“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” –Luke 5:32
In Luke chapter 5, we witness a stunning scene: Jesus shared a meal with tax collectors, some of the most resented people in His day. When you read the Bible for yourself, specifically the Gospels, you will find that Jesus often did what was counter-cultural. Not only did Jesus enter a tax collector’s house, a huge step of acceptance; not only did Jesus sit and share a meal with tax collectors, a symbol of deep intimacy and friendship; Jesus went so far to pursue and call Levi, a sinful tax collector, and invite Him to join Him in God’s kingdom work.
On another occasion, in John 8, a woman was brought to Jesus who had been “caught in the very act of adultery.” When asked what her punishment should be, Jesus did not tell the people to stone her, but rather, He said to her, “I do not condemn you. . . . Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (John 8:11).
When you read the Gospels, you will find countless stories like these. These stories reveal the love, mercy, and grace of God, made manifest in Jesus Christ. Because of His actions, Jesus was called “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34). This is a bold statement, and I want to dive in deeper with you and uncover what this truly means.
Have you ever thought about the weight of the word “friend?” The image of a friendship so vividly encapsulates the heart of God, so I believe it is important that we stop to think about what this word means. What do you think of when you hear the word “friend?”
When I hear the word “friend,” I think of having a best friend—someone I am so proud to call my own and who is proud to call me their own. I think of a friend who knows everything about me—all the different sides of me—and accepts me just the way I am. I think of a friend who I can go over to their house at any time and make pancakes and watch a movie; a friend to have sleepovers with and talk the night away while laughing uncontrollably; a friend who I can call when I have a bad day and just want to be listened to; a friend who thinks of me and acts on the thought; a friend who sees me, cares for me, celebrates me, supports me, prays for me, and fights for me.
The fact that Jesus was referred to as a “friend of sinners” is a huge deal, for a friendship is something so special and intimate. Romans 3:23 says that we are all sinners, and Romans 6:23 tells us that the just consequence for our sin is eternal death. However, our God of justice is also a God of perfect love, and He sent His one and only Son, Jesus, to die for us so that we could be restored into a friendship with Him (see Romans 5:10-11).
Here is what Jesus thinks about the word “friend”: “No one has greater love than this—that one lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). According to Jesus, the greatest act of love is to lay down one’s life for someone else, and Jesus did that for us. The truth is, He wants to be our friend. We were made to be His friend.
If you need hard evidence to believe this, He has given it to you: Romans 5:8 says that, while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you. While you were still a sinner, He decided you were worth dying for. This means that you no longer have anything to prove to God because He chose to love you long before you had a chance to prove yourself. He loves you for who you are, not what you do.
Luke 5:32 is evidence that He does not want the perfect you, but the real you. He says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Jesus made a way to do life with you, and He wants you to come just as you are. In Revelation 3:20, He beacons, “Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with me.” Because of what Jesus did for you, you now get to enter His throne room of grace at any time (Hebrews 4:16).
The truth is, every human was hard-wired to be seen, known, and loved. We all want someone to come close to us when we are running away, to fight for us, to never give up on us—and this desire is beautiful, for we were created for this kind of friendship. However, earthly friends can see us, know us, and love us only in part. The only One who can fulfill these desires fully is Jesus. He is a perfect best friend, and He went through it all to make a way to call us His friends. He proved how much He cares about us by taking our place in death that we may live forever with Him when we believe in Him.
Therefore, the next time you hear the word “friend,” think of Jesus—Someone who is so proud to call you His own (Philippians 3:12); Someone who knows everything about you—all the different sides of you—and still chooses to love you (Psalm 139:1); Someone who desperately longs to spend time with you and listen to you (Mark 6:31); Someone who is always there for you (Psalm 46:1); Someone who never stops thinking about you (Psalm 139:17); Someone who cares deeply for you, celebrates you, supports you, prays for you, and fights for you (1 Peter 5:7, Zephaniah 3:17, Isaiah 41:10, Romans 8:34, Exodus 14:14).
Friend, you have a God who saw your struggle and your sin and pursued you to the point of becoming human. You have a God who has made you His priority. His death was proof of His love for you, and He wants to be your very best friend.
At last, Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:16, “But here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate his utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life.” Indeed, His character is so gracious, and it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Praise God that it is all about Him, and that Jesus came to be a sinner’s Best Friend.
Week 5 Challenge:
Jesus had different groups within His followers and friends: the large group of disciples, the twelve apostles, and Peter, James, and John. How can we follow His example of intimacy in friendship? How can you implement these principles in your own life without being exclusive?
Week 5 Reading Plan
Week 5 Memory Verse
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