Isa Transforms Sinners

by Korban Bhai

Almost everyone knew that Isa was a good man. One of his closest companions said, “He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” The needs of people touched His heart and He demonstrated His power to bring spiritual blessing by meeting their need.

Isa was not interested in cultivating relationships with the rich and powerful. He spent His time with sinners and outcasts. Even when Isa was selecting the 12 disciples to work closely with Him, He chose Matthew as a member of the group. Matthew was among the hated tax collectors who worked for the foreign government of Rome. These Jewish tax collectors were viewed as traitors by their own people because they made themselves wealthy through extortion.

When Matthew accepted Isa’s invitation to follow Him, his life was changed. He forsook his life of dishonest gain to be a disciple of Isa. He began learning to live a new life, gaining new ethical principles as he followed the teaching of Isa.

Matthew showed his zeal for his new religious life when he invited a number of friends to his home for dinner so they could meet Isa. We cannot say for certain how this all happened, but perhaps Matthew’s former associates were curious about why he had given up such a profitable occupation. And so they were there to see.

We read in the Injil, Matthew 9:10-11:

While Jesus (Isa) was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with Him and His disciples. The religious leaders were shocked and offended. They began to bluntly inquire, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”

They were actually questioning the character of Isa based upon the kind of people with whom he spent time. An English proverb says, “Birds of a feather flock together.” Perhaps they thought that Isa liked to be with sinners because he was that kind of person.

Though the religious leaders directed their question to the disciples of Isa, it was Isa Himself who answered them. His response was just as direct as the question, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means. ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Isa really gave His critics something to think about. He was very plain about it when He said, “Go and learn what this means.” They needed to think deeply about His response because it did not agree with the popular religious teaching of their time. It was the custom at that time for people who sinned to offer an animal sacrifice to pay for their misdeeds. But Isa was not requesting a sacrifice for sin, He wanted the people to gain an understanding about mercy. There is really nothing that a sinful man can do, in the eyes of God, to pay for his sins, but, through Isa, God sent a special message about mercy. Any hope for man in his sinful condition has to be based upon the mercy of God.

The Romans didn’t know anything about mercy. They felt that giving mercy was a sign of weakness. Since tax collectors like Matthew and Zacchaeus worked for the Romans, they were not encouraged to show anyone mercy. Their mindset was: Tax them, pressure them, use extortion or any other means necessary…but don’t show that you are weak through giving mercy.

Isa’s life and theology were diametrically opposed to the Roman position. To Him mercy was not a sign of weakness. Thus, His offer of mercy probably seemed refreshing and warmly attractive to these hardened and hated tax collectors.

Why did Isa spend time with sinners? It was because he wanted to personally deliver God’s message to them. Sinners need mercy; sick people need a doctor. God sent Isa to deliver that message. Throughout His lifetime on earth, Isa continued to look for opportunities to deliver this message.

Another example is recorded in the Injil, Luke 19:1-9.  One day Isa was on a journey and passed through the town of Jericho. This small city was a center of taxation for the Roman government during their rule of Israel. Those who collected taxes for Rome had an almost unlimited power over the Jewish people. Any time a village man came into the city with a donkey cart loaded with farm produce, he was subject to taxation. The tax collector could tax the cart, the donkey, the load on the cart or even the wheels of the cart. It all depended on the mood of the collector and the extent of his greed.

As Isa passed through Jericho, there was a chief tax collector named Zacchaeus who had heard about Isa and wanted to see Him. But he was so short and the crowd was so large, he could not get a good view. Out of desperation he climbed a tree so he could see Isa. This turned out to be a successful effort because Isa passed near the tree where Zacchaeus was.
Isa stopped, looked up at Zacchaeus and asked him to come down from the tree. Isa then made a direct request to Zacchaeus, stating that He wanted to accompany Zacchaeus to his home. And Isa did just that.

When the crowd saw this exchange, they were displeased. They said that Isa had gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’ The prevalent attitude of the day supported the question, “Why would He want to be a guest in the home of a sinner?”

Isa, however, had a purpose in everything He did. He knew that Zacchaeus was a man who lived for money, that he was filled with greed, and that he had cheated his way to riches. But Isa also knew that Zacchaeus had an empty and meaningless life without happiness or peace.

Though Isa went into the house of this greedy sinner, we do not know what He said to Zacchaeus. We don’t know if anyone accompanied Him. Perhaps He may have taken Matthew along to share in this personal life-changing experience of Zacchaeus.

One thing we know for sure—the life of Zacchaeus was changed by the visit of Isa. From that day forward, Zacchaeus began giving his wealth to the poor. He repaid those whom he had cheated. The change was so complete that Isa said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.”

Why did Isa spend so much time with sinners and outcasts? Because He knew that He had the power to change them. This account is concluded by one of the most powerful statements in the Holy Injil: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

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