In these weeks leading up to the feast of Christmas we’re thinking about the wonder of the Incarnation of God. Our creator entered our world ..as a child. The eternal God became a human being and came among us.
But Why? Why did he come?
Well It’s no mystery, Jesus often tells us in the gospels why he has come
And right at the end of the passage we just had read he tells us, I have come NOT to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Now the words Sinner and repent are a bit of a trigger for lots of people these days and probably rightly so. “Who’d want to go to church? They just tell you how bad and shameful you are and how you need to stop it and do better! Nah I’m alright, thanks. There’s nothing wrong with me. Nothing needs changing. I’m not a sinner”
It’s gutting that we’ve let people think that we’re about heaping shame and blame because Jesus is the opposite. Bursting with grace and love and new life. Jesus has come but not for the alright, he’s come for sinners. To bring new life. Jesus is the friend of sinners.
Jesus calls us … You see this in the whole of chapter 5 of Luke’s gospel. Where Jesus, like a commander, (the first thing we see about him) starts recruiting people for his mission.
[Famous Posters WW1 Lord Kitchener - - secretary of state for war. huge walrus moustache, pointing finger out of the poster. Your country needs you!]
Jesus walks around with total authority, the Commander in Chief, saying to people “I want YOU.” But Jesus doesn’t do his recruitment in the city, at the top university among the urban elites.. No.. Have a look
First, it’s fishermen from v1
there’s Simon, unschooled, rough, insecure. An establishment outsider He’ll be ‘the rock’ says Jesus. The leader on which everything is built! He follows Jesus, along with both his business partners James and John. The fisher folk.
Next verse 12 – a leper. In the day, a total spiritual outsider. ringing a bell and crying out “unclean”, they’d expel him from the cities. Total spiritual outsider.
Jesus says “I want you.”
Next it’s a a paralytic Verse 18: A physical outsider. Remember, we’re in first century Middle East. No social services, no disability allowance. Life goes on without this guy and he has to look on from his mat. And Jesus says: ‘I see you. I’ll have you.’
3 unemployed fishermen, a leper and a paralytic.
Who’s next? we arrive at todays passage:
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.
Oh No.. No, no, no, Jesus. The fishermen thing was surprising, the leper addition was a nice touch. ‘Like what you did with the paralytic. this whole rag-tag outfit, rough around the edges, that’s refreshing, let’s go with that. But a tax collector? No!
Because in the first century a tax collector was a total scumbag. Forget your experience with the inland revenue – this was a completely different league. 1st century tax-collectors worked for the enemy – the Romans. They were Rome’s go-betweens. The Jewish face of the Roman oppression. Tax collectors brought their own people under Roman domination, and stole shed loads of money off them in the process. Think of World War Two and how the French felt about collaborators with the Nazis. That’s Levi. In bed with the enemy, getting rich off the misery of his own people. And many people would have walked up to Levi and said “I’ve got two words for you mate.” But Jesus’ two words were very different. ‘Follow me.’
Jesus, what are you doing? It’s all very well helping out the establishment outsider and the spiritual outsider and the physical outsider, that’s nice. But this social outsider, this man we all HATE and who IS HATEFUL. This scumbag. This abuser? This sinner? Jesus, are you really FOR sinners like that??
I mean when i said earlier ‘Jesus is the friend of sinners’ .. don’t we think of sinners as you know rough diamonds, a bit of a rogue not child abusers and wife beaters, not scumbags like Levi - to whom Jesus says, I want you.
Jesus really is the friend of sinners. And I mean sinners. And if we’re not ok with that, we’re not ok with Jesus. As we’ll see…
Well how will Levi respond to this summons?
What would Levi do? (what does anyone do when jesus begins to call you for the first time to follow him?) On the one hand Levi had the life he knew, a life where he called the shots, a life that was financially secure. On the other hand there was Jesus – a life with Him. A life where Jesus called the shots.
Now there’s no guarantee here for Levi about the kind of future Jesus will bring him. If you want Jesus, there’s no guarantee in this life of career, health, wealth, success, fame, prosperity.
