February 17 - The Friend of Sinners

By Melvin Eugene Surface

Devotional Scripture: Mark 2:17

Central Thought: True religion honors God and reaches out to human need.

    Jesus rocked the boat of those who were content to practice religion without a real connection to God's mercy. He broke the mold of religious rule-keepers. He lived a blameless life, but He showed holiness from His heart. He made religion relevant as He brought God's love and power to bear on human needs.

    He stood in contrast to the legalists whose religion rested in their rules. Jesus exposed piety without pity, and His critics only looked for ways to condemn. They scorned Him as a friend of sinners when He sat with social outcasts. He explained that the healthy do not need a doctor. The Healer goes to the sick and needy. He came not to call the righteous but the sinners to God.

    The critics faulted Jesus' disciples for breaking their rules of fasting. His followers were not denying themselves food in a religious practice. Jesus responded that they would fast at the proper time, when He was no longer with them. They were too filled with His joy at the moment to take on the austere trappings of outward religion. God was doing a new thing. He would not squeeze their vibrant new relationship with Him into the dried-up old container of a lifeless religious system.

    Next the critics blamed Jesus' disciples for the simple act of plucking food grain as they passed through a field on the holy day. Jesus put God's intent in focus by pointing His critics to the Scriptures. God established the Sabbath to benefit, not bind, His people with a day of rest and worship. The legalists' added restrictions voided God's purpose. Jesus claimed Lordship over the Sabbath. Then He proved it.

    In the synagogue, Jesus met a man with a withered hand. His opponents watched for ammunition to attack him. Tragically, their opposition did not spring from honest skepticism. They assumed He could—and expected He would—work a miracle. Religious zeal blinded them to the wonderful things God was unfolding. Their disregard for suffering in favor of their ritual both angered and saddened Jesus. They had no argument from God's Law, but they stood in silent judgment. Jesus told the man to stretch out his hand, and he stretched it out! A flow of God's power made him well. The critics stormed out with shriveled hearts.

    Jesus was a friend of the marginalized and hurting. His religion—His relationship with the Father—motivated Him to reach out and help others. What does your religion motivate you to do?

Devotional Prayer: Lord, help me not to be so religious that I fail to show Your love and mercy.

Today's Bible Reading: Leviticus 4:1–5:19; Mark 2:13–3:6; Psalm 36:1–12; Proverbs 10:1–2