Light of the World



Booklet 9


Christ, the Sinners' Friend

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18, 19).

The four Gospels tell many encouraging stories of Christ's friendship with the distressed and brokenhearted. As we read these inspired accounts, we see how great is God's kindness as revealed through Christ, and the impression is left on our hearts that we may safely go to Him in every time of need, confidently expecting to find help. Jesus also offers us His companionship, which takes the coldness and loneliness out of our lives and brings us peace. He has everything that we desire and need, but it is His divine love and kindness that appeal most to us. He declares:

"I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness" (Jeremiah 31:3; see also John 8:1-11).

Jesus is a "friend who sticks closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24). We see this in one scene after another in His ministry as He assists the friendless and fearful.

CHRIST BEFRIENDS A WOMAN TAKEN IN ADULTERY
We turn now to the Gospel of John and watch as Christ befriends an adulterous woman who had been openly exposed by the Pharisees.

"He [Jesus] appeared again in the temple courts where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. . . . Jesus . . . asked her, 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?' 'No one, sir,' she said. 'Then neither do I condemn you,' Jesus declared. 'Go now and leave your life of sin' " (John 8:2, 3, 10, 11).

This experience took place in connection with the annual Feast of Tabernacles when Jesus was in Jerusalem on one of His frequent visits. While He was teaching the people in the temple, the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him this unfortunate woman who was taken in adultery—"caught in the act" (John 8:4).

She was a great sinner before God, but the malice and bigotry of these Jewish leaders who knew so much more about God's requirements, made their sin even more offensive. They were jealous of Christ and tried to find some complaint against Him so that they could accuse Him of going against either of the laws of Moses or the laws of the Romans. In this case, if Jesus had suggested that the woman be stoned as Moses' law required, He would have been in conflict with the Roman authorities.

In this experience, Jesus tried to reach the hearts of both the Pharisees and the adulterous woman herself, seeking to lead all concerned to repentance. He proved to be a friend, first to the proud and self righteous, and second to the downcast and fallen. But only the adulterous woman responded to His love.

Jesus knew that the sins of these hypocritical men who had brought the woman to him included acts of impurity, yet in great kindness He refused to expose them as they had exposed her. Stooping down, He began to write on the ground, and the words which they read there condemned them. Looking up, Jesus said:

"If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7).

One by one, these religious leaders slipped away. As the trembling woman stood before Jesus, expecting at any moment to be stoned, she heard His tender voice ask:

" 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?' 'No one, sir,' she said. 'Then neither do I condemn you,' Jesus declared. 'Go now and leave your life of sin' " (John 8:10, 11).

The Pharisees had nothing but contempt and scorn for this erring woman, but Jesus spoke words of comfort and caution to her. He did not excuse her sin, and neither did He say anything to lessen Her sense of guilt. But He spoke words of pardon that lifted the torturing burden of reproach and shame from her soul. His words, "Neither do I condemn you," brought peace to her troubled heart. The redemption of this poor soul was a greater miracle than the healing of an epileptic or a leper. Sin is a moral disease that can be rebuked only by the touch of the sinner's Friend (see Isaiah 1:4-6, 16-20). Sin brings nothing but guilt and remorse, but if we will confess our sins to Jesus and put them away, we may go free in His pardoning love.

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

This forgiveness which God gives us includes more than simply pardon for our sins. It also brings us power to keep from sinning. He "is able to keep you from falling" (Jude, verse 24, see also Romans 6:11, 12; Hebrews 7:25). True religion is not simply an ambulance at the foot of a precipice to pick up those who have fallen over—it is a fence at the top to prevent them from falling in the first place.

Both pardon for sin and the power to keep from falling are gifts of God which we are to receive by faith. This is the fuller meaning of forgiveness. How beautifully this is illustrated by Christ's words to this woman, "Neither do I condemn you. . . . Go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:11). It was His purpose that from this point on in her experience she should live a pure and sanctified life. And that is His plan for every Christian.

MERCY SHOWN AT THE FEAST IN SIMON'S HOUSE
(Read Luke 7:36-50)

Not long before His death on the cross, Jesus was invited to a feast at the home of Simon, the Pharisee—a leper whom Jesus had healed of this terrible disease. Simon was regarded as Christ's disciple, but his heart was still proud and his life sinful. At this feast, an unusual event occurred.

"Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. . . . Then Jesus said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven. . . . Your faith has saved you; go in peace' " (Luke 7:36-38, 48, 50).

Christ used this occasion to show God's love for those who were commonly looked down upon as sinners. This despised woman whom Christ befriended came to the feast and anointed His head and feet with expensive ointment. Jesus was honored by this unselfish act, but Simon and others at the feast were offended. Perhaps, if they had experienced the joy of God's pardoning love as this poor woman had, they would have understood why she was so grateful to Christ. No doubt she had heard Jesus speak about His death and had saved her money to buy an expensive ointment for His burial. But she decided to bestow her gift upon the Savior while He was still living.

