THIS MAN RECEIVETH SINNERS
A Sermon preached at Rehoboth Chapel, Coventry, 2nd March 1980. `And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.’ Luke 15.2.
These words were spoken by people whose attitude to the Lord Jesus Christ was one of the most bitter antagonism. They were men who were constantly looking for some reason to discredit the Lord Jesus. They were constantly trying to find something in His life at which they could point a finger and so turn people away from Him. So many of the things that Jesus had said had struck at the very roots of their superficial, traditional and bigoted attitudes, and it was on such an occasion that these men pointed to this fact, that there `drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.’ It seems almost unbelievable to us that their attitude should have been what it was. We are so used to hearing that this Man receiveth sinners, but to them there was something very objectionable about this. One can understand them having this attitude to the publicans because the publicans had robbed them of so much money. We can understand them having this attitude to sinners because many of the sinners were flagrantly evil people, and it was right, of course, that people should show their reaction against the sin of sinners, there is nothing wrong in that. What was so wrong was that these scribes and Pharisees felt this sort of proud opposition, this proud scornfulness against those who were, as they thought, so evil.
And certainly the thing that they rejected was any suggestion that they were
just as bad, that they were sinners like these others – not sinners in the same way, not sinners like the publicans, the tax collectors who had taken more money than they should have done, not sinners like the harlots of the town. Oh no, very respectable middle class, or upper middle class, sinners; not even recognized by most people as being sinners. I read recently of a period in Scotland in the 1800s when Thomas Chalmers was speaking to a minister after he had preached in his church. Chalmers had preached to sinners, and the minister of the church came to him and said, `I do not know why you preached so long to sinners, there is only one in this area!’ Well, that seems to me to be something like the spirit of the Pharisees and the scribes. `We are not sinners but these people are: there must be something very wrong with Jesus to be interested in people like this, and if these people follow Jesus there surely must be something wrong with Him.’ And so the words were spoken scornfully with bitterness and hatred, but to me these words are very precious. They did not know that they were speaking the truth; they did not realize when they said this that they were speaking one of the most profound and one of the most precious truths they could possibly speak. And it is wondrously true that this Man, Jesus, receives sinners.
I feel so thankful that that is true because of the past, the past in my own life, and the past in my own family. I bless God this evening because Jesus receives sinners as sinful as I am, as sinful as you are. And I thank God that Jesus receives these sinners without pointing a scornful finger at them. Yes, Jesus will point an accusing finger at them. Jesus never condones the sin of the publicans and sinners and some of you know in your heart of hearts that Jesus will never condone sin, He will never pass it by and ignore it. He will always point out our sins, but never in a scornful way. He will make us realize what we are, make us feel our sinfulness – but only so that He can deal with it. Real conviction of sin is absolutely vital in religion. Some people may say, `O we do not want to talk about conviction of sin, that is miserable, that is a morbid thing to talk about,’ but, real conviction of sin is absolutely vital in real religion. For instance, later in the chapter, there could not have been any proper relationship between the father and the prodigal son unless that prodigal son had come to himself. It was not until he came to himself – that is, until he realized what he was and what he had done – that then he could go back to his father and there was a right relationship between them. Until there is a proper sense of our own sinfulness, there is never real repentance. We may suffer agonies of remorse, we may suffer momentary feelings of guilt, but there is something far, far deeper. When Jesus said He receives sinners, He will point His finger at their sins, He will make them feel in their hearts their sin, but what He does never repels them. It is no wonder that the publicans and sinners did not have anything to do with the scribes and Pharisees; everything that the
scribes and Pharisees said about their sin would repel them. They thought that was the only way in which they could express their displeasure with sin, but Jesus can express His displeasure against our sin, in a way that wonderfully attracts us to Himself. He can expose our real condition without completely crushing us, without making us feel rejected. He can do it in such away that He draws us to Himself. Surely it is a remarkable thing that these, of all people, should express so profound a truth as this. `This Man Jesus receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.’
