MAIN TEXT: MARK 2:13-17
He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Are you a friend of sinners? Do you spend time with people who are far from God, are not like you, and whose lives might not reflect your values? Do you love sinners, care for sinners, reach out to sinners, and serve sinners? Are you a friend of sinners? Are you like Jesus?
Some have called this section of Mark “the scandal of grace”. It has the potential to bring great conviction to those that have been following Christ for a long time. It can reveal that we can have tendencies to think like modern-day Pharisees and fulfill the parable that Jesus told in Luke 18:9-14. Some churchgoers think of themselves as super-saints and feel that God is lucky to have them on His team.
It is best for us to take the approach of the tax collector. We are all sinners in need of the mercy of God! If you are “in Christ” you have been forgiven through the amazing grace of Jesus and this grace should lead you to be like Jesus – a friend to sinners.
As we look at the story of our text, all of us can identify with a character. A good question for us to ask is, “Am I loving and serving sinners as Jesus did?”.
Jesus Calls Unlikely People to Follow Him
Jesus left the house of Peter where he healed the paralytic and went to a large open area where the crowds could get close to Him and hear Him (verse 13). The crowds came and He kept on teaching. If you want to reach those far from God then you have to be with those far from God and you must share the gospel.
Jesus purposefully crosses paths with a tax collector named Levi – we know him to be Matthew, the writer of one of the four gospels. As a tax collector, he was considered a thief, a traitor, and was hated by the Jewish people. He was part of a mafia-like organization that was like a dishonest IRS agent who overcharges people for their own profit. Tax collectors were banned from the synagogues and a touch from them would render an entire household unclean. Jews were able to lie to a tax collector without punishment or offense. Money was the god of tax collectors and Levi/Matthew was spiritually bankrupt having sold his soul to sin and self.
Jesus sees Levi and simply says, “follow me” (verse 14). This act of Jesus calling Levi to follow Him was scandalous. It equaled the touching of a leper. Jesus however does not succumb to social pressure. He came to call sinners to Himself and that is what He does.
Levi counted the cost, took the risk and followed Jesus. This was a radical decision. He gave up a lucrative business and all of his tuff and turned his back on his former way of life.
Levi saw something in Jesus that he wanted and Jesus saw in Levi what he could become. Jesus did not see a lowlife deserving condemnation but rather saw a sinner in need of salvation. Jesus didn’t see Levi as a wicked extortionist but instead He saw a:
- an apostle
- an evangelist
- a gospel writer.
Jesus sees in us what no one else can see and turns us into what we were intended to be – mature image bearers who reflect His glory. The grace of Jesus and His choice to be a friend of sinners makes this possible!
Jesus Calls Socially Undesirable People to Fellowship with Him
Jesus goes to Levi’s house and shares a meal (verse 15). This was a day of salvation for Levi and was cause for celebration. Levi invited a large number of friends to the house to meet Jesus and eat – it was a great feast (Luke 5). It may have been a farewell party or to celebrate his new life and calling – but Jesus was honored and Levi was sharing Him with His friends.
The “sinners” were stunned, humbled, and thankful that Jesus - a young rabbi- would share table fellowship with them. However, the religious leaders were offended and angered. The religious people were ugly and pathetic. Their hearts showed depravity. Followers of Jesus desperately need grace as we proclaim it to others. Jesus welcomed the unwanted as honored guests and beloved members of God’s family. If this is true of Jesus, it should also be true of us!
This party and feast with sinners extended forgiveness to all who would follow and is a foreshadowing and anticipation of the great banquet with Jesus at the end of the age (Revelation 19:9). Some day, people from every tribe, nation, and tongue who have experienced this scandalous grace will recline with King Jesus at a great banquet table that will never end.
Jesus Calls Spiritually Unhealthy People to Follow Him
The scribes of the Pharisees were not happy with what Jesus was doing (verse 16). This group will consistently oppose Jesus throughout His ministry, all the way to the cross. They question Jesus’ disciples as to why Jesus would lower Himself and associate with those who do not follow their traditions and rules. Jesus hears their criticism and responds with a proverb that explains His mission and justifies His actions (verse 17).
Jesus used irony to expose their hypocrisy. The Pharisees were just as needy of a doctor, healing and medicine as the tax collectors and wicked. They were blind to their spiritually terminal disease that only the Great Physician named Jesus could heal. It was if Jesus were saying, “I have nothing to say to those that think that they are righteous, but to those that know that they are sinners in need of salvation, I have come to heal them and call them to myself.”
You must see yourself as lost before you can be saved. You must know that you are spiritually sick before you can be healed. You must know that you are spiritually dead in sin before the Savior can make you spiritually alive!
Jesus, friend of sinners
APPLY TO LIFE
This week, as you reflect on the message, utilize this section to help you apply what has been taught to your life. Think of friends, co-workers, neighbors, family etc., that you could meet with to have a time of mutual sharing as you open God’s Word together.
This simple acronym (BLESS, B - Bless, L - Listen, E - Eat, S - Speak, S - Sabbath) should help you to frame your life according to the great commandment “love God” (Matthew 22:37) and the expression of that commandment in loving your neighbor (John 13:34). Each time you meet, start by discussing the rhythms of your life according to B.L.E.S.S.
Intentionally bless: Christ-followers, non-believers and those different than you.
Listen to what God is saying to you, through His Word and others.
Share a meal with a Christ-follower and also a non-believer.
Talk to God through prayer and to others about Jesus through witness.
Be intentional about taking time to both rest and recreate.
DISCUSS THE MESSAGE
What kind of “sinners” are you reluctant to befriend? What kind of weakness or fear keeps you from showing the love of Jesus to them?
Which people do you think Jesus would hang out with today?
Negatively, the unsaved are spiritually terminally sick. Positively, the Gospel offers salvation from sin and death. Which motivates you more for evangelism and missions?