He Came For Sinners

April 17, 2016 Speaker: Jeff Jones

Topic: Sermon Scripture: Mark 2:12–2:17

Mark continues to present a series of confrontations with the Jewish religious establishment, as he tells the story of Jesus' fellowship with the outcasts of Jewish society. Jesus came to save sinners, and three types of sinner are displayed in this text. Chillingly, the kind that should understand their need most is blind to it. Christians today, especially Reformed Christians, need to take heed of the danger of self-righteousness, as well as the mandate to preach salvation to all the lost regardless of sinful condition.

OUTLINE

  1. Introduction
  2. They Work For The Enemy
  3. They Have No Commitment
  4. They Are Blind To Their Need
  5. Applications

TEXT

He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 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.

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[a] the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat[b] 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 2:13-17 ESV)

INTRODUCTION

April can be a stressful time of year for many people. These are the days when we render unto Caesar what is his, after all. If you’re like me and your taxes aren’t done yet, you have till the 30th!

It can be stressful for a number of reasons. First, you have to go searching for your receipts and information slips, and that can be a humbling reminder for many of us that we haven’t even asserted dominion over the receipt drawer or our home office, much less the earth! Second, you have to either take them to H&R Block or sit down and work through a computer program, and that can be stressful if you don’t know if you’re getting money back or if you’ll be sending Her Majesty still more of your earnings. Third, even after it’s all done, Canada Revenue Agency may choose you—yes, you, you lucky fellow!—as the object of its affectionate attention, and subject you to an audit. Then, you’ll have the dubious pleasure of dealing with the skilled and dedicated functionaries of our federal government, our “tax collectors.”

We look at tax time kind of the way we look at a visit to the dentist—unpleasant but necessary. There’s certainly room for political debate about how much we should be taxed and how well the government uses our money, but even the most committed small-government libertarian concedes there’s good reason for at least some taxes. For the Christian, we’re commanded to submit to the civil magistrate in Romans 13, and even Jesus told a hostile audience to give to Caesar what was his, so regardless of whether we like it or not, we have a divine mandate to pay our taxes. That implies that we ought to do our Romans 13 duty with joy, as an act of honor and respect for God—regardless of your views of the particular group of sinners running the machinery at the moment. Consider that your first practical application, and I haven’t even got into the actual text yet! The tax-man, too, is appointed by God for your good.

Since most of us have taxes on the mind, it seems timely that we’re looking at a story about tax collectors this April morning. Certainly we’re going to look at what this Levi did for a living. We’re going to see how the Jews of Jesus’ day viewed them. And yet, this isn’t actually a text about tax collectors. We’ll see that as we go along.

I. THEY WORK FOR THE ENEMY: Jesus Calls A Tax Collector

Understanding Tax Collectors

To understand this story, we need to go over a bit of ancient history. Jesus has been working in Capernaum. Now, this is an important town. It wasn’t very big – a few hundred, maybe a couple thousand at most – but it was prominent. Capernaum was located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, on the west side of the River Jordan. Just about five kilometers to the east was another important Biblical town called Bethsaida, located on the east side of the Jordan and also hugging the north shore of the lake. The Jordan River is important because it was a boundary. It marked the line between two small “kingdoms”, or “tetrarchies” as they were called at the time. Capernaum lay in the tetrarchy of Galilee and Perea, ruled by a king named Herod Antipas. Herod’s brother, Philip, ruled the lands northeast of the Sea of Galilee, including the town of Bethsaida. The two kingdoms were connected by a major road that hugged the north shore of Galilee and went through both Bethsaida and Capernaum.

Think of it this way. It’s like in Ontario, where the river divides Canada and the United States. On one side of the river is the city of Detroit. On the other is the city of Windsor. There’s a big highway through the two cities that connects Canada and the United States. And since the highway brings people carrying goods and things to buy or sell from one jurisdiction to the other, there are customs stations on each side of the border – one in Windsor for the Canadian government, and one in Detroit for the U.S. government.

