Sermon: Sunday, 28/02/2021
Also available as a video – Sermon20210228
Reading: Mark 2:13-22
Text: 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.”
Theme: Jesus friend of sinners
As Jesus walked along he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector booth. And Jesus said to him follow me and Levi got up and followed Him. Outwardly Levi looked healthy and strong, a model of worldly success. He appeared as one who had it made and had it all. But regardless of how successful and happy he may have looked, Levi was like a living dead man. His heart was empty and dry and his soul was dying. He could hide his inner condition by the mask he was wearing. But he could not hide or cover up who he really was on the inside from himself and certainly not from God – for God sees everything, especially the heart. On the day Jesus visited him, Levi may have looked okay. But Jesus didn’t look at him outwardly, He looked on the inside of this man’s heart and soul.
He saw a wretched man, miserable and diseased with selfishness and tortured by guilt and shame for what he had become. When looked at Levi, he didn’t hate him or avoid him or condemn him. Instead, Jesus’ heart went out to him because he was yet another person consumed by his own sins. And Jesus had compassion on him. Jesus loved him. And Jesus reached out to touch him so that he might save him from a life of sin. And here begins one of the most beautiful stories of a spiritual healing ever told.
Tax collectors were the most despised people in the Jewish society. They were treated as outcasts and betrayers and were not even allowed to go to the temple. They were Jewish people who collected taxes for the Roman Government. And not only did they collect for the Romans but they added an extra bit for their own pockets. And further he was a disappointment for his parents because Levi was the priestly family in Israel. His father was a priest and it was expected that he too must become a priest as he was part of the Levi family line.
So it is to this person that Jesus comes who everyone considered an outcast and betrayer. Now Jesus comes to Levi and says follow me, a simple command, a call to leave his old life behind and to begin a new life of following Jesus. Why would Jesus have any use for a man like this? There is only one word to describe it, “grace”. In spite of his occupation, his lifestyle, his failures and his sin, Jesus loved Levi and He called him to new life.
What an amazing picture that Jesus loves the lost, and calls the lost to come to Him without regard to who they are or what they have done, He has left the door open for “whosoever will”. (Rev. 22:17). Jesus has also promised that He will turn no one away. This tells us that no one is beyond hope. I am sure that most people had given up on Levi, they snubbed him and wrote him off as a lost cause. But Jesus knew that his life can be salvaged, He loved him in spite of his past and his problems. So he delivered Levi of his sins and gave him a new life. So, no one is beyond the reach of Jesus’ redeeming love.
Jesus also knows how to reach the wayward, so never give up, in His time and His own way He will reach out to the wayward as He did with Levi. So do not give up hope, Jesus sees in all of us the hidden potential, He sees in us what others do not see and therefore He reaches out to all of us.
Levi had everything a man could ever want, he could get anything his heart desired. But in truth Levi had nothing. He valued money over people. He could count his money but he could not count even one real friend. He could pretend that nothing bothered him but he could not lie to his own heart, nor could he lie to God. He was trapped in his selfishness and greed and he was helpless. But at a time when he could do nothing for himself, God was ready to do something for him.
Jesus saw something in him that no one else could see. He saw a human being, trapped by his own sin, wallowing in his own miserable existence. Jesus saw the anguish of his empty heart. He saw the crying of his soul. And Jesus saw that he was in need of God’s intervention and mercy. Jesus knew that this sick man did not need to be condemned for his spiritual sickness, but rather to be nursed to health. But nursing such a man would not be easy. It would require compassion, understanding, and most of all unconditional love until the illness subsides; until his soul could embrace God – God who never intended Levi to live like this – the God who intended that Levi live a holy and godly life. How many people are like Levi, trapped behind some tax-collector’s booth, waiting to be rescued by God from their self-inflicted miseries!
“Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.” Levi left everything behind, his booth, his money, his lucrative job. In other words, Levi left behind his past life and accepted Jesus’ invitation to a life in Jesus, and with Jesus. Levi understood that it was not going to be easy. He would lose a lot! His stereo set, his IPAD, the many comforts of life he had worked so hard to pamper himself. But when Levi looked at all that he had to give up, he didn’t care anymore, because he had gained the love and mercy of the Lord. So Levi left everything behind. It was his act of repentance to God. It was his way of saying: “Lord Jesus I am very sorry that I had been such a terribly selfish and indifferent man. I repent of that. Lord I am sorry that I put success and money and the comforts of life ahead of you. Sorry that I did not seek you and seek to do what is good and right in your eyes. I repent of that Lord. And now I thank you for your mercy to me, and now Lord, I ‘m ready to follow you and do all that you want me to do.”
Levi’s repentance wasn’t just repentance. It was not just words, but a practical kind of repentance that bears fruit. “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.” Levi was so thankful to Jesus who forgave his sins and gave him another chance at life. He expressed his joy and thankfulness to God by opening his home to other people who needed to witness Jesus’ love and mercy. It’s like saying to those who were just like him: “Come see and hear Jesus who rescued me from a miserable life and invited me to follow him.” In great joy, he invited them to meet Jesus who filled his empty heart with God’s love and acceptance – Jesus who revived his shriveled soul with God’s life. Levi’s actions in inviting his sinful friends were remarkable. They reflect the essence of what the Christian life is all about – what a new life in Christ should be. The new life in Christ is not burdensome. It is a joyful life lived in the grace and mercy of God. A new life in Christ is like a never ending wedding celebration.
