Jesus, Friend of Sinners
December 9th, 1962 @ 7:30 PM
JESUS, FRIEND OF SINNERS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-9-62 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and you have just been listening to our youngsters sing, and I would like to make a very pertinent comment. I am overwhelmed by the rapidity of development in this children’s group. They get to where they sing marvelously at our 8:15 o’clock morning service, and just at the time that they fill out and blossom and shine, then we have promotion, and they are all taken out of the choir, and these little ones are promoted into it. And for about two months, I sit here in this pulpit at 8:15 and just say, "O Lord, give me grace to bear what I have got to hear." It is awful. It hurts your ears, it hurts your soul, it hurts you all over.
But just be patient, and after about six weeks, why, they start singing where it fits together, and their voices begin filling out and blending, and now in December here, they are as you have heard them. And you wait until the summertime. After they have been with Lee Roy a year, and after they have grown up a little bit and tried a little more, it is a marvelous thing what our children’s group is able to do.
Well, you are on the way, bless you. Wish I could look at you. I do not see why in the world that the Lord did not put us at least one eye in the back of our heads. Next time He does it; He may follow our suggestion and do just that.
Now, let us turn to the Book of Luke, the Third Gospel, the Book of Luke chapter 19, the Book of Luke chapter 19, and we are going to read the first ten verses, the Gospel of Luke chapter 19, the first ten verses. We are going to preach tonight from this passage on Christ, on Jesus, the Friend of Sinners. Now if we all have it and everyone sharing his Bible with his neighbor who might not have thought to bring it, let us read it out loud together, Luke chapter 19, the first ten verses:
And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.
And, behold, there was a man named Zaccheus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.
And he sought to see Jesus who He was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.
And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him: for He was to pass that way.
And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zaccheus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house.
And he made haste, and came down, and received Him joyfully.
And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That He was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.
And Zaccheus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.
And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
If I had another title for the sermon, it would be, This So Different Christ. For the Son of Man, this is the justification that Jesus, this is the apology that our Lord made for going to be the guest of a man that was a sinner: "For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" [Luke 19:10], our so different Lord. He was different in the moral constitution to His life, for the Son of Man, the phrase itself, intimates the deity, the pre-incarnate eternity of our Savior.
I could not imagine, I could not conceive of even the apostle John, or Simon Peter, or Paul of Tarsus, I could not conceive of themselves referring to their condescension and being called the Son of Man.
Such a designation for themselves would be intolerable and of all things most inappropriate and unacceptable. Yet, when our Lord refers to Himself as the Son of Man, the title is an exalted presentation of the Son of glory among us. "He who was so rich in the grace and glory of the hosts of heaven became poor, that we through that poverty might be made rich" [2 Corinthians 8:9]. The Son of Man, the very phrase itself adumbrates the eternal deity of our Lord.
Another thing, the phrase identifies our Lord with all humanity, "For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" [Luke 19:10]. One of the strangest things that some of our people are going to find when they go to Japan in this tremendous evangelistic crusade next spring, one of the things you are going to find is that there the pictures of our Lord Jesus are pictures of a man who is a Japan man. He in Japan is Japanese.
And if you see Christmas cards that are published in Japan, the Christmas scene will be Japanese scenes. And the precious baby boy will be a little Japanese boy. And when you first see that, it will be very startling and very surprising to you, for you have never thought of Jesus as being a man of Nippon. You have never thought of the Christmas scenes as being laid in the island of Honshu or Kyushu. Yet, that is an illustration of the very genius of the ministry of our Lord. Somehow, in every language and in every speech, He has an identification with all humanity.
We would think of Him as being an American. And an Englishman could think of Him as being an Englishman. And a Russian could think of Him as being a Russian. And an Indian could think of Him as being an Indian, and an Indonesian as an Indonesian. There is no ultimate nationality in the gospel of the Son of God and in the identification of the ministry of our Lord with all humanity, "For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" [Luke 19:10].
Another thing that it speaks of is the latitudinarianism, the broadness, the universality of His sympathies. Wherever there were people, there you would find the love and the interest and the affection of our blessed Savior, wherever. You have it translated in the King James Version that when those disciples came back out of Sychar and looked at the Lord Jesus seated on the side of the well [John 4:6], the King James Version translates it that the disciples were amazed; they were astonished that He talked with the woman [John 4:27]. The Greek of that is they were amazed; they were astonished to see their Master talk with "a" woman. It was beneath the dignity of any teacher, of any rabbi, in their language, of any doctor in the Latin language, beneath the teacher of any rabbi to speak to "a" woman.
But the Lord Jesus not only in His infinite condescension, becoming a man [Philippians 2:6-8; Hebrews 10:5-14], the Son of Man, not only spoke to a woman but chose one whose background and whose character was indescribably dark [John 4:18]. And that sympathy expressed by our Lord extended to all men everywhere, and all women and all people everywhere [Luke 19:10; 1 John 2:2].
