"What does God say about all these commandments?", asks Martin Luther at the close of the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism. The answer comes from Exodus 20:5-6, "He says, 'I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.'"
And St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
And this is by no means the only place that Scripture condemns these wicked sins and the sinners who do them. And to top this all off, the very first Psalm begins, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;" and the Psalm concludes, "Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish." (Ps. 1:5-6)
And yet here we find Jesus receiving sinners with favor and eating with them! To eat with someone, especially in first century Israel, is to join in fellowship with them. This is why the scribes and Pharisees are so upset. Is Jesus accepting tax collectors and sinners? Yes, he is. Jesus accepts sinners, just as they are!
How can this be? Is Jesus contradicting the rest of Scripture by accepting sinners? Is Jesus some type of liberal theologian, who dismisses the moral demands of God's Word? By no means! "I have not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them!" Jesus says. In fact, Jesus preaches the law more strictly than any other teacher sent by God. "You have heard it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment..." (Matt. 5:21-22) "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (vss 27-28) "It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." (vss 31-32) Thus does our Lord Jesus preach God's Law! And as we heard last Sunday, Jesus does not shy away from preaching about hell either.
And yet, here we see our Lord Jesus accepting and eating with tax collectors, adulterers, divorcees, yes murderers (whether in thought or deed). Does Jesus have a split personality? Isn' t this a contradiction? No, here we meet the two main teachings in the Bible: the Law and the Gospel. The law is the love God commands of us. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. And if you do not love, the law condemns you to death and hell. The Gospel is the good news that Jesus died on the cross to wash away the sins of the world, so that sinners can be accepted by God. These two teachings do not contradict each other. Rather they serve each other. A sinner confronted with the law must fear God and despair of his own righteousness. The Gospel rushes in to comfort the broken sinner with God's acceptance and forgiveness. But if the law does not do its job, the sinner will not accept the Gospel. Rather it would be like throwing pearls before swine.
And so there are two types of sinners, those who are comforted by the Gospel of Jesus and those who receive no comfort from it; those who draw near to hear Jesus and are welcomed by him and those who will not listen and therefore will not join Christ at the table.
Notice that I did not say the two types of sinners are the really bad sinners and the not so bad sinners! No, Jesus accepts the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers, and every type of sinner. See how gracious Jesus is! The scribes and Pharisees hate these tax collectors and sinners so much. Why? Because they know or think they know their sins. But they don't know the half of it. They don't know their wicked thoughts and motives, the evil words they've said in private, and much of what they think they know is probably conjecture! Jesus actually knows!; not only their outward sins, but their private ones, done under darkness, in secret, even in the privacy of their own minds. If Jesus wanted to, he could expose every one of these sinners' most horrendous and secret sins. But instead he chooses to cover them. To hide their sins in his own flesh, as the Prophet prophesied, "He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors." (Is. 53:12)
And so it is with you. Christ knows every single one of your sins. Not just the sins you know or others know about you. He knows the sins you think are secret, which no one else knows about, perhaps that you have even forgotten about. Yet instead of expose them and cast you into hell in shame and guilt, he covers them with his own blood and he covers you with his own righteousness. And it is this promise of grace that draws you, a sinner to Jesus.
It is not the severity of the sin that determines whether or not the sinner will sit at Jesus' table. It is whether the sinner repents, as Jesus says, "There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." To repent is not only to be sorry for your sins, but to turn to Christ and listen to him, as these sinners in our text did. They came to listen to his words of grace, to believe in this forgiveness, and to learn from him how to live a life pleasing to God.
Last month, I recently learned, was so-called, "LGBT Pride Month," refering to lesbians, "gays," bisexuals, and transsexuals. Now obviously sexual perversion is not something to have pride in. Yet, there appears to be an even greater threat to Christians than the acceptance of sin, which is condemned in the Bible. Those who encourage pride in sexual behavior condemned by God himself are considered loving! People are even invoking Christ and his command to love as a reason to accept and embrace sinful behavior. And even so-called Christian church bodies have embraced homosexuality and other sexual immorality, refusing to condemn it, even performing "same-sex marriages" in direct defiance of God's command and some are even ordaining openly unrepentant homosexuals as pastors to shepherd Jesus' flock! And our children and young people are pressured everyday to accept these sinful behaviors as good and right and equal to the relations God has given to marriage between husband and wife.
So let me be clear: it is not loving to accept homosexuality or to encourage a person suffering with these temptations and sins to embrace or have pride in their sin nor does it in any way resemble our Lord's behavior toward sinners. Those church bodies that encourage people to continue in their sin are not doing the work of Christ, but the work of Satan. They are confirming poor lost souls in their sin and preventing them from joining Christ at his table. And God will hold them accountable, as the Prophet Ezekiel records God's command to his watchman, "Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand."(Ez. 33:7-8)
Those who struggle with homosexuality like all of us need Jesus. They are no different in that regard. And so as Christians we are to treat them with respect, be polite, and put the best construction on everything. But that does not mean that we encourage anyone to continue sinning or join in their sinning. Rather it is loving to encourage repentance and belief in the free forgiveness of sins won by Christ Jesus for everyone. You too need to repent every day. And as often as you repent and believe in the Gospel, your sins are forgiven before God in heaven.
Jesus did not walk in the counsel of the wicked nor sit in the seat of scoffers when he sat and ate with sinners. Rather, they listened to him. He corrected them in their sin and tenderly preached forgiveness to them. Jesus does not encourage anyone to continue in sin. Rather he rescues from sin, as God spoke in Ezekiel chapter 33, "As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live." (vs 11)
And Jesus, who is the Lord God himself, continued this same ministry when he proclaimed, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:32) Jesus never encouraged anyone to continue sinning. Those who do so do no favors to the sinner. They are like sham doctors, who refuse to tell the patient he has cancer, because he's afraid of his reaction. Jesus not only tells you that you have a disease, but he heals you. And this is why these sinners flock to Jesus. Not because he turns a blind eye to their sin, but because he cures them of their sin by forgiving them, no matter how grievous or socially unacceptable their sin is.
It's no fun being a sinner. You do the things you know you shouldn't and the things you know you should do you fail to do. The demands of God's law are too much for us to bear. It's no wonder that so many have completely given up trying or have redefined what good is to comfort their own guilty consciences. Being a sinner makes you feel unworthy, even worthless. Well, each of us is certainly unworthy of God's love and affection. But no one here is worthless. You were bought with a price. Jesus determines your worth by what he paid for you: his very own suffering and bitter death. And this is why Jesus calls the entire heavenly hosts to rejoice with him over one sinner who repents. Every single one of Christ's sheep is important to him. You are important to Christ. As the woman could have no rest until she found the coin she lost, so Jesus can have no rest until he has you. And Jesus rejoices along with all his angels and all the saints in heaven, because he has brought you into his fold.
There is no sin so great that Jesus' blood cannot wash it away. And so there is no sinner for whom Jesus did not die. And so there is no one unwelcome in Christ's Church. Tax-collectors, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, murderers, child-abusers, gossips, slanderers, blasphemers, Jesus died for them all. And so he wants them all to join him at his table, to repent and receive the forgiveness of their sins. There is no place so welcoming as the Christian Church, no place so welcoming as this congregation, not because of how nice we are, not because we exchange eternal joy for temporary happiness, but because Jesus, the head of his Church, accepts all sinners. He forgives every sinner no matter their sin. And so you know he forgives you!
Let us pray:
"Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
And passing over transgression
For the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
Because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
He will tread our iniquity underfoot,
You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea."
In Jesus' Name.