In fact following Jesus might mean losing your job. That’s what happened to Levi. It’s what happened to Peter, James and John. Jesus might pull the plug on all sorts of plans you’ve had – He’s the Commander!
There’s only one guarantee for the followers of Jesus. If you follow Jesus, the one thing you’ll definitely get is Jesus.
But if we’ve got our heads screwed on right, He’s the one thing we want.
He’s what Levi wanted: Verse 28: ‘Levi got up, left everything and followed Him.’
This is remarkable. Nothing else had made Levi give up the tax collecting game. (nothing else will make us give up anything) Not his parents’ pleas, not his friends’ urgings, not the public taunts. But two words from Jesus change the man. Levi gives up everything. Why? To be with Jesus. That’s enough to change a life.
It changes Levi’s life. Instantly. Think of the change. It’s stunning.
You know where the name Levi comes from? Levi was the name of the tribe of priests in the Old Testament. So Levi’s parents would have named him Levi with high hopes that he’d be a Levite – that he’d be a priest. The priests were God’s go-betweens. Levi was meant to be the human face of a loving LORD. He’s meant to bring people under the LORD’s influence.
But through his sin and greed, it’s all got so twisted. As a tax-collector, he became Rome’s go-between. He was the Jewish face of a tyrannical empire, bringing people under Rome’s influence. His sin had made him the opposite of who he’s meant to be.
But now, following Jesus, he’s freed to become his true self. Because what does Levi do when he follows Jesus? Verse 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.
Here’s what Levi does. He throws a massive dinner party, invites his co-workers and friends and he brings them in to meet Jesus. You know what’s happened to Levi? He’s become a true Levite. Now he’s doing what he was born to do – he’s a go-between, drawing people under the influence of the LORD Jesus. This is what is meant by the call to repentance - not stop it! do better! but come and turn around to become the person you were always meant to be.
Levi becomes who he’s meant to be, when he follows Jesus. That’s the experience of millions down through history. Jesus doesn’t come into our lives to stifle and repress us. He comes to release us from the junk that holds us back and to free us into who we’re meant to be!
And Jesus calls out again, today, in this room, “Follow me. I’ve come to liberate you from that junk and to free you into who you’re meant to be.”
Don’t think that the Commander is a kill-joy. Whatever He asks you to give up, it’s only to release you. Look at Him at this banquet. Does He look like a kill-joy? He is the life and soul of the party. He is the life and soul of every party He’s at, and He is at a LOT of parties.
You see He’s not just the Commander. Second thing. He’s also the Host.
When Jesus came He was accused of being a party-animal. (Luke 7:34) All the religious types grumbled that He was always eating and drinking with friends. [Who’s the greatest party host you know? Who organises just the best nights? You want to be there because they are just a joy to hang out with.] Jesus refused to cut down on the dinner parties, because He’s the ultimate Host.
Lord Hailsham – the former Lord Chancellor – became a Christian when He saw this joyful side to Jesus. He wrote:
“The first thing we [should] learn about [Jesus] is that we should have been absolutely entranced by His company. Jesus was irresistibly attractive as a man… What they crucified was a young man, vital, full of life and the joy of it, the Lord of life itself, and even more the Lord of laughter. Someone so utterly attractive that people followed Him for the sheer fun of it…”
Why did Levi leave everything? One answer is – for the sheer fun of it. If Jesus came into this room physically and said “Come follow me” would you follow? We’d follow in a flash, and with great joy. Just TO BE WITH JESUS! That’s why we follow Him, because we love to be near Him.
Hailsham continues “…[We need] to recapture the vision of this glorious and happy man whose mere presence filled His companions with delight…”
Jesus the life and soul of the party. Do you see Jesus like that? Unless you see the attractiveness of Jesus you won’t follow Him, no matter how commanding He happens to be. But He’s not just the Commander, He’s also the Host.
And as the Host, Jesus invites us all to a Feast to end all feasts.
Jesus promises that when He returns at his second advent He will host a cosmic party. On that day we will celebrate creation renewed, death swallowed up, disease abolished, evil destroyed, sin cleansed, tears wiped away and an eternity of joy with Jesus, the Host of the Banquet. We will eat, we will laugh, we will dance. And you’re all. You’re all invited. It costs you NOTHING. It cost HIM EVERYTHING.
