The more we see Jesus as He truly is, the more we can become who we truly are supposed to be, and the more we will do what we were created to do. I can’t grow in my likeness of someone I don’t know and I can’t be more like Jesus unless I am growing in my knowledge of Him. So Let's dig in and explore the character of Jesus. In the New Testament and the book of Matthew and Luke, there are a couple of stories and people we can look at.

Now, would you say that you have a few good friends? People you can count on, that you like to spend time with, people that know you well? Ok good. Now, how about you? Would you say you are a good friend to your friends? Don’t be humble now. Last question, how many of you would consider Jesus your friend? This is an important question to answer because it will determine how well you become who you were made to be and do what your called to do. Am I a friend of God?

Growing up I liked having friends to do things with, so I wanted friends. I wanted to have some people I could count on every afternoon for activities. You can’t play kickball alone. Now, how we choose our friends growing up is interesting. Some of it is based on our neighborhood, our school, or maybe our church. At first we are not very selective, just whoever is available. Then things change and we determine whom we like. We start to make a mental list if things someone may need to have or do in order to be our friend. In essence we create a mental measuring stick. We carry this stick around and different factors might affect our decision, I like the way they look, I like the way they dress, I like their money, I like the way they make me feel, and if the measure up they can be my friend.

I had a teacher in 4th grade whose name was Mrs. Livingston. She was one of my all time favorite teachers. She loved the Lord. And Mrs. Livingston would use a big measuring stick to teach every once and a while. It was her pointer and it may have been for affect or emphasis too. But she didn’t use the measuring stick for punishment, that’s what the paddle was for. The reason I mention Mrs. Livingston’s measuring stick is because we can have a measuring stick in our own lives that we not only use to see how we are doing in life, but then we also project our measurements onto other people’s lives and that’s how we choose our friends.

Do they measure up?

You see I’m going to go out on a limb and say you probably like most of your friends, that’s why they are your friends. Safe assumption. But I am also going to bet most of your friends (that you like) are a lot like you. You have common hobbies, skin color, profession or age. And this makes sense and there is nothing inherently immoral about this, but the tension is in order to reach lost people with the love of Christ we have to think differently about who we will befriend. I understand there are different levels of friendship, but the initiating decision of whom we befriend needs some thought. The dictionary defines a friend as someone we will show favor towards, who will we aid and support (for the sake of the gospel).

Well, the Bible has a lot to say about how Jesus chose His friends, and it’s really different than us. The first friend I want to look at is Zacchaeus, the “weee” little man. Don’t you know if Zacchaeus could come back he would find the author of that song and punch him in the nose. Zacchaeus was a tax collector so let’s pick up the story in Luke 19:1–10. But first, here is the point today, Jesus is the friend of sinners so Jesus is our friend.

Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. 2 There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. 3 He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.
5 When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” 6 Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. 7 But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.
8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” 9 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. Now verse 10 describes Jesus mission and sets the tone for why whom we choose to befriend is so important. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

So let’s unpack this story. Tax collectors were sellouts. They were Jews who worked for the Roman government, so they’d take money from their own people and give it to the enemy in essence. He was a professional cheat and embezzler. He was a reject from his people, a notorious sinner and he’s been notoriously sinning for a long time.

We are not really sure why Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus but he did so bad enough to climb a tree to make it happen and this would have been a little embarrassing. Yet he did anyway and then something amazing happens, Jesus sees him up in the tree and calls him by name. People say the sweetest sound to a human being’s ears is the sound of their own name. So Jesus calls this hated, rejected, notorious sinner by name. Maybe this is the first step to be a friend like Jesus, to see people where they are, personalize them, call them by name and recognize they are stamped with the image of God and God knows their name.

What happens next should be encouraging to anyone who is a believer hoping to lead other people to a saving knowledge of Jesus. We don’t know how long Jesus spent with Zacchaeus at his home that day, but we know Jesus changed everything about this man’s life. Not by what He dictated or told Zacchaeus to do or not do, but simply by being a friend. So at some point Zacchaeus stands up and announces that he is changing everything about his life.

This is what we must know by experience, a moment with Jesus changes everything. In this case a lifelong taker announces he is about to become a lavish giver. There is no account of what was said to Zacchaeus so we wouldn’t set up some evangelistic model. No, what we see is a few moments with God in the flesh can change everything. When people encounter Jesus something has to change. Jesus knows this and befriends this notorious sinner.

