September 1, 2019 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis
Passage: Mark 2:13–17
This morning, we continue our series in Mark looking at Jesus’ second confrontation with church authorities. These accounts are difficult for us: on the one hand, we rejoice that Jesus’ campaign for the kingdom is seeking out the lost; on the other hand, we also can sure see ourselves in the church folks whom Jesus rebukes.
I would like to look at this passage in reverse; to look at Jesus’ response to the Pharisees first, to consider why the confrontation took place second, and to reflect upon the situation last.
I. Jesus Came For Sinners.
Jesus’ final statement closing the confrontation with the Pharisees, “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners,” was a powerful rebuke. He roundly criticized the Pharisees for thinking too highly of themselves. He rejected their self-righteousness – it was a somewhat sarcastic statement that he did not come for their understanding of righteous. His actions showed he was serious about the “repent” part of his proclamation message. Jesus sought those who would trust only in his righteousness.
The Pharisees, you see, expected God to come and justify the righteous. They expected “the righteous” to be themselves – and they expected the messiah would be pleased with their righteousness. They knew the rules and followed them. They knew the customs and upheld them. They knew who was clean and who was not; and they associated only with the best. They took pride in their efforts to be more and more righteous in God’s eyes. They knew they were sinners in concept, but not sinners anywhere near the scope and extent of “those” people – people like those Jesus invited to share his table.
They expected the messiah to come so that they could have the ultimate self-satisfied “we told you so” moment. Instead, when they encountered Jesus, they found themselves outside the party looking in. Or, another way of looking at it is this: Jesus is the shepherd who sought lost sheep. The Pharisees were sheep who were critical of his shepherding skills. They believed he should simply praise them for their sheep-li-ness.
Before we get to smug in joining in the criticism of the Pharisees, we had better realize that the error of the Pharisees is an error church people easily fall into; that is, when we think or act as if God does not like people who are not like us. We make that error when we look down on the lost, hurting or despairing and think it is ok if we shun them.
It takes effort and intention to not fall into the trap. It is why being a disciple of Jesus requires us to constantly focus our attention on him; to constantly be reading in Scripture to encounter him; to constantly evaluate our own lives to discern if we are following him. It is why we need one another – we can easily delude ourselves into thinking that we are doing everything just right and that everyone else has it wrong. How much are we like the Pharisees? Answer these questions for yourself:
- How many non-Christians do you know? Do you find yourself avoiding or seeking out opportunities to talk with non-Christians?
- Are you thankful for the grace you have received while looking down with consternation on the sins of others? Have you find any comfort in the thought that, “at least I’m not as bad as that guy”?
- How do you feel when you find someone sitting in your pew? As the church grows and new people begin attending to hear the gospel preached, will you be glad or wish that they had sat somewhere else? (Or both?)
If you are at all like me, some of these questions hit a little bit close to home. The truth of the matter is that these are issues with which I struggle and it pains me to think of Jesus rebuking me with those same words.
By the way, it is worth noting two things about Jesus’ rebuke:
- Jesus did not qualify his message to indicate that “only those of you who know you are really sinners and have not lived according to all this righteousness tradition should repent.” No, Jesus’ message was universal.
- Jesus did not couch the language in the “only those of you who were born in or would be inclined to follow this faith tradition should repent;” – that is, exempting those who honestly believe in a different god. Jesus’ message is universal.
Odd as it sounds, hearing Jesus’ rebuke is actually part of the good news. I am blessed because I am reminded where I stand: a sinner in need of God’s mercy and grace. Jesus’ rebuke is a statement of the wonder of forgiveness. It is the marvel of grace.
And grace, friends, is among the most difficult things to handle about God. Here is the last “are you like the Pharisees” question: Can you receive a gift?
Intellectually, we understand that grace is the unmerited gift of God. Most of us, however, are emotionally ill-equipped to handle receiving gifts. Although we enjoy receiving and having stuff, we absolutely bristle at the notion of feeling obligated or indebted to someone else.
If you wonder if that’s true, think about Christmas-time. What if someone gets me a gift and I have nothing for them? We feel incredibly guilty about getting a gift from someone if we have not thought of them first. We would almost prefer NOT to get something rather than receive something and not be able to reciprocate in kind. I have a friend who buys defensive Christmas gifts; he has a couple of reasonably generic gifts pre-wrapped in the event that someone surprises him with a gift.
