Jesus and Sinners

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We're looking at Luke 5: 27-32 tonight, so please turn that up. We've been working our way through Luke's biography of the life of Jesus. Along the way we've seen all sorts of things happen - stuff that you have to pinch yourself to check that you're not dreaming. Just reading through the section headings in the bibles in front of you from chapter 4 and 5 you get

Jesus Drives Out an Evil Spirit Jesus Heals Many The Man With Leprosy [is healed] Jesus Heals a Paralytic

The last passage was particularly striking because Jesus didn't just heal the paralysed man lowered down through someone's ceiling, as amazing as that was, he claimed to forgive his sins – something only God can do. It helps to stop and think about what it would be like if you were there at the time. Jesus had just definitely healed someone, the question was, though, did you believe he could forgive sins? What would you have thought?– you either believed that Jesus could do it and the man standing before you was God, or you believed he couldn't and as a result he must be a liar or mad and his powers to heal must be demonic. But there's actually a third option, which I think most of those following Jesus around were thinking. And that is, you've got no idea what to make of it, you're not sure what to believe. As you sit down and reflect on what's happened – you know, a voice from heaven at the baptism of Jesus, men set free from demons, people white with leprosy now with skin like babies, a man who could never walk, walking - you'd be asking yourself – why? Why is this happening? Who is this Jesus and why has he come? And in tonight's passage, Jesus himself helps answer those questions. Here he tells us that he's like a doctor come to heal the sick, although he wasn't talking cancer or HIV or a brain tumour, and his treatment doesn't come in the form of the latest approved medicines. He's talking about sin. He's talking about the vile hatred of God that sunk down deep into the hearts of the human race. The sin that has taken its seat in our hearts and we have loved it even as it destroyed us from the inside out, invading our spiritual bones like the most devious spiritual cancer. It's the terminal sickness of sin. And Jesus tells us here he has a cure that is available to all who hear his call and turn from their love of sin and follow him. But there's a twist: some people aren't going to get the medicine, even though they need it as much as anyone. Let's look at the story:

27After this [the healing of the paralytic] he [that's Jesus] went out and sawa tax collector namedLevi, sitting at the tax booth.

[Let's pause there and remember that a tax collector basically had the social standing of a modern day loan shark but with government backing – pretty much regarded as the scum of the earth – and in many ways that was justified as they prostituted themselves to their Roman rulers and scraped off a portion for themselves. So Jesus sees Levi, the tax collector, in his booth]

And he said to him, "Follow me." 28And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.

29And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?"

[so get that – Jesus finds himself in the midst of a great feast, with large company of tax collectors and with them a group of "others" as Luke says, but who the religious people shamelessly call "sinners" down in v30. Not subtle, but totally cutting and we get the point: Jesus has not gone for a cup of tea at the local branch of the women's institute. For the religious it's as if Jesus had walked into the middle of a sinfest and he hadn't turned and run. So the religious people ask the painfully obvious question – why are you having dinner with people who have sin tattooed right across their foreheads and dripping off their hands?]

His answer forms my two points of my three points. The first is that the righteous are not welcome.

1. The righteous not welcome (v31)

Read with me v31

31And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."

So there's two different kinds of people here: the righteous and the sinners. Jesus has not come to call the righteous, he says, but he has come to call sinners. He's not here to heal the well, but the sick. Not hard to understand the words, but what does he mean?

It's obvious who he's talking about when he talks about the sinners. The Pharisees have helpfully pointed out the "sinners"– they're those people over there. The sinners, here, are people who have no pretention to be right before God. They'd be the first to admit they've not lived perfect lives. We don't know if they were proud of that or ashamed, but we know they were drawn to Jesus and we know the religious hated it as much as they looked down on the sinners.

But what about the righteous? Well if the Pharisees know the sinners are over there, they know the righteous are over here. The Pharisees know that Jesus is talking about them and they wear that badge with great pride. And what Jesus says in v32 would make perfect sense to them – "I am not calling the righteous, but sinners to repentance" – they are not being called to repent – that's something for the loathsome sinners, with their stench of uncleanness. That seems to make sense on face value - righteous people don't need to repent as they're already right before God and have nothing to prove; so Jesus can save his breath and not call them to repent.

But what the Pharisees heard and what Jesus was saying were completely different things. What Jesus said was not "I am not calling the righteous to repentance" but "I am not calling the righteous" and that makes a massive difference. The Pharisees heard that Jesus affirmed their standing before God. But what Jesus said actually condemned them to being in a place worse than the sinners they stood and judged. Jesus wasn't calling them to follow him – the one who Luke has been at pains to explain is God's promised one who the Pharisees claim to be looking for, and he's not calling them. And that's because the Pharisees had the world stitched up in terms of black and white. There were the sinners over one side of the room and then there were the righteous on the other. But the only truly righteous one there - Jesus - looked out on the situation and he didn't see black and white, he just saw black. You see, Jesus wasn't calling the righteous, because there were no righteous to call. Psalm 14, quoted later in the NT, says

3They have all turned aside; together they have becomecorrupt; there is none who does good, not even one

Jesus was just calling sinners, but the Pharisees weren't going to hear the call because they were too busy falling over themselves judging others. If there's one thing that's worse than being terminally ill it's refusing to believe the doctor as he tells you you're terminally ill. The Pharisees were sick. The tax collectors were sick. The sinners were sick. You and I are sick. Maybe if we just look at each other we can forget what the well look like, and produce some sort of relative sickness score, but as we look at the doctor who is healthier than we could ever imagine we are meant to realise the depth of our despair and seek his healing.

