depends on which side is in. Whatever happens – we need to think – gospel! Tremendous opportunity for ministry! Our church has been a good example of that.

Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. (Mat 21:31 TNIV)

Interesting – Matthew here – doesn’t just say sinners – but prostitutes! And Jesus is talking to the Bible people – they knew their Bibles backwards and forward – and Jesus says they are entering ahead of you. That doesn’t mean they are getting to heaven first – but now, in the world – we think of going to heaven when we think of the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven. To have a kingdom, there must be a king – and who is the king – Jesus. To be a kingdom – there has to be a land that the king reigns over – and where is the land Jesus reigns over? All over the world – but those people – those seeds that are scattered throughout the world, growing amongst the weeds. The land is the Church – not a place. Wherever the Church resides – that is the land where the king reigns over. And then there needs to be subjects – those who believe in Jesus – and those subjects are to live as aliens and strangers.

Then -

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mar 2:17 TNIV)

So, we need to stop and think – who in our minds are the sick? Those are the ones God wants us to befriend – to welcome into our lives, hearts, and inner circles. Not even into our church – because you can welcome people into a church service and keep them out of your heart, life and inner circle.

Let’s pray…

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