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27. And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me.
28. And he left all, rose up, and followed him.
29. And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them.
30. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?
31. And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.
32. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Each one of the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, record this event. That leads me to believe that it must have been very important for it to have been included in the gospel story. Both Luke and Mark named this person, this tax collector, Levi. Mark calls him Levi, the son of Alpheus. But in the gospel of Matthew, he names this tax collector he is talking about himself and calls him Matthew. So at some stage evidently in his own life, he received perhaps a new name, so to speak, called Matthew, from and added on to his name of Levi, the son of Alpheus, very much perhaps like others in Scripture received new names like Simon, who became Peter. At any rate, when each one of the gospel writers makes the list of the disciples of Jesus, they all call him Matthew and that can be seen in Luke. We will see that a little later on.
The story of Matthew or Levi is one that brings to us a beautiful truth. That is that Christ came to this world to reach out to fallen human beings, sinners, and He brought Himself down on such a level with them that He could understand them absolutely and reach out in love and grace to bring forgiveness and justification into the lives of people who were bound in sin. It seems to me that that is the most remarkable good news that we ever hear or come in contact and that Christ so loved the world, the world even as bad as it is, made up of the people and we’re not talking about the cosmos itself, the planet and natural things though He may very well have loved that. We are talking about the people, the people of this world that He so loved that He gave Himself. The Father so loved it that He gave His only begotten Son. I don’t think there is any message that can ever be preached that is greater, that represents the good news from heaven any more than that message that Christ became a friend to sinners.
He came to call them to change their lives and to come and follow Him and to become His disciple and be changed and transformed. It started with a simple step of obedience, becoming a disciple of Jesus. But it would grow and develop and there would be a process and there would be step-by-step growth and development in following Jesus because, after all, to follow Him means that you journey all your life. So, I want us to look tonight at three particular developments in this story and see if we can determine the actual message or truth that is coming up out of these pages that the Lord would have us to receive.
First of all, let’s talk about responding to His call. Jesus came and touched the man with a simple word. The man was busy. They man was preoccupied. The man was working hard. He was seen as a person who was charging and collecting custom on the traffic and trade that came through wherever his place of business was. And any of you who have had experience travelling abroad and going through customs in a foreign country or coming back home and going through customs, you know what a tedious kind of experience it can be if the tax collector or the customs officer just wants to be mean and he just wants to give you a hard time, he can certainly do it. He wants to know what all you’ve brought in and what you have to declare and to be able to charge a certain fee for custom charges. Most of the time these kinds of people, tax collectors, people of the IRS, they are not looked upon so very much as real close friends that you want to take out to dinner. The fact is, we sometimes wonder if there is not something devilish in the way they approach collecting taxes, as if there must be some kind of great delight or you get a cut out of it, the more you collect! That’s the way it was for Matthew and others like Zaccheus. Publicans they were called. Public servants who worked in the service of the Roman government and they probably had a set rate they had to collect and anything they collected over that they could put into their own pockets. The Scripture indicates that most of these people were very wealthy because they knew how to get more than what was actually demanded.
Yet, that is the kind of person that Jesus came and saw a man. Matthew said He saw a man named Matthew. Mark said He saw Levi sitting at the seat of customs and Luke says He saw a Publican. That name itself, that title Publican, had a lot of connotation of being real bad and disagreeable, as I’ve already indicated. But I’m glad that Jesus does not look upon people for what they are nor where they are. He understands about sin and fallen nature. He understands about bondage. He understands what happens to people in this world. He understands. He understands what Satan does and the affect of evil upon the lives of people in this world and He is able to look beyond it. Sometimes we see things happen to people and we cannot get beyond the act that they have committed or what they have done. We can’t see through it or beyond it to see that somehow God might come into a very bad situation and change it and make something good and beautiful out of that life. It’s hard for us to see that. Even as Christians who have been transformed and changed, yet, sometimes it’s hard for us to look back on others and see any hope of any kind of deliverance and change – lasting change in the lives of others. We almost become skeptical, especially when we see people performing certain things. I’m glad Jesus sees beyond and He sees what people can become by His grace and power. He sees the whole new world of life and joy and peace that can come into a person’s life who is living deep into trouble and into sin.
Oh, somehow I like the old song that is built on the old Irish tune that says He looked beyond my faults and saw my need. He sees more than the need. Thank God, He sees the need. Thank God that He can look beyond that and see what we can become beyond the problem. Oh hallelujah!
