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Calling All Sinners

Date: May. 26, 2019

Author: MIchael Mark

Mark 2:13-17

Key Verse: Mark 2:17

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

If you could invite one famous person to have lunch with us, who would it be? It could be anyone that you really admire, past or present, like Michael Jordan, or Bill Gates, or Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, or Jane Austen.  I’d personally like to invite Charles Spurgeon from the 19thcentury. Imagine that it would be a great time, you could ask them all about their struggles and accomplishments, and they would eat, drink and converse together with you, giving you encouragement, advice, or just simply share stories and have a good time.  How would you even be able to book some time with them, or get an appointment?  Perhaps it would be very difficult, unless you knew them.  Now what if they came to you?  How awesome would that be?  What if Michael Jordan, or Dirk Nowitzki came to Sam and said, “Hey, follow me.”  Yet, there is someone greater than all of these people, who invites you to be with him.  You would learn how the world was created from him.  You would learn about where you came from, and who your ancestors were.  Most importantly you would learn about who God is, and what He has done for you.  The one who calls you is Jesus, and He wants to share his life with you.

Jesus proved to us last week that he is God, because he was able to heal a paralyzed man at will. By this he also proved that he has authority on earth to forgive sins.  We learn that forgiveness is found in Christ Jesus alone.  This is important to understand because forgiveness is the path to God.  How can a person meet God?  All religions of the world try to answer this question.  Often the path they prescribe is to offer something, or do something.  Burn some fake money or incense.  Give up meat or this food or that food.  Chant a few words 10,000 times.  Get rid of all your desires, and achieve enlightenment.  Easier said than done.  For the Jews the way to please God was to follow the Law of Moses.  But Jesus shows us that this is impossible, because of sin. Even the Jews acknowledged, who can forgive sins but God alone?  What do all the other religions on earth teach you about your sins being forgiven? At best all you get are rules. But Jesus points to one clear way: himself.  Only in Jesus is the forgiveness of sins. The forgiveness of sins is found in Jesus Christ.  His requirements are simple: look to Him, trust in Him, follow Him.  So He is the way to God.  To know Jesus is to know God.  In all the other religions, Judaism included, God is far away, He is virtually unattainable.  Even in Hinduism, you cannot be assured of enlightenment until after you die.  That is not assurance.  In all religions, God is either far away, or unknowable, but in Christianity, we see that God welcomes sinners.  This is revolutionary.  You don’t need to change or qualify yourself before coming to God, in fact, you may find that it’s impossible.  Instead, when you come to God, just as you truly are, with a real and honest assessment of yourself, He will change you, and you come to God by coming to Jesus.

Jesus came to teach this to us, and he came to preach that He is the way to God. We know that this is true, because hundreds if not thousands of people heard and saw him in their lifetime.  Look at v.13, “Once again Jesus went out beside the lake.  A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them.” Jesus usually went near the seashore and got into a boat so that he could accommodate and teach the maximum number of people.  I found out from www.school-for-champions.comthat sound is actually amplified over calm waters (the waters must be calm), so if the waters were calm, Jesus could speak to a very large crowd of people effectively from the boat.  It seems that the large crowds who came to him had no problem hearing him teach.

Jesus shows us that God welcomes sinners by the example of the calling of Levi. Look at v.14, “As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.”  Verse 14 begins, “As he walked along.”  This tax collector’s booth was near the seashore, possibly on or right by a highway that came from the north east, from a place like Syria, and went through Capernaum and then south west toward Egypt.  Levi, also known as Matthew in the Bible, was part of a category of tax collectors who charged taxes on businesses licenses, tolls, and goods and trade, such as imports and exports.  Tax collectors were a most despised class of people in Jewish society.  They were treated as outcasts, maybe as bad as or worse than Gentiles.  They were considered traitors because they served the Roman Empire.  The Jews hated Rome’s authority over them.  They were also considered crooks.  They were allowed to keep whatever they collected above what Rome required, so there was an incentive to collect as much as they could get their hands on.  This was very commonplace in the whole industry, that very few tax collectors were considered honest men.  Even John the Baptist told the tax collectors, “Don’t collect more than you are required to.”  It was one of those things where “everybody does it.”  They were so despised by the Jewish community that they were not allowed in synagogues or even allowed to be witnesses in court because they were considered so corrupt.  Even their families were looked down upon.  If the job was so hated, why would people want the job?  Because it was known as a job that could make you wealthy very fast, and there was no shortage of people wanting to take a job like that.  Have you ever tried to send flowers or use food delivery online these days?  On Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day the service fee for flower delivery is $20. For food delivery the service and tax charge is nearly $20, not including tip or delivery charge. Sometimes it feels like giving an extra arm and a leg to use these services, I don’t like it one bit, but I have no choice.  Perhaps the tax collectors did the same thing, blending in their service charge with the tax so the people don’t know, getting an extra $20 from every person paying tax.  That can add up to big profits.  Tax collecting in itself is not unlawful, but the culture of the profession was corrupt, which put tax collectors on the same level as sinners.  It was one of these people that Jesus called.

