Last week we looked at the story of Jesus healing the paralytic man who was let down through the roof. I refer to it that way, because that is the way most people would remember it. But as I said last week, the most important thing about that event was not that the man was healed from his paralysis. But that Jesus forgave him of his sins.
The main purpose for which Jesus came was to preach the gospel of salvation. To bring forgiveness to sinners and give them new life. If you remember, I spoke of Jesus in that situation as being the Great Physician, who saw the heart of the man who was brought to Him, and He diagnosed the man’s condition, his greatest need, and that was his need for salvation. He was under the condemnation of death, and Jesus was able to forgive Him his sins and give him new life.
That is what Jesus came to do. As the angels had proclaimed at HIs birth, “He will save His people from their sins.” His purpose in coming into the world was not to eradicate suffering and sickness. But to provide the means by which men might be forgiven and give them new life.
Today we are going to look at another event in the life of Christ. I titled this message, God’s favor towards sinners. I don’t mean God’s approval of sinners, but His divine favor, or grace towards sinners. We tend to think that God’s favor is gained by our merit. But sinners have no merit, realize that they have no merit, but yet are the recipient of divine favor.
So in this event, we see Jesus doing exactly that, showing God’s favor towards someone who was considered to be the vilest of sinners. He calls Matthew, also known as Levi, the tax collector to be His follower. Vs13 And He went out again by the seashore; 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.
Mark is known for his brief style of writing, of really only telling the highlights of the story. But what must be understood is that there were a lot of things that had to have happened before and during that short exchange. First of all, the text implies that Matthew, or Levi, had heard Jesus teaching and preaching about the kingdom of God. Perhaps Matthew’s tax booth was situated near the shore of he Sea of Galilee where he could tax the trade that went on there from the ships that were plying goods over the sea to their shores. And Jesus was preaching on the beach within earshot of Levi’s tax booth.
Tax collectors were people who had purchased something like a franchise from the Roman government whereby they taxed commerce and merchandise and travel and practically anything that moved, on behalf of the Roman government. The Romans used these tax collectors to collect the taxes for them on various commerce, and allowed them to charge a percentage above the tax which was their fee. The problem was that these tax collectors charged exorbitant fees far above what would be considered appropriate. And so they were particularly despised. Not only were they despised in general, those who were Jews who obtained such a position were considered traitors to their own countrymen. And so they were considered the worst of sinners, even unredeemable. No one wanted to even speak to them. They were looked down upon as as the scum of society.
But I think we can assume that Levi had heard Jesus preaching. He had been convicted of his sin, not only because of his sin, of taking advantage of people, of participating in highway robbery, but also because he knew he was an outcast of Jewish society, and thus felt that there was no hope for him. The Jewish religion as it was practiced by the Pharisees in particular offered only condemnation, no possibility of salvation. And so we can imagine Levi standing on the outskirts of the crowd clustered around Jesus as He preached on the beach, being convicted of his sin, knowing that he needs salvation, but dejectedly going back to his tax booth after Jesus finished preaching because he believed that he was outside of God’s favor.
But wonder of wonders, Jesus passed by his booth, and didn’t just walk past without looking at him as everyone else would normally do, but instead Jesus deliberately fixed His gaze directly upon him and said “Follow me.” Jesus knew Levi’s heart. Jesus knew Levi’s desire for forgiveness.
We can get a read on Levi’s heart by his response to Jesus. He immediately got up and followed Jesus. Luke adds the insightful detail in his gospel which is that “he forsook all” and followed Him. He walked away from his way of life. He showed true repentance by making a complete about face, forsaking everything, all the money, all the revenue that he would make, leaving his tax franchise business which probably had cost him a lot of money. In fact, he showed even more commitment to be a disciple than Peter and Andrew and James and John who could conceivably go back to fishing now and then. But once he walked away from his franchise, he would never be able to go back.