In the choosing of His twelve disciples, in the group, He chose a tax gatherer named Matthew. He saw in that man, in the little notes that he made and the records that he kept and the taxes that he gathered, He saw in him a marvelous Gospel writer [Matthew 9:9]. And the sayings, like the Sermon on the Mount that we have from our Lord, were carefully written down by Matthew, a tax gatherer, a hated and despised publican [Matthew 5:1-7:29].
That is our Lord. And this story you have in the Gospel of Luke of Zaccheus [Luke 19:1-10] is no less an illustration of the great sympathies of our Lord with people anywhere, everywhere, as such.
I do not need to remind you, who have gone to Sunday school, of the despicableness of a tax gatherer in Israel; first of all because the trade itself, the business itself was one of dishonesty and extortion. The way the Romans did it was this, they farmed out the gathering of taxes; they would give it to the highest bidder. Then the man who gathered taxes was responsible to the Roman government for whatever he had bidden. Then all above that that he was able to collect was his own personal property.
So, when the tax gatherer came, he not only gathered according to the bid he had made to those that farmed it out for the Roman government, but that tax gatherer tried to get every cent beyond what he had bid, for that meant more for him personally. They were a vile, they were a dishonest, they were an extortionist group of people.
Now, in Israel they were doubly despised because a Roman tax gatherer just reminded the proud people of God, the sons of Abraham, that the knowing, galling yoke of their servitude was upon them day and night, and they were slaves of an imperial Roman Cesar. It is hard for us to realize the despicableness and the hatred by which the Roman tax gatherer in Israel appeared before the people.
Can you imagine, therefore, our Lord Jesus coming to the city of Jericho, and He asks to be entertained in the house of one of those despised and hated publicans [Luke 19:5]. But that is the Lord. And that is very typical of our Savior. He identified Himself with the needs of all men everywhere.
Have you ever noticed the unusual story that immediately follows the delivery of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount? The Sermon on the Mount closes with the seventh chapter of Matthew, and the eighth chapter begins like this:
And the Lord came down from the mountain, and great multitudes followed Him and pressed Him on every hand.
And, behold, a leper came unto Him, saying, Lord, that I might be clean.
Now, did it ever occur to you, how did that leper get to Jesus? Did you ever think about that? When the Lord came down from the mountain, the throngs and the multitudes pressed Him on every side, thousands and thousands and thousands. And this vile and loathsome and decaying leper that lived out in the tombs and out in the wild places in the rocks and the caves, he came right up to Jesus, just walked right up to Him.
Did you ever think how he did that? When you do, immediately it is obvious, for wherever that leper walked, wherever he went, with his hand, according to the commandment of the law, with his hand over his mouth, he had to cry, "Unclean. Unclean. Unclean. Unclean" [Leviticus 13:45]. And wherever he walked, there was that chilling and widening circle around him; people fell away, fell away, fell away. And when he walked into that crowd, that awful and terrible circle always preceded him! The people fell away, fell away, fell away, a leper, a leper! He just walked right up to Jesus [Matthew 8:1-2]. And all of that vast crowd pushed and opened a way and fell apart!!
Well, why did Jesus not back off? Why did He not walk away?
The Book says the leper walked right up to Jesus. And when the crowd in that cold and chilling circle separated, the Lord did not. He stayed right where He was standing, and he came up to the Lord and asked, just like He encourages us to ask, he asked, "Lord, that I might be clean, that I might be clean" [Luke 8:2].
Then the Lord did something. The Book says, "And the Lord put His hand upon him, and the Lord touched him" [Matthew 8:3]. Why, I can just see, I can just hear, I can hear that vast crowd gasp as the Lord touched that filthy, and loathsome, and diseased, and decaying body. Why, fellow, that was half the cure. That leper had forgot what the warmth of a human hand felt like! And the Lord touched him and said, "Be thou clean" [Luke 8:3]. And his flesh came again as it is said of Naaman, "Like unto the flesh of a little child" [2 Kings 5:14], and he was clean. And he was clean.
That is our Lord, whether it was a tainted tax gatherer and a despised publican [Luke 19:1-5], whether it was a filthy and a loathsome leper [Matthew 8:1-3], whether it was a vile harlot of Samaria [John 4:18], all alike, dear and precious in His sight, our so different Lord, the friend of sinners [Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34, 19:10].
Brings me to my second avowal: He was so different in His dealing with sin. How does one, how should one face sin? How? What should our attitude be? And how should we act before it?
Well, there are three ways. One: in severity, severity, and they took this woman who was taken in the very act of adultery and laid her at the feet of Jesus and said, Lord, the law of Moses said, stone her; stone her, severity [John 8:3-5]. There are many who follow that line. Ah, they are so harsh, and they are so critical. And they are all so unsympathetic. Sometimes I have often thought, dear Lord, if I ever fell from the grace and the love of people, O Lord, do not let me fall in the hands of the Pharisees in the church. They are so harsh. They are so cruel. They are so caustic. They are so burning. They are so searing. They are so unsympathetic. O God, I would rather fall in the hands of the harlots and the bar keepers and the streetwalkers and the solicitors and the bootleggers before I fell into the harsh and critical hands of the Pharisees, the better-than-thous in the church, severity, uncompromising and unsympathetic.
