Jesus said of His generation that they were like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” They were critical of John the Baptist for not being sociable and saying that he had a demon, then critical of Jesus for eating and drinking. They called Him a “glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:16–19).
In Luke’s gospel, the author links this charge against Him with a parable of His response to their criticism…
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? (Luke 15:1–4)
Like the Pharisees, we can be quick to judge the motivations of Christ and Christians. My sister describes her concern about this. She had been spending a few hours each week in Bible study with someone who wanted to learn, but whose lifestyle had not yet been affected by the gospel. On one of those weeks he didn’t show for their meeting. Since the town was small, she took a look for him and found his car outside the local pub. She remembers sitting in her car debating. She was certain the Lord wanted her to go fetch him, but worried that someone might see her go into the pub and receive the wrong impression. Then she remembered that Jesus didn’t care about the suspicions and accusations of others. She went in and her disciple was quite happy to come out for their weekly study.
This is the love of Christ. He is not concerned what others think about His relationship with sinners. He cares about each person and shows it in practical ways. In those days, He ate and drank with them. The Bible does not describe their conversations, but it seems to me that there would be a good deal of joy and laughter around the table. Jesus is like that.
Further, He does not wait until a sheep is willing to show up or make an attempt to get out of whatever place that represents its lost estate. He simply goes to wherever that person is, more concerned about the one who has gone astray than what others think of His actions.
The devotional writer for today says, “O sweet love of Christ! Let us learn the love of Christ, that we may be wise in shepherdry. Let us not talk about our friends and say we love them, but let us show it by earnest, personal, speedy endeavors to do them good. Let us not wait until we see some goodness in them—until they seek after instruction. Long before they have a thought of coming home, let us be eager to grasp them, if by any means we may save some.”
I’m convicted by this. I can spend hours in prayer for those who don’t know Jesus, but find it much more difficult to spend time with them. I’m not put off by their sinful state (as the Pharisees thought Jesus should be), but have difficulty putting shoe leather to my prayers. I’m unsure of being accepted, unsure of how to talk, unsure of whether to share my faith or be a friend that patiently waits for them to ask about it. (What if they never ask?)
Jesus didn’t hesitate. His love is about the other person, not about Himself. As soon as He knew about a lost sheep, He “is on its track at once, though he knows that he must mark that track with his blood… no pausing nor resting until he finds it.”
Jesus was willing to pay the ultimate price that sinners might be saved from sin and from the wrath of God and judgment. And I am not willing, but making excuses? My “love” is lacking and not even close to His love. As discovered yesterday, I’m in need of a major renovation.