|SINNERS AND TAX COLLECTORS AND
SICK PEOPLE. OH MY!
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
March 26, 2000
This morning we’re continuing to look at the early ministry of Jesus. I encourage you to turn with me to Mark 2:13-17. In these verses one major focus is prejudice - the preconceived notions and attitudes that we have about other people that keep us from being effective in sharing the Gospel with them.
I recently heard this story about prejudice. Two apples were up in a tree were looking down on the world. The first apple said, “Look at all those people fighting, robbing, rioting - no one seems willing to get along with his fellow man. Someday we apples will be the only ones left. Then we’ll rule the world.”
Replied the second apple, “Which of us - the reds or the greens?”
Mark 2:13: And He - Jesus - went out again by the seashore - at Capernaum - and all the people were coming to Him, and He was teaching them. As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.
Levi was the name that Matthew’s parents had given him - his birth name. Jesus was probably the one who changed Levi’s name to Matthew. Jesus had done that to several of the disciples. Given them new names. Simon became Peter - the “rock.” James and John became the “Sons of Thunder.” Levi became Matthew - meaning “Gift of God.”
Matthew worked as a tax collector - apparently in a toll booth - on the road that ran from Damascus through Capernaum and out to the Mediterranean Sea. Since tax collectors were not paid salaries - Matthew’s main job was to extort money from people who traveled along this road - He lived off of what he could steal. Matthew worked under the government's authority. So, he was a legal thief.
Matthew was really hated by his people. To the Jews - Matthew was a traitor - a collaborator with the Roman Government - and a crook. But, Jesus saw something different in Matthew. Jesus saw him as a “Gift of God.”
Verse 15: And it happened that He - Jesus - was reclining at the table in his house - in Matthew’s house - and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?”
The day after Jesus called Matthew - Matthew had a “Farewell Dinner” at his home. He was leaving town - following Jesus wherever Jesus would go. So he gave a going away party and invited all his friends.
Imagine this - sitting around one table - the tax collectors - those who refused to keep the Mosaic Law - the sinners - the despised - the social outcasts - Matthew’s drinking buddies and gambling partners. This is the crowd that the Pharisees would never - in a million years - never have had anything to do with. No self-respecting Jew would have had any dealings with these people.
In the middle of all this sits Jesus - not lecturing them about their sins - just sitting - eating and drinking and sharing with them as their friend.
The Pharisees came and saw all this and were absolutely appalled by the way Jesus was behaving. They asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners? Doesn’t He know who those people are? How can He even let Himself be seen with people like that?”
I’d like to pause here for a minute and not miss the importance of this situation for us. There are two major issues here - thinking about prejudice - that we want focus on. The first deals with OUR PREJUDICE TOWARDS OTHERS.
Last night we celebrated our 74th Anniversary Church Banquet. It was great. An opportunity to get all dressed up and all go to the same restaurant - to be together as a community - family - friends - brothers and sisters in Christ.
Years ago I was a part of church - once a year they would get all dressed up - tuxes and elegant dresses - and go to MacDonald’s - just for the fun of doing it together - the fellowship of being together. What a scene!
One the hardest parts of preparing for last nights banquet - if not the hardest part - was arranging the seating. We all owe Barbara and Caroline a huge amount of thanks for doing that. People invite guests - they come with their family and friends and we want to sit together. Its a special occasion and its appropriate that we should arrange ourselves that way.
But, imagine if it was that way on Sunday mornings and in the rest of our ministry together. If people only wanted to sit in church in their places with their people - if in the coffee time we only wanted to talk to our friends and our family - to sit at tables only with the people we felt comfortable with - if we looked with suspicion at anyone that we didn’t feel was acceptable to us - “odars” - and “those” people - whoever “those” people are - if we only spent time focused on people who share our ideas and build our egos.
If we acted like that - who would want to be a part of this congregation? Who would be interested in hearing us share the Gospel?
A couple of weeks ago we looked at the time when Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James, and John - the fisherman - and Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will teach you how to fish for men.” (Mark 1:16-20) The beginning of Jesus calling His disciples - His church to share the Gospel with all men in every place.
Sadly the church is often described as a group of fisherman - out in a boat - not casting nets into the water - but waiting for the fish to jump in the boat - and then clubbing them. If we’re prejudiced - then we’ll only club the fish we want to keep in the boat. Jesus wants us to fish for all men.
The Pharisees were not religiously ignorant. They were well studied, reasonably theologically sound, God fearing men - who cared deeply about their beliefs and the practice of their faith. But in this matter they were completely wrong. Their focus was on their rules and regulations and traditions and prejudices towards people - and not on what God wanted to do in them and through them.
