JESUS RECEIVES SINNERS AND EATS WITH THEM.
In the name + of Jesus.
The world is a messed up place, and it is not hard to find proof. The world is also full of people who have made a mess of their lives and of themselves. It is not hard to find proof of that either. Usually, we find it when we look at someone else. We find people who have given themselves over to whatever temptation their hearts desire. Now their sins, their habits, and their vices own them. Sometimes they are victims of circumstance. Sometimes they are victims of their own poor choices and stupidity. Some days we are merciful toward them; other days we are judgmental of them. Either way, we have our proof: The world is a mess, and people’s lives are a mess, too.
Sin entered the world through one man, Adam. His rebellion opened the door for every mess you get yourself into, and for every mess you see other people fall into. In the Garden of Eden, there had been no evil that we needed to be delivered from, but now the world is full of evils. Through Adam’s sin, the whole world fell victim to death, decay, destruction, disease, and depravity. And though God spares us from some of these, he also has us endure others. The Lord does not want you to forget: The world is a messed up place, and your own life is messy too.
Many have wondered: Why didn’t the Lord just strike Adam and Eve down and start over? After all, if you are writing a note or drawing something and you mess it up, you crumple up the paper and start over. You think nothing of it. Why save a poorly worded letter or try to fix an ugly drawing? And in that vein, why spare Adam and Eve when all who descend from them are going to be poor, sinful beings? Why spare a world that is going to be littered with evils and problems? Why not scrub the slate clean and start over with people who will obey?
It isn’t hard to offer up Adam and Eve, is it? And it is not hard to cast off the drug addict, or the foul-mouthed drunk at Ford Field, or the man who fathers and then deserts his children, or even the tired, bitter woman who takes your order. We don’t believe they are worth the effort. But what about you? Why didn’t God strike you down in your infancy so that you would not say such regrettable things to your parents? So that you would not undercut your coworker? So that you would not resent God and mock his wisdom? Why didn’t the Lord scrub the slate clean with you, your parents, or your children and create better, more obedient models?
God gives you his answer. Through the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord declared, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” (Ezekiel 33:11) The Lord is not willing that any should perish. The Lord is not willing to simply cast off those who are lost and wandering, those who are resentful or rebellious, or those who are weak and frail. You and I do not have the patience or mercy for such people, even though you ARE such people. But you have a Savior who is merciful. He does not cast you off because you have made a mess of things. He does not let you go because he is sick of your wandering. You have a Savior who receives sinners and eats with them!
It is easy to see the Pharisee, and it is just as easy to be one. Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2) Jesus needs to remind us what it means that he is a Savior. He does not come for righteous people. They don’t need a Savior. They do not even need to repent.
But sinners – they need a Savior. And you are sinners; therefore, you need a Savior. Whoever has a messy life and whoever continues to make a mess of things need someone who will clean it up. That is why Jesus came. The Lord did not stand at a distance and make decrees of sympathy. He put on flesh and blood to walk on the dirty streets, to enter the messy homes, to participate in the disasters—both natural and man-made, and to share in human frailty and weakness. He came to dwell among sinners so that he could seek those who had strayed from God’s ways. He came to look for people who had once been minted in God’s image but who were lost. Whether they were one in a hundred or one in a million, the Lord sought the lost and longed to bring them back to the Father. Jesus receives sinners.
And it is more than Jesus sat next to sinners. You are not some social experiment to God. Jesus is not like the millionaire who sleeps out on the streets for one or two nights so that he can go back to his mansion and boast at cocktail parties that he understands the plight of the homeless. To seek the lost and to bring back the straying, Jesus expressed solidarity with them. Jesus received sinners and ate with them. The Pharisees got that, and they criticized Jesus for it. The Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2) By eating with them, Jesus expressed a communion with them. A communion with sinners!
Though Jesus did not participate in the sins of mankind, he did assume them. The Lord has taken up your sins, no matter how shameful they have been and no matter how often they have been repeated. He suffered for the shame of prostitutes, for the slander of liars, for the greed of thieves, for the rebellion of the stubborn, for the arrogance of the self-righteous, for the pride of the judgmental, for filthy thoughts, for messy lives, and for the foolishness of everyone who pits his own wisdom against God’s. Because you have strayed, Jesus was banished. Because you were lost, Jesus was cast off as worthless and condemned as criminal.
The Lord was not willing that any sinner should have to perish, and so Jesus suffered and died in the place of all sinners. You have been baptized into Jesus, and so now the slate has been washed clean. God sees you as blameless. Jesus has been glorified as the Savior, and you are honored as the one he has saved. Angels and archangels rejoice over you. The Lord has found you, and he has delivered you out of sin and death and into his kingdom. It is a cause for celebration. “Rejoice with me,” the Lord summons. And he prepares the feast for you.
Oh, you know that you are still sinners and that you can still make quite a mess of things. Therefore, you still need Jesus. Dear friends, Jesus does not grow tired of you. Jesus receives sinners and eats with them. And the feast now is even greater than the meal Jesus enjoyed at the home of tax collectors and sinners. The feast still demonstrates Jesus’ communion with sinners. Yes, communion with sinners! Jesus summons you to the feast now. He still expresses solidarity with you, for he has made you his dear brother or sister who has been forgiven of all sins. And at the feast, he continues to pour out his forgiveness to you. Here, he sustains you, strengthens you, and keeps you united to him.
Jesus receives sinners and eats with them. Whether you are one in ten, one in a hundred, or one in a billion, Jesus knows you and receives you as his own. Jesus invites you to the feast where he himself is. His body and blood were given at the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. They are delivered here to you for the forgiveness of your sins. Jesus has come to feast with sinners, and Jesus comes again to sinners as we feast. Communion with sinners! A feast with our Lord! He is pleased to be our host. We rejoice to be his companions. And heaven celebrates that God is good.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.