The problem with the Pharisees and Scribes was they could not see that potential. They could not see the potential of good in anybody unless they lined up a certain way and lined up with the system of Judaism and the prescribed method and manner. That’s the only way you could ever become anything other than a sinner. But Jesus just walked up to him and with some kind of an overwhelming influence, and this is hard to explain, He just simply said Follow me and the Bible says he immediately responded. He immediately arose and he left everything – he just left it right where it was. He walked out of his office, closed his books, got up, I don’t know what he did with the cash receipts for that day, I don’t know, but he just got up and followed him. Now what in the world is it about somebody that is so compelling and so magnetic and so powerful that just one simple command of Follow me can cause a man to turn his back on business and past life and just simply hang on to the words of that simple command and follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
I want to tell you folks that you and I who have followed Him, we know what that something is. We know what it means to have His voice of love and tenderness reach us even when we were steeped in sin. We know what it means to have a look of forgiveness coming from Him and an atmosphere of His mercy to come to us in a time of sinfulness we know. We can’t explain it. I can’t explain it. I can’t explain that there is forgiveness with Him when there is not forgiveness with others. I can’t explain that there is a welcome from Him when there is not a welcome from others. But it is the most marvelous and wonderful thing that Jesus Christ who is a friend to sinners would come and show that friendship and that love and be so compelling and so magnetic in what He says that just one simple command, one word Follow me, that one simple command would cause a person to respond in a simple act of obedience. The fact is, when Jesus called His disciples, that is the one and only claim that He laid on people first of all. Others would come later, but the first one was just a simple obedience claim. Now, I want to tell you, most of us in this house tonight, we know what it means to obey Christ and the tremendous rewards and potential that come to us with simple acts of obedience. I think it’s the greatest lesson you could ever learn.
Not fuss with Him, not argue with Him, just put your foot out and take that step of simple obedience. In fact, that may be the manifestation of the greatest faith you can ever have because some of the greatest miracles in the Bible and outside of the Bible, greatest miracles and testimonies of people’s lives have come about because they just took one simple step of obedience. It wasn’t that they were so overloaded with great faith, but the very fact of rising up and turning your back on the other way and following Him was a great step of faith that brought about His transforming power at work in our own lives. Answering that call is the greatest reward a person will ever receive. What we receive when a person answers the call of Jesus is the greatest reward you can ever have in this world and indeed, in the world to come.
I want us to look next of all at not only responding to this call, but the rejoicing in this new challenge. Here is a man, this Levi or Matthew, whichever you want to call his name, was so overwhelmed and so influenced and so excited until he prepared a great feast in his house in honor of Jesus and His disciples and he invited them in. And then he invited many other publicans, probably the most despised class of people in that day as we indicated earlier. And he invited many others who would be classified by the self-righteous Pharisees as sinners. So here he is. He is evidently a wealthy man. He probably has a spacious home. He has a place to bring in dozens of guests. He has money to spare to put on a great feast and he is honoring Jesus and the disciples. But he brings to that not the high priestly people, not the great religious people, not any of that, he brings publicans and sinners. I guess there’s something already working in his heart that is so exciting that he has to get his friends in touch with the transforming power of Christ that has touched him. Amen!
With Christians, the older we get sometimes the less sinner friends we really have. Well here is a kind of campaign, a sinner for dinner kind of campaign for evangelism! This is one of the greatest strategies for evangelism that has ever been known. The Lord Himself invented it and He modeled it and He showed how to do it and that is to associate with sinners, go into their home. How long has it been since you had sinner friends come in and sit down at your table and drink coffee with you and eat with you? I’m talking about being a friend to sinners. Matthew brought them all in and he was rejoicing. Money didn’t seem to be any object. He was totally generous in this great feast that he had prepared for him and all his friends.
I read of a woman who was a bartender in Albuquerque, New Mexico that when she got saved one of the first things she did was to invite all of her liquor drinking, bar attending friends and sent them an engraved invitation and said I want you to come and witness my being baptized in water on a certain Sunday and then there will be a reception in my apartment afterwards. She had the pastor there and seems like thirty-something of her friends came and they witnessed the baptismal service, they heard what the pastor had to say about what water baptism meant and what had happened to her. And later on, the record came that at the last record 17 of her friends had been converted. A friend to sinners. Why not be a friend to sinners? If anybody in this world needs a friend, it’s somebody who is lost. If anybody needs a friend, it is somebody who is bound by the power of evil and sin and Satan. If anybody needs a friend, it is somebody who has made a mistake and fallen into error and fallen into transgression and fallen into sin. That person needs a friend. Would you say Amen?