In the Gospels - Jesus is constantly pushing His followers out of their comfort zone - constantly challenging the religious status quo - the accepted traditions and prejudices of those around Him. Because we need to be challenged - pushed out of our comfort zone. Otherwise it would be easy to come here - to our church - to worship in our way - to visit with our friends and our family - to spend our time doing what is most important to us - and never really accomplishing anything of importance for the Kingdom of God.
People are more important than prejudice - and we need to know this - not just intellectually - but in the reality of how we treat each other.
The second issue we want to focus on - first, our prejudice towards others - the second issue is found in Jesus’ response to the prejudice of the Pharisees - JESUS’ JUDGMENT OF US. Verse 17: And hearing this - the comments and prejudice of the Pharisees - and hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but the sinners.”
Jesus - as only He can - takes the question the Pharisee’s raised - “How can He eat with those kinds of people?” - and points it back at them. “I came for the sinners.”
This is one of the most important statements in Mark - maybe the whole of the Bible. Its the explanation of why Jesus came and who He came for. “You’re right. These are sick, hurting people - wounded - and damaged by their lifestyle - damaged and separated from God by sin. They don’t see life correctly. They’re sick men and they need a doctor. I’ve come to heal men. So this is where I need to be. I came not to call the righteous; but sinners.”
A while back I went to see my doctor. After the nurse checked my weight and everything - she showed me into one of those examination rooms with the magazines from a few a decades ago. Finally my doctor came in and asked the usual question, “So, what brings you in today?”
I said, “Well, I really missed you and thought I’d come in and visit for a while.” That’s the truth. I really appreciate and like my doctor. In fact we ended up talking about a number of personal things.
Of course I also had a physical reason - a medical need - to see my doctor - and finally he checked me out and gave me the prescription I needed.
So many people come to Jesus and want to talk about everything under the sun and they never look to Him for healing in their lives. Aside from people who have never heard the Gospel - statistically - the #1 reason why people do not follow Jesus is because they see no reason to follow. They believe that how they are living life works okay for them.
Beyond their beliefs the Pharisee’s were actually more needy than the social outcasts and “sinners” they looked down on. They were in deeper trouble than the tax collectors. Mark 3:15 says that while the Pharisees were caught up in their intellectual arguments and religious practices - while they were avoiding Jesus - the “sinners” realized the emptiness of their lives and were more than willing to follow Him.
Which is the judgment that Jesus pronounced on their lives. He took their question about being with sinners and turned it around towards them. They - the self-proclaimed “righteous” needed healing just as much at those who were the more obvious sinners.
There is a tremendous comfort for us in His answer. Jesus didn’t come looking for righteous people to be friends with. He came for wounded people - hurting people - people who have no place to turn - sinners desperate for a way out of their sins - He came for people like us. And He offers us healing if we will follow Him.
It doesn’t matter how deep the hole we’re in or how far we gone from God - all He asks is that we choose to follow Him and He will lead us to His perfect healing.
A speaker started off his seminar by holding up a $20 bill. In a room of 200, he asked, “Who would like this $20 bill?” Hands started going up. He said, “I’m going to give this $20 to one of you. But first, let me do this.” He proceeded to crumple the dollar bill up. He then asked, “Who still wants it?” Still the hands were up in the air.
“Well,” he replied, “What if I do this?” And he dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, now crumpled and dirty. “Now who still wants it?” Still the hands went into the air. “My friends, you’ve all learned a very valuable lesson. No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth $20.”
Many times in our lives, we’re dropped - crumpled - ground into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way. We feel as though we’re worthless. But no matter what’s happened or what will happen, we will never lose our value in God's eyes. To God - dirty or clean - crumpled or finely creased - we’re still priceless. Which is why Jesus said to Matthew, “You are a gift of God.”
If you would - turn in your Bibles with me to Genesis, chapter 1, verse 27. You’ll recognize this verse as part of the 6 days when God was creating everything. Verse 27 takes place on the 6th day. God has just said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26) Which brings us to verse 27. Please - read this together - out loud - with me: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created Him: male and female He created them.”
Turn to the person next to you and say them, “You are the image of God.” Go ahead. “You are the image of God.”
Do you believe that? God created you - died on the cross for you - His image. Who are we to tarnish the image of God with our prejudice? Who are we to isolate ourselves from the responsibility to share His Gospel with those who desperately need to hear it - simply because they don’t fit our comfort zone of Christianity?