Jesus’ life and lifestyle is itself very instructive! His cousin John’s ministry was the end of the Old Covenant … John was rather ascetic in style. Jesus Himself alludes to this in Matt 11:18 … saying that John “did NOT come eating or drinking” … and thus many of the religious leaders were saying he was too weird, he must have a demon. Jesus as the founder of the New Covenant “came eating and drinking,” a much different style of ministry and the same rulers accused Him of being a “glutton and drunk.” By the way, being a “glutton and drunk” was considered a “capital charge” under the Old Covenant. (See Deut. 21:20) Ironic in that the religious rulers obviously wouldn’t accept either style, makes you wonder what was “appropriate” in their minds since they wouldn’t accept either style. In the same context of their accusations toward Jesus they also included that He was a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.”

This is a particularly interesting statement. Jesus continued to practice deliberately two things in his personal life; spending a great deal of time discipling 12 men particularly, with less time committed to discipling about another 500. The second thing He did was to find time to touch the lives of people outside the circles of His disciples. This included participating at meals with “sinners;” or touching people who the religious leaders felt should be ignored because they were not considered “worthy,” they were unclean. This prompted the accusation by the religious leaders that Jesus was a “glutton and drunk.” Jesus was not afraid to touch lepers, harlots, tax collectors, or others who were not considered “proper” people by the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus was far more concerned about their inward soul than their outward appearance. And, He also realized that to reach them or touch them required that He go where they go; be where they are … to make Himself available to be with them. These people were NEVER likely to approach religious leaders; they already knew they were ignored by them, even eschewed by them. All the clever programs in the world wouldn’t bring these people into the synagogues for visits. So, Jesus simply went to them!

There is still something fundamental about this that we need today in the church. It is great to have good programs for “sinners,” but truthfully, if we are not touching those people on other levels we may never get to speak to them about the Gospel. None of us are exempt from “personal evangelism.” I recently had two interesting encounters with “sinners.” One was in our neighborhood, I was outside with my grandkids in our neighborhood … they were playing with some other kids whose parents came over and stood by myself and the other adults present. Quickly the subject came up about what we all did for a living … and the moment I mentioned I was a minister one young father started a nonstop conversation with me about his struggle with faith. He opened the door for ministry, by a swing set! The other situation happened a couple of weeks ago at General Council. Bevie Jo and I with Dan and Angela Abbatiello had decided to get some pizza following an evening session. We ended up sitting by a young couple with a daughter … and their strong British accent gave away the fact that they were not “natives.” We struck up a conversation with them; and they shared they were from England. They wondered what our name tags meant, and a wonderful conversation followed that included some moments of very transparent conversation on their part about grasping the idea of faith in God. They knew almost nothing about Jesus; but gave us a wonderful privilege to share with them about faith in God. Before we left I asked if we could pray with them; they exuberantly said yes! They had no hesitancy having open prayer in the restaurant with them! It was so clear God was working on their hearts; we got their names and told them we would continue praying for them … and I have!

We need to be a “friend to sinners” today as well! We cannot expect that people are simply going to show up at our church some day and the pastor will win them over! And, we need to remember that repeated connections over time with people outside of faith are often needed before they make a commitment to Christ; they are on a journey. Lord, make us all “friends to sinners!”