The difference between Jesus and the Pharisees is not in the fact that the Pharisees took sin seriously and Jesus didn’t. The difference between Jesus and the Pharisees is found rather in the way that they related to people they knew to have sinned – the way they treated sinners.
I don’t want to take the time to get into exactly how the Pharisees treated ‘sinners. I want to make some unbelievably obvious comments about the way Jesus did.
The first one being, he didn’t just avoid them.
He could have you know, stayed up in heaven.
When we read everything Jesus did we need to remind ourselves that we are reading about someone completely unique.
While none of us chose to be born, Jesus actually had a choice in the matter. He chose to become a human being, which I think is pretty amazing considering everything He knew about us. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about what a blessing it is not to know everything about everyone else. It would be hard to want to be friends with anyone if we somehow knew absolutely every one of each other’s thoughts. I think the truth is if we knew each other’s thoughts, there are whole lot of times we’d be upset with each other, disappointed with each other, maybe even grossed out by each other.
And we’re not even all that holy.
If we could see the whole of another person’s life, there’d be some things that would sicken us and we don’t even hate sin that much.
Imagine being Jesus.
He knew everything. We see time and time again that he could read people’s thoughts. Just look at Mark 2:7,8. The Pharisees were thinking bad thoughts about Jesus, and he responds. He knew all the bad stuff that was going on inside people’s heads.
And he was actually holy.
He never dressed sin up. He always saw it for the ugly, horrifying beast it really was.
And yet in spite of all that, He didn’t just stay up in heaven, pointing his finger at us, saying “Ooh, aren’t those people gross.”
He chose to become a human being. He incarnated. What’s more, He identified with us.
That’s really the second thing that stands out to me about the way we see Jesus relating to sinners. It’s not simply that He didn’t avoid them, He went as far as He could go in identifying with them.
That’s really one of the main lessons we can draw from what Mark tells us about Jesus’ baptism and subsequent temptation.
People always ask why was Jesus baptized?
There are a number of different answers to that, but one of the answers has to be, to identify with sinners. That for sure is one of the things that was going on with his temptation. Hebrews tells us, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
I’m not sure it would be possible to describe how much better off Jesus had it up in heaven. No insults, no temptation, no human limitations. It’s hard to find words to describe the sacrifice Jesus made in becoming man. In one place Paul describes it as “making Himself nothing…” in other he talks about it like a rich person choosing to become poor.
I’m trying to get at how committed Jesus was to his ministry to sinners. It definitely wasn’t simply that he didn’t go out of his way to keep away from them, he made the greatest possible sacrifice in order to help them.
He subjected himself to a whole lot of things he didn’t need to subject himself to, for their good. He took on burdens that he didn’t need to take on, he suffered in ways that he didn’t need to suffer, he gave up his legitimate rights…in order to identify with sinners.
Third, he initiated relationships with them.
One of the things that stands out to me about 1:16-20 and then again in 2:13-14 where Mark talks about the way Jesus got disciples is the fact that in both cases, he makes it clear Jesus is the one who went out after them. He went to where they were, He chose them, He called them, He said follow me.
That stands out to me, because most of the time people who are really good at things don’t like to hang out with people who aren’t. If you know how to do something really well, it can be frustrating to work alongside someone who doesn’t.
Try knowing it all.
I mean absolutely everything.
What amazes me about the way Jesus went about doing ministry with sinners, about how he took the initiative, and he entered into relationship with them, is that He was one hundred percent sure to be disappointed.
It could have been any other way.
It wasn’t like he was just a bit better than them. He was in a class by himself.
And it wasn’t even ultimately, like he needed them. I think we can safely assume that someone who could walk on water and feed five thousand people with a couple pieces of toast could have come up with a different plan.
But he didn’t.
Even with everything he knew about these men, about sinners, he didn’t avoid them, he incarnated and identified with them, he entered into relationships with them, and what’s more, the fourth thing we see about Jesus’ ministry to sinners, is that he was willing to risk his reputation to do so.
We often find the important religious people of Jesus’ day looking down on him because he was associating with the wrong kind of people, dare I say it, thinking Jesus unspiritual because of who He was spending time with.
Now obviously, Jesus had a purpose for what he was doing. He says that he came to call sinners to repentance. He wasn’t hanging out with sinners because he secretly enjoyed sin. But the point I’m making is that when we look at the way Jesus ministered, we see it didn’t sit well with the religious elite. And you know, I guarantee you, he knew that. He totally knew before he decided to associate with sinners that doing so was going to upset the Pharisees.
