Dan Wakefield currently serves as a pastoral intern at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Coconut Creek Florida. This article and the two to follow are edited from a recent sermon Dan preached in our church.
In the last post the focus was upon the Pharisees’ attitude toward lost sinners. Now let’s consider..
Jesus’ attitude toward lost sinners
When we consider our Savior’s ministry to the outcast and the sinner in Israel, we find a sharp contrast with the attitude of the Pharisees. Unlike these religious leaders who didn’t want anything to do with the outwardly unclean, Jesus showed compassion to them. He was not afraid to associate with them.
As I get into this point, I want to be very clear. In the midst of a society that wants to redefine the Bible to mean whatever it wants, we need to make sure that we carefully see what the Bible is and is not saying. So in this second blog post, I want us to consider two things.
First of all, what Jesus is not doing
Jesus is not condoning sin or condoning people who are living a sinful lifestyle. It’s amazing that people will take the gospels and use them to say that Jesus accepts all kinds of lifestyles that are contrary to the Bible. But that just isn’t the case! Matthew tells us in his Gospel that Jesus came to save His people from their sin, not so they could continue to live in their sin. We must be clear on that. This story of Jesus sitting down to eat with tax collectors and sinners doesn’t mean that Jesus was declaring His acceptance of their lifestyle. That would be an utter failure to remember the beginning of the story! Consider Mark 2:14again. “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.” Levi didn’t stay in his tax booth; he left it to follow Jesus!
In his retelling of the event, Luke writes in Luke 5:27 – “After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.” Levi didn’t follow Jesus while hanging on to his money-loving tax-collection business. He left it behind!
Consider some other accounts from the Gospels that help to reinforce this point. In Luke 5:32, in the parallel passage about the call of Levi, Jesus says this: “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Jesus didn’t come to call sinners to himself who would have no change of life. He called them to turn from their life of sin in order to follow Him. Jesus also says to those who are already his disciples in Matthew 5:29, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” Jesus is using a figure of speech to show that his followers are those who will do whatever is necessary to put sin to death. Followers of Jesus are not those who are complacent about sin in their lives.
In the midst of a world that hates to talk about sin, we need to be clear on what Jesus says about it. Not only is it rebellion against God, but unless repented of, it will lead to eternal destruction. Even people who claim to do work in Jesus’ Name but who don’t truly repent will not be saved on the last day. Jesus reminds us of this sober reality in Matthew 7:22-23, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
So we see first of all that Jesus’ association with sinners is not an acceptance of their lifestyle.
But then secondly, let’s consider what Jesus is doing in Mark 2
“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.’” Mark 2:15-17
Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus is showing compassion to lost sinners. He’s not condoning their sin. He’s not accepting their lifestyles. But He is demonstrating real compassion. How is He doing that? He is seeking the lost, right where they are. He went to Levi’s tax booth. He went to the dinner party at Levi’s house where there were tax collectors and sinners. He didn’t avoid people like this any more than a doctor avoids sick people! Jesus makes it clear that He is a physician and He has come to heal those who are spiritually sick.
Listen to what J.C. Ryle says about this account: “The Pharisees found fault with Him, because He allowed publicans and sinners to be in His company. In their proud blindness they [thought] that a teacher sent from heaven ought to have no dealings with such people. They were wholly ignorant of the grand design for which the Messiah was to come into the world–to be a Savior, a Physician, a healer of sin-sick souls.”
The amazing truth is that for those who come to Jesus in repentance, no matter what lifestyle they have lived in the past, He is not ashamed to associate with them. He is a merciful Saviour. This man Levi had been a traitor to the Jewish people. He had sold out to the Romans so that he could get rich by extorting money from his own people. But Jesus was not ashamed to associate with this repentant sinner. Jesus was not ashamed to eat dinner with this crowd of tax collectors and sinners. They had no doubt been invited by Levi in order for them to meet his new-found Saviour. And many of them had already begun to follow Him.
The point is this: Jesus wasn’t associating with this crowd to condone their sin. He was associating with this crowd so that he could heal them from their sin. William Hendriksen says this: “When He associates on intimate terms with people of low reputation, He does not do this as…a comrade in evil…, but as a physician, one who, without in any way becoming contaminated with the diseases of His patients, must get very close to them in order that He may heal them!” The church must always remember that Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. As Jesus Himself said in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Next time, we will consider some practical applications of these first two blog posts.