“For Sinners Only”
Series: Certainty in Uncertain Times
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson KY
- Take God’s Word and open to Luke, chapter 5.
We are making our way, verse-by-verse, through the Book of Luke and we have been noting in recent weeks the awesome power of the Lord Jesus Christ, His power over Satan, His power over the sick, and last week His power over sin. And today we pick up in Luke 5 with another example of that power over sin. There’s a guy who needs that power to be delivered from his sin and his name is Levi. The text is just six verses long, but I’d like to ask you to listen for what it teaches about the Christian faith. Who is Christianity for and what does it require of us?
- Stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.
27 After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.”
28 So he left all, rose up, and followed Him.
29 Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them.
30 And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, “Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
31 Jesus answered and said to 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.”
One of the blessings of regular Bible study is that we are reminded in the Scriptures of things we already know. This is a blessing because we need to be reminded of them. We are a forgetful people and we need reminding. So we must resist the temptation to always look in the Bible for something “new and different.” I read recently where someone said, “If it’s new, it’s not true; if it’s true, it’s not new.” I like that statement! “If it’s new, it’s not true; if it’s true, it’s not new. The power of preaching does not lie in the speaker’s finding some “new twist” to a text, but in the simple, straightforward explanation and application of a text. Most of us are not learning something new each week, but rather are having previously-learned truths reinforced.
I asked you earlier to consider “who is Christianity for” and “what does it require of us” and I’ll bet most of us know the correct answers. We may say the things a little differently, but we would be roughly on the same page. So we have an opportunity this morning to remind ourselves who Christianity is for and what it requires of us.
Sometime back I read about a pastor who put a sign over the front door of the church. It read, “For Sinners Only.” And I thought about that sign because if I had to answer the question, “Who is Christianity for?” I think I would answer it that way. It’s for sinners only. This text certainly teaches that. And as we study this text together we will see what is required of each and every one of us if we mean to take seriously what the Bible teaches.
Today’s passage is a call to real Christian living. The passage really has nothing to say to folks coming this morning who wish to be entertained, nor even does it have anything to say to folks who wish to hear a popular talk on feeling good about ourselves. This passage focuses our attention upon what real Christianity looks like the way a laser beam focuses light upon a wall.
As we consider what real Christianity looks like I want to share with you some actions that are required of each and every one of us this morning. These actions are not something we are to do only once, but actions we are to do repeatedly, and continually. That’s important for us this morning. We must do these things continually. Number one:
I. We must Come to the Savior
Now that’s what we may call a “no-brainer,” right? We must come to the Savior. Of course we must come to the Savior. What is salvation without a Savior? What is Christianity without a Christ? Of course, we must follow Jesus! Yes, but Luke means for us to see in his Gospel that coming to Christ is not a one-time event, but a continual action.
Jesus walks along the road and he sees Levi sitting at the tax office and says, “Follow Me” and Luke writes in verse 28 that Levi “left all, rose up, and followed Him.” And if we focus only on the fact that Levi “left all, and rose up,” we may miss the force of the phrase “and followed Him.” Luke’s use of the imperfect tense means that the phrase may better be translated as, “and Levi began to follow Him.” Levi began his first day of following Christ. That’s the idea here. It was not a one-time event, but a continual action. Coming to Christ is a continual coming.
Luke will stress this again a few chapters later. In Chapter 9, Luke will record the words of Jesus in Luke 9:23 and following:
“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.”
Jesus says this right after telling His disciples that He Himself will suffer many things and be rejected by the religious leaders, killed, and rise the third day. So He’s like, “This is what you’re getting into if you follow Me. I’m going to die on a cross, so following Me will require your ‘taking up your cross daily.’” Daily. Coming to the Savior is not a one-time event, but a continual action. It requires the continual denying of ourselves and picking up the cross and being ready in a moment’s notice to die as our Master dies. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it…for what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? No, not everyone who says he is a Christian is truly a Christian because not everyone is willing to continually follow after Christ, daily denying ourselves of glory, popularity, material success, and worldly comfort. But those who are truly His, will “leave all, rise up, and follow Him” and will continue to do so each day.