I do not know whether what has happened this week* has affected any of you in such a way, as to make you feel that you are not ready to die, made you feel very, very deeply that you are not fit to come into the presence of your God. I wonder whether these things have made you begin to feel how utterly unholy you are. Now by `unholy’ I mean that you feel that you are not fit to come into the presence of God. God is holy. And you deeply feel now that if it had been you, something terrible would have happened because you are not ready to meet God. There is something between you and God, there is something on your conscience. You do not like to admit it, perhaps, and would not admit it to me or anyone else. But you know there is something on your conscience. I wonder whether the events of this week have made you ask this question, `How can things be put right’? What can be done about this situation? I know I am not right, I know I am not ready to meet God, I know there is something, (perhaps some of you say there are many things), between me and God. I am afraid to die.’ I am not surprised when people say that they are afraid to die. There is a `sting in death’, says Paul. That is what makes you afraid to die. That is what hurts, that is what gives you that `sting’ inwardly, the `sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law’ – the law condemns sin, the law says, `The soul that sinneth, it shall die.’ So I am not surprised that you feel that you are not ready to meet God, that you are afraid to die.
What is the answer? Are you then going to try and do your best? Do you think that from now on you can turn over a new leaf and that that will be enough? If you do, it is rather like re-writing this verse and saying, `This Man receives the righteous,’ but it does not say that. If you think that by anything you can do you can make yourself acceptable to God, then you have to re-write the verse, you have to change it altogether. `This man receives the people who think that they are good enough.’ Does He? The Pharisees and the scribes thought they were good enough, but did Jesus receive them’? `Woe,’ He said, `Woe unto you, scribes, woe unto you, Pharisees.’ He did not receive them. `He came,’ says the Scripture, `not to call the righteous, but sinners to *The preacher’s son had suddenly died in a road accident.
repentance.’ So then, what is it that can put matters right between you and God?
I believe these words have the answer in them. If this is now your concern, there is only one thing to be done. There is only one thing that could possibly be done, and that is that you must come to Jesus as He said, `Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden,’ you must come just as you are. That hymn I quoted in prayer is as true today as ever it was, `Just as I am.’ You say, `But surely if God is so holy, and Jesus is so good and so righteous, I cannot come just as I am. I have got to do something; I have got to put things right; I have got to change things in my life.’ Well, make no mistake, there are going to be great changes in your life, but I venture to say this: Come just as you are. Do not wait until you have tried to put things right! The only way in which things can be put right is by coming to Him. You can never do anything in a right spirit and a right attitude until you have come to Him. `Just as I am.’ You say, `Well, I am sure He will not receive me, not being like I am, not with a life like I have lived, not with the attitudes that I have had in my mind, not when I think of all the things that I have done.’ But Jesus says, `Come.’
This Man receiveth sinners. There is the wonder of the gospel, just the simple precious truth of the gospel,
Sinners can say, and none but they, How precious is the Saviour.
So I say again, Come to Him just as you are. Tell Him what you are, tell Him what you have been and ask Him to deal with you, to forgive you, to bless you. Ask Him to change your life.
If someone says, `But in the Bible it speaks about repentance and faith. I do not even know if I can repent, I do not even know if I have got faith.’ All I can say to you is, `Do not ask questions any longer like that. If you do not know how to repent, come to Jesus and ask Him to show you how to repent. If you cannot believe, come to Jesus and ask Him to give you faith.’ I know those of you who are older will understand the paradox, you will know that that can never be, except under the blessing of the Spirit of God. But this is the way Jesus addresses sinners, this is the way the gospel speaks to sinners. You have a need, there are things you cannot do, there are things you do not understand. Jesus just says, `Come.’ He can deal with this, He can do this for you. He is exalted a Prince and a Saviour to give repentance. He is the One who gives that precious gift of faith. And `this man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.’ The Pharisees and scribes always wanted to put barriers in the way of people coming to Jesus. They thought that Jesus, by being so gracious, so willing to listen to sinners and receive them, in some way condoned their sin and in some way gave them an excuse for going on in sin. It never was so. Jesus received sinners to deal with them, to change them, to bless them.
Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched, Weak and wounded, sick and
sore; Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, joined with power;
He is able,He is willing; doubt no more.
This is not just true at the beginning; it is true all through our Christian life. Every day it is true, and it is true for you who, in your Christian profession, have made so many mistakes. It is true for you who come here feeling so burdened with guilt, you who have known the Saviour, and yet perhaps this week, through these events, have said, `Yes, although I believe, though I believe that matters are right between my soul and God, there is still something; the sins of my Christian life which so trouble me; my failures, when I do not live as I want to live, and I cannot do what I want to do, and I feel so distressed about it. I do not seem to have the strength to do what I want to do. Like Paul when he says, “When I would do good, evil is present with me. The good that I would I do not: but the evil that I would not, that I do. O wretched man that I am.”‘ This Man, Jesus, receives that kind of sinner.
