The Friend of Sinners
For one brief hour only is the veil that covers the first thirty years of our Lord’s life drawn aside, and one saying of His alone during that period is recorded for our learning. But what a revelation of sinless, holy perfection, and readiness to bear the yoke of service for the blessing of mankind, does that one saying reveal! “How is it that ye sought Me? Wist ye not that I must be about MY FATHER’S BUSINESS?” It is probable that at the age of twelve a child begins definitely to choose between evil and good; and the Lord is shown to us in this beautiful passage as making His choice; He refused the evil and he chose the good; as it was written by the prophet, that Emmanuel would. His Father’s business—His Father’s will—this to Him was good and perfect and acceptable, and with this will treasured in His heart He lived His youthful days, until the due time came for His manifestation.
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver,” and “A word spoken in due season, how good it is.” Such were all the words of the Lord; every one of them came forth in its own time and circumstance, and none were more fitly spoken than this word. And in the record of His words also, all are divinely placed. If a Divine Person, divinely perfect and blessed, came into the world for the eternal blessing of men, it is only fitting that a Divine record of His words and ways, also divinely perfect and blessed, should be given of His coming, that those for whom He came might have a perfect assurance as to it. Admit the former, and the latter follows in logical sequence. To suppose that God would send His only-begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him, and having done that, allow an imperfect, contradictory human record to be the only record of His life and death here, would be to suppose Him to be guilty of colossal folly. The record must be as perfect in its own sphere as the One whose life and mission it records was perfect in His, or else we have no sure knowledge or certainty of these things upon which depend our soul’s eternal welfare. If the Holy Scriptures are what the critics say they are, mere ancient, human documents, in which are recorded events which the writers did but poorly remember, to be tested by human scholarship, which, by the way, commences its test by a decided bias against them; if they may be cut and criticized, accepted or rejected, in parts or wholly, then where are we in this matter? The angels’ triumphant declaration that He brought “good tidings of great joy” when He announced the birth of Jesus is a mockery; we know not whether our great Redeemer did ever say, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Such wonderful words may have been put into His mouth, as Shakespeare put great sayings into the mouths of his heroes. Did He really warn men against “the damnation of hell,” and speak those blessed words about the many mansions in His Father’s house? We cannot say unless the record of them is divinely perfect, and divinely sure.
We believe in God, and we are confident that “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” We are confident also that having given “His unspeakable gift” for men, He would see to it that they should be in no uncertainty about it; hence are the Scriptures God-breathed; the men who wrote them were moved by the Holy Spirit; they had these things, not by hearsay, or from their own imperfect observation, but “from the very first,” from the source of all true knowledge, from God Himself. Hence our remark that the records of our Lord’s words are divinely placed, so that they shine like apples of gold in pictures of silver.
It is in Luke’s Gospel that these youthful words of the Lord Jesus are alone recorded, and how beautifully they fit in to the character of this Gospel. The Gospel of Luke is the Gospel of “My Father’s business.” It is the Gospel of grace, this the Father’s Name implies. It is the Father, who in the very heart of the Gospel sees His prodigal son afar off, and has compassion upon him, and runs to meet him while yet he is a great way off, and falls on his neck and kisses him; and cries in His gladness, “Let us eat and be merry: for this My son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” Yes, Luke’s Gospel is the Gospel of grace to guilty sinners, and the Lord was the vessel of this grace; His Father’s business was His business. He was here to commence it, to carry it on, and to finish it, and the fact that He is crowned with glory and honour at His Father’s right hand, is the proof that He has most blessedly done it; as is the fact also that millions are rejoicing in the grace of God, which has brought salvation to them.
Being the vessel of God’s grace He was, and is, the Friend of sinners. Mark His first words in public testimony as given to us in this Gospel. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”
He came to men, bruised and broken and blinded and bound by sin, and said unto them “This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears,” and they all wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth.
In each Gospel the form of the opposition from His foes brings into greater prominence the chief feature that the Gospel presents. It is so here. The religionists did not like grace, they could not understand it; so full were they of their own importance that they marvelled that Jesus did not pay court to them and seek their patronage; they grew angry and scornful when He sought the company of sinners, and this is their chief complaint in this Gospel; to this they shouted their opposition constantly.
In chapter 5:30 they murmured against His disciples, saying, “Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?”
In chapter 7:34 they grow abusive and say, “Behold a gluttonous man, and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.”
In chapter 15:2 they say with bitter enmity, “This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.”
And again in chapter 19:7 “they all murmured, saying, That He was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.”
They spoke the truth in their hatred, and that which they thought was His shame was His glory, as a countless host of sinners saved by grace will declare in His eternal praise.
Not to the proudly religious did He come who, though wise in their own conceit, were “fools grown insolent in fooling; most, when the lost were dying at the doors.” He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance; “the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which is lost.”
He said, “Fear not,” to sinful Simon (chapter 5:10), “I will—be thou clean,” to the poor foul leper (chapter 5:13), “Weep not,” to the broken-hearted widow (chapter 7:13), “Thy sins are forgiven,” to the weeping sinner at His feet (chapter 7:48); and “Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise,” to the dying robber (chapter 23:43).
He came to do His Father’s business, and for this there was given to Him “the tongue of the learned” [or instructed]; that He should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary; His ear was wakened morning by morning, to hear as the learner (Isa. 50:4). But who was He who thus lived in entire and daily obedience to His Father’s word, so that He might carry on His business? Isaiah 50 tells us this also. He says, “Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? Is My hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at My rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stinketh, because there is no water, and dieth for thirst. I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering” (Isa. 50:2-3).
Yes, this is He who came from heaven to be the sinner’s Friend, and to bring to the poorest and the worst the saving grace of God He is the Creator, who came to redeem with outstretched arm; but it involved Him in a life of suffering and shame amongst men, and in hatred from those who loved Him not. The One who with hand omnipotent draws the curtain of night across the heavens, says, “The Lord God hath opened My ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave My back to the smiters, and My cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not My face from shame and spitting” (Isa. 50:5-6).
Wonderful Friend of sinners! who would not cast aside their own righteousness and pride to make Thy acquaintance, and count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Thee!