Verse 14 also tells us that Levi got up and followed him.  It would have taken some courage to leave this profession, because once he left, it isn’t likely that he could get this job again.  It was so lucrative that it would be high in demand.  But he left.  Why? Perhaps deep down he might have felt guilty for over taxing his own people.  The open shame of the profession may have started to get to him.  He might have got in for the money, but realized it was not what he thought.  Maybe some of it was against his will or conscience, just following orders from a superior.  But an even greater reason could be that he heard Jesus preach.  He would have heard Jesus preaching from the boat on several occasions, because his tax booth was near the seashore.  He might have been moved to hear such teaching with authority, not as the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  He would have heard about the miraculous healing of the paralytic by this Jesus.  In his heart, after hearing and witnessing these things he may have longed to know Jesus.  Then that moment came, when Jesus came up to his booth and said, “Follow me.”  He left everything and followed Jesus.  Now I don’t think he just left blindly, without reason.  I think Jesus would have told him that he would become an apostle, that it would require him to leave what he is doing now to become a disciple full time.  Some people may be called to leave their profession, and enter into ministry full time, some may not, but the call is the same for all – to be with Jesus by following him, seeking him daily in His word and doing as he commands.  Levi considered the cost and saw the benefits far outweighed them.  To be with Jesus, what could be better?

Levi was overjoyed, and held a great banquet at his house.  Look at v.15, “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.”  Luke 5:29 tells us Levi held this banquet in honor of Jesus.  This may have also been his farewell party, but the man of the hour was Jesus.  He invited all of his tax collectors friends and associates to this party so that they could get to know Jesus.  It was a feast for all who attended.  This would have reflected the joy and honor Levi felt to become a disciple of Jesus.

Verse 15 tells us that tax collectors and sinners were eating with Jesus and his disciples. What does this show us?  It shows us that Jesus welcomes sinners, and shares his life with them.  In Biblical and ancient times, to eat with someone was a big deal.  Dining with someone was very intimate.  In ancient Roman and Greek culture, formal dinners were often shared by reclining on couches around 3 sides of a dining area.  This was adopted by the Jews.  Meals weren’t always eaten like this, but special occasions and banquets might have been. The last supper may have also been eaten like this, as John laid his head on Jesus’ bosom.  This is much more intimate and close than we might know or be used to today.  People were laying down, reclining next to each other and eating.  Dining together meant that you associated with them.  You did not eat with someone you didn’t like or detested.  When we studied Genesis, we saw that Joseph, when he pretended not to know his brothers, did not eat at the same table with them, because Egyptians detested the Hebrews. Jews and Gentiles sometimes ate separately, and Peter was rebuked one time because Christians were not to behave like that.  Jesus ate in the company of sinners, and sat in their midst.  The Holy One of Israel, the Mighty God of All Creation, the Lord of Lords, dined with sinners.  Jesus is truly Immanuel, “God with us.” Jesus was truly among us: intimate, up close and personal.

Why was he here? Because he wanted them to know Him. They otherwise would have very little access to his teaching at the synagogue because they were not allowed in. They were cast out, and not allowed in the synagogue.  Here they can have their time with Jesus.  Notice how tax collectors and sinners are lumped together, like one and the same.  Sometimes when society throws you in the dumps, you sink deeper into it.  When the culture sees you as a crook, a thief, a lowlife and scum, you kind of become that.  You go deeper into sin like there’s no hope, no tomorrow.  Who were these sinners?  Some may have been tax collectors, others may have been adulterers, liars, drunkards and thieves.  That word sinner can also refer to an irreligious Jew, one who does not worship God or keep his law and commands.  But this is the surface level.  What are sinners really, and what is sin?  The Bible compares it to vomit, and venom from snakes.  It is what grieves you when you hear about it in family or friends, or what disturbs and makes you sigh when you read about it in the news. It is all that is wrong with humanity. Why would Jesus, the Holy One of Israel, eat with sinners?  How could he? There must have been an even greater purpose, an even greater mission in his heart: to destroy sin and the works of the devil.  Something only someone like the Son of God could do.  So here we see that he ate with sinners, not only to share his life with them, but to give his life for them.  For these tax collectors and sinners, something was stirring in all of their hearts. They have not come to perfection yet, but they were drawn to Jesus.  Verse 15 ends with, “there were many who followed him.”  This refers to the tax collectors and sinners, who began to take an interest in Jesus, and here we see that Jesus would turn no one away who comes to him (John 6:37).

Still there were others who followed Jesus, not to learn from him but to oppose him.  Look at v.16, “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?’”  Most likely the Pharisees did not eat at Levi’s, they wouldn’t have wanted to eat with them anyway.  But they followed Jesus far enough to see that he ate and dined with sinners, and they were deeply offended.  But rather than take it up with Jesus, they tried to slander him to his disciples.  Their question, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners” was not innocent, but designed to sow doubt into his disciples.  It was like saying, “Look at your Master, he is like a sinner, why would you follow a guy like that, who hangs out with guys like that.” 