I do not believe in perfection in the flesh. I believe in sanctification, I believe in the Spirit’s work in the souls of sinners, making them love holiness; cleansing their lives, purging their lives, causing them to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. `If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,’ John says.
I am thankful that on the day I die this will be true, `This man receiveth sinners.’ I hope, when I die, my sins will have been confessed; I hope that when I come to die there will be no unrepented sin in my life. But if there are sins in my life that I have not recognized, sins which I have not seen, sins which I have forgotten about, then this is one of the comforts I have, that this Man who sits on the throne of glory, this Jesus to whom I will go when I die, receives sinners.
I say one more thing; though this Man receives sinners, there is something He has done for them. And although in ourselves we feel our sinfulness; we know painfully, sometimes, with a sort of excruciating painfulness, that we are sinners, yet we also know that this Man forgives sinners, and that this Man has a righteousness which He gives to sinners. If you have no righteousness of your own, you are just the sort of person for Jesus to deal with, because He has a righteousness which is perfect, so that God can look at you and say that there is nothing wrong. Now, is not that wonderful? When you feel so miserably wretched and you know that there are so many things wrong, God can look at you at the very same time when you feel so wretched, and God can say, `There is nothing wrong.’ `There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.’ There is nothing wrong in God’s sight.
are multitudes of evils in your own heart – but God says, `That is all dealt with, the sins are all forgiven, and the life that has been so wasted by sin is covered with the obedience of Jesus.’
My mind went to a passage in the book of the Revelation. You remember how, at the close of those seven letters that the Lord addresses to the churches of Asia, we come to one of the most painful and sad of all those letters – to the church of the Laodiceans. That church was lukewarm, it was neither cold nor hot. The Lord threatened those people that He would spue them out of His mouth because they were neither cold nor hot. But He did not leave it there. At the end of that chapter 3 there is one of the most precious words ever addressed to sinful Christians – sinful Christians! Words addressed to a church like Laodicea, – to lukewarm Christians. `Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.’ Do you feel as though lately there has been no real communion between your soul and the Lord? Do you feel estranged, as though there is a barrier? Why, listen. This Man receives what we might describe as `church sinners’. And He says, `Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him.’ The language is different, but the meaning is much the same, This Man receives these sinners who come to Him, and they say,
`Lord, I have been so lukewarm, there has been so little real communion.’ But He receives sinners and He eats with them. He does not just meet them at the door and shake hands and stand on the doorstep and talk to them and then say goodbye. You do that, don’t you, with a travelling salesman, or someone like that? You stand on the doorstep, you talk with them a little while and shut the door in their face, and they are gone. You say, `No thank you, I am not interested.’ But, friends, here is a Man who receives sinners and takes them indoors. He says, `Come in, come in and sit down. Come and eat with Me. Have a meal with Me and drink with Me, talk to Me.’
The gospel tells us there is a day coming when all the sinners whom Jesus receives will be gathered together. Some of them will still be alive on the earth when Jesus comes. There will be multitudes who are dead. Some will have been buried for centuries. The souls of just men made perfect are with the Saviour. That great day comes and believers on the earth are caught up to meet Him in the air, the souls of the redeemed are united to their resurrected bodies. Wonderful change! And then, what is there? There is a marriage supper. There is a feast day, a wondrous feasting time. `This man receiveth sinners.’ They will all be clothed in that robe of purity, holiness, perfection. They will all be wonderfully changed. `It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.’ But, it is still true that everyone at the marriage supper of the Lamb is a sinner, but a sinner saved by grace.
