Jesus calls sinners. This was radical news! Everyone thought that God only wanted righteous people. Jesus turns this upside down. Jesus calls sinners.
Sunday, August 6, 2017
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Luke: The Gospel for Everyone
Jesus is for sinners
I love baptisms! And I love camp! I’m so proud of our team—the camps they put on for your kids are the gold standard!
I also love the Global Leadership Summit, which we are hosting this week, on Thursday and Friday. There is still time to register—information is in your handout. So far, over 600 people are registered here, but I’ve got to tell you something. Every year, when the Summit ends, I look around our auditorium and think, “Why didn’t we fill this place up? This is so good!” I want to challenge you to invite your boss or your employees. One medical office is closing their practice for two days and bringing all 70 people who work there! I promise you won’t regret it if you come. I hope to see you Thursday and Friday.
When you came in you were given one of these “Join a Team” cards. We’re getting ready for the launch of our new Saturday night service on September 9. It takes hundreds of volunteers to make church happen every weekend—we’d love for you to be one of those. You will get more than you give—that’s the way serving works—you always get more than you give. And you’ll make some friends and get more connected here. We’re going to give you a minute to look this over and fill it out, then you can drop it in the offering when it comes by.
Music while they fill out the cards: 1 minute.
This is the Summer Bible Series and we’re working our way through the gospel of Luke, the gospel for everyone. I’m calling it the gospel for everyone because Luke, more than any other gospel writer, emphasizes Jesus’ love for the outcasts, those on the margins of society. And that is clearly seen in today’s story, the calling of Levi, the tax collector. Here’s the story.
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.
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. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
We’re going to look at four things: two about Jesus, and two about you.
- Jesus sees you.
Look at verse 27: After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth.
Jesus saw Levi. You’re thinking, “Big deal.” Right? But Luke uses an unusual word here. Rather than the typical Greek word for see, Luke uses theaomai, which means “to look at intently and purposely; to perceive something above and beyond what is seen with the eyes.” Jesus didn’t just look at Levi; He saw Levi. He looked into Levi’s soul and saw the real man; we might say that Jesus saw right through him…to the real person.
Why is this important? What did everyone else see when they saw Levi? They saw a tax collector. A villain. A traitor. A cheat. At this time, the mighty Roman Empire had occupied Israel, and they paid for their occupying army by collecting taxes from the Jews. The tax collectors were Jews who worked for the Romans, and got rich doing it. So they were traitors, and the most despised people in Israel. When people looked at Levi, this is all they saw: a hated tax collector. An enemy. A cheat.
But Jesus saw Levi. He looked past the exterior, past the tax collector, and saw the man. He saw potential where others saw only treachery. He saw something worth redeeming in a man that everyone else had given up on. He saw Levi.
Jesus had a knack for this. When Jesus saw Simon, He saw something in the big fisherman that others had missed.
John 1:42 Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
Cephas is Aramaic, and Peter is Greek, but both mean the same thing. What do they mean? Rock. “You are Simon, but what I see is a Rock! I’m calling you Rocky!” (This is an ancient picture of Peter that I dug up.) When you call someone a rock, you’re saying that person is steady, strong, immovable, solid—you can count on them. But when you read the gospels, Peter is often anything but that. One minute he is announcing that Jesus is the Son of God; the next minute, he is rebuking Jesus for saying He will die on a cross. One minute he is walking on the water toward Jesus; the next he is sinking in terror, screaming for Jesus to save him. One minute he is promising Jesus that he will die for him; the next he is denying that he even knows Jesus. Not very Rock-like!
But Jesus knew what He saw. He saw what Simon could become; He saw a Rock inside of Simon and called it out. Peter became the Rock, the revered and courageous leader of the apostles, and boldly took the gospel around the world. He eventually gave his life for Christ. The legend is that when they crucified Peter in Rome, he asked to be crucified upside down, because he wasn’t worthy to die like Jesus.
Jesus saw Simon Peter.
Jesus saw Levi. He looked beyond what others saw—the despised tax collector—and saw the man. He saw the man who would be known as Matthew, author of the first gospel.
Jesus sees you. He sees beyond what others see. He sees what you can become. He sees what He can make of you—and He wants to make something beautiful of your life.
ILL: I love the story of Gideon. He was the youngest in his family; his family was the weakest in his clan. He was the bottom of the totem pole. An angel found him threshing wheat in a winepress—he was in hiding from the invading Midianite army. The angel could have greeted him, “Hey you pathetic weakling; you yellow-bellied chicken!” But instead the angel said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior!” I’m sure Gideon was looking around—who is the angel talking to? He was no mighty warrior!
Why did the angel call him a mighty warrior? Because God could see not only what Gideon was, but what Gideon could become by God’s power. God made Gideon a mighty warrior, and Gideon led a tiny Israelite army against the mighty Midianites, and by God’s power, defeated them. But it started with this: God saw him. God saw what he could become.