Capernaum is the Windsor of Galilee, and because it’s the closest major town to the neighboring kingdom it’s where you find a major customs station – what we know as tax collectors in the Bible. Levi is one of these guys. He’s essentially a customs officer, and his job is probably to collect taxes on stuff coming into Galilee from the kingdom of Philip (and maybe to tax stuff going out, as well).

Levi was a Jew – he’s got two Jewish names, actually. Levi and Matthew. Now, a lot of Christians think he worked for the Romans, collecting taxes for them, but that’s not quite true. Imperial taxes were usually collected by Romans, because they didn’t trust the locals that much. Levi and the other tax collectors we see in the Bible actually worked for the local rulers – the Herods, who were a part-Jewish, part-Idumean (Edomite) family. However, the Jews despised the Herods just as much as the Romans, because the Herods sold out to Caesar, giving him their loyalty and tribute. The Herods were collaborators, and very brutal rulers – we see that in the story of Jesus’ birth, where Herod the Great slaughters the children of Bethlehem.

So Levi and the other Jewish tax collectors worked for the Herods. We may get annoyed by customs agents sometimes because they inconvenience us at the border, but we generally look at customs as being a basically legitimate and honorable occupation. Not so for Levi and his friends.

Why? Because of the way tax collection worked. It was a franchise business. The king would offer a lease to the tax collectors, and the terms were this: in exchange for a fixed sum that the collector paid the king every year, he received the right to collect the taxes in the district with the king’s authority. The king only cared about the fixed sum – his set level of taxes – and so the way that the tax collectors made money was by collecting as much above that amount as they could. This resulted in gross oppression of the common people by tax collectors, who had the authority of the king – and, ultimately, of Rome – behind them and who could demand virtually anything they wanted for taxes.

So the Jews had nothing but contempt for tax collectors. One ancient Jewish writing from the period lists customs officials together with “murderers and robbers.” Another lists tax collectors under the title “notorious sinners.” When a Jew became a tax collector, especially in the customs service, he was literally shunned: he was disqualified from serving as a judge or a witness in a court setting, he was excommunicated from the synagogue, and even his family was disgraced in the community.

The reason Levi and others were willing to suffer such disgrace was simple: greed. A Jew would only go into collecting taxes because of the money, and would be motivated to make as much as possible to compensate for the hatred and loathing of the community and the disapproval of their own family. That’s the sort of man Levi would have been: A greedy, selfish swindler who worked for collaborators.

Mercy and Grace

Who in Jewish society who would deserve God’s favour less? Who would need salvation more? Who would be in greater need of forgiveness and reformation? Who would need a new heart and new desires more than this man, than those like him?

That’s the Levi who Jesus called. Look at the text and read verse 14 again. It’s a picture of salvation. Who initiates the encounter? Jesus does. Not Levi. God is always the initiator. Lest any man should boast, and claim even the smallest part of the credit for salvation by saying, “I took the first step.”