But there were religious people sitting by gathering around and watching always like a posse following Jesus, wanting to criticize Him, find something that they could trap Him with where He would – where they could accuse Him of breaking the law of Moses and the regulations of the temple and so on and they were there. They became indignant and they began to murmur. You have to watch these people who start murmuring and talking behind your back and murmuring because after awhile it will lead to something else. What we see in this series of controversies here, these five, they started out by silently reasoning in their hearts, you remember we talked about that last week. But Jesus read their thoughts. He knew what was in their hearts. This time they are murmuring to the disciples. Next time they are going to be talking and challenging Jesus Himself openly. And after awhile it will end up with them wanting to kill Him. You see, that reasoning in your heart and murmuring leads to something heavier and worse all the time. It is a kind of process that people give themselves to that end up sometimes in violence.
And they murmured. What they murmured about was the fact that Jesus was associating with sinners. They said how can this thing be? And Jesus responded. Once again, He didn’t have to hear what they had said to His disciples. He knew what was going on and He just simply responded. I love the time when He rebuked these critics. He said a simple analogy. They that are well, they don’t need a physician, but it’s the people who are sick. They need the physician to come to them.
That’s something we don’t see anymore hardly. Have any of you in the past ten, twenty years had a doctor come to your house to visit you and to examine you? Anybody here? Let me see your hand. I didn’t see anybody! No, you’ve got to go to the clinic. It doesn’t matter how sick you are. You’ve got to drag in there. You may faint and fall out in the floor, but somebody will come and shake you and say wait a minute, we’ve got to get this information…what’s your insurance number and what’s your social security number and where do you live? Don’t die yet til we get the records filled out. It’s almost ridiculous, some sitting there dying and you have to fill out everything, no matter how hard you are hurting. I went to the emergency one night up here and I didn’t know what was happening to me. I thought I was dying. Of course, you know my reputation, I can’t stand pain at all! The least little thing and I’m almost dying, I want my wife to be right there real quick and put her hand on my head and talk to me real nice. That’s just the way I am, but anyway they had to go through all these forms and everything. And here I am, I feel like I’m dying. You know, oddly enough, that’s the way the church is a lot of times. They say to people who are hurting and dying and who are sinful Come on over to our clinic. We advertised in the paper. We have a great clinic. We have everything you need. Just come on over and get it. And somehow or other they don’t come to our clinics much anymore. But here is the Great Physician who went to the home. I remember when one of my sisters and I had typhoid in my first year of high school. We were sick five weeks and couldn’t eat. Old Dr. Johnson would come to our house now from the great metropolitan area of Sebastapool, Mississippi. If you’ve never been there, well you’ve missed a whole lot. He’d come out. He’d have a bottle of pills and he’d bring castor oil and we’d have to take castor oil every day. Whew! I said then I’d never force any of my kids to take castor oil if I ever have children. He was great. The only thing that bothered us was he would say Well, you feel like you could eat a piece of fried chicken? Dear Lord. If you haven’t eaten for three solid weeks, that will nearly about wipe you out! My sister and I, this in incredible – you won’t believe this, but I can prove it, you can check it out. My sister and I were both skinny when we took typhoid. After starving for five weeks, we’ve been hungry ever since and both of us have a weight problem. I heard my sister cry and say I wish I weighed 200 pounds. She was so skinny and she was growing up and she wanted to fill out with a nice figure and all that as a young girl and she would cry. Well, she got her wish! Now, there’s probably a real reason that both of us are overweight besides all that, but we lay it off on that. That’s as good an excuse as any, I guess. But I never will forget old Dr. Johnson. He came to our house. He sat down by the bed in a chair. He took our hand. He felt our pulse. He took our temperature. He talked and then he bundled up his little black satchel and he went on his way. After awhile we were over it. You don’t have that kind of attention anymore.
But Jesus said it’s the sick who need a physician. And He said besides that the Son of Man came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. It is odd that He was addressing the so-called righteous people and saying to them that the Son of Man didn’t come to call you necessarily. But He came to reach sinners because in the estimation of the Pharisees, they were the righteous because they kept all the rules of Judaism, every practice. We’ll see later on controversies over the fact that Jesus would dare break the law of the Sabbath. Oh, they had thousands, fifteen hundred or so laws governing your activity on the Sabbath day that you could break. That’s what being righteous was all about. If you lived by the specific rules of Judaism, it didn’t matter if you didn’t know God. It didn’t matter if you had a temple that was void of the glory of God, like our pastor has been talking about preaching on wineskins, empty wineskins that can hold no new wine. That’s just one of the illustrations that Jesus used to talk about Judaism. Another one was when he cursed the barren fig tree. He wasn’t just beating up on a fig tree. It was an acted parable to show that unfruitfulness is cursed, especially if it pretends to be religious.