And so the first thing this passage means to all of us is that we need to see that we're all sinners. There are no righteous who Jesus calls. He only calls sinners.

And that's important to us in two different ways. Some of you may have been coming along to church for a while, have heard the call of Jesus to come and follow him but have decided that he's not talking to you. That may be because you're more like the Pharisees than you'd like to imagine. Are you trusting in your own good behaviour, comparing yourself to others on your own scale of self-righteousness? You're not Mother Theresa, okay, but you're not Hitler either. You'd class yourself in the top half of people in terms of morality and so the scales tip in your favour. If that's you, then it's a scale God doesn't recognise. For him it's perfection or nothing; truly righteous or sinner. Jesus is not calling the righteous, but sinners.

And then there's the people we live with who we really like. They're our non Christian workmates, flatmates, relatives and friends. They don't seem evil. They're not ripping people off. They're a million miles away from a loan shark. And so we can easily forget about their need to hear the call of Jesus. We can classify them as righteous enough to not be desperate on their behalf. We don't see the reality of their terminal illness because we don't see them as Jesus does. But this passage tells us that Jesus would have us think again, and then plead with God that he would have mercy, help them see their sin and hear his call to follow him.

That's my first point – the righteous are not welcome.

For those who do see their sin, though, the good news is that Jesus offers healing for sinners if they repent. That's my second point: Jesus is calling all sinners: repent

2. Jesus is calling all sinners: repent (v32)

Read with me again from v31

31And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."

So Jesus is calling sinners to repentance. That is, he's calling them to turn around to turn their back on their way of life and follow him. That may not sound like good news to all people, but did you notice how Jesus makes it clear he thinks it is good news in v31. Look there again "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick". This is not the NHS where you get a minor sniffle and head to your GP. Doctors were expensive, and you needed to be really seriously unwell to see a doctor. At the heart of what Jesus is saying is that sin is serious, deadly serious. Living in sin is a dangerous way to live. Jesus is saying he's come to heal the terminally sick – the sinners – and repentance is his medicine that has real power to heal.

We're told elsewhere that Jesus came with the message "repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near". That is a call laced with authority to command. The call of the Jesus Christ, now risen from the dead, isn't an invitation to tea which you can just as easily leave as take. It's the call of someone who expects a response of "yes". Some of you may be hearing that call tonight, feeling the weight of it as the risen Jesus calls you to turn from your sins and follow him. Just turning around is self-help and destined to fail. Repentence involves turning around to someone - Jesus. We've all berated ourselves that we "must do better", but here Jesus doesn't leave us on our own – he says leave that and replace it with me. Leave sickness and replace it with life in me.

What does this mean to us? It's sort of obvious isn't it? If you feel the weight of your sin here tonight, then repent and follow Jesus. He's not calling the righteous, he's calling you. Look into the face of Jesus and seek his healing.

Jesus is calling sinners to repent. That's my second point.

My final point is about Levi: the example sinner

3. Levi: an example sinner (v27-29)

After looking at v31-32 more carefully it's interesting to look back to what happens in v27 where Jesus calls Levi to follow him.

So let's look together down at v27:

27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. Follow me, Jesus said to him,

28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.

Levi is like a worked example of what Jesus is saying further down. Jesus turns up while he's sitting at his tax booth – it's almost as if he's been caught red handed – collecting taxes for the Romans was a betrayal of God's people and they pretty much always corruptly scraped off a slice for themselves. So Jesus finds Levi physically in his sin. Jesus has found a sinner, and he's going to call him to repentance. He says "follow me" at which point Levi gets up and leaves – note the next word in v28 – everything. He left his sin to follow Jesus. He turned his back on it all.

How about you? Have you left everything – all of your sin, even your secret sins – to follow Jesus? Or are you holding something back? Sure you're a follower of Jesus, but there's a dabble in sin that you quite fancy and don't particularly want to walk away from it. Gossiping feels nice and so you keep hold of it. You hold out for the idol of romance. You occasionally indulge yourself in some pornography. But Levi left everything to follow Jesus because that's what the call of Jesus means. And so as we read the words "I've come to call sinners to repentance", Levi shows us Jesus means turning from everything – from every sin. And he calls you tonight to give up what you don't want to.

But he doesn't stop there, does he? Look with me at v29

29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.

Part of leaving everything and following Jesus meant seeking to introduce people to Jesus. The people he mixed with – his colleagues and his social circle – are all invited to meet Jesus. He was bold.

And I think the carols services next Sunday and the one after are the perfect application of that. I'm not saying if you don't invite people you're not following Jesus, but it's one of those things that people who are following Jesus should desire to take advantage of. We may not want to be that bold, but he calls us to leave that pride behind along with everything else and follow him.


So what is this passage saying to you? There's no mystery here – it says sinners, like we all are, need to leave everything as we hear the call of Jesus

Let's pray.

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