Almost Anyone Welcome

We sometimes like to believe we are special, because we are disciples of Jesus. And, in very important ways, we are. Ironically, we are rarely special in the ways some disciples think. Jesus had to deal with this issue among His disciples, but also among “religious people” on the outside looking in.

Rather than Jesus being on the outside, looking in on the Pharisees, as they expected Him to be, they found themselves on the outside looking in at Him. That had to be very difficult for them to process. Sometimes, we can find ourselves in the same position, and, when we do, Scripture contains several calls to repent.

In such instances, repentance amounts to joining Jesus, not abstaining from something, turning around, or whatever. Repentance is first a change of mind and heart before it is a change of action. In the account of the call of Levi (Matthew), there is a call to the Pharisees to accept the perspective of their Creator, so He might become their Savior.

Jesus went out again by the sea. The whole crowd came to him, and he taught them. As he went along, he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax booth. “Follow me,” he said to him. And he got up and followed him.

Mark 2:13-14 NET

I know, where are the Pharisees? But, trust me, they are there! Matthew is one of those “office” tax collectors, where people come to him, not him going door-to-door with a contingent of soldiers, robbing his own people. He still has the soldier(s), but not the requirement to trapes all over Galilee. So, he’s kind of important, even among tax collectors. And He’s probably “successful” (think “wealthy”) as well. According to the NET translation and “study note” for verse 14, the “tax booth” was for the collection of trade duties on merchants. The belief in the note is that Levi collected them for Herod Antipas, the regional ruler on behalf of Rome.

So, that is what Levi left to follow Jesus. In a similar way to Andrew, Simon, James, and John leaving their occupation, Jesus has called this guy from his. The massive irony to anyone familiar with the Roman practice of tax collection would be that, “you just don’t do that.” And Levi did. Not only did he leave the lucrative business, but he throws a party for all his “tax collecting” buddies, and other “sinners”…

As Jesus was having a meal in Levi’s home, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.

Mark 2:15 NET

Matthew (Levi) is not only leaving his “occupation”, but is happy about it. I suppose, but don’t know, that he could have had someone collect for him while he is off following Jesus. It never says that. Like it never says someone works the fishing business for Andrew, Simon, James, and John. We aren’t told they continue to get anything from it while following Jesus. The impression is that they truly left it, and all the benefits thereof, to follow Jesus.

Now, enter the Pharisees…

When the experts in the law and the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this he said to them, “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:16-17 NET

The Pharisees are, unexpectedly for them, on the outside, looking in at Jesus. And, to His undying shame, He’s obviously having fun, which He should never do, no self-respecting rabbi would. I just can’t help but think of the line from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where what really irritated the physicists was that they didn’t get invited to those sorts of parties. I suspect the Pharisees, deep down, felt the same way. They were caught between the life of “respect” they maintained fraudulently, and the life of “shame” they witnessed Jesus and His disciples enjoying authentically.

Don’t think for second, it was easy for the other disciples here. It had to be somewhat awkward for them as well. They were fishermen, sure, but still respectable Jewish men. Here Jesus was accepting into their number this guy, and then partying with him. The other four probably were more in agreement with the Pharisees than Jesus, at just that moment. And their feelings of “superiority” were about to be dashed by Jesus’ response.

Jesus had not come to call the “righteous” but “sinners”? Think that through for a moment. How “righteous” do you suppose Jesus thought the Pharisees really were? If you are not sure about that, look over Matthew 23 and Luke 11. So, if Jesus knows these Pharisees are not righteous, what does He mean? Obviously, “self-righteous”. Jesus has not come to call the “self-righteous”.

So, the question for you to mull over is, “how am I self-righteous?”, and you (and I) need to mull that over from time to time. Self-righteousness creeps in insidiously, and taints our walk with our Savior. Every time I make some headway in a struggle with sin, I feel proud of myself. How ridiculous is that? It wasn’t me, not at all, but I’m so proud of myself for taking a few steps with my Savior, as if, for the first time on my own. I’m a bonehead. You may not be, and good for you if not.

In this account, I find that I can drift into the lane of the Pharisees, only to discover that I’m now on the outside looking in at my Savior having authentic fun with “those people”. So, what do I do? What should I do? If I’m not in there with my Savior, then I’m not in a “right relationship” with my Creator. The corrective to such a situation is what we call “repentance”. In this case, for this particular problem, the answer (repentant activity) would be to join the fun. 

