JESUS, FRIEND OF SINNERS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-4-76 7:30 p.m.
We invite you here in this great throng in the sanctuary of our Lord, and those who worship with us on radio and television, to turn to the Gospel of Luke, the Third Gospel; Matthew, Mark, Luke. And in the Book of Luke, to turn to chapter 19, Luke chapter 19, and we shall read out loud together the first ten verses [Luke 19:1-10].
Could I especially ask God to bless all of the multitudes who are sharing this service on television and on radio?
And now, with your Bible open at Luke chapter , let us read out loud the first ten verses together. All of us reading aloud:
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.
And following the unusual story of the salvation of Zaccheus, our background text is the last verse that we read: “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” [Luke 19:10]. The title of the sermon is Jesus, Friend of Sinners, or The So-Different Christ, or The Uncommon Christ. A picture of our Lord that is faithful in every detail is found in this incident of His passing through Jericho, of His welcome into the home and His joy in accepting the hospitality of a man who was looked upon as a traitorous, degenerate sinner.
The so-different Christ, set apart in His moral constitution, and you see that in the text: “For the Son of Man”—what a title He uses for Himself! The thing in itself, the words in themselves, imply His divine origin [Luke 19:10]. Could you imagine Paul or John referring to themselves as the Sons of men? The Son of Man? Paul referring to himself or John, the Son of Man, as though he were emphasizing his humanity for us? Such abrasive condescension would be intolerable for us who heard it, as though they had to emphasize their humanity. But when you find it in the Lord Jesus, that He is our brother, of like flesh with us, somehow it beautifully fits. The very phrase itself implies the height of the glory of the divine origin of our Lord; the Son of Man [Luke 19:10].
The phrase also implies His identity with us. He is the universal Man. All of us are marked by nationalistic characteristics, and all men have been. In that ancient day, the Jew was different from the rest of the citizens of the Greco-Roman empire. The Roman was set apart from the Greek, and the Greek did not look like a Roman. And even today, an Englishman or a Chinese man or a Frenchman in a foreign country is evidently and manifestly a foreign sojourner. But not our Lord Jesus, He was not marked by nationalistic idiosyncrasies and characteristics. He was the universal Man, and He draws all men unto Him [John 12:32].
The first time I was in Japan, years ago on a preaching mission, we were there toward the end of the year. And I was amazed, why I should be, I do not know, but I was amazed and surprised to see Christmas cards of the Baby Jesus; and the little Babe was Japanese, in His face, in His eyes, in His hair, Japanese. And as I looked upon it, I thought at first, “How astonishing!” For our Christmas cards present our Lord Jesus as Anglo. I have never seen a Christmas card in America where the Baby Jesus was not like one of our Anglo children. Then, as time has passed and I have preached in the many nations and continents of the world, I find that all of the families and tongues and colors, and tribes find a Brother in Him. They all look upon Jesus as being of their family, of their people.
The “Son of Man” identifies Him with the tribes and nations of the whole world—the great Man, Christ Jesus. Once, in the roll of the ages, was there one bud that flowered into beautiful perfection. Once, in all the history of mankind, did God present the perfect Man, our Brother, identified with us, Christ Jesus. “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” [Luke 19:10].
It also implies His universal sympathies. This is the story of our Lord, a guest in the home of a man that was looked upon as a vile and degenerate sinner, Zaccheus, a publican, a tax gatherer under the hand of the Roman government [Luke 19:2-5]. All of us are marked by weaknesses, and you can find them in our unexpressed, sometimes, prejudices and biases. We all have them. There are people we just don’t like. There are communities, and there are colors, and there are religions, and there are people that we just don’t like. And we’re all that way.
But if there was any of that in the Lord Jesus, I have never been able to find it. The disciples, for example, were amazed and surprised that our Lord would talk with a woman [John 4:27]. A woman! It was beneath the dignity of a learned and gifted rabbi to speak to a woman. But our Lord did. It was unthinkable that a Jew would walk through Samaria, but He must needs go through Samaria [John 4:4]. And by the way, the woman that He talked to at the well of Sychar was a despised and hated Samaritan [John 4:5-26].
It was the Spirit of our Lord that taught that we are to look upon no man as common or unclean [Acts 10:9-15]. It was surprising and wonderful what the eye of the Lord could see in the flotsam and jetsam of humanity. In an outcast, He could see a great apostle [Luke 5:27]. In a harlot like Mary of Magdala, He could see a saintly child of God [Luke 8:2]. And in a despised, outrageously hated traitorous publican, He could see a son of Abraham [Luke 19:2, 9-10]. That is the Lord, the uncommon Christ. And that expression of our Lord was not in generalities. It was not in philosophical terms. It was in the specific. It was in the concrete. It was in the particular. It was a Person, a Man—always that.
