“Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him.” Luke 15:1. The tax collectors were considered the worst of sinners in their society in Jesus’ day. If you were a woman, the worst thing that you could do was to become a harlot. And there were many tax collectors and harlots who came and listened to Jesus.
“And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Verse 2. Is this statement true? Yes, it is. Jesus came to save sinners. Although the statement was true, the people who stated it were not inspired by the Holy Spirit to do so, because within this statement there was a wicked insinuation. It is what we would call a covert negative.
You remember when the devil came to Eve in the Garden of Eden and said, “Has God indeed said, You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” Genesis 3:1. Now was there anything wrong with that statement? There is a hidden negative in the statement. Anytime that you hear anyone, whether they claim to be a Christian or not, making a statement that is true but which contains a covert negative, be careful. That is the way the devil has worked for thousands of years to deceive people.
What was the covert negative in the statement of the Pharisees and scribes? First of all, though they did not actually say so, by their tone of voice and the words that they used, they implied that Jesus liked to associate with the sinful and with the vile. They also insinuated that Jesus was insensible to the wickedness of those sinful people with whom He associated. We need to examine our own hears to know whether we are developing a heart like Jesus or like that of the Pharisees.
Jesus was willing to endure the pain of associating with sinners, because He loved them so much and wanted to save them, but the Pharisees were indifferent and had no sympathy. They regarded themselves as too educated and refined to associate with social outcasts, and they were unhappy with Jesus, because His example laid bare their own selfishness. In The Desire of Ages, 42, we read, “It is not Christ’s follower that, with averted eyes, turns from the erring, leaving them unhindered to pursue their downward course. Those who are forward in accusing others, and zealous in bringing them to justice. . . .”” Did the Pharisees want to bring the sinners to justice? Yes, they did. Notice what Ellen White says about those kinds of people. “Those who are forward in accusing others, and zealous in bringing them to justice, are often in their own lives more guilty than they. Men hate the sinner, while they love the sin.” Ibid. In their minds, they are saying, “I wish I could have gotten away with that,” but they hate the other person who did it. “Christ hates the sin, but loves the sinner. This will be the spirit of all who follow Him. Christian love is slow to censure, quick to discern penitence, ready to forgive, to encourage, to set the wanderer in the path of holiness, and to stay his feet therein.” Ibid.
If Jesus treated us the way that we often treat each other, we would all be lost. Have you ever thought about that? What is your attitude? Do you love sin and hate the sinner? That is what the Pharisees did. Or do you hate the sin, but love the sinner? That is what Jesus did, and that is what all will do who have His Spirit.
No Compromise With Sin
Do not misunderstand, we are not talking about compromising with sin. When Jesus talked to the publicans and sinners, He talked to them about repentance, about getting sin out of their lives; and He showed them that it was possible. “Jesus Himself never purchased peace by compromise. His heart overflowed with love for the whole human race, but He was never indulgent to their sins. He was too much their friend to remain silent while they were pursuing a course that would ruin their souls,—the souls He had purchased with His own blood.” Ibid., 356. If we really love our brother, when we see him going down a course that is going to end in the lake of fire, we will love him too much to be silent. When Jesus received sinners, He did not compromise with their sin. He showed them how to be delivered from their sins.
First, Jesus showed them that escape from sin was possible. Jesus set them free, and He is no respecter of persons. He will set you free, too.
Second, these people were used to receiving from the Pharisees nothing but scorn and condemnation; but Christ came and greeted them as the children of God. “The souls who came to Jesus felt in His presence that even for them there was escape from the pit of sin. The Pharisees had only scorn and condemnation for them; but Christ greeted them as children of God, estranged indeed from the Father’s house, but not forgotten by the Father’s heart. Christ’s Object Lessons, 186. Whoever you are, whatever has been your past, no matter how many sins there have been in your life, the Father’s heart yearns over you. If we all could understand how much the Father’s heart yearns over us and how much love He has for us, we would be just like the sinners in Jesus’ day; we would come to Him to receive of His love.
“And their very misery and sin made them only the more the objects of His compassion. The farther they had wandered from Him, the more earnest the longing and the greater the sacrifice for their rescue.” Ibid. The more miserable your condition and the more you need Jesus, the more He wants to save you. The sinners flocked to Jesus because it really was true that, “This man receives sinners.”
Unless we receive sinners, we cannot be saved. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14, 15. Then in Luke 15, Jesus gave a powerful illustration of what He was talking about. “So He spoke this parable to them, saying: What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost! I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” Verses 3–7.
Jesus said to the Pharisees, “These people whom you despise and scorn are God’s property, and they are of value in His sight. They are of such great value in His sight that all heaven would be risked just to gain back one.” As I have read this story, so often the realization has come to me that God puts a higher estimate on us than we put on each other.