True repentance is forsaking sin and going in the opposite direction. It’s like the verse we talked about in Galatians 5 yesterday morning at the prayer breakfast. Walking in the Spirit is diametrically opposed to walking in the flesh. Walking in the Spirit is walking in righteousness, whereas walking in the flesh is walking in sin. To turn and walk after the Lord was to forsake the past, forsake sin, and follow after righteousness.
The other thing that must be understood as implied in the story is that Levi was forgiven. Inherent in the call of Jesus to be His disciple, is that Jesus forgives Him and cleanses Him from sin. Jesus said to him, “follow Me.” Turn away from your life of sin and follow Me. Then as Jesus speaks to the scribes in vs 17, He says, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Again, we look at Luke’s gospel and read the added words, “but sinners to repentance.”
The call of God is to repent, to come to Jesus, to turn from sin and look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our salvation. Jesus in John 16:8, speaking of the work of the Spirit, says, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” And so we can be sure that the Spirit of God convicted Levi of his sin during Jesus’ message, and then at the call of Christ to follow Him, Levi repents and believes, forsaking all to follow Jesus.
Now we have further evidence of Levi’s repentance because he invites Jesus to his house that evening for a celebratory feast, and invites all his former associates in the tax industry to join him and meet Jesus. Vs15 “And it happened that He was reclining [at the table] in his 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.”
Couple of things to notice there. First, when you surrender your life to Jesus, you invite Him to be the Lord of all your life. You invite Him to be Lord of your home, Lord of your career, Lord of your social life. Jesus changes all of you, not just forgives you of your sins so you can continue to live in your sin. But He now has first place in every area of your life.
Secondly, when Jesus forgives you and cleanses you and gives you new life, that joy of being reconciled to God, of being set free from sin and death, results in you wanting others to know the same Jesus. It’s not some secret between you and God that no one is aware of, that your coworkers never see any evidence of, your family doesn’t see any difference. No, not only are people aware that you’ve been saved, you want to share the good news with everyone.
I remember when I got right with the Lord almost 40 years ago when I was living in California. The next day I drove into work with a friend of mine to pick up my check. On the way there, I was explaining to my friend what had happened to me. He could tell something had happened and it turns out that a few months later he came to Christ at least in part, he said, because he saw the change that occurred in me.
But when we came to the restaurant where we worked, all the waiters were sitting upstairs doing their sidewalk before the restaurant opened, and a couple of them started making comments about me, that they thought I was high. And I remember telling them that I wasn’t high, that I had gotten right with God. I must have had a joy on my face, a peace about my appearance that they thought could only have meant I was stoned. But God had given me a peace and a joy that surpassed anything alcohol or pot could ever do, and it was a testimony to them that I had been changed.
So Matthew has had this conversion through Jesus and He invites all his friends to have dinner with Jesus. And you know what happened? There was a revival in Matthew’s house. Mark says that there were many tax collectors and sinners there dining with Jesus. And of course, Jesus didn’t miss any opportunity to preach the gospel. And Mark says there were many of them and they were following Him. They were forsaking their sin to follow Jesus.
Listen, the hallmark of a revival is repentance. It’s not an emotional outpouring. The hallmark or revival is not some ecstatic experience by the attendees. It’s conviction of sin and repentance. When Jonathan Edwards preached his famous sermon “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” during the greatest revival this country has ever seen, what’s known as the Great Awakening, the hallmark of that revival was people groaning under the burden of their sin, crying out for forgiveness, repenting and weeping over their sin, and calling out “what must we do to be saved?”
I think in Mark’s understated narrative, it is more than appropriate to believe that the tax collectors and sinners in attendance that night were convicted of their sin, and they believed that Jesus offered forgiveness of their sins, by His authority as the Son of God. And so many of them followed Him, presumably leaving their professions of sin, whether it be as tax collectors or prostitutes, or any other sins that defined the term sinners as understood by the Jews.