How does Jesus approach him? He commands him. “Follow me,” he says. It’s an order. It’s a directive. If there’s an offer in there, it’s only implied. The Gospel is more than an offer. It’s more than a desperate plea. It’s not less than those things, either, and we need to remember that in evangelism, but it is still more. It’s a command to be obeyed. It’s direction to be followed. It’s the proclamation of a King to those rebels who resist His authority, commanding them to lay down their arms and submit to His rightful authority before He is forced to destroy them.
What does Jesus say? “Follow me.” It’s a command. Follow – to go wherever He leads, to share the hardship He suffers, to fight the battles He fights, to lean on Him, learn from Him, submit to Him, to model one’s life and values and attitudes after Him. Follow me, just two words, and it so encapsulates the essence of the Christian life. Discipleship. Total commitment. Complete surrender. Absolute trust. Unrestrained loyalty. Jesus commands Levi, and he commands us, to follow him. Think about that. Think about the cost. Think about the totality that it suggests, the extent to which we are being called to conform. Don’t just follow anyone – follow me. Not Satan, as He seeks to move God off the throne of the universe. Not your own heart or your own desires – there’s no “believe in yourself” here. Jesus does NOT say “follow your dreams” – follow HIM! Not money, like Levi had pursued his whole career. Not the pleasure of kings and lords and potentates and rulers and powers, like Levi had done. Not earthly comfort and power and authority, like Levi enjoyed. And certainly not any other false god or spirit who claims the answer and the path to glory. Jesus tells us to follow, and to follow Him alone.
And how does Levi respond? Again, we see Mark emphasizes the cost and commitment of true discipleship. Levi could have stayed and continued to make money. A large house. A fancy horse. Household servants. Meat and fine wine. To leave that for the insecurity and instability of following a wandering itinerant teacher? To leave your whole life behind – Levi would have been so unpopular that he would have had little social life other than the company of other tax collectors, and so virtually his whole life, his whole identity, would have been enclosed in his career. But Levi rises up and follows. He places his life and his future completely in the hands of Christ. He trusts Jesus. He leaves the details and the future to God, and fixes his gaze on Christ instead of worrying about himself. That’s discipleship.

What moved Levi to do this? Remember – Jesus initiated. But Levi was a changed man after this. What caused the change? God made him willing. God made a man who had made his whole living robbing his fellow man and who had been willing to disgrace his own family in pursuit of his own comfort and wealth suddenly change so that he desired Christ more than all the riches of the world. That’s not a natural change. That’s not something in the power of man. That’s a change of heart – a new creation. That’s a heart of stone being removed and a heart of flesh put in its place. That’s a miracle. That’s mercy. That’s grace. And Jesus extends this mercy and grace to even the worst of men. That’s the beauty of God’s grace – it doesn’t matter how bad you are, because what matters is how good Christ is. The Jesus who could call even this despicable tax collector and make him a new man, this Jesus can save anyone.

II. THEY HAVE NO COMMITMENT: Jesus Eats With Sinners

In the Middle East, hospitality is held in the highest regard. A person who takes a guest into his home assumes responsibility for the care and protection of his guest until he leaves. That horrific story in Genesis, where Lot in Sodom offers his own daughters to the mob if they will only leave his guests alone, begins to make sense only against the backdrop of the high value placed on hospitality in the world of the Bible.

If hospitality was held in high regard, eating together – table fellowship – was considered one of the most intimate acts of friendship. When Revelation speaks of being invited to “the marriage supper of the Lamb,” when Jesus tells a parable about a king inviting people to a great banquet, the promise to us is not something as shallow and simple as just a great meal and a great time. The marriage supper we as Christians look forward to in glory is an expression of the closeness and intimacy that we will share with God, family members at His Table. It’s hard to find a more intimate expression of closeness in the Bible.

So when Mark speaks of this dinner that Jesus is having with the tax collectors, he’s not just reporting that they ate. Look how Mark states it – though in context, it was Levi who called the feast (that’s what Luke tells us in Luke 5), Mark says, literally, that they “reclined together with Jesus” as if he was hosting the meal. Jesus is not just one of many guests – he’s the centre of the meal, as if this was his event and not Levi’s. And the sinners and tax collectors “reclining” with him – which means this was a formal and special meal – were seen to be enjoying close, intimate fellowship with Jesus. It’s like in our society where you might eat with pretty well anyone, but only the closest friends and family are entitled to raid your fridge! That’s the intimacy being portrayed here. Jesus is treating these sinners and tax collectors as family.