This continual coming to Christ is seen also at the end of the passage, very last words there in verse 32 where Jesus says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” The call to follow Jesus Christ is a call “to repentance.” Don’t miss this. The call to discipleship is a clarion call to a life of repentance, of regularly turning away from our sin and turning to our Savior. The call to follow Christ is a call—each and every day—a call to turn from our sin and turn to Christ. Jesus says, “I have called sinners to repentance.” That’s our calling.
Coming to Christ is not something we do merely in our heads as though we could sit in this room and hear the reading from the New Testament and nod our heads in agreement. We say, “Well, I agree with that. That all sounds good and true.” No! Coming to Christ requires life-change. It doesn’t mean that we change our lives in order to be saved, but that God changes our lives through the power of His Word and this power results in demonstrable life-change. And this happens when what we know to be true in our heads resonates with what we know to be true in our hearts and actuates in what we live to be true with our lives.
See this in Levi. Jesus comes to Levi in verse 27 and says, “Follow Me.” That’s all Jesus says. I suppose Levi had heard of Christ before. I suppose perhaps he had even talked with Christ before. The text doesn’t say, but what it does say is that immediately after Jesus says, “Follow Me,” Levi “left all, rose up, and followed Him.” What causes a man to leave his entire business and worldly goods and wealth and power and immediately rise up and begin a life of following Jesus? And the answer is, “the power of His Word.” The Word of Christ! Preaching is not about the wit and genius and cleverness of the speaker. Preaching is about proclaiming the Word of Christ. That’s where the power is.
Levi hears the Word of Christ. The power of Christ’s Word awakened the sinner Levi and changed him so that Levi left all, got up, and began a life of following Christ. He continued to follow Christ. This Levi is also called Matthew in the Gospel of Matthew as well as in all four lists of disciples in the New Testament. Most folks had both a Hebrew name as well as a Greek name and that’s who this is: Levi or Matthew, continual follower of Jesus Christ.
That Jesus came to Levi prepares us for the second action required of every one of us. Not only must we continually come to the Savior but, secondly:
II. We must have a Concern for Sinners
Levi was a tax collector, probably better understood as “toll collector.” These people had toll booths not too unlike a toll booth today. He sat there, perhaps at the entrance to Capernaum, and collected a fee from people as they walked by. You couldn’t walk by without paying the tax. These guys, like Levi, contracted this business with the Roman government in advance. They would bid the work and pay maybe an annual fee up front to the Romans and then they were left to collect whatever they wanted. So they would cover their cost that they paid for the contract but then collect more, often a lot more, to make an unreasonable profit. So tax collectors were regarded as dishonest people, really what we might think of as the scum of society. They were looked upon as bad people whose testimony was not even accepted in a court of law. But this is exactly the kind of person for whom Jesus died. Jesus comes to the outcasts to tax collectors and sinners.
And to demonstrate that Levi really is a changed person who has begun a life of repentance, Levi shows the same concern for others that Christ had shown for him. We must show the same concern for others that Christ has shown for us. Isn’t that what Levi does?
Verse 29 says that Levi gave Jesus a great feast in his own house and who is there at the party? “And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them.” These “others” are people to whom the Pharisees refer to as “sinners.” We see that in the next verse. Verse 30 says “And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’”
Levi shows what happens to us when God saves us. We share what we have received with others. We share the truth we have received with others. Levi was obviously pretty wealthy. He throws a big party and invites all of his sinner tax collectors and sinner friends and sinner co-workers and sinner neighbors to come! Why? Because he wants them to receive what he himself has received—salvation. J.C. Ryle said, “A converted man will not wish to go to heaven alone.”
Sharing the Gospel does not mean we have to know all the answers to all the questions. At the heart of it, sharing the Gospel is merely inviting people to Christ, inviting them to hear and consider the Word of Christ. Sharing the Gospel means that we invite people to consider what we have come to know as truth. So evangelism, as someone said, “is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” That’s what Levi does here. He invites others to come to know Christ as he has come to know him. He, who knew himself to be a sinner, now has a concern for other sinners.
