Mark Sermon # 7 February 18, 2018
Mark 2:13-17 “Who is this Jesus, Who Welcomes Sinners?”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 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. 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. 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?” 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.”
Who is this Jesus, who dares to touch and heal a hideous leper, so that he is cleansed?
Who is this Jesus, who dares to claim God’s authority to forgive sins?
Who is this Jesus, who dares to call a despised tax collector to be His disciple?
Even at this stage of Jesus’ ministry, we see people responding to Jesus in one of three ways:
First there are the crowds, who are content to watch Jesus perform miracles, without committing themselves to Him. Second, there are the religious leaders, who are hardening in their opposition to Jesus; and third, there are those who are drawn to Jesus and who leave behind their jobs and their priorities, to follow Jesus. And here we read that those who follow Jesus are precisely the kind of people we would expect to stay away from Jesus, namely, the ungodly, the prostitutes, the traitors and the most wretched sinners of society!
Why is that? And what category would you describe yourself in?
Let’s explore this passage of Scripture by asking a number of questions:
- Who was Levi, and why was he so despised?
14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth….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?”
Those who work as tax collectors have never been among the most cherished of people. But a man such as Levi (a.k.a. Matthew – see Mt. 9:9) was among the most hated in Jewish society.
[BTW: Don’t confuse this story with that of Zacchaeus, in Luke 19, another hated tax collector who also followed Jesus.] Why was that? They were hated for two main reasons:
First, because they were seen as extortionists, crooks, and criminals. You see, they weren’t like the IRS in America; these men could shake you down for anything they wanted to, and get away with it. For example, if you were bringing your produce to market in a cart, a tax collector could stop you on the road, make you unpack all your goods, and not only tax you on every item you had, but also tax you on your cart – even tax you for each wheel on your cart! And because of this, it was natural that tax collecting attracted a criminal element of thugs and enforcers, the scum of society.
Second, they were hated and despised because they worked for the occupying Roman government. Levi was a Jew who collected taxes for the oppressive Roman government. What he didn’t keep for himself helped to finance the Roman soldiers who brutally persecuted the Jews! Therefore Levi was regarded as an outcast, as a traitor. He would have been put out of his synagogue, and he would have brought disgrace on his whole family. In some ways, he was more unclean and more hideous than a leper!
That’s who Levi was, and that’s why he would have been so despised by everyone else. The only people who he could hang out with were fellow tax-collectors and other social outcasts!
Main Point: All of this made Jesus’ calling of Levi and his socializing with him and his fellow tax collectors quite astonishing! Who is this Jesus, who calls despised tax-collectors to follow Him and become His disciples? Who is this Jesus, who hangs out and eats with these despised traitors, these unclean sinners? What is it that drives Jesus to do what no one else does?
- Why did the religious people think it was wrong for Jesus to eat with these sinners?
Why would Jesus call such an unacceptable and despicable person, like Levi, to be one of His followers? Why call a man to be one of your disciples, who no one wants or even likes, except for his fellow tax collectors? That’s what the teachers of the law and the Pharisees can’t figure out (v. 16) Let’s try to understand how these religious leaders saw what Jesus was doing, as He not only called Levi to Himself, but then hosted a party full of tax-collectors and other undesirable sinners! Let’s remember that in the Middle-Eastern culture, to eat with someone was to have close communion with them. To share a meal was to share friendship.
Now the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law would call those who didn’t follow their religious traditions as “sinners.” So they were criticizing Jesus because He failed to observe their distinction between the “righteous” and the sinners.” And that really upset them!
Keep in mind that they maintained a restricted fellowship, like an exclusive country club, and they weren’t about to open the membership of their religious club to such riff-raff! The Pharisees (literally, the separatists) would carefully avoid all ritual impurity and contact with those who did not keep the ritualistic laws. That’s why these religious leaders thought it was dead wrong for Jesus to share a meal with these “sinners.”
Are we like the Pharisees?
Now, while none of us would say that we emulate the Pharisees, the truth is that we sometimes behave like them, right? For the longer we have been Christians, the more we grow accustomed to a certain degree of morality, and the more we are prone to look down upon those who still commit blatant sin! We don’t mean to do it; but we just forget the depths of the sin we came out of, and we start thinking like members of a religious country club, instead of as wretched sinners who are saved only by God’s grace!
And so I need to ask myself: “O Lord, how am I like those Pharisees? How is our church like those religious leaders?” I know that often we want to find PLUs – people like us, who share our values and moral standards.
What would you think if at our next church lunch you came downstairs and saw that someone had invited dozens of visitors…from the LGBTQI community… and from a radical Muslim mosque… and from the local KKK and the neo-Nazi party? Would you leave in a huff? Would you stay, but sit at a table apart from any of them? Or would you welcome them and seek to engage them with the Good News of Jesus Christ?
