Pastor Kevin Sanders

"He must increase, but I must decrease." -John 3:30

Jesus, Friend of “Sinners” Divinely Disturbed

There’s something that’s been on my mind for quite some time. I’ve been meaning to write a post about it, but it’s taken me some time to really process what I want to say. Or maybe it’s just that I rarely have profound thoughts, so I wanted to hang on to this one and milk it for all it’s worth.

It came to mind again during a recent Bible study with students. We were studying the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. I’ll explain for those who may not be familiar with the story:

Jesus was passing through Jericho, and a large crowd had gathered to see him. Zacchaeus, the local tax collector, also wanted to see. But he was a short man, so his only option was to climb a tree. Jesus saw him, called him by name, and asked to eat with him. This didn’t make the crowd very happy:

But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled. –Luke 19:7

We must consider a few things before pointing our fingers at this self-righteous crowd. Zacchaeus was probably the most hated man in the whole town. He was working for the Roman government, the oppressor of the Jewish people. To make matters worse, he abused his power as tax collector by collecting more than the set tax in order to line his own pockets.

Let’s consider another little cultural factor. Zacchaeus was most likely treated as a Gentile (non-Jew) by the residents of Jericho.  This means no self-respecting Jew would go into his house—the act itself would be considered “unclean.”

Put all this together and you see why this was such a big deal. Jesus overlooked all the “good” people and chose to have lunch with this pint-sized, good-for-nothing lowlife.

That brings me to the point.  Here’s what I find so disturbing about Jesus:

1. Jesus was the holiest man to ever live.
2. Jesus often associated with the unholiest of people.

The holiest man associated with the unholiest of people—without compromising in any way. I could call these truths “challenging,” but that just wouldn’t cut it.

Like many Christians, I have failed to be like Jesus on both points. I have failed to strive for the personal holiness that God requires of me. Many times I’ve compromised and acted more like I belong to the world than to Jesus. I’ve also been guilty of replacing holiness with man-made, superficial rules.

The second truth is what really gets me—the whole “friend of sinners” thing. I think I’m beginning to make progress. Being a missionary does have its advantages: there’s something about coming into a culture as an “outsider” that helps you see thing in a different light.   I’ve had to learn a different culture in order to relate to people very different than myself.

But I still have a long way to go. God reminded me of this a few years ago while I was having lunch in the “u belt.” The place where I usually eat was too crowded, so I found somewhere else to eat. They restaurant next door had chicken adobo (one of my favorites), so it looked like a good choice.

All the tables on the lower floor were occupied, so I went to the second floor. But there was a problem—the second floor was the smoking section. I didn’t want to smell cigarettes while I was eating. I also didn’t want to go back to campus smelling like cigarettes. But I had little choice, so I reluctantly sat down and ate with the smokers.

God had a little surprise in store for me. I ended up having a long conversation with five male students from my target campus. They were very friendly and asked questions about what I was doing. I don’t remember the details of the conversation, but I do remember the lesson: I almost missed an opportunity to share because I was so concerned about the smoke. I wrote about this event in my journal with the heading, Pharisee in the Smoking Section.

I believe God has called His followers to live with an uncomfortable tension—living a holy life while relating to an unholy world. But we like comfort, so we quickly settle for something less than what Jesus modeled.

Maybe we need to take a fresh look at Jesus. Let’s see just how radical his life was—look at how many times the religious folks complained at the company he kept. See how scandalously close He lived to those who needed Him the most.

Ask Him to show you where you are falling short. Maybe you, too, will be divinely disturbed.


  1. I agree. The important thing is to not compromise. To not conform to the world or the ways of the unsaved that we’re sharing the Gospel with.

    Good post.

  2. Wow Kevin this is very true to many including me….so blessed to read this from you. Thanks and blessings! 🙂

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