"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
"Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool." (Isaiah 1:18)
This lesson is the first in a series on the "Comes" of God's word. This lesson describes God's invitation in Isaiah 1:18, "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow."
Consider. In Isaiah 1:18-20 (Old Testament), God's forgiveness was conditional on the people's obedience to God. How do people today receive God's forgiveness now that Christ has paid the penalty for sin?
Introduction. Being accused of having hands full of blood was a serious accusation. Yet, that is exactly how the Lord accused the people of Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:1) in Isaiah 1:15, "Even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood." Having hands full of blood is a symbol for the cruel wrongs the people had committed including the guilt of actual murder (Isaiah 1:21, Ref. 1). Isaiah had already spoken against the people for their rebellion against God (Isaiah 1:2) and for the insincerity of their sacrifices, offerings, festivals, and prayers (Isaiah 1:11-15).
Come Now. In Isaiah 1:18, God says "Come now." The Hebrew word for come is halak, which means to go, come, walk (Ref. 2). Here in Isaiah 1:18 "Come" is a summons for the recipient of the message to approach the speaker (God). Although God does not force the people of Judah and Jerusalem to come to him, God strongly urges the people to come to him that they might receive his pardon. Likewise, today God strongly urges all sinners to come to him.
Let Us Reason Together. The Hebrew word for let us reason together, yakach, means to decide, adjudge, prove, and argue (Ref. 3, Job 13:15). The idea is that of a legal process in which each party maintains his own case (Ref. 4, Isaiah 43:26). God proposes to present to the people of Judah and Jerusalem the principles on which he is willing to forgive their sins and bestow his pardon (Ref. 5). God describes the terms for pardon in Isaiah 1:18-20.
Though Your Sins Are Like Scarlet. The stain of the people's sins are bright red and indelible like the scarlet dye used by the ancients. The ancients made scarlet and crimson dyes from the dried bodies of the insect (worm), Coccus ilicis found on oak trees in Spain and in the countries east of the Mediterranean (Ref. 5, Ref. 6, Ref. 7).
When it was time for the female Coccus ilicis to give birth, she would attach herself permanently to an oak tree. Her body protected her eggs until the larvae were hatched and able to live on their own. As the mother died, she oozed a crimson fluid which stained her body and the surrounding wood. The death of the female Coccus ilicis paints a picture of the death of Christ who sacrificed his blood on the wood of the cross that others, by believing in him, may live (Ref. 7, Ref. 8).
The scarlet dye was indelible. Cotton material was dipped in this color twice so the stain was permanent (Ref. 5). The stain of the red dye (and likewise the stain of sin in the human heart) could not be washed away by man alone. That is why we as sinners need God's action to wash us clean.
The scarlet dye was known since early in the Old Testament times, centuries before the prophet Isaiah. For further study, I suggest you check these cross references:
They will be White as Snow. Only God can forgive sin. Only God can cleanse people and wash away their sin. David recognized this principle. He prayed to God, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!" (Psalm 51:1-2). David also wrote, "Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Psalm 51:7). White symbolizes innocence and purity (Ref. 9). "White as snow " is "a powerful figurative description of the result of forgiveness" (Ref. 10 below).
Though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. Scarlet and crimson are similar reddish colors. Scarlet is bright red with an orange tint. Crimson is a strong, bright, deep red color combined with some blue or violet, resulting in a small degree of purple (Ref. 11). Crimson is associated with the stain of blood (Isaiah 1:15, Ref. 12). The ancients employed crimson color to dye wool (Ref. 5).
The Hebrew word for red in the phrase "red like Crimson" is adom, which means glaring, flagrant in Isaiah 1:18 (Brown-Driver-Briggs, Ref. 13).
Though their sins are flagrant and appear as deep stains, God, upon their repentance and reformation, will remove their sins so they will be like wool restored to its original, undyed whiteness (Ref. 14).
Forgiveness - by Obedience or By Faith? In the Old Testament, God's relationship with man was based on obedience to God. Isaiah confirms this point in regard to God's forgiveness. In Isaiah 1:18 God offers forgiveness and cleansing to the people of Judah and Jerusalem. However, God's forgiveness and cleansing was conditional based on their willingness to obey God. Isaiah 1:19-20 describes the conditions for God's forgiveness, and the consequences for not obeying God. "If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken" (Isaiah 1:19-20, italics added). For further study on God's relationship with man in the Old Testament based on obedience, I suggest reading Deuteronomy 30:15-20.
In the New Testament, God's relationship with man is based on faith in Christ. The Apostle Paul writes, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). Faith in Christ means believing in, trusting in, and having confidence in Christ (Ref. 15). Peter preached to the Gentiles gathered in Cornelius' house that through the name of Jesus everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:34-43). God's power to cleanse our sins "white as snow" is through the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7).
Let's review the main principles in this lesson:
1. God invites all sinners to come to him that we might receive his pardon (Isaiah 1:18).
2. The stain of sin is red as scarlet (Isaiah 1:18).
3. Only God can wash our sins white as snow (Isaiah 1:18, Psalm 51:7). As a result of Christ's death, we know that it is the blood of Jesus that cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).
4. In the Old Testament, God's forgiveness was conditional on the people's obedience to God (Isaiah 1:18-20). In the New Testament, God provides forgiveness and cleansing through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8, Acts 10:43).
Apply. If you do not know Christ, come to him, confess your sin, and ask him to forgive you. Put your faith and trust in him and walk in the cleansed life that Christ has given you. If you do have faith in Christ as your Savior, walk with him in the light. Thank him for forgiving your sin and for cleansing you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7-9).
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges - Isaiah 1:15
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges - Isaiah 1:18
Barnes' Notes on the Bible - Isaiah 1:18
10. The NIV Study Bible, Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1985, note on Isaiah 1:18
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers - Isaiah 1:18
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary - Isaiah 1:18
Daily Bible Verse (click)
Mr. Whitney V. Myers. Christian. For more information, please visit the Author Page.
I plan to provide postings every two or three weeks on Sunday evenings at 9 pm eastern U.S. time.
(subject to change)
(most recent three months)
1Jul18 - "There is a Balm in Gilead"
The ScriptureWay site provides Bible Teachings that point to Jesus. The Bible teaches that believing in Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven.
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." -- Jesus speaking in John 14:6
Contact or Follow
Alternative to providing an email address -- to see the planned posting schedule, you can check the side column on the Home Page.