"Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them'" (Luke 15:1-2)
Jesus receives people outside the faith community, treats them with tenderness, and calls them to repentance and faith in God who loves them.
First, some definitions. Who were these people in Luke 15:1-2?
Tax Collectors. Tax collectors were people who collected various taxes for the Romans who occupied Palestine. They often charged much more than they should to make themselves rich (Ref. 1). The Jewish people despised the tax collectors and considered any Jew a traitor who was a tax collector for the Romans. Jesus called Matthew (Levi), a tax collector, to be his disciple (Matthew 9:9, Mark 2:14, Luke 5:27-28).
Sinners. The synoptic gospel writers often lumped together "tax collectors" and "sinners" (Matthew 9:10-11, Mark 2:15-16, Luke 5:30, Luke 15:1). The Pharisees shunned both tax collectors and people that the Pharisees deemed "sinners," including:
1) People who lived blatantly in contradiction to the law - such as murderers, robbers, and prostitutes (Luke 7:37, Matthew 21:31, Ref. 2 below).
2) "The people of the land" (am ha-aretz) who did not observe the Pharisees' strict interpretation of the law (Matthew 23:1-5, Ref. 3). This category included almost everybody, so many "sinners" were in the daily company of Jesus (Matthew 11:18-19, Mark 2:15, Luke 15:1, Ref. 2, Ref. 3).
Pharisees. The Pharisees were a Jewish religious sect. "Pharisee" is derived from the Aramaic term, peras ("to divide and separate"). Hence, a Pharisee was someone "separated from sin" (Ref. 4). The Pharisees separated themselves from the great mass of the populace—the "people of the land" (am ha-aretz)—by their "strict adherence to the minutia of their legal tradition" (Ref. 5).
The Pharisees believed the deception that they earned merit before God based on religious works (Luke 18:10-13, Ref. 5). In contrast, true believers in Christ recognize "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The Pharisees appeared in the gospels as the chief antagonists of Jesus (Matthew 19:3, Matthew 22:15, Mark 8:11-12, Ref. 5).
The Pharisees largely were members of the middle class—businessmen, merchants, and tradesmen of their day (Ref. 5). In legal matters, the Pharisees had recourse to the professionals in the law, the scribes (described below).
Scribes. The scribes were educated teachers and authorities in the Mosaic law (Ref. 6). In Jesus' day, the scribes were legal professionals who drafted documents such as contracts for marriage, loans, or sale of land (Ref. 7). The scribes questioned Jesus' authority, "By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?" (Mark 11:28). The scribes participated with the Pharisees in criticizing Jesus and his disciples (Mark 7:5-8). Jesus pronounced multiple woes against the practices of the scribes and Pharisees (interesting reading, Matthew 23:13-36).
What are the main principles in Luke 15:1-2?
God Draws Sinners to Jesus. Luke 15:1 is remarkable because not only does Jesus seek people who are lost (Luke 19:10), but also that God draws people who are sinners to seek Jesus. Luke, the gospel writer, says, "Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him" (Luke 15:1).
At the time of the event that Luke describes in Luke 15:1-2, Jesus was in the last months of his earthly ministry (Ref. 8 below). Many people whom the Pharisees shunned as sinners recognized their need for Jesus and came to him. These were people through home and family associations or through their occupations or immoral living were looked upon with disfavor by the Pharisees and scribes. Often they were indifferent or had little to do with their more religious and orthodox countrymen. "The religious people, Pharisees in heart, despised them and looked on them as hopelessly lost" (Ref. 9).
No one spoke to these people like Jesus. To these people who were "outside of the synagogues" of their time Jesus brought hope. Jesus spoke to them with tenderness. Sinners came to Jesus as their Great Physician to find healing for their spiritual, emotional, and physical ailments. Jesus did not overlook their sin, but called these people to repentance (Luke 5:29-32, Mark 1:14-15).
Jesus Receives Sinners - Then and Now. Luke 15:2 tells us, "And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them.'" The Pharisees, the religious establishment of Jesus' day, were indignant that Jesus associated with people outside the synagogue community who did not keep the rules the Pharisees believed necessary for merit with God. In contrast, Jesus deliberately showed people the true nature of God. He reached out in kindness to people outside the religious establishment. He treated them with tenderness, and he called them to repentance and faith in God who loves them. Jesus does the same today.
The Pharisees accused Jesus of receiving sinners. That was (and is) a true accusation. Jesus does receive sinners - then and now. The Greek work for receive means actively look for, expectantly wait, and warmly receive (Ref. 10). Jesus is like the excellent example of the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The father expectantly waited for his son to return to him. When the prodigal son returned, the son repented of his sin, and the father received him with great joy.
Jesus expectantly waits to receive you.
