While I was shaving the other day I began to muse about the drama of the election and started to think about the political strategies used by both candidates. Eventually my mind went to the fear by association tactics that the McCain/Palin campaign used on Obama. You know what I'm talking about: "Obama pals around with terrorists…" "Obama is connected to the Acorn scandal…" "Obama has a radical spiritual advisor…" To be honest with you, I hate these tactics, but they are affective. I had many conversations with both sides concerning these issues and the majority of people I talked to concluded that, "I just don't know if I can trust someone who had associations like this in the past."
After musing about this for awhile, I began to think about myself and if I had any past associations that would come back to haunt me if I ran for president. After this, I began to think about Jesus and the people he associated with. "If" he were to run for president (and I don't think he ever would so this is a mighty big "if"), would the opposing candidates be able to use his associations against him. The answer is an unequivocal yes. In fact, I believe that the people who Jesus associated with would ruin any chance he had to even run for president. Let's take a look at some of the characters he called friends.
First off, Jesus was baptized by a radical somewhat insane preacher who lived in the desert, wore camel skins, and proclaimed destruction to the status quo. Although his message is more Biblical, I think the message and actions of John the Baptist make the Rev. Jeremiah Wright look as tamed as Joel Osteen. I could just imagine the political commercials: "Jesus associated with John the Baptists who said of the religious leaders, 'You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath… the ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire' (Matthew 3:7, 10). Jesus Christ, too radical to lead."
Think of Jesus' followers. How about Matthew (Levi) the cheating tax collector or Simon the Zealot (Pretty much the equivalent to a Jewish Terrorist)? Imagine those commercials: "Jesus ran around with corrupt money stealing government officials. Jesus Christ, bad judgment, not ready to lead…" or "Jesus is someone who thinks America is imperfect enough to 'pal' around with terrorists…" More than his disciples think about his followers in general. They were really just a bunch of prostitutes, fisherman, widows, radicals, and townies. Would the people that Jesus associated with lead him to the presidency? NO! It would lead him to the cross.
Ultimately the fact that Jesus was a friend of sinners is one of the things that led him to be crucified. His opponents said of him, "Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and 'sinners'" (Matthew 11:19) and "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them" (Luke 15:2). If Jesus were on the scene today I think we (and I'm included in this) would still choose Barabbas over him partially because of who he associated himself with.
So where's the good news in all of this? Firstly, Jesus is a friend of sinners. In a recent sermon Paul Zahl exclaimed that the truth that Jesus was a friend of sinners is the only incontestable fact in the New Testament. In other words, you can't get around it, Jesus loved sinners. He even said it himself, "The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:10). So if Jesus was so passionate about sinners, he is still just as passionate and as loving to you. God doesn't wince at your baggage. In fact, he loves you and seeks to encounter you in those places that are dark and disturbing.
The second thing is this. Above I said that Jesus' associations with sinners were one of the reasons Jesus was led him to the cross. That's true, but more than this, it is precisely because Jesus came to "seek and save what was lost" that he went to the cross. This is the gospel:
"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him"(John 3:17)… "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6)… (Romans 5:8)… "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10)…The fact that Jesus loved us sinners so much is precisely why he went to the cross as an atoning propitiation for our sins. Think about that… Spend some time chewing on who Jesus associated with during his life… If Jesus loved them in their darkness, will he not love you in the midst of yours? That's grace… That's love… That's the gospel message… "Jesus what a friend for sinners…"