Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Jesus was, and is, Friend of Sinners. The religious leaders, unable to fathom how He could claim to be fulfilling the law while socializing with people breaking the law, were horrified at His friendship with sinners. They never dreamed anyone would want to rescue sinners from sin and seek their good. They could have never imagined Jesus’ influence would be continuing to grow two thousand years later.
Matt. 11:19c (Holman) “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
In other words, wisdom is justified by what it produces. God displayed His wisdom in how He used John the Baptist and Jesus. The proof is in the pudding. Their ministries, perfect and appropriate in their day, are still impacting the world.
Though the religious leaders criticized John, God used him to move people in ways they had not been moved for centuries. The leaders criticized Jesus, but He gave people new life, new goodness, new hope, new power to live. The very title they gave Him as an affront, Friend of Sinners, Jesus justified and perfected.
Ultimate verdicts on John and Jesus rest not with cranky religious leaders, but with events hammered out on the anvils of individual believers’ lives and of two thousand years of Christian history. Victory, ever on the side of wisdom, will come to John and Jesus. Their final and full vindication will come on the last day.
God’s ways as taught by John and Jesus have been acquitted of error, and justified in people’s eyes by results they bring about. His wisdom is ratified by its results. The fruit testifies of and validates the root. What John and Jesus claimed as truth has been proven to be true by the testimony and lives of their followers.
For 20 centuries, detractors have enjoyed criticizing Christianity, but find its success hard to deny, and even harder to explain. No other force in human history has had as much profound effect on people, has turned as many from evil to right, lost to found, despair to hope, sad to glad, selfish to generous, immoral to godly.
Most continue to reject Jesus, but many receive Him, and their lives become a testimony. Those who reject Him help validate Him by the failure of their lives.
Every patient cured by a doctor proves the wisdom of the physician. Every sinner saved and set free by Jesus justifies the wisdom of the Great Physician.
Bitterness and cynicism cannot stop the spread of the Gospel. Too many have been blessed by it. Let this be our consolation when our message is rejected.
The effects of Jesus on a sinner’s renewed life has proven Him right time after time. The passing of time is a friend of our faith. Knowing this, Jesus was content to leave the verdict with history, or more accurately, with history’s God.
Sadducees, boasting of their temple, persecuted Jesus. Pharisees, proud of their rules, snarled at Christ. Rome, smugly feeling its worldwide government was impregnable, unleashed fury against Christ-followers. Sadducees, Pharisees, and Rome are long gone, but God’s wisdom in Jesus has been vindicated by its deeds.
From Jesus’ day, can you recall the name of a Sadducee, a Pharisee, Caesar? Sadducees, Pharisees, and Caesar are forgotten, but God’s message lives on, its strength due to a Presence, Christ’s Presence. History continues to vindicate Him.
Matt. 11:20 “Then He proceeded to denounce the towns where most of His
miracles were done, because they did not repent:”
People should have run at full speed to receive salvation from Jesus, but no. The ugliest rejections of Him occurred in cities which saw most of His miracles.
Jesus is Friend of Sinners, yet insists on repentance, and threatens judgment on the unbelieving as severely as John the Baptist did. In fact, Jesus was able to speak more severely, since He is Himself the Judge, the Determiner of destinies.
Despite Jesus’ miracles, most in His home area, the Sea of Galilee’s north shore, would not believe in Him. “Repent” was a Roman military term for “about face.” Following Christ requires repentance, turning around, admitting we have gone the wrong direction, saying His way is right, ours wrong. We prefer Him over us. Refusal to repent is the sin of sins, the only sin that condemns forever.
The Galileans refused to change their minds about God’s kingdom. They wanted it to be physical and political, not spiritual. They wanted all their selfish desires met, and the Romans, not themselves, brought under Christ’s sway. They misunderstood, and refused to repent, to turn around from erroneous thinking.
Religious enthusiasm is often kindled by an initial false impression of what Jesus offers. He does not promise us an easy life, but rather grace which enables a person “through painful self-denial to win self-mastery” (Pulpit Commentary).
People desperately want to be okay, to be right with God, to be free of guilt. However, they also want their sins, and desire to retain control of their lives.
The inner struggle between these conflicting goals can become so intense that a person gives up trying to choose one over the other. They become passive, deciding they will do nothing, yet hope everything will come out okay in the end.
The Galileans were neither wicked, vile, nor promiscuous. They merely saw Jesus’ miracles, listened to His warnings, and then did nothing in response.
Like a rock, they let the sun shine on them, but made no response. People still excel at religion on the surface. The message somehow never penetrates to the heart. Too often “our most earnest preaching is like putting red-hot iron into a pond: the cold water puts it out and closes about it, and there is no more heard or seen of it. . . .It is not a difficult thing to incur this condemnation. You have simply to do what some of you are doing, and have been doing all your lives, as to Christianity, and that is–nothing!” (Maclaren).
Many unbelievers today are re-enacting Pilate’s washing his hands of Jesus. Most look at Jesus and His death on the cross, claiming, “He’s not my problem, not my responsibility. I’m not to blame.” To the contrary!! We are all to blame. Jesus died for sins, we’re all sinners, thus He died because of, and for, each of us.
This mental disconnect between Jesus’ death and our lives has been shown dramatically in our society’s reaction to Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion.”
Almost a third of us, some 80 million, have seen the movie, yet people’s lives are changing little. People aren’t connecting what’s being portrayed on the screen with how it relates directly to their lives. Their response is similar to how we would respond to a violent movie about Viet Nam; we would be touched, but not go there as a missionary. We would be deeply moved, but not changed.
On Judgment Day, a much used defense by unbelievers will be, “But I never did anything.” This effort at self-vindication will prove to be their condemnation.
The awful sin of Jesus’ neighbors in Galilee was indifference. They let His words and works leave no impression on them. Many today, relegating Jesus to the ranks of people who don’t matter, are indifferent. This is “the worst of all sins, for indifference kills. Indifference does not burn religion to death; it freezes it to death. It does not behead it; it slowly suffocates the life out of it” (Barclay).
Jesus’ peers had passed a critical, yea fatal, line. They were no longer willing to investigate how to escape eternal damnation. They were totally passive. Like many today, no miracle, no ministry, no misery, no mercy could change them.
The ultimate tragedy in all this is, everlasting separation from God is caused not by any outward wrongs, but by one right not done. Hell is entered by a sin of omission, not by sins of commission. Perdition results from a sin of inaction, not one of action. The ultimate sin is to leave one thing undone, a lack of repentance.
The only hope for salvation is to repent, to turn around, to change our minds and ways, to turn to God by leaving sin and renouncing self-rule. People don’t go to Heaven because they are good, they don’t go to Hell because they are bad. At Calvary Jesus dealt once and for all time with the sin problem. He paid our debt. Our only hope is to appropriate the benefits of His provision. Jesus is the issue in eternity. If we reject Him, we go to Hell. If we receive Him, we go to Heaven.
Jesus’ words in our text are stark truth, but He remains Friend of Sinners, eager to forgive and receive all who seek Him by way of repentance. About face.