We’ve already seen the tax collectors. Now let’s look at the “sinners.” Mark is not saying “tax collectors and other sinners.” The “sinners” spoken of here are not simply a large group which includes the particularly notable tax collectors. He isn’t talking about sinners in the sense of breakers of the moral law. Actually, Mark is distinguishing between them as groups. The NIV actually puts the word “sinners” in quotes here, and I think it’s a good idea. The term “sinners” was used at the time by the Pharisees to refer to the rest of the Jews who were not as strict or observant of the laws and traditions as they were. The word “Pharisee” is itself probably derived from a Hebrew word meaning “separate.” The idea of a distinction from the rest of the people was really central to the identity of the Pharisees, who met regularly in small groups for fellowship, who ate meals together apart from others, and who practiced their piety as a group. Again: the Pharisees defined themselves by their difference from, and superiority to, others. Those Jews, whose commitment to the Law and the tradition fell short of Pharisee standards, were considered inferior by them because they showed little interest in the scribal tradition. The Pharisees particularly despised these “sinners” because they did not eat their meals in a state of ceremonial purity – an issue that we’ll see comes up later in Mark.

So who is it that Jesus is eating with? “Sinners” were Jews who showed little commitment, whose religious piety left a great deal to be desired. It’s like professing Christians who don’t go to church and don’t evangelize and don’t give to the needy and don’t keep a Christian standard of sexual purity – Christians in name only. Well, these sinners were “Jews in name only.” We have not only people excommunicated from the faith – the tax collectors – but also people who still attend synagogues but only nominally practice Judaism – the “sinners.”

And yet here is Jesus, enjoying close, intimate table fellowship not only with flagrant crooks like the tax collectors but also with the “Christmas and Easter Christians” of the day, the “sinners.” I think we can take a note of encouragement from that. See, I think it’s true, that nominal Christians, people who think they are saved but whose lifestyle says different, are the hardest people to reach with the Gospel. Such people have been deceived by their own false religion, have been inoculated against the Gospel because they profess it just enough to salve their conscience. These people know the facts in their head but don’t let it touch their hearts or guide their practice. How can they be saved, if they already think they are? How can we reach them with a message they already have heard and even profess themselves?

Here we see Jesus not only eating with the flagrant, obviously needy tax collectors. We see him with sinners, with ordinary people who are distracted by the world and whose faith has merely been an appendage to their lives. Jesus is eating with them! He is drawing them into His fellowship, treating them like family, too! If you are worried about a loved one who professes belief in Christ but who you fear is lost, then take courage from this. Jesus’ power to save is limitless. As we joyfully confess as Reformed Christians, Christ’s power to save is not even limited by the heart or the will of human beings. Christ can save the worst of sinners, and Christ can also save the worst of religious people. He can spark spiritual life in an overtly rebellious heart and also in a deceived and complacent heart. Here we see Jesus with two kinds of lost people – the flagrant offenders, the serial killers and militant homosexuals and abortion providers of his time, and the common “sinners,” the Easter and Christmas “Christians” in name only. And He eats with them all. They may show an appalling lack of commitment to their God, and that’s grave. That’s serious. That’s deadly, as much so as the rebellious robbery of the tax collector. It’s mortally dangerous either way – whether you think God is your enemy, or you think God is just irrelevant, you’re damned either way. But Jesus eats with them all. He’s come to save not just the worst, but the rest as well.

BUT AT LEAST THEY KNOW THEIR NEED: Jesus Confronts The Pharisees

But that fact is, the Pharisees are horrified. They’re so conditioned in their tradition and so blinded by their own pride that they simply cannot conceive of following God in a different way, a better way, than they did.

You read this story, and it just drips with irony. Jesus closes with a proverb that silences their muttering. It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, he tells them. There’s an implied, but still obvious, slap in the face. Yes, they’re sinners. That means they need help! If you’ve got it all sorted out, if you know all the answers, if you’re so healthy, why do you stand off from those in need and look on them with contempt? Why don’t you “doctor” these people?