By befriending Zacchaeus, Jesus broke the measuring stick everyone else in the crowd was using and this is good news for us, as well as a good model for us. Remember, Jesus is the friend of sinners so Jesus is our friend. Because spiritually speaking we all have a little Zacchaeus inside of us (see what I did there?). I think most of us have felt an emptiness, or inadequacy inside of ourselves. A hole that no matter how hard we try or what accomplishments we attain, how much stuff we accumulate, we know something’s still missing, in essence we know we fall “short” in a spiritual sense. The Bible says we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s holy standards. So what do we do? We pick up our measuring stick and start to see how we can get God’s attention. Hey God, I’m up here in the tree, see me? I went to church, I prayed today, I played the Christian radio station on the way to work, Jesus it’s ok you can come to my house today.

But Jesus befriended Zacchaeus because of his own choosing. He stopped because he is gracious, loving, and kind. He stopped because He knew Zacchaeus by name and He called him out of darkness just like He does with you and me. Look at what Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, quick come down,” and Zacchaeus quickly came down to Jesus. “Hurry up” is what Jesus is saying. Come down from trying to measure up, come down from your religion and works and position in life and let my grace save you. And Zacchaeus responded to the call to come to the Savior quickly and he experienced what all who come to Jesus do, Jesus takes our old self and replaces it with our true self, the person he already sees and calls by name.

If that is what Jesus does for us shouldn’t that be what we do for others?

If that is what Jesus does for us shouldn’t that be what we do for others? The answer is rhetorical and answered in verse 10. Jesus summed up his life mission, “I’m here to find and save lost people,” whether they are notorious sinners in sycamore trees or prostitutes or thieves on a cross, I came to help lost people be found. This story, as Jesus said, “I must be a guest in your home,” was to reemphasize Jesus central mission on earth yet again.

Sometimes to know who Jesus is we have to remind ourselves of who He is not. Jesus is not your accuser or prosecutor, He is your friend and rescuer. If you are here today and like Zacchaeus, you’ve been doing some notorious sinning for a long time, just know if you will get to know Him yourself and spend some time with him, His goodness will change everything about you from the inside out. Put down the measuring stick because Jesus broke it. Jesus is the friend of sinners so Jesus is your friend.

So let’s briefly talk about what kind of categories of sinners God has. You see on our measuring stick we have respectable sins and big bad sins. But here is what Jesus said in Matthew 9:12–13, now to set this up Jesus had just called Matthew, another tax collector, to be his disciple. It’s a good thing Jesus measuring stick is different than ours when calling disciples. Well, Matthew decides to throw a party for all his sinner friends and invite Jesus and all his disciples over too. The religious leaders get mad and say you can’t have a party like that, you can’t mix the peanut butter with the jelly and Jesus says:

12 When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor — sick people do.” 13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

Jesus takes our measuring stick that we all default to and he breaks down all of humanity into two categories, people who think they are righteous and people who know they are sinners. Jesus took our attempts to get his attention or to feel better about ourselves compared to others and he broke its power over us. Now we fall into two categories, those that act like they don’t need Jesus and those that know they are doomed without Him. You know what these two categories have in common? We all need Jesus’ help. Your reaction to my point today can give you a glimpse into how you see yourselves; Jesus is the friend of sinners so Jesus is your friend.

You know why this is so important for us as a church? So we reach whomever God calls us to reach. We don’t label people as too far gone, or even they’re probably fine and seem like good people. Sometimes the guy with a good job, two cars and a house, etc is in even greater need of Jesus than the addict because they think they are fine and don’t need Jesus.

Again this is why we must break the measuring stick. When we recognize that except for the grace of God we are just as messed up as that notorious sinner over there we will quit showing God our good deeds in comparison to someone else and admit we need Jesus to be our friend and change everything. Jesus is the friend of sinners so Jesus is our friend.

The struggle for friendship with God is real because not only do we have to deal with the insecurities of the little Zacchaeus in us all, but we also have to deal with the Pharisee that wants to rear it’s ugly head too. I’ll give you an example. Have you ever noticed when someone conquers a vice or a bad habit how they can become one of two people. First, they can either become the greatest critic of all those around them that still struggle with the bad habit OR they can become someone who knows how much better life could be for you and just lovingly tries to help you if you want it.