And the church must have the same concern! It is crucial for us to understand that the question asked by the scribes and Pharisees, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners,” was a question not put to Jesus, but put to His disciples. Verse 30, “Their scribes and Pharisees complained against His disciples.” Of course, the complaint includes Jesus and Jesus will answer the complaint, but don’t miss that the complaint was directed to the disciples, why? Because disciples do the same thing their teacher does. Disciples are followers of Christ. Disciples love the same people their master loves. Disciples love tax collectors and sinners.
Henderson’s First Baptist Church must love the same people our Master loves. Do you? Our Master loves all people irrespective of gender, age, social status, academic achievement, economic condition, ethnicity and geographical location.
Luke will put it even more succinctly when he records the words of Jesus in Chapter 13, where Jesus says that lost people “will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God (13:29).” Christ loves people from all countries, and all continents. And He loves all people in our commonwealth and in our community.
So, we must come to the Savior, we must have a concern for sinners and, thirdly:
III. We must Cast off our Self-Righteousness
The scribes and Pharisees complain against Christ’s disciples and you can hear the contempt in their complaint: “Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?!”
A popular person walks into our congregation and everyone is looking over at him and smiling and welcoming and shaking his hand. Are you as quick to welcome the dirty, lowly, and unpopular sinner? Or do you grimace and ask, “Why are tax collectors and sinners attracted to this place?! Henderson’s First Baptist is a ‘respectable’ church.” May God deliver us from “respectable” churches.
The phrase there in verse 30, “eat and drink” suggests a deeply personal activity. In Jesus’ day, to eat and drink with someone, to share a meal with someone, was a way of demonstrating a special kind of oneness with another.
The problem with the scribes and Pharisees was that they were not one with these people. They had placed themselves in a different category, a separate category, a better category. They had placed themselves in upper category of “the righteous.” So Jesus says in verses 31-32:
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
It’s not that the scribes and Pharisees were righteous. Obviously, they were not, but they sure thought they were. I wonder whether some of you think you are righteous, but are not? There was a time I thought of myself as righteous when I was not. It can happen to any of us.
This is obviously a concern of Luke’s as he will record Jesus’ telling a parable in chapter 18. Let me read it, Luke 18:9-14:
Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Real Christianity means we cast off our self-righteousness. Jesus says, “I have come for those who know they are sick. I have come not for those who think they are well.”
A doctor can’t help a patient who thinks he is well when all the tests indicate otherwise. I mean, the doctor can say, “There is simply no question here. You are very sick. Look at these test results. And look at you! You are not well.” He can’t help this guy at all if the guy says, “I don’t really care what all the tests show and I don’t really care that I have had no appetite in 12 weeks and that I am in constant pain and that I am bleeding everywhere I tell you I am not sick!” That’s ludicrous.
But that’s the point Jesus is making: “I can’t help those who think they are well. I have come to those who know they are sick. I have not come to those who think they are righteous, but to those who know they are not.”
The beauty of 2 Corinthians 5:21 is found in learning that we are forgiven not on the basis of what we have done, but on the basis of who we know and what He has done for us: “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Or, as Paul writes in Philippians 3:9: “Not having my own righteousness…but that which is through faith in Christ.”
God gives us Christ’s righteousness. He imputes the righteousness of Christ to us. It doesn’t mean that we are “made” righteous as though it were intrinsic, inside us. No, it is a righteousness that we wear like a garment. It covers us.
So we don’t come to Christ dressed in our own righteousness. We cannot enter heaven this way. We agree with the hymn-writer that we are “faultless to stand before the throne” precisely because we are “dressed in His righteousness alone.”
And anytime we find ourselves putting back on our old dirty rags of our own righteousness we’re in trouble. Cast them off. You are not well. You need a doctor, not just once, but continually. You and I both need to be under the constant care of the Great Physician.
He is here this morning for all who know they are sick. He is here for sinners only.
- Stand for prayer.
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