Have you ever heard someone try to defend an obviously unbiblical action with the statement “Jesus ate with sinners” or something close to that? This statement drives me nuts. What this statement implies is that Jesus condones actions that go against His very nature. It is true that in Scripture that Jesus did dine with sinners and meet them where they were at. But what seems to be lost is that when the sinners met with Jesus face to face, they were ultimately faced with a choice. That choice was to continue in their sinful lifestyle or to give that lifestyle up and follow Jesus. Here are two examples of people who came face to face with the truth and were confronted with a decision to make.
In Luke 19, we meet Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Tax collectors were assumed to be thieves and cheaters. Their reputations were anything but good. Let’s look at Zacchaeus’ account with meeting Jesus in Luke 19:1-10.
Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”
Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”
And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
If you went to Sunday school as a child, you may remember the song about Zacchaeus. That is what usually comes to my mind. But his story is so much more than a simple child’s song. He wanted to see Jesus. Because he was so short, he climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus. Jesus noticed him in the tree and summoned him to come down. Not only did he notice him, but Jesus wanted to spend time with him at his house. Many religious people and onlookers could not understand why Jesus would go to such a sinner’s house. What they didn’t understand was that Jesus went to Zacchaeus’ house to seek him out and save him.
While in Jesus’ presence, Zacchaeus was changed. He then announced that he would give back to the poor and give back fourfold what he had stolen. This was over the legal requirement of one-fifth of restitution for fraud. He wanted to go beyond what was required of him. Zacchaeus was truly changed. His actions were fruit of his conversion. Therefore, when confronted with the truth (which is Jesus), he chose to change his life.
The second example is of the rich young ruler in Luke 18. This young man tried hard to follow the laws. He wanted to know what more he could do to inherit eternal life. Let’s look at Luke 18:18-23.
Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ”
And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”
So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.
This young man came to Jesus wanting to know he could attain eternal life. Before coming to Jesus, he might have only considered Jesus as good teacher, rather than the Son of God. Jesus already knew of the young man’s spiritual condition. He was aware that he was going through the motions but not really giving his heart to God. Knowing that keeping the law is not the gospel and not the way to eternal life, Jesus tried to tell the young man of the high standards that God required. These requirements were not able to be attained by the young man, even though the young man thought he met them. Jesus then challenged the young man to give up everything he owned and follow Him (the only way anyone can truly obtain salvation, giving up of oneself and following Jesus Christ totally). This was the only way that the young man could receive eternal life. The young man was then faced with a decision. He chose to remain in his life because he had many possessions and riches. He could not commit to Christ and change his life.
We are all at some point faced with this decision. When we come face to face with Christ, the truth forces us to either live for Christ or turn from Him and walk away. We can either be like Zacchaeus, who wanted to do anything he could to make his life, right, or be like the rich young ruler, who could not give up his life to follow Christ.
Which one will you be like?