Jesus didn’t deserve the hate, but it turns out one of their nicknames for him was true. They called him “a friend of tax collectors and sinners”. In their minds, that was one of the greatest indictments imaginable. Jesus hung out with bad people, therefore he must be bad too. In their minds, to be a friend of sinners was incredibly shameful.
Luke 7:34 (NLT)34 The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’
But for Jesus, the title Friend of Sinners was a sign of success, not a source of shame. I can imagine him smiling the first time he heard the phrase. “Friend of sinners? I’ll take that as a compliment.” Why? Because it was the very definition of his mission.
Mark 2:16-17 (NLT)16 But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?”17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
Think about what Jesus’ nickname means for you, for your friends, and for humanity today. What kind of God labels himself a friend of sinners? I could believe “judge of sinners”; I could even believe “Savior of sinners.” But friend? Really? . . .
John 15:15 (NLT)15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.
Friendship is far more important to God than we often realize.
Isaiah 41:8 (NLT)8 “But as for you, Israel my servant, Jacob my chosen one, descended from Abraham my friend,
James 2:23 (NLT)23 And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God.
Exodus 33:11 (NLT)11 Inside the Tent of Meeting, the LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Afterward Moses would return to the camp, but the young man who assisted him, Joshua son of Nun, would remain behind in the Tent of Meeting.
We tend to think that God puts top priority on performance, purity, and perfection, and we assume relationship is the eventual reward for those things. In other words, the more like Jesus we become, the closer our relationship with him will be. Actually, it works the other way around. The closer we get to Jesus, the more like him we become. Relationship comes first; changes comes later. . . .
God cares about everyone, regardless of where they are on their journey: spiritually mature or seeker, devout or in doubt, religious or simply curious. All of us need him, and all of us can find him. Whether you consider yourself a saint or a sinner, Jesus wants to be your friend.
Excerpted from YouVerson Friend of Sinners Reading Plan provided by Rich Wilkerson Jr. and Harper Collins. The plan is from the book Friend of Sinners: Why Jesus Cares More About Relationship Than Perfection