But he wasn’t going to let what a group of people who didn’t really know the gospel thought stop Him from doing that which God Himself had called Him to do.
I say all that because I want you to understand if we are really going to have an open, accepting ministry like Jesus we are going to have to work very hard at maintaining a delicate balance.
WE NEED TO BE A GROUP OF PEOPLE WHO TAKE SIN SERIOUSLY AND YET AT THE SAME TIME TREAT SINNERS MERCIFULLY.
I’m not sure exactly about all the specifics of how we do that.
I know for sure it’s going to involve us working at avoiding the error the Pharisees made, thinking we’re somehow above sinners while at the same time avoiding the error our culture makes, minimizing the seriousness of sin.
I think it starts with a proper appreciation of the gospel, of who Jesus is, who you are, and what Jesus has done. It seems to me that when you are flat on your face before Jesus, in awe of the fact that He would save a sinner, a wretch like you, it’s kind of hard to be looking down your nose at anyone else. You’ll take sin seriously because you love Jesus, but you won’t have a holier than thou kind of attitude.
I think it will involve consciously and deliberately patterning our ministry in the ways that we can, after Jesus’.
1.) Not isolating ourselves from the world all around us.
I’m pretty sure none of us would ever run off and join a monastery. I think most of us would tell anyone who was thinking about doing that, not to. But some of us basically live our lives like we are in a monastery; avoiding people who are different kinds of sinners than us not because we don’t want to fall into sin, but because their kind of sin kind of grosses us out.
I’m not saying that we don’t need to be careful. We obviously need to be very careful that we don’t become like the world. There are plenty of Bible verses which tell us that. But at the same time, we have to make sure that we don’t so isolate ourselves from people in the world that we don’t know anyone who isn’t a Christian.
2.) Finding ways to identify with sinners without engaging in or encouraging their sin.
What I’m talking about is us viewing our lives as about more than just us and our rights and what we want but instead seeing ourselves as people who have been called to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and not just avoid people who are sinners but actively pursue them, making the kinds of sacrifices we need to make in order to win them to Jesus Christ.
Paul was a man who caught a vision for that. I think of 1 Corinthians 9:27ff, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” He willingly adjusted his lifestyle in order to identify with the people to whom he was witnessing. “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not myself being under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”
This is not about compromising the gospel. Paul never did that. This is about loving people. If a person is offended by the gospel, well that’s going to happen. But you know what, a lot of times people aren’t offended by the gospel, they are offended by us.
I’m convinced we as a church need to take this seriously. We need to ask ourselves if there are any ways that we are making sacrifices so that we can identify with people who don’t know Christ so that they can come to know Christ and so Christ can be glorified in their lives.
3.) Taking the initiative and enter into friendships with people whose lives are messed up.
I for one am glad Jesus didn’t wait until we all had it all together to come to earth. I’m sure the disciples were glad Jesus didn’t wait until they had it all together before He went after them. If we’re going to minister to sinners the way Jesus did, we have to be willing to do what he did, go after them. We can’t just sit around in church waiting for them to come through the front doors saying, ‘oh man would you please share the gospel with me.’ We need to go out there and develop relationships with them.
I think one of the simplest ways to do that honestly, is not all that complex.
Slow down and notice the person in front of you.
If we did that one thing, if we just slowed down and treated the person in front of us, wherever we are, like a person and if we became interested in what was going on in their lives, not in a freaky way, but you know what I mean, if we showed concern about them, I think we’d be amazed at the opportunities for sharing the gospel that came into our lives.
I want us to be people who minister like Jesus. I don’t want to be the kind of Christian who has more in common with the Pharisees than I do with Jesus. That doesn’t mean we’re going to ignore sin, but it does mean we’re going to reach out and love sinners.
I remember a story Paul Miller tells about a missionary translator who was translating the Bible in Southeast Asia.
They told him the word for love was ‘pa.’ But he didn’t think ‘pa’ really captured the biblical definition of love. It was too tame.
One day the missionary was crossing a stream on a raft with two native women, when the raft overturned. Even though it was dangerous, he risked his own life to rescue the women. Later, the tribesmen described what he did as ‘che.’
The difference between pa and che? Pa is helping from a safe position. Che is making sacrifices, risking your neck for the people you are helping.
Christlike love is ‘che.’ When Jesus became a man, he got down ‘in the water’ with the people he was helping. And if we’re going to have a ministry like his, that’s what we need to be doing with others.