"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
"Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored?" (Jeremiah 8:22)
Consider. Would you like to receive the balm that heals us unlike any other? Jesus Christ is the only balm that can heal our sin sickness. Only Jesus can make us whole. "There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul" (African-American spiritual).
Biblical Background. Gilead was a mountainous part of ancient Palestine, east of the Jordan River now corresponding to northwest Jordan (Ref. 1, Ref. 2). Gilead was known for its healing balm (Jeremiah 46:11). We first see balm (mastic) mentioned in scripture as precious merchandise coming from Gilead (Genesis 37:25). Joseph's father, Israel (Jacob), sent balm as a present to Joseph as lord of the land of Egypt (Genesis 43:11).
The prophet Jeremiah asked these questions, "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? (Jeremiah 8:22). Judah had turned away from the Lord and had completely ignored repeated warnings of judgment (for example, Jeremiah 5:20-31). Spiritual balm, God's salvation and healing, was available; however, the people were not seeking God. Spiritual balm through the priests and prophets was ineffective because "the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority" (Jeremiah 5:31).
About the Spiritual, "There is a Balm in Gilead." "There is a Balm in Gilead" and other African-American spirituals came out of the period of slavery in America (1619-1865; Ref. 4). This spiritual is evidence that African-American Christians knew and trusted Jesus for salvation and healing despite their condition on earth. African-American Christians answered Jeremiah's question with a resounding "Yes, there is a balm in Gilead" (Ref. 5).
The message of "There is a Balm in Gilead" still applies today. Despite whatever condition we are in, or whatever misery or difficulty we are going through, Jesus can heal our wounds and make us whole.
Apply. In what area of your life do you need the healing balm of Jesus Christ today?
Listen. I encourage you to listen and enjoy these two beautiful and moving presentations of "There is a Balm in Gilead."
"There is a Balm in Gilead" - Adventist Vocal Ensemble (well known on BBC).
"There is a Balm in Gilead" - East Carolina University Chamber Singers.
"Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me" (John 14:1)
Consider. On the evening before his death, Jesus spoke with his disciples. Jesus told his disciples that he was about to leave them (John 13:33). Naturally, their hearts filled with sorrow (John 16:5-6).
Jesus had already told his listeners who he is. "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30). “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58, Exodus 3:6, Exodus 3:14).
As the remedy for their troubled hearts, Jesus asked his disciples to believe in him. The Greek word for "believe" is pisteuó, which means have faith in, trust in (Ref. 1).
As the remedy for our troubled hearts, Jesus asks us to believe in him. Jesus asks us to trust him and to have faith in him.
The remedy for a troubled heart is to believe in Jesus.
To the father of the boy who was deaf, mute, and had seizures, Jesus said, "All things are possible for the one who believes and trusts [in Me]!" (verse 23 in Mark 9:14-29)
To the woman who touched Jesus' cloak and was healed, Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith [your personal trust and confidence in Me] has restored you to health; go in peace and be [permanently] healed from your suffering” (Mark 5:34).
To his disciples, Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; My [perfect] peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid. [Let My perfect peace calm you in every circumstance and give you courage and strength for every challenge.]" (John 14:27).
Listen. I encourage you to listen to Louis Armstrong's recording of the African-American spiritual song, "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen."
Apply. Is something troubling your heart today? Will you choose to believe in Jesus?
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Mr. Whitney V. Myers. Christian. For more information, please visit the Author Page.
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1Jul18 - "There is a Balm in Gilead"
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