Jesus goes on. “I’ve come to call not the righteous, but sinners.” That’s ironic, especially when you consider the larger context. In our last story, Jesus had just declared himself God and claimed the authority and mandate to forgive sins. He called himself the Son of Man. He’s the Messiah. And here he is, saying he’s not coming for the righteous.

Now we as Christians know that no man is righteous. No man can be righteous. But, the Pharisees thought they were. And here is Jesus, saying, in essence, “You think you’re righteous? Then I’m not here for you.” The Messiah has arrived, but you’re not invited. This is a subtle but terrifying condemnation of the Pharisees – a warning that Jesus has limits to his patience and mercy.

But in the deeper, larger sense, the one that recognizes that that Pharisees with their pride and arrogance are just as sinful and needy as the rest, this is even more ironic. And even more terrifying. See, you could just as easily put the word “righteous” in quotes. Jesus hasn’t come for the so-called “righteous,” but for the sick – the tax collectors and sinners.

What was the essential difference between the Pharisees and the tax collectors and sinners? Think about it. The tax collectors were despised by everyone. Their own families might have disowned them. They were viewed as traitors or collaborators by the community, as bad as robbers and murderers by the Jews. And on the spiritual plane, they were barred from the synagogue. They knew they were bottom-feeders. They were reminded of their sin and wickedness every day.

As for the sinners? The Pharisees were actually quite admired in Jesus’ day for their piety. They were a small but very prominent number – only a few thousand in Jesus’ day. Their observance of the law, their expertise in the tradition, made them highly respected. More than that, they stood as a standard for the community to live up to. Outwardly, at least, they were a measuring stick that let the average Jew know how short he fell of God’s expectations. In the case of the “sinners,” those Jews whose religion didn’t even play an active role in their lives, whose interest in the tradition and the law was tepid at best, they were despised by the Pharisees. They were treated as unclean by the leadership, who refused to mingle with them, who pronounced them virtual outcasts. While the tax collectors faced the wrath of the whole community, the sinners were denounced on a regular basis by the Pharisees and treated with contempt simply because they didn’t “measure up.”

What these two groups had in common against the Pharisees was a knowledge of, and perhaps an acknowledgement of, their own sinfulness. They knew they didn’t measure up. The Pharisees thought they did, and there was the danger. They were deceived by their own pride. Their sense of satisfaction at being the best in the community at keeping the law blinded them to their still very real need for salvation. It’s like a fitness instructor and a couch potato are trapped in a hole thirty feet deep, and the fitness instructor is mocking the couch potato because he can’t jump out of the hole. Despite his piety, the Pharisee is in just as much trouble as the rest.
Jesus came to call not the self-proclaimed righteous, but sinners. Why? Because Jesus’ call is to humiliation and self-abandonment. Jesus’ call is to confession of one’s own inability to measure up. A person who is stuck in their pride, who thinks he’s good enough as he is, can’t answer such a call. He sees no need for it.

And that’s the point of our passage. Jesus came to call sinners. Even the worst of sinners, because they can appreciate their predicament and their need. No matter how bad. But he did not come to call the righteous. His call to repentance, to self-denial, can’t be received by a person full of pride and arrogance about how good he is.

APPLICATIONS

1. DON’T BE REFORMED PHARISEES

There’s two main points of application I want to make here. Two applications, for two different groups of people. My first application is for those of us who are Reformed Christians, those who belong to this church, or who may be visiting from another similar church. For those who hold to the sovereignty of God in salvation, the inerrancy of Scripture, biblical manhood and womanhood, and so on. Judgment begins with the household of God, and so there’s something very sobering in this text for those of our house to hear.

When I was a brand-new pastor, just settling into ministry, I had two different Reformed Baptist pastors tell me, in strikingly similar language, that in their experience, the besetting sin of those Christians holding to the Reformed tradition is pride.

It’s incredible to be part of a church, and part of a larger tradition, that actually takes the Bible seriously, and seeks to worship God with the mind as well as the heart and soul. But it’s a tradition like any other, filled with sinners. And not just other sinners. Most of all, I see my own heart and my own deeds. This text convicted me. It beat me up, and I deserved it. See, what those pastors say, about pride in Reformed folks, it’s true.

