Why Did Sinners Love Jesus?
Although He had some powerful enemies, Jesus was extremely popular, with crowds gathering around Him everywhere He went (Mark 1:45, for example). Luke 15:1 gives us an interesting insight to the way sinners reacted to Jesus: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.” So the crowds were not simply made up of righteous people who wanted to hear God’s word, though that was part of the crowd. The crowd also included many whose lives qualified them as open “sinners” before God. Which brings up the question: why did these “sinners” gather around Jesus to hear Him? It seems like sinners would stay as far away from a preacher as possible! Why did sinners love Jesus?
Well, first we should notice what it was NOT. It was NOT because Jesus hid the hard truths from them. Some Christians, in an apparent effort to make sinners will like them the way they liked Jesus, believe Christians should soft-pedal or even hide the truth from them, only treating sinners as friends without addressing what God considers right and wrong in their life. That’s not how Jesus treated sinners. If we are to follow the example of Jesus, we aren’t going to try to simply “friendship” people into God’s church, hoping they won’t notice what we believe about right and wrong until – presto! – they find themselves accidentally a part of God’s people, and then maybe we can convince them to stay when they hear the truth about Christian ethics. That’s not what Jesus did.
So what did He do that appealed to sinners? A brief look at how Jesus interacted with the sinful woman at the well in John 4 might be instructive. First of all, He initiates a conversation, letting her know that He does not consider her to be beneath His company (v. 7-9), and she noticed that simple extending of a conversation as an unusual kindness. Second, He discusses spiritual matters with her, the most important, personal topic that can be discussed, and discusses it in a way that inspires hope that she can have a great spiritual future (v. 10-15). Third, He shows interest in her life (v. 16). And fourth, He tells her the truth she needs to hear about changing her life and what God truly desires from His people (v. 17-26).
Perhaps you can notice other aspects of the conversation as well. But what stands out to me is that Jesus begins a simple, personal conversation with a sinful woman who needed hope in her life, and by the end of the conversation she is running off to tell others about Jesus, even leaving her water pot behind in her joyful rush (v. 28-30)!
The attitude of Jesus to this sinful woman stands out even more when compared to the way other religious leaders of His time looked at sinners. The religious leaders were angered at Jesus when He simply extended the courtesy and friendship of eating with sinners (Mark 2:15-16), so they apparently believed they should keep a chasm-wide distance from anyone who resembled a sinner. The religious leaders looked at sinners with a self-righteous arrogance and an almost-comical pride in their own goodness (Luke 18:9-12). And they seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time telling sinners what they were doing wrong, in a way that did not even attempt to extend kindness or hope (John 8:1-5, John 9:22-34). It’s not difficult to see why Jesus stood out.
So perhaps the main reason sinners loved Jesus can be best summarized in a simple phrase: Jesus genuinely loved people, and they appreciated that. Here was a man who was good, who taught hope-filled yet serious truths, who helped people, and who genuinely showed interest in their lives and even their faith. He would spend time with them. He would help them. He would encourage them to change their lives for the better. And they loved Him for it. Even though many would not agree to change, it was difficult not to at least grant Jesus a hearing. He had earned a voice in their life by genuinely caring about them.
As God’s people, let’s make sure we always treat “outsiders” (Col. 4:5) with a spirit of Christ-like love. If we follow in Jesus’ footsteps, we won’t think we’re too good or too busy for sinners. Neither will we hide the truth from them in a pandering attempt to make them like us. Instead, we will show a genuine, love-motivated interest in their lives and even their faith. We will show kindness to them. We will encourage them to align their lives more closely with God’s truth. If we genuinely care about people, they will know it. And caring about people earns us a voice in their life.
Why did sinners love Jesus? Because He showed love to them first. I pray that you and I will do the same.