Let me illustrate what I’m saying. It is easily possible for a man to say how much he loves England, but having never personally loved or admired a single Englishman. It is easily possible for a man to expatiate upon how much he is a champion of the downtrodden classes, and yet has never done a kind thing to one of them personally. It’s easy for a man to espouse the cause of those who are supposedly forgotten by the electorate, and yet never open his heart to a single one of them—to be general in our philanthropy, and to be abstract in our professions of interest and love, but in the particular, in the concrete, never show our kindness to anybody.
I one time heard of a professor, and he loved little children, he said. So they were building a sidewalk in front of his house. And when he came home, some of those kids in the neighborhood had walked all through the concrete, just ruined his sidewalk. Oh, he was furious! He was mad. And the next day in the class, some of his students said, “But, professor, we have heard you profess great love for children.” He paused a moment and said, “But remember, I love them in the general, but not in the concrete.”
We are often prone to be like that. Our love and our philanthropy and our altruism is general. It is philosophical. It is broad. But it isn’t particular. And, in fact, our Lord was so greatly different. You look at Him. You’ll never hear the Savior stand up and make great speeches about the downtrodden classes—not one time. Nor will you find in the life of our Lord a great speech about the progress of the species.
But you will find in the Lord often this: a cup of cold water to a man who was thirsty, bread to those who were hungry, kindness to those who were forgotten and outcast, a gentle Savior to those who were lost. That’s Jesus, always in Himself a friend to sinners [Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34]. Even among the apostles He chose one tax gatherer, a publican named Matthew [Matthew 9:9]. And here in this story He is the guest of a man who is an outrageous sinner [Luke 19:1-7]. Why, those around Him in Jericho, when they saw Him go to be the guest of Zaccheus, they were outraged. It was a sin against decency and decorum for Him to go to be with Zaccheus. They were insulted. It was something no loyal Jew would ever do.
But the Lord, this is very typical of Him, nothing ever in His life of expediency, this we do in order to palliate and ameliorate the prejudices and the biases of people, but He showed Himself a friend to the wise and the otherwise, the rich and the poor, the saved and the lost. All alike were dear in His sight. Isn’t that a wonderful thing, that a man could be like that?
Oh, they hammered at Him! Yes, they did. But He was standing there before God and before men. The sun might scorch Him, but it didn’t burn Him up. And the floods might beat against Him, but He was standing on a rock. And the gates of hell might arise to seize Him and hold Him, but it’s not possible that He would beholden of them. This is our so-different and uncommon Christ, the friend of sinners [Matthew 11:19].
I want you to look at Him again, for just a moment, in how He dealt with sin and sinners. The best way to do that is to compare our attitude toward sin and sinners. We are either one of two. One, we can be severe in our judgmental condemnation. “Sinners, vile, look at them and what they do!” And our judgments are viciously turned.
A good instance of that is the story of a woman taken in adultery, and she was brought and cast at the feet of our Lord. And all of those scribes and Pharisees standing round pointed to her and said, “This woman was caught in the very act, and the law says she is to be stoned to death [Leviticus 20:10]. Now, Master, what do You say?” [John 8:3-5].
Well, they had a good case. What did the Lord say? Without even looking up, with His head down—and the only place in the Bible where it’s spoken of that He wrote. He was writing in the sand. You know what He must have been writing in the sand? Those Ten Commandments: number one, number two, number three, number four, down to ten [Exodus 20:1-17]. And when finally He lifted up His face, this is what He said: “Let you, let him, that is without sin cast the first stone” [John 8:7]. That’s right, she’s committed adultery. The law says she’s to be stoned to death. But who judges? “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone” [John 8:7]. And beginning from the eldest to the least, one by one, they went away [John 8:9]. Then the Lord, looking at her, said: “Neither do I condemn you: go, and sin no more” [John 8:11]. They saw a different Christ.
Now we have a tendency to go to the other extreme. We are too lenient. These bleeding liberals, their hearts so broken over these who are criminals, never thinking about the people they violate or murder. We have a tendency, some of us, to go to the extreme on the other side of being too lenient.