Grace is a gift for which there is no reciprocal. There is no equivalent. There is no matching it. There is no earning it. You don’t deserve it and you can’t have something in your back pocket ready to go when Jesus gives it. It is a gift. Grace is a very personal gift.
For many people, they would prefer NOT to get the gift of grace and go on living in the hope that their life is good enough to get into heaven. Or, they would like to receive grace as if it were righteousness on loan; something that could be paid back. Many people would prefer not to have to deal with God when they get to heaven; but, they think, if God is real and they are going to encounter him, they would like to be on equal footing. “Thanks for salvation, God, but did you see what I did?” That is one flaw of the Pharisees: they failed to recognize and receive the gift of grace.
But the Pharisees took it to the next step: not only did they fail to receive the gift of grace, they begrudged anyone else getting a gift either. They remind me of a story that a Presbyterian pastor friend of mine (Bob Kopp) told me. There was a young boy who was visiting family by the ocean. He had never been to the ocean before and was curious about all sorts of things. He spotted an old man going crabbing. The boy had never seen anyone catching crabs; so he sat in the sand and watched. The crabber worked his strings and nets and pretty soon began to catch lots of crabs. He threw them into a big bucket. It wasn't too long before the boy noticed crab legs inching over the top of the bucket. "Mister," the boy said to the crabber, "you better put a top on your bucket or all of your crabs are going to get away." "Not a chance," the old crabber said to the young boy, "because whenever one of them gets to the top, the other crabs just pull him back down."
How different would the gospel be if the Pharisees had received the rebuke, let go of their pride, and humbly understood their need for the righteousness of faith in Jesus. How different are our lives and our outlook when we receive the rebuke, let go of our pride, repent, and bow humbly in thanksgiving as we accept grace and righteousness through faith in Jesus.
II. The Party Is The Miracle Of Fellowship With Jesus
Next, I want to look at why the confrontation took place. When it says, “were dining with Jesus and his disciples,” there is the sense that Jesus was the host of this table. In other words, he set the table and issued the invitations. The description gives the impression that the doors were open and all who wanted in were able to get in.
The Pharisees were on the outside, looking into the party, harrumphing like Groucho Marx saying, “I would never belong to a club that would have me as a member.” To them, Jesus said, “I did not come for the righteous but the sinners.” Sinners know that it is grace that lets them into the party. It is good news and it is a party.
The Pharisees were concerned with protecting what was clean. Jesus was concerned with making clean. There is a huge difference between the two.
John Piper says it this way in his book, Desiring God, “Dig for gold rather than rake for leaves when you take up Scripture.” Jesus was showing how – in him – Scripture was fulfilled, how – in him – the promises of God were realized, how – in him – forgiveness was real. A relationship with him was the key to the kingdom of God. The Pharisees missed the point entirely.
Who got the point? Outsiders; those who had no claim on the kingdom of God at all: tax collectors and sinners.Mark used the phrase three times in this one narrative. Why? He was emphasizing the distinction between the Pharisees and those dining with Jesus. The tax collectors and sinners were not respectable church people. They were, in fact, the despised and outcast.
The crowd was less church-elite and more biker bar or soup kitchen. It was less potluck and more down-on-their-luck.
For the Pharisees, eating in the home of a tax collector was unthinkable. You just did not do that. There is no way to avoid ritual defilement from everything that is unclean – the food, the serving dishes and plates, and the company. A modern day version of Pharisees would be like Paris Hilton looking at the little people and saying, “ick, ick, ick.” These were the people that respectable or celebrated society would not be caught dead visiting. They certainly would never invite them to dinner.
Yet these were the exact people Jesus invited. Jesus’ standard to be invited in? “Come, follow me.” That was it. “Come, follow me.”
Although the appearance of the crowd was the social equivalent of fugitives a homeless encampment, the transformation of their lives had already begun. Because they had obeyed the call, “Come, follow me,” they would never be the same. What lay behind was gone and their relationship with him was already transforming their lives.
So it is with us. We have no right to demand a place at the table; the good news is that Jesus invites us. Saying yes transforms our lives. What lies behind is gone and our relationship with Jesus transforms our lives daily going forward.
