[The following is an excerpt from a sermon I preached some weeks ago at my church. The text I preached from is Mark 2:13-17. The full audio is available here. Hope you are edified.
In verse 16, we are told that the Pharisees and scribes asked: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” The word for eat in this passage suggests eating in communion with, as it does in our own common expressions. For instance, the phrase “to break bread” means something like “to share one’s valued assets with another.” Negatively, the phrase “biting the hand that feeds you” signifies betraying someone who is close to you and supplying your needs. Scripture, likewise, shows us the significance of eating with others in many places. For instance, in Genesis, when God visits Abraham, they eat and speak of our Lord’s plan of salvation (in soon causing Sarah to conceive Isaac, through whom the Messiah would come centuries later) and his plan of judgment (in soon destroying Sodom and Gomorrah). Likewise, at the confirmation of the Old Covenant, our Lord meets with Moses and the chief men of Israel, communing with them as they beheld him and ate.
So the scribes and Pharisees were not merely asking “Why is Jesus eating with them?” but “Why is Jesus eating in communion with sinners?” The idea is that Christ is spending time with sinners, speaking to them about sin, death, redemption, the love of God, and the judgment to come – and this is what the Pharisees do not approve of. They thought, incorrectly, that a sign of our Lord really being a prophet would be his refusal to be intimately related to sinners, as we can learn from Luke 7:39. So they ask: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Why does he teach them? Why does he sit with them and lovingly instruct them of the nature of his law, his gospel, his kingdom, and his kingship?
The text tells us the reason very clearly: God has mercy on sinners, heals the sick, imputing righteousness to the wicked who repent and believe him to be their Savior. However, we could also answer the Pharisees by saying what David says: “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore, he instructs sinners in the way.” (Ps 25:8) Why does our Lord commune with sinners? Because he is good. This flies in the face of the self-righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. God is good. Therefore, he instructs sinners in his way. Therefore, he calls sinners to sit with him, to take and eat, to taste and see that he is good. When we see our Lord Jesus sitting with sinners and communing with them, intimately speaking with them, and teaching them, we see that he is, indeed, Yahweh the Lord God of Israel of whom David writes in Psalm 25. If the scribes and Pharisees knew the Scriptures half as well as they thought they did, they would have recognized that he who ate with Abraham and taught him of salvation and judgment is the Lord Jesus Christ who communes with fallen men and women. If they had spiritual sight to see the truth, they would have watched as our Lord communed with fallen men and women, in anticipation of his inauguration of the New Covenant, even as he did at the confirmation of the Old Covenant.
The Pharisees and scribes should have seen in Christ what David speaks of when he declares that Yahweh instructs sinners in the way of righteousness. They should have known that a God who does not commune with sinners is not the One True God but an idol who is powerless to save sinners. It is because God is good that he saves sinners, imputes righteousness to us, and instructs us in the way of righteousness.
So as we follow our Lord’s earthly ministry, we see him later sitting at the table of the Last Supper, breaking the bread, the symbol of his broken body, and drinking the wine of the New Covenant, the symbol of the blood he shed for the remission of our sins, and saying to his disciples and us: “Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:25) And we learn that the self-righteous, those who refuse to wear the wedding garments of Jesus’ righteousness, those who seek to justify themselves by pointing to their filthy rags and saying “I am as righteous as God the Son,” those who refuse the righteousness of Christ imputed only by grace through faith in the Gospel will be bound “hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. [And] in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 22:13) This is why the angel in Revelation 19:9 says: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb…These are the true words of God.” The self-righteous have no place at the table, says our God. But sinners – prostitutes, adulterers, fornicators, homosexuals, murderers, covenant breakers, thieves, and liars – who repent and trust only in Christ, the Son of God, in the fact that he shed his blood for the remission of their sins, these who are humbled under the damning power of the law of God and turn to him for forgiveness, these will eat with Jesus our Lord at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
The Lord is good; therefore, he saves sinners, gives them life freely, and instructs us in the way of his righteousness. Jesus is the Lord, Yahweh; thus, he does the same.