For example, in the Bible, God said to old Eli, who was the high priest at Shiloh, God said to old Eli, “Thou hast forfeited thy life and the household. You will be removed from the priesthood for ever” [1 Samuel 2:27-35]. Why? Because his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests under Eli, their father, when the people came to Shiloh to worship God in the house of the Lord, those two boys used it for a brothel, and committed adultery with the women who came to worship at Shiloh. And they took the gifts that God’s people brought before the Lord at Shiloh and used them and consumed them for themselves [1 Samuel 2:12-17, 22]. And old Eli, God says, Eli did not reprimand his sons [1 Samuel 2:29]. God expects a man to discipline and to chasten his sons. And because Eli refused to discipline Hophni and Phinehas, his sons, God removed his house forever. We can be too lenient.
Now how was our Lord? Now let’s look at Him together. We’re talking about our Lord, the so-different Christ, the uncommon Christ, as He dealt with sin and the sinners. Now you look at Him.
The Lord will raise the standard higher than it’s ever been raised before. He will not speak of human excellence. The Lord will speak of heavenly perfection. The Lord will say, “Except your righteousness exceed that of the zealous scribes and Pharisees, you will in no wise enter into the kingdom” [Matthew 5:20]. The Lord will raise the standard up and up and up, until it is like the snow on an Alpine pinnacle, white in the blue of God’s sky.
You look at our Lord. He will say, “Murder? Murder? Taking a man’s life? No, this is murder, if a man hates somebody in his heart” [Matthew 5:21-22]. The Lord will say, “Adultery? Fornication? This is adultery and fornication, that a man looks with lust in his heart” [Matthew 5:27-28]. Standards? Christ raised them up and up and up and up and up, higher than the world had ever seen them. And at the same time, at the same time, was so moved with sympathy and compassion and understanding for the sinners that they gathered round Him as hopeless men and women having found a hope in God [Matthew 9:36].
The Pharisees who looked at Him said, “Why, He eats with them! He is a friend of them” [Matthew 11:19]. Do you see the miracle of that? Look, goodness in people always has a tendency to drive bad people away. Just like an owl will flee and fly from the light, he likes the night, so sinners don’t like to be with good people. They escape them. They flee from them. They gather in some other area. Somehow, an evil man just does not like to be around a fine, noble, good man. They’re just not attracted.
Was that so with the Lord? No. He was surrounded by those steeped in infamy, wretches, vile, evil. They gathered around the Lord and loved to listen to Him speak. You have that in Zaccheus. Here is a despised outcast of a sinner, and he invites the Lord into his house and stands up before Him and says, “Lord, since I have seen You, half of my goods I am going to give to the poor. If I have wronged any man, I am going to restore him fourfold” [Luke 19:8]. What an effect He had upon sinners! We must hasten.
The so-different Christ, look at Him one other way, in His solicitude for the lost. “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” [Luke 19:10]. The idea, the conception of lostness, is Christian, and it refers to all of us who have found ourselves laden with iniquities and weaknesses and sins. Lost, lost, like a sheep, He says, that has strayed away [Luke 15:3-7]; lost, like a coin, through the neglect of others, maybe in the home [Luke 15:8-10]; lost, like an incorrigible and obstreperous boy [Luke 15:11-32]; lost, away from God, and helpless in our sins and in our weaknesses [Ephesians 2:12].
How does Jesus seek us? This is the way He does it: He does it personally. Now you look. He goes to the town where the sinner is, where he lives. He goes to the street on which the sinner has his house. He goes to the tree where the sinner is up there in the branches, and He calls him by his name [Luke 19:1-5]. How did he know Zaccheus’ name? How does He know yours? [John 10:3]. He just does. And He calls that lost sinner by his name, and bids him, “Come down.” And says, “This day I break bread with you in your house” [Luke 19:5]. And He is the guest of the man who is lost.
That’s exactly how He saves us. He calls you by your name [John 10:3]. He knows where you live. He has your address. And He knocks at your door, and He says, “If any man will hear, and open the door, I will come in, and break bread with him, and he with Me” [Revelation 3:20]. Just as He did with Zaccheus. Come to your house, live in your heart, and make of you a new man [Luke 19:1-10].
You who have listened on television, on radio, if you’ve never opened your heart or your home or your house to the Lord Jesus, this day would you invite Him in? “Blessed Jesus, welcome.”
And in the great throng in this service, in this great sanctuary, to accept the Lord as Savior [Acts 16:31], or to put your life in the fellowship of the church, a family you, a couple, or just one somebody you, while we sing the appeal, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, make it now. Come now. Do it now. Make the decision in your heart. And in a moment, when we stand to sing, stand, answering with your life [Romans 10:8-13]. God bless you as you come. Angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.