And so here are the righteous that are really self-righteous. And they judge the others and they call them sinners. And a sinner could be easily identified in those days and be classified. That’s harder to do now. But back then the Pharisees could look at a person crossing the street or coming down the road and tell you if he is a sinner or not because he had to dress a certain way and he had to wear certain things on him and he had to act a certain way and so forth to be righteous. And they could tell them.
So they judged all these people in there and they knew right away they were sinners because they weren’t doing and acting like they had been doing. For them, somebody who is a sinner is somebody who is not like us. That’s the way they could say it. And Jesus said I came not to call the righteous, but I came to call sinners to repentance. That’s what being a friend to sinners is all about. It is going to them and giving them the invitation as He gave to Matthew. Going to them and giving them the Good News of forgiveness and love and calling people to repentance because after all, the malady, the sickness that fills lives is a kind of sickness that is caused by the lack of repentance and turning to God. There’s a lot of people tonight who would be free of their sufferings and especially condemnations if they could just simply learn what it means to repent and to simply do that. Because there is one thing about it, when you come with real repentance to the Lord Jesus Christ, He says he that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out. It’s a strange thing to me that the very emotion of sorry and guilt and regret that goes into repentance is the very act that brings the relief and the cleansing and the purging and the deliverance from the bondage. Hallelujah!
We talk about so many things that are therapeutic. Well, nothing is any more therapeutic and cleansing than weeping before God in confession and being honest and open with God. Jesus would say it again in another place. He would talk about two men who went up to the temple to pray. One was self-righteous and bragged on himself and the other just dropped his head and smote his chest and said God be merciful to me a sinner. Then Jesus said he went home, that sinner that confessed went home justified rather than the other.
Thank God He is a friend to sinners. Thank God He was our friend. You know, I might just get impatient with people and as I mentioned earlier, not see any potential for change. As a pastor, I have literally marked some off only to have God to come along and say Put them back on your list. And later they would pray through and get right because God could see the potential and I could only see the failure. But there’s one little extra application I want to give you tonight in closing in this message. I think it is that in these days somehow we need to catch the spirit of Jesus and see if we cannot become friends to sinners. Sometime we don’t get excited about it unless it’s somebody in our own family who has a real problem. Then we get all choked up and stirred up. I was the pastor at one church and we started to have a revival and some of the people said You can’t have a revival now. It’s not the right time. It’s the wrong time. And we said Well we’ll just try. I’m not going to try to count and see who is here and who is not and whoever comes we’ll have church. Brother C. E. French was our evangelist and he preached one Sunday morning and about 16 adults came to the altar and got saved. We pulled a trick on them! They were the crowd who had been leaving after Sunday School and wouldn’t stay for church, so I just got up and said We’re going to have preaching first and then we can have Sunday School. Come on Brother French. And man, he hit the pulpit like his coat tail was on fire and it was ninety miles to the first water hole and when he got through preaching, the altar was filled. One of those brothers who had told me so vehemently You can’t have a revival in July, his 40-something year old son walked the aisle that day. His daughter-in-law came. Other people in the church sons and daughters came. And when they saw John walking the aisle, the father who sat on this side of the church, he jumped up and threw up his hands and screamed and the mother who sat on this side of the church she jumped up and threw up her hands and screamed and they came running. They got excited and stirred up about the revival. But they didn’t get disturbed about that until that moment when they saw God was having mercy upon their son.
I’m just closing this message tonight with this simple appeal that I think that one of the greatest things that we need is a greater openness and a greater love and an attitude of friendliness that reaches out in love to sinner friends. They tell us that 70-90% of the people who are saved and belong to a church have been saved and come to the church because a loved one or a friend loved them, prayed for them, talked to them, invited them. Far more than our great advertisements or our great plans for meetings or any strategy, this works…being a friend to a sinner.
I want us to close this service tonight with a prayer that God would indeed touch our own hearts to help us not to wait for somebody else, but to help us as each individual to become a friend to a sinner who needs help from God. Do you know one? Do you know one? Do you know one?
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