Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Thursday, 12 August 21:
Luke 19:7 — “And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’”
The account of Zacchaeus (along with other accounts such as the one about woman accused of adultery and those of the tax collectors described in Matthew and Mark) is often wrongly applied to suggest Jesus didn’t make a big deal out of sin or holiness and that those who do are “judgmental.” What they fail to notice in this story is that Zacchaeus is not just a sinner, he is a repentant sinner seeking Jesus, a sinner who desires reconciliation and is seeking to make restitution – “And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.’” (Luke 19:8, 9)
Jesus isn’t making light of sin or simply partying with sinners – “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” (1 Corinthians 15:33; see also Ephesians 5) Jesus is engaging Zacchaeus who is “seeking to see who Jesus [is].” (Luke 19:3) Concerning the tax collectors described in Matthew and Mark, the Bible says that they weren’t just Jesus’ sinful drinking buddies, they were followers of Jesus – “And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.” (Mark 2:15) Perhaps these were the same tax collectors described in Luke 3:12 – “Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’” In fact Matthew was a tax collector who had a close relationship with Jesus because he responded to Jesus’ call to “follow me.” The relationship these tax collectors had with Jesus was one of repentance and reconciliation. Jesus never compromised His holiness or His message in order to fellowship with them.
- James 4:8 — Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
- 2 Corinthians 6:14 — Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
“And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” (Luke 15:2) The Pharisees and scribes hated tax collectors, considering them to be traitors who partnered with Rome to take advantage of the Jews; and these tax collectors were well known for their unscrupulous collection practices. Unlike Jesus, the Pharisees and scribes acted “judgmental” toward tax collectors because they condemned them from a position of self-righteousness. Jesus’ message to these sinful tax collectors was different — “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32) It was understood that repentance meant turning away from sin and towards obedience to God – “And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than you are authorized to do.’” (Luke 3:13) The repentant tax collectors received forgiveness and grace from Jesus, but to the self-righteous Pharisees, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” (Matthew 21:31, 32)
Jesus was “a friend of tax collectors and sinners,” repentant ones. (Luke 7:34) These are they who Jesus describes in Luke 18 – “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” Concerning the unrepentant tax collectors, Jesus continued to speak negatively of them; he didn’t make light of their sin or hang out with them. (Matthew 5:46, Matthew 18:17) Likewise, Jesus was a friend of adulterers, repentant ones. What was Jesus’ message to the woman accused of adultery? “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11) “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3)
- John 15:14 — You are my friends if you do what I command you.
In our associations with the world, as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission, we must be careful not to partner with or conform to the world. We mustn’t water down the Good News message which calls sin, sin; describes the need for salvation from the wrath of God (not just from the consequences of sin); proclaims God’s grace and free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone; and proclaims the new life in Christ. If we make light of sin, we dishonor (even mock) the LORD, minimalize the demand for salvation, and cheapen God’s grace through the blood of Jesus. If we make light of sin, we are being very unloving.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) –12 August 21: Today, engage the world with the Gospel as an ambassador of Christ, but don’t partner with the world. (1 John 2:15)