Good morning! I have great news for you today! Jesus came into the world to save sinners and you qualify! So does the person sitting next to you and the person sitting next to them.
Jesus isn’t picky about whom he saves. That can be a stretch for us! Jesus’ love for people we don’t like can cause us to think, “What’s a person like that doing in my church?” “Who is she trying to fool?” “I’m not going to come here anymore if she shows up here.” “This is my church, not hers!”
Most of us are mature enough not to say these things, but we may think them. Mark Twain said, “I wouldn’t belong to a church that would accept a guy like me.”
Let’s open our Bibles to Mark 2:13. Mark has been telling us how Jesus has been traveling around Galilee healing people, driving out demons, demonstrating his power and amazing the disciples and the people with his authority.
So far so good, but in Mk 2:13 a troubling event takes place. Are you ready for this? Are you sure? You may not like what the Lord is about to say to you! But on the other hand, this may be the best news you have ever heard.
“Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 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…”
Once again we find Jesus going out to seek and to save. He left heaven for us and every day while he was here, he went out to save lost sheep. He’s still doing it, but he’s doing it through you and me.
Today’s object lesson – a Roman tax office and a Jewish tax collector. Think a CPA tax agent in the local IRS office – is he a friend or foe? Israel was occupied by the Romans. They levied taxes to fund the army, keep the peace, build the roads, etc.
Regardless of the benefits they received through the taxes they paid, the Jewish people loved to hate the tax man. They saw him as a traitor in league with the Romans.
Mark doesn’t give us any information about Matthew’s honesty. He simply says he was a tax collector and therefore an outcast.
Anyone remember another tax collector Jesus went to see? His story is in Luke 19. He was a wee little man and he lived in the city of Jericho. He climbed up in a sycamore tree to see Jesus as he passed by. Jesus saw him in the tree and called him by name. “Zacchaeus, you come down, for I’m going to your house today!”
The Pharisees and religious leaders were fastidious about what they ate and who they ate with. They didn’t eat ‘unclean’ food’ and they didn’t eat with ‘unclean’ people. Regardless of how honest a tax collector may have been these guys dismissed them as “sinners”. Any sinners among us today? We would have been welcome at Matthew’s house.
Back to Mark 2:15 “…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. 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?...”
Notice how hospitable and generous Matthew is. Sometimes the people we Christians dismiss as ‘sinners’ are more generous and hospitable than we are. That’s sad and wrong.
These Pharisees were confused by Jesus’ willingness to eat with the ‘sinners’ and outcasts Matthew invited to his house to meet Jesus. Matthew’s generosity and concern for others puts the shrunken hearts of the Pharisees to shame.
Same thing happened down in Jericho with Zacchaeus. Zack stood up at banquet he had thrown from Jesus and said, “Look, Lord! Here and now, I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Luke 19:8
I wonder if the people who muttered against Zack would have been that generous or honest. It’s really tragic how easily we accuse others and then excuse ourselves of the same sin. It’s as if there’s something sick in our souls!
“…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.” Mark 2:13-17
Let’s go back and review what Mark has told us so far. Mark began with the preaching of John the Baptist telling the people to get ready for the coming Messiah. Jesus began his ministry by being baptized into our dirty water. He identified fully with us, except he never sinned. When he was tempted by Satan, he resisted, ultimately even to death on the cross.
He then began calling the most ordinary of men to come and follow him. He started to preach, “The time has come! The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mk 1:15
He showed us he was Lord over the spirit world by driving out a demon during his first sermon in Capernaum. He showed he was Lord over the physical world by healing Peter’s mother-in-law and a host of other people. Everywhere he went he left a trail of crutches, eye patches, bandages, stretchers, and even an empty tomb behind.
This wasn’t because he was some kind of rock star, wonder boy! It was because of his connection to his Father. Every morning before dawn he was off to a lonely place to pray and get direction and power from his Father. Now we see him refusing to leave behind those lost lambs the religious establishment had written off.
The stories of Matthew and Zack confront me with my own tendency to build fences, create holy huddles with those I’m comfortable with. There’s a little Pharisee in all of us. Jesus’ ministry holds a mirror up in front of our faces. We are forced to ask ourselves , “Lord am I guilty of the same sins that I despise in others?” “Are the sins I despise in others, in reality the biggest sins in my own heart?” Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:13-17
Let me give you an example. His name was Paul. He was a Pharisee. He was a specialist in pointing out the faults in others, but he was oblivious to his own. He confessed to loving God, yet the truth was, he loved nobody but himself - until Jesus showed up.
Listen to what he wrote to Tim. “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus…”
“…Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” 1 Tim 1:13-16
When we first meet Paul he had a shrunken heart, no room for anything but his own inflated ego. He was a bitter angry man, filled with pride about how religious he was. He stunk!
But Jesus loved him enough to meet him on the Damascus road. Jesus healed his shrunken heart. He became a missionary to the very people he had once hated. God can do that for you and me. For our church. Are you open to that?
I am so thankful to the Lord for the ministry that happens every Monday night here at Christ Lutheran Church. It starts with a meal just like the meal at Matthew’s house. People who Jesus loves, some disciples, some not, are drawn together by the love of Jesus around his table and he is in our midst. And then he begins to heal, physically, spiritually, emotionally.
It happens again on Wednesday night, and at our senior lunch, men’s breakfast, in our homes. Why? Because we are good? No because Jesus is good. He came into the world to save sinners and we qualify, along with a world of hurting, broken people around us.
Let’s make it our aim to be as open and hospitable with others as Matthew, Zacchaeus. Let’s make it our aim to be as loving, gracious, and merciful with others as Jesus is with us.
Do you agree? Let’s pray…
Lord Jesus, I need a new heart - one that loves like you. One that is courageous, bold, brave, fearless, yet merciful and gentle. Will you forgive me for judging, shunning, ignoring, accusing others and help me love, encourage, forgive, be as generous with my love and grace as you are. Let me become the life giving aroma of Jesus in a world filled with the stench of death. In Jesus name.