Even though they spoke to the disciples, Jesus answered them directly, and turned the situation around, in their faces.  To Jesus’ disciples: “Why does Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Do you want to know why?  Do you really want to know why?  Jesus gives this answer.  Can we all please read v.17, “On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” Checkmate.  Drop the mic.  Their mouths have been shut.  “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners,” he says.  He basically told the Pharisees, I have no business with you. They considered themselves righteous because of their works, and because they follow the Law.  Outwardly, they accomplished disciplined lifestyles that were difficult for most people.  But inwardly they were merciless and judgmental.  They wrote off the tax collectors and sinners and hopeless, and shut them out of their synagogues.  They relied on their works for their righteousness, so they thought they could pay off their own sins.  They were merciless and not compassionate to their fellow Jews, they took pride in themselves and who they were, and became blind to their own sin. In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus told a parable of a Pharisee who prayed like this: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”  The Pharisees were righteous in their own eyes, and because of that they opposed Jesus who taught the way of righteousness by faith and not by works.

Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”  This shows us why Jesus ate with the tax collectors and sinners. He is the doctor, and he has the means to heal them.  He did not just eat with tax collectors and sinners and allow them to continue in their lifestyles.  He went in among them to lift them up out of the dump they were in.  A doctor does not go into a medical field, get infected with malaria, and live among the diseased.  Rather, a doctor goes in there with medicine and cures the patient from their illness.  Jesus saw all humanity plunged into sin and darkness, and he had compassion.  He didn’t take a look at the earth, all diseased and decaying, and say, “Eeeeew that’s gross, I ain’t touching that!” No, he looked at mankind, grieved for them, and said, “I’m going in to heal them.  I’m the only one with the medicine, and they need it.  I’m going to go down there, with the nastiest of them, and save them out of their sin.”  We learned last week that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins, and this authority came from his work on the cross.  Heb 9:22 says without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.  So Jesus bled and died for us to buy us that forgiveness, that healing balm.  As deep and as dark and horrible as all of human sin is, Jesus’ blood is effective to cancel it all out.  He was even betrayed at the hands of sinners, still his blood covers over that.  He was made sin, who knew no sin, that we might become his righteousness (2 Cor 5:21).  Isaiah 53:5 says, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”  Jesus is the doctor who has brought his medicine with him: himself.

Only those who acknowledge their sin can receive healing. In a similar way, it is only those who acknowledge that they are sick that go to the doctor.  In the movie “I Can Only Imagine,” based on the story behind the Christian band Mercy Me, the father of the lead singer initially refuses to acknowledge his terminal cancer, and refuses treatment.  All humanity is sick with sin, and it is a deadly disease that leads to death.  Even the Pharisees were sick, but they refused to acknowledge it.  Jesus said “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Actually Jesus is calling everyone, because all are sinners.  Even if the Pharisees would repent, he would embrace them, and some have, like Nicodemus, though most did not.  Only when we acknowledge our sin, can we received the healing from the Great Physician.  Going back to the parable in Luke 18, “the tax collector stood at a distance.  He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”  Jesus says that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.

Jesus is calling all sinners to himself.  You don’t have to be perfect before coming to God, plus he already knows your every weakness. Jesus didn’t die for us after we made ourselves all pretty and ready.  He died for us while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:8).  This is how he demonstrated his love for us.  The Pharisees and all other religions have it backwards.  They taught to live in repentance first, then you will come to God.  But Jesus came to call us to himself first, then we will live in repentance.  First we come to Jesus, then repentance begins at the very same time. Jesus has paid for all our sins, and invites us to be with him, to heal us, to love sinners.  It is God’s kindness, not his sternness, that leads us to repentance.  Before, we were unable to keep the Law.  No one could keep it.  But after Jesus’ healing, we want to follow him, we want to be like him, we want to keep the Law.  This is repentance.  So come, come just as you are.  Acknowledge your sinfulness, and come to the doctor.  God welcomes sinners, and calls them all.  He does not want anyone to perish, but desires that all come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9).  We have seen that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, but God has an even bigger and better banquet in mind.  Rev 19:9 says, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” There will be a great feast in heaven, and like a wedding it will be a time of joy, praise and celebration, and Jesus will be with us all, dining with each and every one of us.  His eating with us here and now is a foreshadow of his eating with us in the kingdom of heaven.  You are all invited!

Jesus calls us to heal us, to make us whole, to transform us from sinners into holy children of God.  Levi started out as a tax collector, but he became Matthew, the apostle of Jesus, one of the Twelve.  He wrote the gospel of Matthew, the first book of the New Testament, and by the grace of Jesus, this sinner who followed Jesus now has his name written in stone on the foundations of the city of God (Rev 21:14).  He can say along with the apostle Paul: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. (2 Tim 1:15).”  Jesus told the Pharisees, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”  Jesus is calling all sinners so that they may be healed to be with him forever, so come, just as you are.  Jesus welcomes you, just as you are.  Assess yourself honestly, and come to the Savior of your soul.  Do you hear the call of Jesus?  He says, “Come, follow me.”

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