But notice the criticism of the scribes, the religious leaders of the Jews. Vs16 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 Pharisees were kind of like the game “whack a mole.” They were always popping up. They were always hanging around, but not to learn, not to believe, but to find fault with Jesus. I think they had already hardened their hearts against the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah. He wasn’t what they were looking for. In fact, they weren’t looking for a savior at all. They wanted a military conqueror who would restore the political and geographical dominance of Israel and who would sit on the throne of David, and who would elevate them to positions of religious authority in the kingdom. That’s what kind of Messiah they were looking for. Not a Savior from their sin. They were satisfied with their own sense of rightness. They were self righteous. They weren’t sinners like these wretched tax collectors. They were convinced of their own inherent goodness, but in fact they were rotten to the core.
So they are hanging around, watching critically everything Jesus does, and they are perhaps afraid to confront Jesus directly, so they go to his disciples and try to intimidate them. They say “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?”
Eating a meal together, especially in that culture, symbolized fellowship, friendship, acceptance. So they wouldn’t eat with anyone that they considered a sinner. In fact, they would avoid such people at all costs. They would go out of their way to avoid contact with them. And they are indignant because Jesus is eating with sinners. But true to form, they use that self righteous indignation to try to undermine the faith of Jesus’ disciples.
Well, Jesus knows what they are saying, without having to actually hear them say it. He knows the hearts of man, because God sees the heart. And His response is to answer their objections and at the same time render a condemnation upon their self righteousness. He first uses an analogy to answer them. Vs.17 And hearing [this,] Jesus said to them, “[It is] not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.”
It’s a very simple analogy. Doctors minister to sick people. It was that simple. Jesus is the Great Physician, He is the spiritual doctor, and He needs to go to the people who need to be healed. If the Pharisees can see how sick with sin these people are – and they readily admit that, they know they are sinners, they condemn them as sinners – doesn’t it make sense that when the Savior comes, He goes to the sinners?
In Luke 19:10 Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” And Paul says in 1Tim. 1:15 “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost [of all.]”
So His first answer is from an analogy, His second answer is from authority, end of verse 17. “I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.” And Luke 5:32 adds, “but sinners to repentance.” To call, that is to call into the Kingdom, to call to forgiveness, to call to salvation.
The truth of salvation that must be accepted and believed in order to be saved, is that you are a sinner. That all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And when you recognize you are a sinner, and confess your sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. But forgiveness doesn’t happen until you recognize you are a sinner. And as Jesus said to the Pharisees earlier in this passage in regards to the paralytic, “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” He is able to forgive sins because He is God incarnate, and He would pay the penalty for sin through His death on the cross.
But the condemnation of the scribes of the Pharisees was that they didn’t consider themselves sinners in the least. They thought they were righteous. They kept the law as they had defined it. They earned their self righteousness by their works which they did to be seen of men. But their hearts were corrupt and desperately wicked.
Later on, in Matt. 23 it is recorded that Jesus exposed and condemned them for their sinfulness by saying “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
But back to our story, Jesus said, I didn’t come to call the righteous, those that refuse to confess their sinfulness, that think that their self righteousness will be enough to enter the kingdom of God. They will have to stand before the judgement seat of Christ on the basis of their own merits. But Psalm 14 says there is none righteous, no not one. There is none that does good, there is none that seeks after God. And Isaiah 64:6 says, “All of our righteousness is as filthy rags.” These religious leaders should have known that. They should have been convicted of their sin and desperate for healing. But they would not have this Man rule over them.
So it is today. This church, the believing body of Jesus Christ is not made up of good people, it’s made up of bad people. It’s not made up of people who think they’re righteous, it’s made up of people who know they are sinners. It’s not made up of the people who have worked to attain a certain acceptance with God, it’s made up of people who know they could never attain acceptance before God on the basis of their works.
We are sinners saved by the divine favor of God. Given the righteousness of Jesus Christ in exchange for our sins, which He paid the penalty for by HIs death on the cross that we might be forgiven. Yes, Jesus has the authority to forgive sin, but the only sin He can forgive is the sin of those who know their sinfulness, confess it, and put their trust in Him as their Lord and Savior.
I trust that you have confessed your sin and repented of your sin and believed in Him that He has the authority to forgive your sins and give you new life, and having believed, you will follow Him, walk with Him, and abide in Him.