When I was a boy, an old-but-trusted adage said, "Birds of a feather flock
together." It meant, "Be careful who you run with because you will be judged by the
company you keep." People always have had the tendency to judge a person by the
company he keeps.
Recently I was in a graduate class with a man who had been converted primarily
through his own study. He came from an area of the country quite different from the
south or southwest. He obviously was a person who loved to read and loved to think.
For a while, prior to graduate studies, he worked as a minister in a small but growing
He told of one dedicated, mature Christian who made many of his contacts and
did much of his work by visiting local bars. This Christian did not drink. He was known
by the people in the bars. He had an effective outreach. He was much respected by
people in the bars.
Two Questions. (1) Was he letting God's light shine through by refusing to live
in isolation? (2) Was he hiding God's light by going into a "place of darkness"?
Matthew 11:16-19 "But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting
in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, 'We played the flute
for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.' For John
came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon!' The Son of Man
came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a
friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."
Is it impossible to be God's lights in the world if we have no contact with the
world? Is it possible to be God's preserving salt in the world if we exist in isolation?
Consider one of Jesus' prayers the last night of his physical life:
John 17:14-16 "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because
they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them
out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I
am not of the world."
This evening I would like to continue my recent focus. We began by this
emphasis by stressing the fact that we sustained an enormous loss when we made evil
a part of human existence. Any attempt to return to what God intended us to be when
He made us will involve radical transformation. If we move in the direction of God,
there will be radical change in our personal lives. That change will not be understood
by those who are not moving toward God. The only explanation for that change is the
influence of Jesus Christ on our existence.
The last time I spoke to you I spoke about the Jewish publicans or tax collectors.
I used some of them to illustrate transformation. This evening I want to use what the
gospels refer to as "the sinners" to illustrate transformation.
- Consider Jewish repayment for wrongful acts.
- In our last lesson I mentioned
the commitment Zaccheus made to repay anyone he had wronged.
- He declared he would repay "four fold" or "four times as much" to those
- That is 400%.
- The Jewish repayment for wrongful acts was a Jewish response to acts of
- From early history in Israel, restitution must include more than the full
- Exodus 22:1 "If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or
sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep."
- Leviticus 6:5 "...anything about which he swore falsely; he shall make
restitution for it in full and add to it one-fifth more. He shall give it to
the one to whom it belongs on the day he presents his guilt offering."
- Numbers 5:7 "then he shall confess his sins which he has committed,
and he shall make restitution in full for his wrong and add to it one-fifth
of it, and give it to him whom he has wronged."
- The classic case is Nathan's confrontation of King David about the
incident of Uriah and Bathsheba.
- When David heard the parable about the rich man who stole the lamb,
he was consumed with anger.
- David said the man deserved to die for what he did, but he would
make a "four fold" restitution.
- To me, the point to be understood about Zaccheus is seen in his
seriousness--he would give of everything he owned to the poor and make
"four fold" restitution to anyone he defrauded. (Luke 19:8)
- He would not be a hard hearted Jewish tax collector.
- He would be a compassionate man.
- Following Jesus would make an visible change in who he was.
May I now call your attention to people in the gospels that were called "the
sinners" by many first century Jewish people, including Jewish leadership.
- By Jewish standards, these were irreligious Jews.
- If in your thinking, you see all first century Jewish people as being devout
Israelites who are dedicated to Israel's religious ways, I challenge you to
change your thinking.
- In every religious society, there are people who do not wish to follow God.
- First century Israel was not an exception.
- I surely hope that we understand as a church we are not an exception.
- Because you live in a religious society does not mean you are a religious
- First century Israel had a segment of their society who rejected the
religious standards of society.
- Those people had a number of motives for not being religious.
- Some thought the religious standards were ridiculous foolishness, the
religious people were fake, and Jewish society needed to join the
progress of the rest of the world.
- Some wanted the pleasurable lifestyle forbade by Jewish law and Jewish
- Some wanted the money Jewish standards forbade.
- Some resented religious people and wanted no part of their ways.
- Some turned to "taboo" practices because they felt forced into those
practices by economic realities in their lives.
- Whatever their motivation, these people were clearly known by the
religious society as being non-compliant, rebellious Jews.
- "Sinners" as a visible part of society included a lot of different people--the word
was used in reference to "Jewish religious outcasts" and to gentiles.
