Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 13, 2022

friend of sinners …

There’s a timely truth I’m seeing in the sacred story of another humble woman who gave her all in the last days before our sweet Savior gave His all for us. Jesus himself said this about her precious gift, “wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Mark 14:9 – ESV) Spurred by this declaration of my Savior, I combed my Wednesday writing since 2012 and discovered there has only been one instance where the woman and her gift weren’t center stage. With great humility, I now make that twice.

My unique seeing this year is informed by a paragraph I shared with my Wednesday morning brothers about two weeks ago. It was part of my notes on that week’s chapter in Gentle and Lowly by Dane C. Ortlund. The chapter centered on the truth of Jesus being a tender friend and made special note of Jesus’ own words in Matthew 11:19 as part of the supporting narrative. I saw something in that verse as I had never seen it before and was struck and deeply challenged in my own life of faith and following Jesus. With their permission, I share a lightly edited version of the words initially intended only for my brothers …

I was deeply and thoroughly challenged this week by the truly unexpected notice of Matthew 11:19’s phrase: a friend of tax collectors AND sinners (my emphasis). I was struck, unlike any time before, with the separate mention, as if tax collectors are not also sinners or are more than just sinners. So, why both? I suppose the explanation seems obvious, that a tax collector was a sinner+ (sinner plus) to the Jews and religious elite. They were Jews who turned on their own people to work for their oppressor and, even worse, personally profited from their despicable work. Didn’t Jesus drive profiteers from his Father’s house? Why then would He so often eat and gather with a seemingly worse version of them? These are interesting questions, yes, but they weren’t the ones that eventually captured and convicted me. Who are my friends? With whom do i most often break bread? Would either a friend or foe accuse me of being a friend of a “tax collector” or sinner? Was that only to be Jesus’ job? Maybe because He was perfect, and we couldn’t be trusted with the close association? And did Jesus ever tell His disciples to be a friend of sinners? Were we ever instructed to be in any of Paul’s writing (that spoke more directly to us Gentiles)? We’re commanded to love God and love others and consider them greater than ourselves. Jesus didn’t say love God and love other Christians, and Paul didn’t specify that we should consider other brothers and sisters greater than ourselves. I found a meaningful quote referenced in Dr. Constable’s Expository Notes on Matthew 11:19. It reads, “God’s true will, despite the ways humans have so often perverted it, involves separation from sin but association with sinners.” In practical application in my own life, I believe, yes, that iron sharpens iron. It is right and good to be a true friend amid a community of believers and earnest followers who will point me always to God and His truth. But what effect does a pinch of salt have in being added only to a saltshaker? How about a candle added to an already well-lit room? In our being salt and light, may we be so with our brothers and sisters (who are, themselves, not without sin). But may we be also with those who haven’t yet met or believed in our precious Savior … and especially with those who may curse Him.

Where was Jesus having dinner when the woman with an alabaster jar of pure nard broke it open and poured out every last drop in anointing Jesus before His death and burial? Were only the faithful and followers gathered there together that night? I do not intend for this to be a voice of conviction. I only intend to share how the Spirit washed over me the sincere heart of Jesus and broke my own with His. Jesus truly was a friend of sinners. He was a Doctor not for the well but for the sick. It will never be my job to be someone’s savior, but it will always be my opportunity to be their friend. A friend like He was.



  1. Perhaps the most sacrificial, and marvelous, and supernatural takes place in the presence of sin……the sinner……..both believing and non-believing. Perhaps the core truths of those two – the sacrificial/marvelous/supernatural/deity and sin/sinner/man – demands it be so! Perhaps it’s that awareness that allures me into its (sin’s) presence with others and within myself. With the caution of Paul, not that I might sin more, but that God’s grace may abound!

    “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
    Romans five…twenty and twenty one (🙂)

  2. Matthew correctly perceived himself a lowly person – a wealthy Jew condemned to do the Roman’s bidding, But it was not so much by choice, but by his fate for being noticed as good with numbers and honest to a fault. Whereas sinners would be those who stepped it up a notch by sinfully skimming profits, for example. So considering the writer was Matthew in this instance, I sense he was saying that Jesus sat with Tax Collectors (meaning lowly) AND the sinners – not to separate the two as mutually exclusive, rather to be inclusive of those like himself, who’s respect had been stripped away unrighteously.
    Loved the Salt and Candle analogies! Very helpful visuals to carry with me in reaching out to those that’s are not like me, or the object of my anger.

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