What does God see when He looks at you? How would He greet you today?
“Hey, man of God!”
“Hello, woman of great faith!”
“I’m calling you Rocky! Strong one! Faithful one! Compassionate one!”
Jesus sees you. He sees what you can become. He sees something beautiful that He wants to do in your life. Please let Him!
- Make Jesus everything.
Look again at the first two verses: 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 left everything and followed Jesus. He left everything—but he still had a house and enough resources to host a great banquet! Obviously, Levi left his career as a tax collector, but not his house and money, so what does it really mean to leave everything for Jesus?
To leave everything means that Jesus is now first in your life—He is first before job, money, family, success…anything. To leave everything is to reorient your life around Jesus.
You can picture it as a circle and what is most important in your life is in the center of the circle. You are centered around this; your life revolves around this. What’s in the center of your circle?
Or you can picture it as a pyramid and what is most important in your life is at the top of the pyramid. Everything in your life points to this. What’s at the top of your pyramid?
However you picture it, the idea is that Jesus is Lord, and so claims first place in our lives, our love and allegiance. St. Augustine wrote that sin is basically disordered love. Sin is when we have our allegiances out of order; something has become more important to us than Jesus. This is why the first of the Ten Commandments is, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Nothing before the Lord—He is first in our lives, our love, our allegiance. This is why Jesus said that the most important of the commands was to love God with all you’ve got: heart, soul, mind and strength. Love God first!
When Jesus called Levi, he left everything. He reoriented his life around Jesus. For him, this meant leaving his job—I’ll come back to that—but he still had his home and resources. And look what he did with them. He immediately began using what he had to serve the Lord. His home and money and stuff were all surrendered to Jesus and became ministry currency. He began to think like this: “This is Your home, Jesus—what would You like to do with Your home? This is Your money, Jesus—what would you like to do with Your money?” Everything was reoriented around Jesus—including the stuff he kept.
When Jesus called Levi, he left everything. He reoriented his life around Jesus. For him, this meant leaving his job. Most of us won’t leave our jobs when we make Jesus first. Instead, our jobs will become less important than Jesus and we’ll gladly represent Him there. Jesus will make you a better employer or employee.
I really believe that when my loves are properly ordered, all of life is better. When I love Jesus first, I’m a better husband and father. When I love Jesus first, I’m a better employer or employee. When I love Jesus first, I’m a better friend, or coach, or volunteer. All of life is better when it’s surrendered to Jesus. Much of what I leave for Jesus, He cleans up and gives back to me—better.
ILL: When I was in college, I toured with a band called The Joyful Noise. We cut an album and toured the country one summer. Our drummer was Jamie Goetz. Jamie was the best drummer I’d ever heard—crazy fast hands! When Jamie met Jesus, he left everything; he made Jesus first. For him, that meant giving up drumming. Music was his life. He knew immediately that Jesus wanted to be his life, so he quit drumming and gave himself to Jesus. I know some of you are thinking, “That’s wrong. He was wasting his gift.” But Jamie had it right and here’s why. Jesus is more important than music, more important than drumming, more important than using his gift. So he surrendered all that to the Lord; he walked away and left it. About a year later, the Lord spoke to him and said, “Ok, now that you’ve got that straightened out, it’s time to drum again—for Me.” He began using his gifts to serve the Lord. But it was different now—music wasn’t his life, Jesus was. And he said drumming was actually more fun now that he was living for Jesus instead of living for drumming.
What does it mean to leave everything? Like Levi, we reorient our lives around Jesus. When Jesus is first, everything else is better.
To leave everything is to reorient your life around Jesus. Have you done that? Have you reoriented your life around Jesus? Or maybe I should ask, are you doing that, because I think that it’s a lifelong process. You’ve heard me say that I’m constantly correcting back to Jesus. I wander. I let other things become too important. And so I’m constantly reorienting back to Jesus.
- Be an includer not a separatist.
Look at v. 29-30. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Here we have another conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day. The Pharisees objected to Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. In that society, to eat together implied mutual acceptance. Jesus eating with these people emphatically broke down the wall of separation.
And there was a huge wall of separation. The Pharisees were a party of separatists. In fact, the word “Pharisee” literally means, “separated ones!” They were known for their careful observance of the Jewish Law, which led them to separate themselves from the common people and sinners, who were considered impure. They separated themselves to avoid ritual and moral contamination.
ILL: One of my favorite shows is Monk, about an OCD detective. He doesn’t want to touch anyone or anything for fear of germs, but just in case he has to shake hands, his assistant carries around wipes. He’s a complete neat freak.
The Pharisees were all Monks, except for religious reasons. They believed that if they mingled with sinners, or were touched by them, they would be contaminated—become ritually or spiritually impure. So they separated themselves.