Then, there is the other extremity. There are those who look upon sin without any feeling or any persuasion of its awfulness, and they are lax, and they are ultra, ultra liberal. Eli was that way. God said to Eli, "Because, Eli, thou hast not admonished thy boys, Hophni and Phinehas, you have overlooked their errors, and you have not remonstrated with them, and you have not talked to them, and you have not prayed with them; now God shall judge this house and destroy those boys. And Eli’s name shall perish out of the high priesthood of the ministry of God" [1 Samuel 2:27-34]. We can be so lax and so liberal in our attitude toward sin that we do not even seek to admonish concerning it.
But there is a third attitude, and that is the spirit and the appeal of the blessed Lord Jesus. He never lowered a standard, never. He never asked for human perfection but for heavenly unction in the divine image of God Himself. "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" [Matthew 5:48].
There is no code of morality and ethics in this earth comparable to the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29]. It is white, pure like the snow that falls on the highest Himalayan mountains. And yet, with all of His height of ability and all of His ethical appeal – and yet the Lord was such an One as that the harlots and the sinners and the outcasts loved to hear Him, and they pressed close to Him.
That is why the Pharisees, looking at Him, said, "Why, look, look, look. Look at Him. He must be one of them. He must be a child of the devil himself, because for the most part sinners don’t like the company of overly righteous people." But the Lord,. With all of the purity of His preaching and all of the high standards of His message, yet, the sinners pressed to hear Him, and they crowded around Him [Matthew 5:1-2], and he was known as the friend of sinners [Matthew 11:19]. What a remarkable, what an unusual, what a blessed Lord Jesus, "For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" [Matthew 18:11; Luke 19:10].
And that leads me to this last and brief avowal, the objects of the solicitudes of our Lord.
He did not come to minister to those that said they could see, but He came to minister to the blind. He never came to minister to those that said, "We are well," but He came as a beloved Physician to minister to those that were sick. And he never came to save those who are self-righteous, but He came to save those who are self-confessed sinners.
And that means that He came to minister the goodness and grace of God even to me. Even to us. "For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost, that which was lost" [Matthew 18:11; Luke 19:10].
Now the philosopher and the metaphysician and the theologian sometimes have a whole lot of high sounding things that they say about the subject of sin, but you will never find that in the Word of God, and you will never find that in the message of Christ. It is never an abstraction; it is always in the concrete, in the definite, in the illustration. Give me your name and your address; I will show you a sinner. Let me give you my name and my address; you will have a good illustration of a sinner, always in the concrete, not out there in the peripheral, not out there in the philosophical, but always in the definite. I am a sinner, and our Lord said, "He came to seek and to save that which was lost" [Luke 19:10].
Now in the little moment that remains, how does our Lord do that? Well, lot of ways we could do it; lot of ways He could have done it. I suppose He could have mimeographed sermons and mailed them out about the sinner. And I suppose He could have stood on a mountain top somewhere and addressed words to the sinner; I guess He could have. And I suppose He could have done many, many, many things at a distance about the sinner.
Well, what did He do? This is what He did; He came to the town where the sinner lived. He came to the tree on the very street where the sinner was, and He looked up and He called that sinner by his name. Did you ever think how He knew his name? Why, bless you, He spoke to Zaccheus as though He had known him all of his life, all of his life.
Why, Zaccheus had never seen Him before, and He had never seen Zaccheus before. And the fellow being short of stature ran ahead where Jesus was to pass by and climbed up in that sycamore in order that he might look down, just to see what Jesus looked like.
But when Jesus passed by that place, He looked up there and called him by name, as though He had known him all of His life. And He said,
Zaccheus make haste; make haste, for the day passes and the night cometh. Zaccheus, make haste. I am on My way to Jerusalem. I will never come by anymore. I am on My way to the cross; I will soon offer My life a sacrifice. Make haste, Zaccheus, and come down, for today, for this day I must spend, I must abide in thy house.
Now that was Jesus’ way with the sinner. Extended His hand, knocked at his door, broke bread at his table, spoke to him words of interest and love and affection. Never in the metaphysical, never in the philosophical, never in the theological, but always, "My friend, Zaccheus, today I must spend in thy house" [Luke 19:5].
Doesn’t the message of Christ close to His churches [Revelation 2:1-3:22] with that very and beautiful picture? "Look, behold, look, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in and sup with him, and he with Me" [Revelation 3:20]. "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" [Luke 19:10].
Ah, blessed gospel, precious Jesus.
And while we sing this song of appeal, somebody tonight, coming down one of those stairways, at the front or the back, on either side of this great balcony, or, somebody in the throng of people on this lower floor, somebody coming tonight to give his heart in trust to Jesus, make it now, make it now. "Preacher, I give you my hand. I give my heart to the Lord." Or, "We are coming in to the church." As God shall say the word and lead the way, make it now. Make it tonight, while we stand and while we sing.