Oh friend, you are of value in God’s sight. “As the shepherd loves his sheep, and cannot rest if even one be missing, so, in an infinitely higher degree, does God love every outcast soul. Men may deny the claim of His love, they may wander from Him, they may choose another master; yet they are God’s, and He longs to recover His own.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 187. Do you realize how much you are worth to God? Does that include you? That includes everybody, friends. “In the parable the shepherd goes out to search for one sheep—the very least that can be numbered. So if there had been but one lost soul, Christ would have died for that one.” Ibid. If everybody else in this world would have rejected the gift of God’s grace and you would have been the only one who would have accepted it, Jesus would have died for you. That is the estimate that God places on your soul.
The Love of the Shepherd
The Shepherd does not wait and say, “Well, when that sheep comes to his senses, then I will take it home.” But is not that the way that we treat each other sometimes? That is the way the Pharisees treated the sheep. “It was taught by the Jews that before God’s love is extended to the sinner, he must first repent. In their view, repentance is a work by which men earn the favor of heaven. And it was this thought that led the Pharisees to exclaim in astonishment and anger, ‘This man receiveth sinners.’ According to their ideas, He should permit none to approach Him but those who had repented. But in the parable of the lost sheep, Christ teaches that salvation does not come through our seeking after God, but through God’s seeking after us.” Ibid., 189.
So often we say, in effect, “You change. Then, when you change, things will be all right.” Now the Pharisees taught that “there is rejoicing in heaven when one who has sinned against God is destroyed.” Ibid., 190. That was a lie, friends. Jesus did not teach that. The Bible says that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked—none! He is joyful when they are restored.
Very often a person who has wandered in the fields of sin and has decided to come back to the Lord encounters all kinds of suspicion and distrust and criticism. Have you ever noticed that? People say, “Well, I am not sure that his repentance is really genuine. We had better wait and see.” So everybody just sort of stands off and looks. That is the condition of a lot of churches, and this is one of the reasons that there is a multitude of sinners who never darken the door of the church. They are afraid to come in.
“When one who has wandered far in sin seeks to return to God, he will encounter criticism and distrust. There are those who will doubt whether his repentance is genuine, or will whisper, ‘He has no stability; I do not believe that he will hold out.’ These persons are doing not the work of God but the work of Satan, who is the accuser of the brethren. Through their criticisms the wicked one hopes to discourage that soul, and to drive him still farther from hope and from God. Let the repenting sinner contemplate the rejoicing in heaven over the return of the one that was lost. Let him rest in the love of God and in no case be disheartened by the scorn and suspicion of the Pharisees.” Ibid., 190.
The devil has plenty of Pharisees around, and he has them scattered through all of the churches; but there are far too few people who are filled with sympathy for those who are tempted and erring. If we are going to save the lost, friends, we must have a heart that is filled with the mercy and love of Christ and not a heart that is vindictive and always seeking to point out or discover mistakes of others.
Jesus then gave the parable of the lost coin. “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost! Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:8–10. There is a reason that Jesus told these stories to describe the situation of the lost. There are some people who are lost like the lost sheep. They know that they are lost, but they cannot find their way back; and they will never find their way back unless somebody goes and searches for them. There are Christian homes today in which family members are attending church and going through all of the motions of Christianity, but they are not vitally connected to Christ. They are lost, but like the coin, they do not even know it.
The Value of One Soul
When you follow Jesus to His trial and see His wounded head, when you see His pierced side, when you see His marred feet, when you recognize that all heaven was placed in jeopardy to save mankind, then you start to comprehend, friends, the worth of a soul. If we ever begin to understand the value of a soul and realize that one soul is worth more than a whole world of material things, we will begin to have a shepherd’s heart. Friends, when we print Christian literature, every piece is important, every tract is important. Every aspect of our work is of vital significance because we are dealing with souls. Just one soul is more important than the wold world.
If we are going to save souls, we must have the heart of the Shepherd. The Pharisees said, “This man receives sinners.” They said it with scorn; they said it with anger, they said it with hatred, distrust suspicion, and a wicked insinuation. Nevertheless, they told the truth. “This man receives sinners.” Do you receive sinners? If you have the heart of a shepherd, you will go searching and will bring the sinners back to the Father’s house. We will never bring very many back, friends, unless we have the mercy and love of Christ in our hearts, unless we have the love of the Shepherd, the heart of the Shepherd.
When you have the heart of the Shepherd, you will not be criticizing the lost, but will be doing whatever you can to help them to come back to the Father’s house. If you want to understand the worth of a human being that is lost, go to Gethsemane. There you will see the Saviour enduring, not seconds or minutes, but hours of agony. He suffered super-human agony that you and I will never comprehend.
None of us are going to heaven alone. We need a shepherd’s heart. We need the mercy and love of Christ in our hearts, and we need to be searching for lost sheep. Perhaps there is a lost coin right in your own home. Do you want to have the heart of the Shepherd and to receive sinners back to the Father’s house? It is the most wonderful work that anyone can do.