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Tuesday
Mar262019

Is There a Doctor in the House?

Mark 2:13-17.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 24, 2019.

In one sense, our story today is about Jesus calling another Galilean to become one of his closest disciples, i.e. to be one of The Twelve.  However, the calling of this disciple causes a stir among the local scribes and Pharisees.  Let’s look into the passage.

Jesus calls Levi to follow him

The man that is called Levi here is also called Matthew in the Gospel according to Matthew.  Yes, these are one and the same.  The guy in our story will go on to write a record of The Gospel that has been read world-wide for 20 centuries.  Now we are told that Jesus was in the area speaking to the crowds.  They have become large enough that Jesus is using the seashore to preach to them.  In the course of this, Jesus walks by the tax office and sees a tax collector there named Levi.

Levi is an Israelite, but is collecting taxes for the Roman Government.  The way this was done was by contract bids.  Rome would give its contracts for an area to the person who promised to raise the most tax.  It was understood that the tax collector would pad this amount and that is how he would make his money.  Now, the taxes were already harsh, but they were made worse by the greedy countrymen who got rich off of the backs of their friends.  These men were seen as traitors and collaborators with Rome and thus despised as some of the worst of sinners in their society. 

This clearly does not make Levi appealing to God.  Yet, Christ sees past the greed and opportunism, and sees the person behind those actions, a person in bondage to fear and wealth.  Jesus is calling Levi away from all of that.

This is an important point because it is becoming more and more prevalent today to speak about sinners as if they really are noble people underneath the surface.  Jesus did not choose Levi because he saw a noble man who isn’t really as bad as everyone makes him out to be.  Rather, Jesus sees exactly who Levi is and in spite of that calls him to leave it behind and follow him, which we will get into here in a bit.  This is the same way that Christ comes to all of us.  In and of ourselves, we all fall short.  However, Jesus still calls us away from that failure and into himself.  He calls us to leave the old life behind and learn a new life from him.

So, what does Jesus mean exactly by the phrase, Follow me?  If we do a search in the Bible for this phrase, we will see that Jesus used this phrase with those who he was calling to eat, sleep, and live with him.  They would be his main students and also help him in the ministry.  It was a call to join the inner circle of Jesus.  Yet, later in these passages (after he had The Twelve) we see him using this phrase of all who want to be his disciples.  Mark 8:34-35 says, “Whoever desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”  He also says in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”  Thus, there is a metaphorical “following” of Jesus that goes beyond living with him.  The Apostles had to deal with this themselves after Jesus ascended into heaven.  They could not immediately follow him into heaven, but they could follow him by listening to the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sent to indwell them and fill them.  Similarly, today we who believe in the message about Christ chose to leave the old life behind and become students of Christ.  Christ is faithful to send the Holy Spirit into our lives and we are enabled to spiritually follow Him. 

I would also state that there is a way in which we literally follow Jesus.  When we listen to the Holy Spirit, who is one with Christ and the Father, in those moments of instruction, we are literally following Jesus because he is the one leading us.  Whether he warns us against those things that we want to do and instigates us towards those things that we don’t want to do, it is still Christ that we are following.  Thus, the believer needs to spend time each day in communion with Christ through the Holy Spirit by prayer, listening and obeying.

May we be the eyes of Jesus in this world, seeing those who are still trapped in their sin, and yet calling them to follow Jesus.  He is not ashamed to be associated with our past failures in sin.  However, he has come to lead us out of them and into the freedom that can only be obtained through him.

Jesus eats with sinners

Levi was clearly excited to be noticed by the famous teacher, Jesus, and to be called to follow him.  It seems that he is ready to leave everything behind immediately.  He then throws a party that can only be characterized as a retirement party, or going away party.  He invites all his friends and associates who all turn out to be, no shocker here, other tax collectors and sinners.  No one else wanted anything to do with him.  It is in this context that the question is posed to the disciples of Jesus.  Why does Jesus eat with these sinners and tax collectors?  Before we look at the answer, let’s look at the background for why this question is being asked in the first place.

