What does Luke 15:1 mean?
ESV: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.
NIV: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.
NASB: Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near Jesus to listen to Him.
CSB: All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to him.
NLT: Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach.
KJV: Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.
NKJV: Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him.
Verse Commentary:
Jesus has just given some hard qualifications for being His disciple. We must love Him so much that the love for our family looks like hate. We must be willing to give up our lives and all we have (Luke 14:25–33). Unlike the Pharisees and their lawyers, who place unrealistic expectations on people and reject them when they fail (Luke 11:46), God is always willing to help His people come to Him.

At some point, Jesus is swarmed by "sinners" and "tax collectors." These two terms are used to imply a wide range of social and moral outcasts; these are people shunned and despised by the self-righteous religious elites of Jerusalem (Matthew 9:10–13; Mark 2:15–17). In this context, a "sinner" was anyone who had rebelled against God to the point that they seemed to no longer be in relationship with Him. Tax collectors were hated not only for cooperating with Roman oppressors, but also because they were frequently corrupt. The King James Version uses "publican" instead of tax collector; "publican" is from the Latin for someone who collects public funds.

Jesus doesn't just meet with these people or condemn them for their sin; He eats with them. He shows them the fellowship of a friend, and He did so from the beginning of His ministry (Luke 5:27–32). The Pharisees are incredulous that someone who calls Himself a teacher of God would associate with sinners (Luke 15:2).

Jesus responds with parables representing three ways sinners may leave God's followship. In the parable of the lost sheep, the sinner foolishly walks away. In the parable of the lost coin, the sinner doesn't even know he has strayed. In the parable of the prodigal son, the sinner intentionally, rebelliously rejects God. In the case of the first two, God seeks out and rescues the lost; in the third, He waits patiently for the lost to turn toward home and eagerly meets him on the way. In all three, when the lost has returned, the Lord celebrates.

God seeks out the lost. Jesus invites sinners to fellowship with Him. As He will later tell the repentant tax collector Zacchaeus, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10).
Verse Context:
Luke 15:1–2 sets the scene for three upcoming parables. Smug religious leaders think it disgusting that Jesus would interact with people they deem immoral. The religious leaders have forgotten their purpose; they are not to bar the repentant from God, but to gently lead people towards obedient worship of God. In the stories of the lost sheep, coin, and son, Jesus invites them to celebrate repentance instead of focusing on past failure. The setting is reminiscent of Luke 5:27–32. These parables are only found in Luke.
Chapter Summary:
To answer criticisms that He associates with sinners, Jesus tells three parables. A shepherd leaves ninety-nine sheep to rescue a single lost member. A woman searches diligently to locate a lost coin. A father eagerly forgives his wayward son when the young man returns in humility and repentance. All these lead to celebration. In the same way, Jesus teaches that God cares about restoring those who have fallen, and we should mirror His joy whenever that happens.
Chapter Context:
Luke 15 contains three parables with the theme of something "lost." The lost sheep, coin, and son represent sinners who leave God foolishly, unknowingly, or rebelliously. God seeks the foolish and the ignorant and waits patiently for the rebel to return to Him in humble repentance. Next is a collection of teachings on the differences between worldly and kingdom living (Luke 16:1—17:10). After two more groups of a miracle, teachings on the kingdom, and teachings on salvation (Luke 17:11—19:27), Jesus will enter Jerusalem and prepare for the crucifixion.
Book Summary:
Luke was a traveling companion of Paul (Acts 16:10) and a physician (Colossians 4:14). Unlike Matthew, Mark, and John, Luke writes his gospel as an historian, rather than as a first-hand eyewitness. His extensive writings also include the book of Acts (Acts 1:1–3). These are deliberately organized, carefully researched accounts of those events. The gospel of Luke focuses on the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. Luke's Gentile perspective presents Christ as a Savior for all people, offering both forgiveness and direction to those who follow Him.
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