Apply. Come to Jesus. He will warmly receive you. Come to Jesus. He will heal you of your spiritual, emotional, and physical sickness. Jesus will forgive your sin and will cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
(refer to "Story Planner")
2. A Theological Word Book of the Bible, Alan Richardson, Editor, MacMillan Publishing Company, 1978
8. Key to the Tree of Jesus' Life and Harmony of the Gospels, The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, Fourth Improved Edition, B. B. Kirkbridge Bible Company, Inc., 1964
Photo source: FreeBibleImages.org
"How think ye? If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave ninety and nine, and go into the mountains, and seek that which is gone astray?" (Matthew 18:12 1599 Geneva Bible)
This article describes the scripture allusions for verse 2 of the children's hymn, "Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us." In verse 2 the hymn teaches us that Jesus befriends us, guards our way, keeps watch over us, defends us from sin, and seeks us when we go astray.
In the first article in this series, Ref. 1, we learned about the background for the hymn text author, Dorothy A. Thrupp, and the hymn tune composer, William B. Bradbury. We also discussed the Biblical truths in verse 1 - that Jesus is our great Shepherd who leads us, cares for us, feeds us, and protects us. Jesus has redeemed us ("bought us"), and we belong to him (Ref. 1).
Consider. At what time or times in your life did Jesus seek you when you had gone astray? In what ways does Jesus guard you and defend you from sin?
Verse 2 for "Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us"
"We are Thine, Thou dost befriend us, be the Guardian of our way;
Keep Thy flock, from sin defend us, seek us when we go astray.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Hear, O hear us when we pray.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Hear, O hear us when we pray."
-- Dorothy A. Thrupp (1779-1847, Ref. 2)
To see the lyric sheet for all four verses of "Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us" on one page, click here. The lyrics are provided by Timeless Truths (Ref. 3).
The Bible verses cited below are linked to the BibleGateway.com website and are quoted from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless noted otherwise (Ref. 4).
Scripture Allusions - Verse 2
"We are Thine, Thou dost befriend us, be the Guardian of our way"
This first line in verse 2 declares that we belong to Jesus, that he befriends us, and then asks Jesus to guard our way.
We are Thine. We now belong to Jesus because he has redeemed us. The Apostle Paul wrote to Titus about "our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:13-14 NASB). This phrase, "We are Thine," continues the theme of redemption that the author stated at the end of verse 1 (Ref. 1, Ref. 3).
Thou dost befriend us. Not only has Jesus given his life in the past to show us that he is our friend (John 15:13), he also loves us and treats us with close personal affection now in the present (Ref. 5). Jesus told his disciples, and he tells us who believe in him and follow him now, "I have called you friends" (John 15:15). Because Jesus is our Friend and we are his friend we love him and we keep his commandments (John 14:15, John 15:14).
Be the Guardian of our way. In this phrase, we ask Jesus to be our spiritual "guard rails" and keep us on the right path. Jesus said, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come" (John 16:13, Ref. 6).
"Keep Thy flock, from sin defend us, seek us when we go astray."
The three phrases in this line continue the image of the good Shepherd and what he does to protect his flock, his sheep. All three phrases are in prayer-like language.
Keep Thy flock. In the phrase, "keep Thy flock," we ask Jesus, our Shepherd, to guard and protect us with personal interest and vigilance (Ref. 7). We learn the meaning of "keep" from a famous verse about the birth of the Savior. "And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night" (Luke 2:8). The Greek word in Luke 2:8 for keeping means guarding, protecting, and exercising unbroken vigilance (Ref. 7).
From sin defend us. Jesus defends us from sin through the word of God and the Holy Spirit whom he has sent to indwell those who believe in Christ. Jesus said, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:16). David described the importance of memorizing and remembering scripture so he could apply it to guard himself from sin (Psalm 119:9-11). Jesus remembered and quoted scripture to defend himself from the devil when the devil tempted him (Matthew 4:1-11). The Apostle Paul instructed believers about the importance of the word of God coupled with truth and faith to "extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one" (Ephesians 6:13-17).
Seek us when we go astray. When we go astray (off course), Jesus will come looking for us. Jesus said, "How think ye? If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave ninety and nine, and go into the mountains, and seek that which is gone astray?" (Matthew 18:12 1599 Geneva Bible). The Greek word for astray (used twice in this verse) means "get off-course; to deviate from the correct path (circuit, course), roaming into error, wandering; (passive) be misled" (Ref. 8). Note the interesting parallel in Genesis when the Lord God came walking in the garden seeking Adam and Eve after they had sinned (Genesis 3:8-9).
"Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Hear, O hear us when we pray." (Phrase repeated)
The hymn text reminds us to pray in child-like trust to our Savior who protects us, defends us, and seeks us when we go astray. The request to God, "Hear my prayer," is common in the Psalms. David prayed, "O God, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth" (Psalm 54:2). "Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my pleas for mercy!" (Psalm 143:1).
John the disciple of Jesus wrote to believers in Christ, "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us" (1 John 5:13-14, italics added).
Listen and Sing Along
Click on this YouTube link - Solo piano meditation on the hymn "Savior, like a Shepherd Lead Us" with sing-along lyrics. Recorded by Rick Betts - March, 2011.
Thank you, Jesus, for seeking us and finding us when we have gone astray. Thank you, Good Shepherd, for leading us and guarding us in the way that leads to eternal life (John 10:27-28).
Daily Bible Verse (click)
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