- To be classified as a "sinner" in first century Jewish society was not a good
thing! You were regarded as a social misfit who did not belong--religious
people did not want you in their home!
- It included tax collectors.
- It included prostitutes.
- It included people who did not worship at the synagogue on Saturday or at
the temple on special holy days.
- It included all people who were not Jewish or proselytes [thus it included all
the people Jews called gentiles].
- It definitely included people who did not live by and practice the Jewish
For a moment, let me discuss the "holiness code."
- In the first century, there are certain things devout Jews always did.
- Let's begin by focusing on their concept of "cleanliness" or purity.
- A person could become spiritually unclean just by touching something
- Therefore you limited your physical contact with anything that was
considered impure or unclean.
- There were certain people you did not have in your home--like
Samaritans, idol worshippers, or sexually immoral people.
- You did not touch the dead bodies of people or animals.
- You did not touch anything people with leprosy touched.
- You ate kosher food prepared in the approved manner. (Leviticus 11
contained a list of things Jewish people could and could not eat.)
- You kept the holy days in the approved ways at the approved times--that
included offering proper sacrifices and eating the proper feasts.
- If you did not do those things, you were unclean.
- Remember: all these things were done for religious reasons, not for
- When I grew up, we had and practiced a form of the holiness code (as
expressions of religious dedication).
- You did not drink.
- You did not cuss.
- Men and women did not swim together.
- You went to the church building every time the doors were open (there were
times when Sunday evening attendance exceeded Sunday morning
- You did not attend movies.
- There were certain words you did not use--like pregnant.
- There were certain kinds of clothing you did not wear--you must never
expose your body in public (I even remember a discussion about women
- In either Israel of the first century or in my youth, were those "bad things"?
- However, neither were those things a substitute for having the faith of
dependence on God.
- The true issue is far deeper than merely yielding to authority.
- The basic issue is having a faith that depends on God.
- A person must not put his or her confidence in what he or she does.
- A person must put his or her confidence in God.
- One is not holy because he or she follows the proper "code;" one is holy
because he or she places his or her faith in God, that faith is a faith that
depends, and that faith is in control of one's lifestyle.
- Often it is the unholy person who turns to God who deeply appreciates God's
mercy and kindness.
With the things I have said as a background, I want to read three scriptures
you, and I ask you to listen to hear what is going on.
- Mark 7:1-8 The Pharisees and some of the scribes
gathered around Him when
they had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of His disciples were
eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and
all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing
the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do
not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which
they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and
pitchers and copper pots.) The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, "Why do
Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their
bread with impure hands?" And He said to them, "Rightly
did Isaiah prophesy of
you hypocrites, as it is written: 'This people honors Me with their lips, But their
heart is far away from Me. 'But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as
doctrines the precepts of men.' Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold
to the tradition of men."
- Matthew 15:1-9 Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus
Jerusalem and said, "Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For
they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." And He answered and said
to them, "Why do you yourselves transgress the
commandment of God for the
sake of your tradition? For God said, 'Honor your father and mother,' and, 'He
who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.' But you say, 'Whoever
says to his father or mother, "Whatever I have that would help you has been
given to God," he is not to honor his father or his mother.' And by this you
invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly
did Isaiah prophesy of you: 'This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart
is far away from Me. 'But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the
precepts of men.' "
- Luke 7:36-50 Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to
dine with him,
and He entered the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. And there was a
woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining
at the table in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume,
and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her
tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and
anointing them with the perfume. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him
saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet He would know who and
what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner." And
Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to say to
you." And he replied,
"Say it, Teacher." "A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five
denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously
forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?" Simon answered and
said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have
judged correctly." Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, "Do you see this
woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has
wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss;
but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not
anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I
say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much;
but he who is forgiven little, loves little." Then He said to her, "Your sins have
been forgiven." Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to
themselves, "Who is this man who even forgives sins?" And He said to the
woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
If a "sinner" was a "sinner" because he or she used self or body for ungodly
purpose, when the "sinner" turned to Jesus, would the "sinner" continue to do
- In fact, if you knew that person had been a sinner and you saw him or her after
they turned to Jesus, you likely would say, "Didn't they use to ...?" Following
Jesus changes who you are.
It is true that our world needs to hear more about godly existence. But that is not
enough. Our world needs to see lives that have been transformed in Jesus. Until the
world can see the impact Jesus has on the way we live, the world had no reason to
listen to what we say.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 1 August 2004
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