“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’?” When the religious leaders saw this happy celebration, they revealed that their souls were sicker even than Levi’s. They didn’t understand the love of God for one lost sinner. They did not understand one sinner’s great joy in being forgiven. They didn’t understand the joy of such a festivity. They didn’t understand that Jesus had come to save people like Levi who otherwise would be lost to God. They should have been happy that Jesus had an opportunity to extend the love and grace of God to other Levis. But instead, they were critical of Jesus and of the company he was with. They said: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” It was as if they were asking: “Why is Jesus wasting time with such worthless people as these? Doesn’t he know they are hopelessly lost?” But they were wrong! These people were not worthless. They were not hopelessly lost. As long as Jesus is here; as long as the love of God is available, these people may still open their hearts to Jesus’ invitation, repent of their sins, and follow a new life in Jesus – just like Levi! These priests and religious men were really sick too. They were sick with spiritual blindness, for they did not know nor see God’s heart. They were sick with self-righteousness, because they thought they were better than others.
Now notice Jesus’ bold response that will define His way of reaching the world. Notice how Jesus does not wait for us to come but He comes to us, He makes house calls, He comes to the sick and reaches out to them. He comes to our diseased and ruined lives. The good news is that Jesus loves us in spite of our condition, He comes to where we are to offer us new life to take away our heart of stone and give us a new heart of flesh. Jesus specializes in healing sin sick hearts, he is the world’s greatest cardiologist. Jesus tells us He came for the sick and not those who are well.
So how did Jesus try to help them? “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.'” Jesus declared to them God’s truth – that God sent him not to condemn those who are sick with sin, but to nurse them back to health. Of course, the Bible tells us that no one is righteous, not even one – not even the Pharisees who condemned Levi and criticized Jesus who helped him. Jesus did not mean that there are some who need healing and some who don’t. He wanted the religious leaders to examine their own hearts and realize that in the eyes of God no one is righteous and all are sick with sin and in need of God’s mercy. If they acknowledge this, then they too can humbly come to Jesus for healing as well. It is why Jesus had come! It takes faith to come to Jesus for healing. But a man or woman must first realize their spiritual sickness, humble themselves, and come to Jesus for healing by faith. It is why Jesus had come! He won’t turn away anyone who comes to him by faith.
In verses 18-22 we read Jesus defended his disciples. Jesus also helped those who were criticizing them to take a long hard look at their own hearts. How is it that they had become so judgmental and opposed to the truth Jesus had come to teach them! Jesus hoped that through his words, they might realize their sin, repent of it and decide to listen and learn from him. How did Jesus help them? Read verses 21-22 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.” What is Jesus saying? He is saying that his teaching is like new wine, bubbly, fresh, explosive and revolutionary. He is saying that his teaching – like new wine – has the power to fill the heart of those who drink it with God’s grace and truth and to change them into the vessels God would have them become. He is saying that his teaching – the Gospel – like new wine, can change a person on the inside into an instrument God can use. The new wine of the Gospel is designed to fulfill its purpose in our hearts – to mould us, change us, recreate us in the image and will of God. Jesus is also saying that unless they become like new wineskins, the new wine will be wasted on them. The religious leaders were like old wineskins, already stretched to the limit. They were fixed in their thinking, unbending, unresponsive to God, stubborn in their own traditions and outdated ceremonies. When Jesus extended his love and grace to Levi, they recoiled in horror. They could not accept such a new wine teaching, because they had no room for it in their hearts. On the other hand, Jesus’ disciples were like new wineskins, ready to stretch and bend and grow and expand according to Jesus’ new wine teaching. They were humble and they had a learning mind. When Jesus accepted Levi, they did not criticize him. Rather they too accepted Levi and shared fellowship with him. They were like new wineskins, humble and teachable and ready to embrace God’s will.
Here is a beautiful story of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army. He felt the call of the Lord to go into the streets of London and begin ministering to street people, he stood in a Methodist Conference meeting and requested permission from the presiding bishop to be released from his church to go into the streets and preach. The bishop heard the request and denied it telling Booth that they would not waste a man of his education and talent on the people of the streets. Upon hearing this, Booth sat down, resigned to defeat. His wife was seated in the balcony, because women were not allowed on the first floor. She stood up and leaned over the rail. She called to her husband and told him to listen to God and not to man. She vowed to stand with her husband against every foe. She came down from the balcony. Booth took her by the arm and they left the building to go into the streets to win people to Jesus. He was ready to quit, but his wife, a lady who usually stayed in the background, stepped out of the shadow of her husband to hold up his arms at a critical time in his life!
Many souls were saved and lives changed in England and around the world because William Booth and his wife were willing to cross the line to reach the lost. I praise the Lord that Jesus crossed the line for us! Praise His name that He loved us enough to die for us on the cross!
Jesus is calling you and me saying, “Sinner come home, come home.” Jesus is ready to heal us. Maybe the Lord is calling you to cross the line to reach someone for His glory. Today would be a good day for you to get busy doing what He has called you to do! He wants His Gospel taken out of the church into the places where the lost live. He wants us to reach out to them where they are.
Maybe you have been guilty of judging others by your own standards. Isn’t it time you started reaching out to sinners and stopped looking down on them? Isn’t it time you repented of your own hypocrisy and asked the Lord to give you a heart like His? Jesus is still the Friend of sinners. If you need a Friend like Jesus, then you come to Him right now.