The Pharisees were actually invited to the party, but declined (see any number of parables on that one). They would not shame themselves to eat with “sinners”, and, in so doing, chose to be unrighteous. They could not make the paradigm shift to God’s paradigm, a paradigm that accepted anyone who authentically sought their Creator. There sat Jesus, the answer to every question their hearts held tight, and they could not let go of their perspective. He was too different.

What is too different for you? What is shaking up your world that you simply can’t wrap your head around? Okay, honestly that can happen a lot, in a whole host of circumstances that have nothing to do with God. So, let’s be more specific: Where do you see your Creator working as Savior that you struggle to accept? Who is He working with that you believed could never be reached? For you, who are “those people”? Are they defined politically? Are they defined economically? Socially? 

When faced with your Savior working with “those people”, the lesson from this passage in Mark is to go in and join the party. So, the message this morning is to “Party On!”, because Jesus only calls those willing to humble themselves, shift their paradigms, and enter into the party. Be one of those. Those who won’t, won’t be called. Don’t be that guy.

Party on!


Some Good News

I think most people like short sermons. In general, and unless the preacher is extremely interesting, I believe brevity is the most appreciated quality of a sermon, by most people. And that belief includes the understanding that there are exceptions among people, and among preachers.

So, when I read sermons in Scripture, whether the Hebrew Scriptures or the Christian Scriptures, their length is always of interest to me. It’s one of the ways I evaluate the “sermon”. We have so few traditional sermons of Jesus, this example in Mark is one I find very interesting:

Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee,  preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Mark 1:14-15 NASB

The reason I find it so interesting is the amazing amount of information packed into so few words. It is nearly a string of jokes with the just the punchlines included; as if it elicits the same response had the terms been defined, but, instead, relies on the familiarity of the hearer. I believe this is, in fact, exactly what Mark has done.

But we are not necessarily familiar with the terms, or simply assume they are what we think they mean. Some of you may know exactly what they mean, but when was the last time you thought this sermon through, unpacking the words as you read it?

Here is what I mean:

  1. The time… – this is the opportune time, not sequential, calendar time. It’s not about dates having past as much as events having been accomplished.
  2. …has been fulfilled… – completely made full. The “todo” list has all of the items checked to make it the right, opportune, time. Don’t you wish you could have read that list, just to see what our Creator put on it?
  3. …the Kingdom of God… – Israel assumed this was Israel, but also understood it to mean “the sphere of God’s supreme influence”. It was simply understood that God would not exercise supreme influence unless Israel was free from Roman rule and religious corruption. This was a misunderstanding.
  4. …is at hand; – literally, “has drawn near”, it has happened already, and is a present reality. Even though Israel is still ruled by Rome, and the religious leaders remain corrupt, the sphere of God’s supreme influence has already taken up residence with His human creatures.
  5. repent… – we typically say, “turn”, which is another term sometimes used for “repent”, but it literally is a “change of mind” or “after thought”. Either way, it happens in the mind first. It is a “paradigm shift” to align our thinking with the thinking of our Savior. It is seeing and evaluating things as He sees and evaluates them, using the same priorities and values.
  6. …and believe… – a mental acceptance of information as valid and actionable.
  7. …the gospel. – Good News. This isn’t “news”, but specifically good news. This good news is about what has just been said, but also contains the record of the events in this book of Mark about Jesus. What makes it “good”, from the perspective of our Savior, is that Israel does not need to be freed from Rome, nor their temple worship purged of corruption for His sovereignty to operate in the lives of His people.

You might think, “Well, good for them. But what about me?” You mean you have not been waiting for some “filling” of a “todo list” of our Savior before the next thing happens? We look for His “appearing” with excited apprehension, or we used to.

If you are waiting for the “purification of God’s people”, then you are a lot like the Jews of Jesus’ day. If you are waiting for some political turn of events to signal the reign of our Savior, then you have adopted the paradigm of the Jews under Rome. If you are waiting on something else, you are sitting on the trailside rather than walking with your King.

The new paradigm of Jesus, the “good news”, is that God is sovereign right now, and we can walk with Him, right now.

Is the world wonky and off? Walk with Jesus, and you will influence the world for your Savior. Is your church squabbling and stymied? Walk with your Creator, and you will influence your fellow disciples for your King.

It is arrogance that drives us to belittle others. One of the ways we know we are walking with our Savior is how humbling it is. If we feel arrogant toward others, we have been walking with a god of our making, or worse. Walking with Jesus means we are very aware of our failings and His grace.

If you want people to be different, you cannot change them. Be that disciple you believe Jesus desires, and allow the fruit of the Spirit of Jesus to influence them. Live out Philippians 2:5-11 and 1 Corinthians 13. Be that guy.