Jesus was called a lot of names. All he did was love and help people, yet he had his share of bullies and critics. Many of the religious leaders of the day were jealous of his success and afraid he would upset the status quo. They wanted to discredit him in the eyes of the public, so they said all sorts of crazy things about him. They whispered that he was an illegitimate child. They accused him of being demon-possessed. They denounced him to the Roman authorities as a rioter, a threat to public peace.
Jesus didn’t deserve the hate, but it turns out one of their nicknames for him was true. They called him “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34 ESV). In their minds, that was one of the greatest indictments imaginable. Jesus hung out with bad people, therefore he must be bad too. In their minds, to be a friend of sinners was incredibly shameful.
But for Jesus, the title Friend of Sinners was a sign of success, not a source of shame. I can imagine him smiling the first time he heard the phrase. “Friend of sinners? I’ll take that as a compliment.” Why? Because it was the very definition of his mission.
I can’t stop thinking about what Jesus’ nickname means for me, for my friends, and for humanity today. What kind of God labels himself a friend of sinners? I could believe “judge of sinners”; I could even believe “Savior of sinners.” But friend? Really? . . .
Friendship is far more important to God than we often realize. We tend to think he puts top priority on performance, purity, and perfection, and we assume relationship is the eventual reward for those things. In other words, the more like Jesus we become, the closer our relationship with him will be. Actually, it works the other way around. The closer we get to Jesus, the more like him we become. Relationship comes first; changes comes later. . . .
God cares about everyone, regardless of where they are on their journey: spiritually mature or seeker, devout or in doubt, religious or simply curious. All of us need him, and all of us can find him. Whether you consider yourself a saint or a sinner, Jesus wants to be your friend.