It is so easy for Reformed folk to be like Pharisees. Not in their theology, but in their attitude. Reformed Christians have a nasty tendency to look down their noses at other Christians whose doctrinal convictions are not yet as mature, as well-developed—or even Christians whose convictions are different. It’s not hard to find this kind of pride on the Internet. Stuff like: oh, they aren’t truly Reformed. Oh, they’re not serious about doctrine because they aren’t confessional enough. Oh, don’t read that guy’s stuff because his approach to apologetics is wrong. Oh, they aren’t really serious about their Reformed convictions, because they belong to a denomination that isn’t Reformed. Oh, this guy’s compromising the Gospel because he goes to conferences with Catholics.

Now, it’s one thing to honestly disagree and constructively criticize. But it’s all too easy for Reformed Christians to let pride take over and get impatient with those they disagree with, mock them, treat them with overt contempt or with a more subtle condescension. We do it too. God help me and forgive me, I’ve done it too.

And reading this story, and having done a little background study on the Pharisees, the parallels frighten me. The Pharisees had their doctrinal problems, but in the context of first-century Judaism they were probably the most doctrinally mature of the various Jewish sects. God used Pharisees. They knew the law well. It was a Pharisee who wrote thirteen of the most doctrinal books of the New Testament, a Pharisee who came to Jesus by night and buried his body later. In Jesus’ day, just like in ours, there was a split between those who wanted to hold to the Scriptures, and those who wanted to reinterpret them in light of exciting new ideas from the world, a split between conservatives and liberals. Well, the Pharisees, were the conservatives. The Pharisees honored the Scriptures. It was the Pharisees who saw the truth of a future resurrection, against the more secular Sadducees. Of all the Jewish theological traditions, they came the closest to the truth.

The scary thing was this. Their diagnosis of a spiritual problem in the rest of their society was dead right. Their prescription was only half-right, true. The law was not a means to earn salvation. But their self-congratulatory view of themselves as having attained merit in the sight of God for being “better” than others was also a problem. Even worse, this self-superiority, this delight in comparing themselves with others, moved them to actually attack Jesus for engaging and seeking to save these other, less committed Jews. Well, I see that same self-congratulation, same self-superiority among Reformed Christians as well. Our criticism of the evangelical church in the West is correct—it’s decadent, it’s compromised, it’s so anti-intellectual it hardly stands for anything anymore. But far too often there’s a smugness in that observation, as if we’re smarter or better for it. Even worse, try associating with nominal Christians in a public way and see what some of the Reformed watch-bloggers call you, as they, like the Pharisees, excoriate those who try to reach nominal evangelicals or non-evangelicals with the Gospel. Even the label “reformed” has a self-congratulatory ring to it, because it suggests a completed action. “Reforming” is so much better.

The Pharisees turned out to be hypocrites, because their obsession with the minute details of the law caused them to miss the deeper and broader themes of God’s grace and love. Calvinists run the same risk. We are absolutely right to seek precision in doctrine, to strive for church structures that are drawn from Scripture. But all too often Reformed Christians pursue right doctrine in a way that neglects right practice. Why is that? Because we’re all, by nature, spiritually lazy. Because it’s so much easier to learn theology than to live it. Because so much simpler to read another book than to crucify sin in our lives.

The Pharisees forgot the fact that they were sinners and that they too needed salvation because they preferred to look at the more obvious problems of others. But we Calvinists have a tendency to forget in practice the fact that our better understanding of God’s Word and theology still falls infinitely short of the perfection that will be enjoyed in the next age – and while it may be better for now than many of our brothers and sisters in the rest of the evangelical church, it’s not much compared to that cosmic gap between this dark mirror and the time when we’ll see face to face.