There is another passage on my mind, which you will find in the third chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians. When Jesus receives sinners, He draws them together, not just to Himself, though that is pre-eminently what He does, but He draws them to Himself, and consequently draws them toward each other. And these words in chapter 3 of the Epistle to the Ephesians seem very attractive to me this week. In verse 13 Paul says, `Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.’ Paul had so much to suffer, he was troubled lest, when the Ephesians heard about his tribulation, they would become discouraged; perhaps they would feel tempted that if Paul was really such a minister as they thought he had been, surely God would not do these things to him. He was troubled lest they would faint, that is, that their faith would fail. Now he says, `Do not faint because of the troubles that have come to me. They have only come to me for your glory.’ It is not easy to understand altogether what that means, but I feel that Paul is really saying,
`These things have happened to me for your good, in some way they are going to work in your life for your good, and your attitude to these things is going to be for your comfort in the end.’ So he says, `I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you.’ He really felt that what he was going through was, in a sense, on their behalf. `For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father,’ and he prays that they will not faint, he prays that their faith will not fail, – he bows his knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.
Paul was a man who felt a deep sense of that family relationship. He says there is one `whole family’. Now what a comfort that is to me, to my wife and to the family. You see, our family circle has been broken so comparatively early. It is almost exactly 21 years ago when our family began, so it is really very early for the family circle to be broken. But just as it was when my own father died, so again now. There is this wonderful comfort in my own heart, that the family is not broken really. You see, it is only a human family relationship that is broken. This spiritual relationship that Paul speaks of here is not broken. You can really think of death as being like a translation. You just move from one part of the family to another part of the family. The family is not broken. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, in chapter 12, having spoken about the way in which people see the judgments of God, the law of God, and using Mount Sinai as a representation of the infinite holiness and terrible judgments of God against sinners, the apostle goes on to say that you, who are believers, do not go to Mount Sinai, you do not go and hear the thundering and the lightning, you do not go there to tremble and to quake like Moses did. `But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all,
and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better things than that of Abel.’ Now, the point that so encourages my mind is this, that when a believer comes to Jesus, that believer comes into a family, into a relationship, into a company of people. It is called `the general assembly’, the church. It is people who have been called by Jesus, called to Himself, called to believe in Him, and they all form part of this `general assembly’. But we read that this general assembly has in it `the spirits of just men made perfect.’ I understand that as referring to those who by faith are righteous, justified men. Not men who are just in themselves, but justified men. Men made righteous through faith in Jesus Christ.
Their spirits are together with Christ, and when you come to Christ, believing in Jesus, you are not just united to believers on earth, you are united to the `spirits of just men made perfect.’ What does that mean? It means that you, coming to Jesus, are united to the spirits of all those just men who you read of in the Bible, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and others. Isaiah, Jeremiah, the disciples, Paul, Timothy and all those dear and godly people that you have known in your lives here, whom the Lord has taken. This is the family.
This is the relationship you have now. Ah, yes, the sorrow is great, the parting is intensely hard. For us, there is a painful separation. For them there is no pain in separation. For us, there is pain but it is not a final separation. `Just a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry.’ So the Apostle speaks of this whole family in heaven and in earth.
I want now to go back into the Psalms. I do not know if any of you have a tear-off calendar, the Apples of Gold calendar. I think it is today’s text on that calendar which we find at the end of Psalm 16. This psalm is a prophetic psalm, and it speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ, and especially of His resurrection. In verse 10, `For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.’ They are the words of Jesus speaking to His Father, – telling His Father of His confidence that He would not be left in the place of the dead; He would not be left in the grave, ‘Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life.’
In a wonderful way that path of life was shown to the Saviour in the resurrection, as though He opened His eyes to see the grave opened, to see before Him leading from the sepulchre the path of life, leading upwards to glory, a path that would bring Him to hear the song of glory, `Worthy is the Lamb.’
Jesus had looked beyond suffering and the cross, to that before Him; He knew there would be no more suffering, He would see the complete triumph of what He had done. This is His joy, the joy that was set before Him, the joy of drawing His people one by one to Himself.
Do you want to cling to life? No, we do not want to cling to life when we think of it
this way. `In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.’
Do you want the passing pleasures of this life? The pleasures of heaven with Jesus Christ go on for evermore, pleasures indescribable. I cannot tell you of those pleasures, but I know this, they will be so pleasurable that you will be perfectly happy – perfectly happy.
In this life there are pleasures of anticipation and of participation. Some of the happiest times in our lives are in anticipation, but when we have got there it is better than we anticipated. We looked forward to marriage with a great longing, it was better than we anticipated. Heaven is much better than that, and we anticipate it, but it will be better than we can ever have imagined, for we shall be with Christ which is far better.