And this gets us back to the beginning.
III. Being Invited To The Table Is Good News For Sinners.
Often, because of the power of the closing remark, we miss the importance of the setting. Jesus called Levi/Matthew, and then headed to his house to share table with him. It was astounding. The kingdom of God was marching forward, claiming ever more new territory.
You may be thinking, “It was just a dinner.” Yes and no. The way Mark wrote this account, Jesus was the host of this dinner. It is important to know that hosting a meal had specific connotations; for guests, the invitation was an offer of peace, trust, brotherhood, and forgiveness. It is not a coincidence that Mark placed this account right after the healing of the paralytic. Mark was making a point.
This dinner was a fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah found in the Servant Song in Isaiah 61. Think of what Jesus was doing in this meal and hear these words,
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion – to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
Jesus was bringing good news to sinners. Here was another step forward in his proclamation of the coming near of the kingdom of God. He had healed the sick, he had removed the unclean spirit by his word, he had cleansed the leper, and he had forgiven the sins of the paralytic man. Now, he invited tax collectors and sinners to join him for his meal.
For Mark’s readers, this was a powerful visual signal of hope. Mark’s first readers in Rome were a mix of Jews and Gentiles; mostly of the underclass of society; most who would never have dreamed of receiving an invitation to a meal like this. They had already been hearing about how they were outsiders because they were not observant Jews like the Pharisees. Theirs was the question of those being told that they were still outside, “Are we worthy?” This meal – hosted by Jesus, rejected by the Pharisees – was good news for them.
For us, this is a powerful and visual signal of hope. Jesus’ invitation is an offer of peace, trust, brotherhood, and forgiveness. The invitation is both incredibly simply and life-long deep. “Come, follow me.” Think about that as we prepare our hearts for communion.
The meal at Levi’s house is a preview of what Jesus will do during the Lord’s supper. It is a preview of what we will see when the Lord comes again and we are invited to the banquet of the king.
- Revelation 3:20, “Lo, I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come I to you and eat with you, and you with me.”
- Then, in 19:6-9: Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready; to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure” – for the linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
So, as we have gathered here this morning, as we see the table that Jesus set before us, as we hear him calling, “Come, follow me,” and “Do this in remembrance of me,” I invite you to examine your hearts. This is not a game, it is not an empty ritual. This table is Jesus’ invitation to receive his peace, to trust in him, to share in his inheritance with him and to receive his grace – that is, the gift of forgiveness. Examine your hearts.
Is there anything that would prevent you from coming? Can you receive this gift? By responding to Jesus’ invitation and coming to the table, you are saying, “Yes, Lord, I receive your grace and I know that I can never repay you. Thank you!”
If this is the first time you have understood that Jesus was inviting you personally to come join him at his table; if God is convicting your heart and you are responding to Jesus call for the first time, “Come, follow me,” I rejoice with you. I invite you to come see me after the service.
For those of you who are believers – either for a short time or for many years, is there anything that would prevent you from coming? Can you receive this gift? Are you holding onto anything that you believe is too awful for God to handle? Are you harboring anything you believe makes you a hypocrite before God? Are you trying to hide away from God some imperfection or pretending to be righteous on your own in the hopes that he will gloss over it and never mention it to you? If so, take the time to pray and to lay those things at the foot of the cross.
“And as Jesus sat at dinner, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with him and his disciples – there were many who had followed him.” Friends, Jesus invited sinners to come to dinner – sinners like you and me. Saying yes to the call changed their lives. Saying yes to the call changes our lives. That is good news.
The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
1. How would you have responded to Jesus’ rebuke? How do you respond to correction? Do you get defensive and try to explain your side of the story? Or, do you recognize his mercy in judgment; his mercy that drives you to repentance?
2. Who do you expect to see at the dinner? Why them? Who will you not see? Why not? Is that ok with you? Can you be ok with God’s choosing or will you resent God’s choices because “it is not fair”?
3. Can you accept God’s forgiveness? Are you embraced by it or do you struggle trying to repay it? What are examples in your life where you have received God’s grace? What are examples where you have wrestled with your _________________ (pride, despair, anxiety, etc.) to live into the grace you have been given?