What a contrast between the Pharisees and Jesus! They were separatists who safeguarded their own purity by avoiding any contact with sinners. Jesus was an includer who shared his own purity by contact with sinners! Let’s be like Jesus instead of the Pharisees. Let’s be willing to mix it up with people who need what you have.
How can you do that? Well, take a page from Levi’s book, and throw a Levi Party. What’s a Levi Party? Invite friends over in their Levis! Close—do what Levi did. His first act as a new follower of Jesus was to invite all his friends over to his house for a party so they could meet Jesus. Who were his friends? If you were a tax collector, pretty much your only friends would be other tax collectors. So it was a motley crew that assembled for dinner at Levi’s house—a house full of sinners, and Jesus.
ILL: I once read about a dentist who regularly threw Levi Parties. He invited neighbors, friends, clients, or staff who didn’t know the Lord, and they just had fun together. Ate, played games, laughed, had a great time together. Over a several year period, this dentist and his wife helped over 200 people become Jesus followers.
Throw a Levi Party! Share Jesus with your friends. What better way to do that than over a meal or at a party while you’re having fun.
We often say “barbecue first.” Before you try to share the gospel, start by having people over and barbecue first. Eat together, have fun—be the good news before you share the good news. There are lots of ways to do it.
ILL: One ministry in Japan is reaching Japanese businessmen for Jesus by “friendship golf.” Christians are including lost friends in their golfing groups and people are coming to Christ. They’re includers.
Look for opportunities to be includers. Rather than separating ourselves from the very people who need God’s love, we include them in our lives. We welcome them into our homes. We invite them to come with us as we follow Jesus. Be an includer, not a separatist.
One other thing: I’m struck by the fact that the first thing Levi does is invite all his buddies to meet Jesus. Levi practiced Find-Tell-Bring. He found people he loved (his fellow tax collectors), told the what he knew (Jesus changed his life) and brought them to meet Jesus (in a dinner at his house). He was so excited about Jesus that he couldn’t keep it to himself; he just had to share it.
ILL: I remember when I first met Jesus—I wanted to share Him with all my friends. Our church sponsored a mini-revival—we invited Bud Grogan to preach and the Good Twins to sing. (They are now 81—they were 29 when they came to our church.) Even then, they weren’t cool. But that didn’t matter—Jesus is cool, and I wanted my friends to hear about him. So for a few nights, I filled a pew with my 8th grade buddies. At the end of Pastor Bud’s sermons, he invited people to come forward who wanted to accept Jesus. I’d turn to my buddies and say, “Let’s go,” and lead them down front. I was on fire for Jesus. I wanted to share Him with everyone.
I sometimes think, “What happened to that young man? Where is the fire? The excitement to share?” New Christians often make the best evangelists because they are so excited about meeting Jesus and the change in their lives. But if you’re a veteran Christian like me, we need to keep that fire burning too because so many people still need Jesus—and they’re only going to hear about him if we share. So I want to pray for us…I’ve got one more short point, but I want to pray for us. Pray for the fire!
- Jesus calls sinners.
Look at v. 31-32. Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Jesus answered their concern (“Why do you associate with sinners?”) with a reasonable statement: “It’s the sick who need a doctor, not the healthy.” When do you go to a doctor? When you’re sick and you don’t know what it is, or can’t get well on your own. If you don’t think you’re sick, you won’t go to the doctor. Jesus wasn’t suggesting that the Pharisees didn’t need Him—they were sick too, but just didn’t recognize their own sickness. Religious self-righteousness is one of the worst kinds of sickness.
I love this saying: Sin is the disease that we all suffer from, but we feel our neighbor’s case is far more advanced than ours and ours is on the verge of being cured.
That was the Pharisees. They didn’t consider themselves sinners, or if they did, they were on the verge of being cured. This is why religious self-righteousness is so dangerous. We live in denial. We refuse to face our own sin and brokenness. We can’t be cured if don’t realize we’re sick. We can’t be saved if we don’t think we’re lost.
Jesus’ final statement is shocking: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Jesus calls sinners. This was radical news! Everyone thought that God only wanted righteous people. They thought that God collected righteous people and rejected sinners. Jesus turns this upside down. Jesus calls sinners. Here’s the good news: I qualify! So do you! If you don’t think you’re a sinner, you’re missing out, because Jesus came to call sinners. This is the gospel: you are more sinful than to dared to imagine, and you’re more loved than you dared to dream. If you don’t think you’re sinner, you’re don’t need the gospel; you don’t need Jesus; you’re missing out.
What does Jesus do with sinners? He forgives us and changes us. He calls us to repentance, to turn to God. And as we turn to God, as we reorient our lives around God, we change. We become new and different people. And we begin to experience life as God meant it to be lived—life to the full!
We’re going to pray, and I’m extending to you Jesus’ call to sinners to repent. Reorient your life to Jesus. Turn to Jesus and experience abundant life!