Pursuing Sinners For the Glory of God and the Joy of Our Neighbors

“And as [Jesus] 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).

Are there people you consider so sinful that you would not want to associate with them? People who if you associated with them, may ruin your reputation? People who if you associated with them, would cause your friends to question your holiness? For the Jews in Jesus’ day, “those” people were Gentiles, tax collectors, and sinners. To the Jews, tax collectors were a particular class of terrible sinners. They collected government taxes and often took in more than was required to line their own pockets (Luke 3:12-13). The Jews considered tax collectors so sinful, they saw Jewish tax collectors as not even belonging to the people of God. That’s why Jesus could say when an unrepentant sinner refuses to listen to the church, ex-communication was equivalent to treating someone as “a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17). No wonder the Jews considered it scandalous that Jesus ate with tax collectors.

Still, what we see in Mark 2:13-17 is Jesus’ heart for sinners. He not only calls Levi, a tax collector, to follow him (Mark 2:13-14), he goes to Levi’s house and dines with Levi and his friends – tax collectors (Mark 2:15-17). Jesus came into the world to save sinners. So, he pursues sinners and welcomes them into his kingdom. He doesn’t simply call sinners, he transforms sinners. Levi, also known as Matthew, became one of the twelve apostles and wrote the gospel bearing his name (Matthew 9:9-13; Luke 5:27-32). Jesus takes repentant sinners and transforms them into useful instruments for his mission to the glory of God. That’s also what Jesus did with the apostle Paul (1 Timothy 1:12-17). And that’s what Jesus does with us. He calls us out of our sin and transforms us into his ambassadors.

If we are to have the heart of Jesus for sinners, we too will pursue and engage sinners with the gospel that Jesus may change them too. But how may we cultivate a heart for Jesus? We begin by admitting, with Paul, “I am the chief of sinners!” Until you see yourself as a great sinner, you won’t see your need for a savior. And so long as you see yourself as less a sinner than others, you will walk in self-righteousness. By admitting you are the worse of sinners, you remind yourself that you deserved God’s wrath. Instead, you experience God’s grace and mercy in Christ. So, relish in the grace of God in the gospel of Jesus. As you do, you’ll grow in humility and gratitude. You’ll also grow in compassion. Compassion for other sinners in need of a savior.
If we are to have the heart of Jesus for sinners, then we must welcome sinners into our lives, our families, our homes, our church. Where do we begin? Get to know your neighbors. Draw a picture of your street with all the houses. Then write the names of your neighbors who live in those homes. If you don’t know some of their names, work at getting to know their names. Then begin praying for them. But, as important as prayer is, don’t stop there. See how you can help your neighbors. Look for opportunities to have conversations. See how you can help them in their home projects. Let them borrow your tools. Bake goods and take them over. In other words, just be a good neighbor. Then invite them into your home. Or accept an invitation to go into their home. But be wise. We are called to be in the world but not of the world. Don’t compromise your faith. Don’t sacrifice your children. But in wisdom, pursue sinners as Jesus does.

You see, Jesus came into the world to save sinners (Mark 2:17; John 3:16). While WE were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). And because Jesus came into the world and took on our humanity, he was tempted in every way as we are, but he did not sin. That makes Jesus a compassionate savior (Hebrews 4:14-16). Jesus knows our struggle with sin, and he came to save us from it. To do that, Jesus pursued sinners. That’s his heart. And it should be ours as well. So, let’s pursue and welcome sinners into our lives for the glory of God and the joy of our neighbors.

Pastor Juan

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