Jesus understood the struggles that this woman had experienced in her effort to overcome sin. Earnestly she had pleaded with God for victory over sin, and her prayers had been answered. Now, because she loved Jesus so much, she gave expression to her deep feelings by anointing Him with this precious ointment. Friend, if there is some sin you are struggling with, remember there is hope for you. As Paul assures us, "we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:37). There is only one danger, and that is that we will neglect to seek the Lord for His saving power. God cannot pardon the sin that we cling to—the sin that is not confessed or forsaken. We may sin against the Holy Spirit by neglecting or postponing our surrender to God. But "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13). Let us part company with sin and join hands with God in a consecrated life so that we may find peace with God—as did this converted woman.

In the parable of the debtor, which Christ told at the feast (see Luke 7:41-47), He showed Simon and his guests that the reason this woman loved Him so much was that she had been forgiven much. But Simon loved Jesus only a little, because he did not think he had been forgiven much. There were few sins in his life—or so he thought! But if Christ had revealed to him, and to the guests at the feast, the dark record of his life, Simon would have been discouraged. This Jesus did not do, yet the Holy Spirit convicted Simon that he was just as much in need of God's grace and mercy as was the poor woman.

On this occasion Jesus rebuked Judas, one of the twelve apostles, because he had criticized this woman for the "waste" of the precious perfume (see John 12:4-8). Judas argued that the ointment might have been sold and the money given to the poor. Actually, as the treasurer of the group of disciples, he wanted the money for himself, for he was continually robbing the bag. Deeply angered by Jesus' rebuke, Judas went directly to the priests and bargained to betray his Lord for thirty pieces of silver (see Matthew 26:14-16). Instead of repenting of his selfishness, he hardened his heart and went on from one perverse act to another, until he ended his life by suicide. If Judas had responded to Jesus' discipline, how different his life might have been! His attitude determined his destiny. How important that we all have the right attitude toward life's discipline!

HOPE FOR ZACCHAEUS—THE TAX COLLECTOR
The city of Jericho in the Jordan valley was one of the cities of Israel that had been set apart anciently as a home for the priests. At the time that Jesus met Zacchaeus, there were also many tax collectors living there, for Jericho was a city of considerable commerce and traffic. It was a pleasure resort as well, for Herod the Great had built a winter palace there. Zacchaeus, a man of short stature, was "a chief tax collector" (Luke 19:2).

"Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead, and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, 'Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.' So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, 'He has gone to be the guest of a "sinner." ' But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, 'Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.' Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost' " (Luke 19:1-10).

When Christ entered the city, Zacchaeus rejoiced, because he had heard about Him and had hoped that He might be the Messiah. He wanted very much to see Jesus but, being a short man, he couldn't see over the heads of the people, so he had to climb a tree in order to catch a glimpse of Jesus. As the Savior proceeded through the town with the crowd pressing him on every side, He paused beneath that very tree and, looking up at Zacchaeus, told him to come down because He wanted to stay at his house.

These words of Jesus were a great surprise to the tax collector. In the first place, he had never seen Christ before. So, he must have wondered, how does Jesus know my name? There had been no opportunity for Jesus to inquire about him. Certainly He must have had no idea that I was up in this tree! To Zacchaeus, this was a heaven ordained sign that the Man who stood before him was sent by God. He immediately decided to accept Jesus as Lord and gave evidence of his sincerity by announcing that he would give half of his goods to the poor and would repay, four times over, those whom he had defrauded in unfair tax collections. Christ's friendliness toward this despised Jew resulted in one of the most amazing transformations of character recorded in sacred history.

We may learn a lesson from Zacchaeus' reformation. When a person is converted, he or she will, like this repentant tax collector, abandon all dishonest practices and make restitution. The Lord says:

"If he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns what he has stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and does no evil, . . . . None of the sins he has committed will be remembered against him. . . . he will surely live" (Ezekiel 33:15, 16).

One night a man came forward in a religious meeting to surrender his life to God. The next day, a friend came to him and said, "Jack, I understand that you were converted last night at the revival."

"Yes," Jack replied, "I am a new man."

His friend said, "Good! Now you can pay me the money you owe me."

Jack answered, "I don't owe you any money. When I went to the altar last night, God forgave me all my debts."

What do you think of that man's conversion? If he really had experienced a change of heart, would not the money get back into the right pocket?

JESUS ILLUSTRATES HIS FRIENDSHIP FOR THE LOST
(Read Luke 10:25-37)
In response to a certain lawyer's question Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. " 'Teacher,' he asked, 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?' " (Luke 10:25). In His reply, Jesus described the basic condition of life and happiness:

"On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. 'Teacher,' he asked, 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?' 'What is written in the Law?' he replied. 'How do you read it?' He answered: ' "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind"; and, "Love your neighbor as yourself." ' 'You have answered correctly,' Jesus replied. 'Do this and you will live' " (Luke 10:25-28).