I am glad Jesus took the second approach. He didn’t look at you and I and say I overcame this sin thing and you guys are pitiful, you can’t even think pure thoughts. Instead Jesus was and still is fanatical about showing mercy to those who least deserve it. He was and is relentless in bringing hope to the hopeless, by being a friend to sinners and that includes me and you.

We must do the same. Instead of asking people to measure up to our standards of things we’ve conquered, rather than judging or condemning people who don’t measure up to my good deeds, I love as I was first loved by Jesus and I extend grace as I was extended grace by Jesus. I recognize my own need for Jesus everyday and how I still need his grace. This makes me thankful that Jesus is a friend of sinners so I can be a friend of sinners like me.

This is the kind of hope I want us to give and be known for church. If we want to be more like Jesus (and of course we all need to be) then we offer hope. Jesus is a friend to everyone who is willing to admit that they have problems. If we understand that we are doomed without him that we will never measure up without his help then Jesus is near to us, and our friend.

You can’t be good, but you can be honest and that’s where Jesus changes everything.

Remember my question about friendship, “do you consider yourself a friend of God?” Because a lot of times we can default to viewing God as angry and just waiting for a moment to find something bad about us to punish. But Jesus said he came to show us the Father. John 14:9, “if you’ve see me you’ve seen the Father.” So His actions and words are identical to God’s. Jesus was God in the flesh and he loved people, he was a friend of sinners so God is a friend of sinners. This is good news for us and we are to take that good news to others. Let’s break the measuring stick that cripples us and stifles our witness.

The enemy is going to do his best to get you to live in one of two spots on this measuring stick, the self-righteous side that compares and makes ourselves feel better with thoughts like “that notorious sinner deserves to go to hell.” OR he will pound you with the self-condemning side, with “I’ll never measure up, I’m damaged goods, I am a notorious sinner that deserves to go to hell.” These extremes are living by the rules of the ruler of this world, and we must live by a relationship with the savior of this world, Jesus. We all have to come to the place where we realize, “I am loved by Jesus, just as I am, AND so is everyone else.”

“I am loved by Jesus, just as I am, AND so is everyone else.”

Yes, sin is bad. Yes it will destroy you, and hurt other people. But Jesus sees our sin and steps into the middle of that mess and loves us to a place of forgiveness and freedom. He loves you too much to leave you in a place of bondage to sin, but he loves you to that place. Jesus will handle you and everyone else the same way he handled the woman accused of sexual sin. Remember everyone wanted to stone her and she deserved it by the law, but Jesus loved her and forgave her and then he said, “go and sin no more.” Now we often interpret that with our measuring stick, almost as a threat, now go and quit doing all your nasty sinning stuff. But that’s not Jesus’ heart. It was a declaration of freedom. He wasn’t condemning her past, he was defining her future. It was for freedom that Christ has set us free to no longer be enslaved to sin. Jesus knew she didn’t want to be an adulterer, so He gave her hope and freedom, just like He does with you and me and anyone else who will admit they need a friend like Jesus.

No sinner is irredeemable. No sin is too great that Jesus’ blood can’t overcome it. His love is greater than sin, Jesus defeated sin, sin is not a problem for God, never has been. That’s why we must be a church that welcomes people home to a place where they can belong before they believe or even behave.

What would it look like if we loved like Jesus loves? What if we started befriending people not on the basis of what they could do for us, but what we know we could offer them? Apparently as you read the gospel accounts people who were nothing like Jesus, actually liked Jesus. The ones who finally recognized where they were on the measuring stick and that if they were willing Jesus would break the stick forever for them and give them freedom, were set free. That’s how I want people to look at you and me, and this church.

Let’s do John 3:16. God so loved the world that he gave his only son Jesus, to be our friend, and whoever will accept that friendship, can have freedom and eternal life. If we see sinners in Evans the way God sees us, we will love them the way God loved us first.

I think people around us are closer to God than we realize. I think there are a lot of people with jacked up lives that don’t want their lives to be jacked up any more and if we will show them the love of Jesus their resistance will crumble. Jesus is irresistible when he is seen as He truly is. Jesus is your friend, therefore He is a friend of sinners and there are so many more people that He knows by name we are called to love and befriend.

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