Last week I introduced this past Sunday’s sermon with a game of Don’t Forget the Lyrics – Billy Joel Edition. We had a lot of fun playing the game live in worship on Sunday.
I wanted to play Don’t Forget the Lyrics – Billy Joel Edition because of some lines from his song “Only The Good Die Young”: “I’d rather laugh with the sinners, than cry with the saints.” In our next passage studying the Gospel of Luke, we discovered Jesus doing just that! Take a look at Luke 5:27-39 and you’ll see what I mean.
“I’d rather laugh with the sinners…” Did you see Jesus laughing it up with the sinners! Levi (Matthew) the tax collector throws a party in Jesus’ honor, and it is filled with people who the religious establishment, and pretty much everyone else, considers sinners! And Jesus is right there in the middle of it.
“…than cry with the saints.” The Pharisees and teachers of the law are outside watching him. These so-called saints are there crying their eyes out as they look inside. But note that they don’t confront Jesus! Instead they ask his disciples: “Why are you eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?”
And when the Pharisees question the disciples, I can see those disciples getting sick in the stomach, armpits start sweating and they clam up. These are religious big-wigs! They might pull out their wooden rulers and slap the disciples on the wrist.
The Disciples don’t answer. But Jesus does. I love that! I don’t know for certain that the Pharisees and disciples were on the outside of the house, on the veranda, or inside. But what Luke does confirm is that Jesus answers.
He uses a medical metaphor that a doctor is not for healthy people, but for sick! He explains what he means: he came not for the righteous, but sinners to repent. Though he is more than willing to laugh with sinners, he also calls them to repent. God has a heart for sinners! God loves even the despised tax collector, the prostitute, the homosexual, and you and me. But in love, he calls them to repent. To repent is to lead a lifestyle of repentance. To repent is to change.
When we follow Jesus as disciples, our lives should be changing. You should be able to look at your life and see how you have changed. Praise God that he loves us sinners and that all of us have the opportunity to be his disciples, but that doesn’t mean we can take his love for granted, or disrespect it. He loves us and wants us to follow him so that we can change! So that we can stop sinning and begin to live the wonderful life, the far better life, as one of his followers!
So for Jesus to focus on sinners to repent is a radical move. Where the Pharisees saw sinners as people who could infect them, Jesus saw the sinners as people who could have a renewal of heart, who could change. He goes to the sinners. He goes their party. But in the middle of that, he calls them to change.
In verse 33 the Pharisees question Jesus about this, “There are other people or groups that have disciples, like ours, and those disciples practice fasting and prayer. What’s the deal with you and your disciples partying with sinners?” Basically they’re saying, “Our disciples are more spiritual than your disciples!” And they have a point, one that we would probably use. We look to prayer and fasting as deeply important to the life of disciples. Spiritual disciplines are important! Shouldn’t Jesus respond by saying “Aw man, you got me. I’ve been really screwing up in leading my disciples. I’m sorry Pharisees. Come on boys, let’s scram. We shouldn’t have been partying it up with the sinners. My bad. I promise, Pharisees, we’ll never do that again. Serious. I swear by the name of me.”?
Nope. He didn’t say that. Instead, it’s another surprise. In verses 34-35 he now uses a wedding metaphor. When the bridegroom is there, it’s party time! We know this in our culture too. When the bride and groom leave the reception, pretty much the party’s over, right? We all go home, sometimes quite sad that it is over. I remember some friends’ wedding where I did not want that party to stop! They eventually wanted it to, but I didn’t.
So basically Jesus is saying to these leaders, “Chill out guys. God loves sinners, and he is calling sinners to repent, and you know what? Look at what God is doing in Matthew’s life! We should throw a party about that! A sinner, a tax collector has said that he is leaving behind his tax collecting to follow me!”
There was good reason to celebrate! Jesus doesn’t avoid sinners. He mixes it up with them. But in the midst of the party, he calls them to repentance. Matthew would go on to be changed.
In our day, we have to be very very careful that we are not like the Pharisees. We need to call sinners to repent, but it might look very different than what we’re used to. In fact, it should look different. I believe we are coming through a period where much of the methodology of the church resembles the method of the Pharisees rather than that of Jesus. The church for too long wanted to people to clean up their act, and then come to church. Jesus, however, says I am coming to you, to where you are, right in the middle of your mess, and I am going to party with you, and I am going to call you to repent of your sin.
Seriously, that’s a bit mind-blowing isn’t it?
If there is sin in your life, Jesus says that you need to call it sin and repent; you need to change. The tax collector had to leave his life of cheating and stealing. Levi did just that. And guess what? He went on to write one of the books of the Bible! Amazing!
What if Jesus would have passed Levi by, saying “Disgusting…I hate those tax collectors…they’re sinners, I’m not going near them because they sicken me with their cheating. And I don’t want them to pollute me.”
Imagine Levi running after Jesus and saying “I’ve been listening to your sermons, Jesus, and I’ve seen your miraculous healings, and I want to change my life…I’m so excited about what God is doing in my life, I want to throw a party for you!” After hearing that, what if Jesus responds and says “A party? Are you serious? I don’t party. Who do you think I am? A sinner like you and your friends? You’ve got the wrong idea about following me, buddy. If you want to follow me, get down on your knees right now and start praying and fasting.”
But praise the Lord, Jesus is NOT like that. Praise the Lord, Jesus meets us where we are and calls us to become new people.
- This affects us. Jesus meets us where we are. But he doesn’t say that we can stay where we are. We change to be like him. What sin do you need to call sin and repent of and change?
- This affects others. Just as Jesus met us where we are, we should follow his example and meet people where they are. Who are the sinners in your life that need Jesus that you need to go to and love and party with?
Which Jesus will we be like? The one who laughs with the sinners or the one who cries with the saints?