But the lawyer had still another question. "Who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29). To this the Savior replied by relating what seems to have been an actual incident that had taken place not long before. A man had been waylaid and beaten by robbers on the Jericho road, but his own countrymen had passed him by and would do nothing to relieve his pain and misery. Then a despised Samaritan had come along and befriended him. The Good Samaritan loved his neighbor as he loved himself, so he had taken pity on him and cared for him. This story illustrates the love that Christ has for sinners and the love that all of us should show toward our neighbors.

When the story was ended, Jesus fixed His eyes searchingly upon the lawyer and asked:

" 'Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?' The expert in the law replied, 'The one who had mercy on him.' Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise' " (Luke 10:36, 37).

The question—Who is my neighbor?—is answered by this experience. Christ teaches that our neighbor is not merely the one who lives next door or one of the members of the church to which we belong or a member of our race or class of society. Whoever needs help, that person is our neighbor, regardless of any prejudices we may have against him.

But there is an even more important question—Although all men are my neighbors, am I a good neighbor to all men? The answer to that question is vital to the solution of all of life's problems. What good will my profession of Christianity do to my neighbor unless I am a "Good Samaritan," unless I am a brother to him when he needs help? But the place to start practicing this noble principle is in the home, with the members of our own family. Then we may reach out into the community wherever there is a soul in need of clothes, food, comfort, friendship, or God.

Think of what might have happened to the human race if Christ had not been a "Good Samaritan" to us! We would have been left to die in our sins by the wayside of life—victims of our own selfishness, robbed of all moral power by Satan, the enemy of God. How grateful we should be that Jesus, the "Good Samaritan," has not passed us by!

THE CROWNING EXAMPLE OF CHRIST'S FRIENDSHIP FOR SINNERS
The crowning example of Christ's love for sinners is the pardoning love that He showed for the repentant thief who died on the cross next to Him. But the unrepentant criminal on the other side received no help. He might have been saved, but he did not turn to Christ.

"When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. . . . One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: 'Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!' But the other criminal rebuked him. 'Don't you fear God,' he said, 'since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.' Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' Jesus answered him, 'I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise' " (Luke 23:33, 39-43).

Without a thought of His own sufferings, the Savior's heart went out in pity to this sin-burdened thief who pleaded for pardon. This man was not ready to die until Christ removed the burden of his guilt. Christ's glory was revealed in this act of forgiving the thief who recognized the dying Son of God to be the Savior of the world. Even in His crucifixion, Jesus was honored. His mission to this world was manifested in the salvation that He provided for this lost sinner. While He was dying for the sins of humanity, with no thought of His own immense sufferings, His great love reached out and drew the contrite thief to His own broken heart. Such is the unfathomable love of Jesus, the Friend of sinners.

When Christ said to the dying thief on the cross, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43), He did not promise that the thief would be transported to heaven the moment he died nor on that particular day. Christ Himself did not go to heaven that day. The division of the Bible into chapters and verses—as well as the punctuation of sentences—were supplied by translators and copyists many years after the inspired Word of God was written. In this verse—Luke 23:43—the comma was put before the word "today" instead of after—as it should have been. Even three days after the crucifixion, on the morning of Christ's resurrection, He said:

"I have not yet returned to the Father" (John 20:17).

The promise of a future in paradise was made "today"—on the dark day of the crucifixion. "Today," Jesus assured the thief—this very day when you are hanging on the cross as a criminal, this very day when I am dying—"I promise you that you will be with me in paradise."

The repentance of the thief on the cross at the eleventh hour is the only "death bed repentance" recorded in the Scripture. Some have suggested that the Bible gives one such experience so that we will not lose hope and become discouraged in the last moments of life, but only one, so that we will not be presumptuous.

"I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Delay is always dangerous. No decision for Christ is decision against him. To be almost persuaded is to be not almost, but wholly lost. Your study of the life of Christ will help you to see that the wisest choice you can make in life is to surrender your heart without reserve to Jesus today. Sin brings death and eternal separation from God, but those who turn to Him now may have the assurance of a place with Him in that future Paradise.

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Original manuscript author: Beatrice S. Neall
Editors revised edition: Barbara Shelley, Sue Robinson
Design and Layout: DEC Designs, Morisset, New South Wales Australia.
Used by permission of Discovery Centre, Wahroonga, New South Wales, Australia.
Graphics: Still images taken from Matthew video, copyright © 1997, 2004 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of International Bible Society.
Scripture: Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
Cover Picture: "The Light of the World" by Nathan Green, ©2004 All Rights Reserved.
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Copyright © 2007 revised edition, Voice of Prophecy, California.