"When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the 'sinners' and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: 'Why does he eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" (Mark 2:16).
As interesting as the Pharisees' question was, I would rather know: Why did sinners eat with Jesus? We know that he ate with them because he loved them, wanted to connect with them, and wanted to save them from their sins. But what drew them to him? Why would they want to be with him?
After all, Jesus Christ was not exactly a morally compromising man. His standards were higher than anything they had ever heard. He not only condemned wrong actions, he condemned wrong motives and attitudes. No one on earth held to as strict a standard as did Jesus.
In addition, Jesus was known to challenge those who wanted to get close to him. He told one man that the man should not be concerned about burying his father. He challenged a rich young man who was interested in following him by telling him that if he really wanted eternal life, he needed to give away everything he owned. He warned people that they would be persecuted--and very possibly killed--for following him. He referred to a non-Jewish woman as a dog...to her face. He considered his closest friends to be mentally slow. He even called one of them "Satan" in a moment of disagreement. Jesus did not exactly make it easy to be a disciple.
Finally, why would sinners want to hang out with someone who preached about hell so often? In the entire Bible, nobody spoke about hell and the final judgment more than Jesus Christ did.
Jesus seemed to be the last person on earth with whom sinners would enjoy spending time, but contrary to all expectations, they came to him by the thousands. They wanted to be in his presence. They loved him. When he finally started a church, it was a megachurch on the first day of its existence. What can explain his appeal to sinners?
First, I believe, Jesus loved people. He was willing to help those in need. He was willing to defend those who were being abused. He was willing to confront the abusers. He was willing to die for people. It's hard to resist people who love you.
Jesus was also authentic. He was honest. He never tried to deceive anyone about who he was or what he expected. He never tried to be someone else. He was secure in his identity. It's difficult to resist authentic and secure people who love you. They are like magnets, attracting people who need honesty, security, and love in their lives.
In addition, Jesus presented a message with substance to it. He did not insult people with messages designed to simply make people feel good about themselves. He told people about the deep-seated sins within them. He warned them of the consequences. He informed them about God's standards. He let them know about God's love for them. He told them how much God wanted to be with them forever. He called for them to trust in him and to turn from their sins. He did not present a message of legalistic requirements or material prosperity. He presented a message of love, faith, repentance, responsibility, and grace. When an authentic, secure, and loving man's words are characterized as words of substance, people are drawn to him. Who would not want to listen to such a man?
Of course, the list could go on and on. But if I had the opportunity to eat dinner with Jesus Christ, I would want to be there, too. Wouldn't you?