I’m a reformational Christian. I’m a Reformed Protestant. I believe God wants His people to honour Him for all His revelation of Himself – including His action in election and predestination, including the perfection of the Bible, including biblical manhood and womanhood. Just like he wanted the Jews to have the Law written on their hearts, on their foreheads, to be shaped and driven by it. And yes, so much of Christianity falls short today. Much of it truly is non-Christian now. Just like the “sinners” and tax collectors fell short, even fell away. But our attitude toward them cannot be that of the Pharisees toward their brothers in the faith, who not only stood apart, clucked their tongues, and refused to mix with them or help them, and even attacked those who did. It should, rather, be that which Jesus showed – love, openhandedness, patience, care, hospitality without becoming stained by their sin and shortcomings. We need to eat with them, engage them, encourage them with the truth, gently and persistently show them a better way, make sure they know the Gospel. And, like Jesus, be ready to suffer the attacks of self-appointed watchdogs when we follow him to the tax collectors and sinners of our day.
Let’s not be Reformed Pharisees, brothers and sisters. Fight that pride. Don’t look down on others, no matter how sinful. It’s time to remember that the theology we love so much is an understanding given by grace - we did nothing to deserve it. And until God grants that grace to others they will struggle. It’s time to shed the image of the “cranky Reformed” and reach out to help both those who are completely outside the Christian camp, and those inside it who aren’t yet committed to it.

2. IF YOU NEED A DOCTOR, YOU’RE IN TROUBLE

Finally, let’s not miss Jesus’ main point. This text is one of the easier texts to interpret because Jesus makes very plain what the main point is. Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners.

Jesus came because sinners need him. Jesus ate with sinners because they needed him. Jesus showed mercy to sinners because they needed mercy.

Jesus is kind and loving and generous. So too we need to be kind and loving and generous. That’s important. But don’t let the call to be kind and merciful take your eyes off the deeper truth here.

If you’re here this morning, and you don’t yet know Jesus Christ, this call is for you. This text is hard on religious folks, but if you don’t see yourself as religious, don’t think for a moment that you’re off the hook. Jesus came to call sinners, and you are a sinner, just like me, and just like everyone here. He’s calling you, because you need to be saved.

If Jesus came to call sinners, it’s because the sinners have a need for Jesus. Jesus talked about the sick needing a doctor, because this is a matter of life and death.

You’re a sinner, then, and you need to be saved if you aren’t already. Saved from what? Not from poverty; Levi was a rich man. Not from unemployment; Levi had a job. Not from loneliness; Levi had friends he was able to invite to dinner. No, you need to be saved from the sin that controls your life. Saved from the death that sin will bring. And, most terrifying of all—saved from the wrath of the God who will judge all mankind, saved from a God who hates sin and cannot stand it in his presence. Saved from the righteous punishment of the God who sends unrepentant sinners to hell forever.

The Pharisees thought they were good enough. They weren’t. They thought they could earn salvation by being good enough. The Bible tells us that good works and righteous deeds are as filthy rags, and God won’t accept them. If you’re thinking you’re basically a good person and God will let you into heaven cause you’re not that bad, please listen to me. You can’t do it. You’ll never be good enough. No one can. No one ever was—excpet for this Jesus, who lived the perfect life you already can never live, and who died the death that you deserve.

The only way to be saved is found at the very beginning of this Gospel of Mark, in Jesus’ own words: Repent, and believe the Gospel. Repent—recognize you’re a sinner, you’ll never be good enough, and turn from your old ways. Believe—turn from your old ways to Jesus Christ, trust completely and only in him. Believe that what he did on the Cross is good enough. Trust that the Father will accept Jesus’ work on your behalf. And please don’t put it off. You don’t know what will happen when you leave. This is the hour of salvation. Once you die, there’s no second chance. Don’t leave this place without recokining with this God. Now is the time to put your trust in Jesus. He came to save sinners, and he will save you if you believe.