For there was another meal Jesus hosted. We re-enact it every week in church. The night before Jesus died He broke bread and said “My body will be broken like bread to bring you the ultimate feast.” He poured out wine and said “My blood will be poured out like wine to bring you the ultimate banquet.” And on that cross Jesus was torn apart and poured out because it was the only way to bring sinners like us to the feast. The Host really wants us at the party. It cost Him EVERYTHING to invite us. But He offers us a place for free.
But there’s one kind of person Jesus does NOT call to His Banquet. Only one. This feast is for establishment outsiders, it’s for spiritual outsiders, it’s for physical outsiders, it’s for social outsiders. It’s for sinners. Anyone can come if they own up to being a SINNER. But there’s one kind of person who cannot come (because they will not come): the righteous. The I’m alright, thank you very much
Look with me at v30: 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’?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
You see the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were the opposite of the outsiders. They were the ‘holier than thou’ religious types. They were the insiders; the cream of the crop. And they’ve been looking on as the Commander has been recruiting for His Kingdom and picking ALL THE WRONG PEOPLE.
They are so mad about it that in v30 they gate-grash a party uninvited and then start complaining about the guest list. They’re incensed. “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?!”
Jesus replies, Because I’m a Doctor.
Commander, Host and now finally - Jesus is a doctor.
Now, I’m a bloke, so I never go to the doctor. I complain about every little cough and cold like its bubonic plague, but I don’t go to the doctor. If I ever do, I like to save up all my little niggles and sicknesses so when I go I have a decent list of ailments. Why? Because you don’t want to go to a doctor when you’re healthy.
No-one sits down with their doctor and says, ‘I’m a picture of perfect health, I thought you’d be impressed.’ They won’t be impressed, you’re wasting their time. Doctors are for sick people. And Jesus is for sinners. Only for sinners.
Look at verse 31 again: Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
So are you a sinner? Or do you claim to be righteous like these Pharisees? Is it possible that you might be spiritually unwell or do you have just a perfect bill of health?
A doctor can’t help you if you claim to be well. And Jesus can’t help you if you claim to be righteous.
And the bible is clear that no-one is actually righteous. But tragically, there are millions who fake it. And the Doctor passes them by.
Because Jesus is for sinners. Only for sinners.
Where are you today? Not the person next to you. What do you make of Jesus?
perhaps you think, “I couldn’t follow Jesus, I’m too bad for Jesus.” But that’s like saying “I’m too sick for the doctor.” No-one is too bad to follow Jesus. Badness is your qualification.
The real problem is people thinking they’re too good. Is that you? You will not put yourself in the same boat as a Levi. You will not admit to REAL spiritual sickness. But Jesus has only come for those who know their NEED and who come clean. Drop the act. Be a sinner. Come to Christ. The commander, the host, the doctor.
And what does this say to us about our church?
Does being a christian mean that you’re good and godly and morally pure? Is church a club for the righteous where we show the world how good we are and invite them to join if they can make the grade too? And then we look down on each other when we mess up and spoil the picture of a perfect family..
Listen to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words about righteous people in a pious church from his remarkable little book Life Together: “The pious fellowship permits no-one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin living in lies and hypocrisy. When the fact is we are sinners.”
Church is not a hotel for the righteous, church is a hospital for sinners.
And hospitals are places where all kinds of mess comes into the open and it’s a place where people are getting healed. I’m not saying that we air all of our dirty laundry in public but i am saying that we expect and allow each other to be struggling and we each have some people who we’re brutally open with and by so doing we do not remain alone in our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy..
I have come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance..
Jesus commands us to follow him. To leave all behind in order to have him. And he is all you need.
Jesus welcomes us as the host of the great banquet. To join him at the table. To enjoy his wonderful company
Jesus calls you to your bed on shacklewell ward, St Barnabas Hospital and he says ‘do you want to be well?’ come to him and let him bear your sin and heal your life and set you free to be the person you were made to be.