The name of the Pharisee as a group came from a Hebrew word that means to make distinct, to distinguish, and to separate.  We could call them separatists, but that has a political connotation.  It would be best to think of them as the Puritans of their day.  Society had been becoming more and more sinful as people more and more ignored the law.  The Law of Moses emphasized purity throughout its statutes.  Thus, the response of these religious leaders who wanted to show their zeal for God was to dissociate from sinners.  This was even more important for religious leaders.

To analyze this further, let’s remember the situation with the leper in chapter one.  The Law stated many and various situations which would make a person unclean.  This term refers to a ceremonial distinction and is not a statement of sinfulness.  The law did not require a person to always be ceremonially clean.  It only required being ceremonially clean if you were to enter into sacred space, typically to perform a legal ritual.  You could be declared unclean if you buried one of your family members, or had sexual relations with your spouse.  These were not sin by the standard of the Law, but situations that required a purification ritual to be completed before the person could participate in a sacrifice or festival in the temple.  The Pharisees had taken this concept beyond what the Law required or intended.  They were supposed to be the “holy men” of their day and their response was to wall themselves off from anything and anyone who could affect their clean status.  No self-respecting rabbi of their day would have been caught dead at a feast of sinners and tax-collectors.  It would be like seeing someone swimming in the sewer pond.  You can’t get anymore filthy.  These guys are truly shocked.  These are not the actions of a holy man, at least according to their group, who were the experts on holiness and cleanliness.

Now, it is interesting that the question is posed to the disciples of Jesus first.  It is not clear if this is happening at the event or later, but the disciples bear the brunt of the question.  The question itself seems to have a tone of derision to it.  It is not, Why does Jesus eat with sinners, but How is it that he eats with sinners…  They are implying that the disciples have chosen poorly in the teacher that they are following and there can really be no defense.  And, of course, the disciples have no answer.

This technique is employed all the time today.  How is it that you follow a 2,000 year old religion created by people who thought the world was flat?  Of course, such a question is wrong on both counts.  They didn’t exactly think the world was flat, and they did not create a religion.  Another question that one often gets is this.  How can you follow a God who tells you not to murder, but then he murders countless numbers?  Clearly such people have trouble sticking to clear definition of terms and distinguishing between murdering the innocent and executing criminals.  Israel itself was required to execute capital punishment upon certain sins.  It is not hypocrisy to make a distinction between murder and legal execution.  It is proper definition. 

In these cases, it is best not to be bullied into a rash response.  It is Jesus who has the answers and it is to him that we must turn.  The words of Christ are filled with clarity on these issues, if we are willing to study and hear those who Christ has gifted to teach on these matters.  This is nothing more than an attempt to shame you into distancing yourself from Christ and his Apostles.

What is the answer that Jesus gives?  Jesus uses the analogy of a doctor.  No one in their right mind would berate a doctor for having a bunch of sick people in his clinic.  We might berate the doctor for not fixing any of their problems, but never for their presence in the clinic.  Do you tend to find a lot of healthy people in a hospital?  Of course not.  Notice the simplicity of this answer.  It cuts through all the accretion of intellectual crud and gets to the heart of the issue.  Now Jesus had proven his ability to heal people physically, but there is no indication that these people are physically in need of healing.  Look at the next thing Jesus says.  “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”  These men did not need physical healing, but they did need a spiritual healing from the wound of sin in their lives.  A wound that none of these religious men were willing to lift a finger to heal.  Jesus was not at Matthew’s house because he was greedy and wanted to enjoy Matthew’s food and riches.  He was not hoping to get some more rich disciples from among his friends.  In short, Jesus is there not to sin, but to teach these sinners the way out of their sin.

Could it be that in our desire to be clean of sin, we so insulate ourselves from sinners that we are no longer a threat to the devil’s hold upon them?  I believe this story underlines such a conclusion.  Yes, we must abstain from all appearance of evil, but many people see evil in things that are not evil.  Abstaining from all appearance of evil is not about the eyes of people around us, but the eyes of our Father in heaven.  Our lives cannot be controlled by what others say of us morally, but by what our Lord Jesus calls us to do.  We are called to help those who are sick with sin, whether they know it or not.  The only way that we can do that is to be open to interacting with them when we cross their path, and for the reasons of Christ, not our flesh.

Is There a Doctor Audio

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