When Oliver Cromwell ruled England in the 1600s, the nation ran out of money and could not mint any coins. Cromwell sent his soldiers to the great cathedrals to see if there was any silver that was available. They reported back that the only silver was in the statues of the saints, to which Cromwell replied, “Melt down the saints and get them back into circulation.” Sometimes that’s what God needs to do with us – melt us down and get back circulating in the world as His ambassadors. The life of a follower of Jesus Christ is to be not one of isolation, nor one of assimilation, but rather one of mission.
- Why did Jesus call Levi to follow Him, and socialize with him and his friends?
Notice first that Jesus takes the initiative with Levi. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. As He does with every sinner, Jesus sovereignly calls the needy and the outcasts to Himself. We love Him – because He first loved us! Jesus demonstrates his loving authority over Levi, causing this hated tax collector to respond to Jesus. And so Levi gets up from his tax collecting booth and starts following Jesus.
Now this was a decisive act. Levi leaves his tax collecting and doesn’t go back. He gave up a lucrative business to follow a new rabbi! Luke tells us in 5:28 that Levi left everything behind.
As Jesus showed us in Mark 1:16-20, when He sovereignly called the two sets of brothers to follow him, and they obeyed, so here, Jesus has irresistible authority over us. What have we seen so far in Mark’s gospel? We have seen Jesus’ authority over sickness, over demons, in teaching, over leprosy, and over sin! Who is Jesus, that everyone and everything must bow before Him?!!
Why did Jesus call a tax collector to follow Him, and then socialize with him and his outcast friends? The answer is found clearly in v. 17. 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.”
Those who see themselves as “righteous” are really in need of Jesus, but they won’t admit it or they can’t see it. On the other hand, the sinners know their need of Jesus, and that’s why they are with Him. This is God’s Grace abounding to the chief of sinners… and all the other sinners as well! For Jesus didn’t come just to hang out with sinners; He came to heal sinners, to bring them to repentance and faith. Jesus gladly spent time with sinners who were open to His teaching; He forgave repentant sinners; He embraced those sinners who believed in Him.
“The first link between my soul and Christ is not my goodness but my badness; not my merit but my misery; not my standing but my falling; not my riches but my need.”
We read in Luke 15:2 that “This man (Jesus) welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Jesus was calling sinners to Himself and communing with them because the whole purpose of his ministry on earth was to bring salvation to sinners! As Jesus put it in Mark 10:45, “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
In the three related parables in Luke 15 about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost brother, do remember the “punchline” when the lost object or person is found? “I tell you that there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (15:7, 10, and 23-24, 32 – the great feast and celebration over the son who returns.) Jesus came to earth to seek out and save the lost, and when the lost are found by coming to Jesus, there’s always a celebration! That’s why Jesus is at this party!
Jesus called Levi to follow Him and to be His disciple, because in the words of 1 Tim. 1:15, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – especially the worst of sinners. Jesus hung out and celebrated with tax-collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners – who all knew they were wretched sinners in need of a wonderful Savior – because in the words of Romans 5:6-10, “While we were powerless to save ourselves – while we were still sinners – while we were His enemies – Christ died for us.”
- What does Jesus’ eating with sinners signify?
His eating with sinners signified three things:
a. Divine forgiveness
The significance of Jesus eating with sinners suggests that the basis of this table-fellowship was messianic forgiveness. When Jesus broke bread with these outcasts, it signified that the Messiah was extending to them intimate fellowship with God, a fellowship which could only happen if these sinners had experienced God’s forgiveness in Christ. The significance of this meal lies precisely in the demonstration of forgiveness which it affords. It takes its place very naturally with the two preceding sections of the Gospel (2:1-12, 13-14) as a sovereign demonstration of the forgiveness of sins.
b. Holy Communion
Each month, when we participate in the Lord’s Supper, we are in some sense celebrating what those tax-collectors and sinners enjoyed 2,000 years ago. For as we take the bread and the cup, we humbly and joyfully acknowledge that we too are sinners, but that Jesus is a great Savior, and that He is a Friend of sinners to us!
c. The Wedding Supper of the Lamb
As Jesus was eating this feast, with all these broken and repentant sinners, that meal was a foretaste of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, as described in Rev. 19:6-9. Indeed, the OT and the NT describe the relationship between Jesus the Messiah and the messianic community in terms of meal fellowship: See Isa. 25:6-9; Matt. 8:10-11; Luke 14:15-24; Rev. 3:20; and Rev. 19:6-9. Jewish writers spoke of the age to come in terms of a banqueting hall. And so this meal was an extension of the grace of God and an anticipation of the consummation when the Messiah will sit down with sinners in the Kingdom of God. (William Lane)
You know what is amazing? Later on, in the gospel accounts, (Matt.26:45; Mark 14:41), we read that the Son of Man, Jesus our Savior, would be betrayed into the hands of “sinners.” Jesus knew that He would be cruelly tortured and shamefully put to death – at the hands of sinners, yet, knowing that, He willingly, lovingly, and sacrificially gave Himself over to wrath, agony and separation, for the sake of such sinners.
So when Jesus broke bread with these outcasts, it the Messiah eating with them at his table and extending to them fellowship with God.
What amazing grace! What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?