4 April 2021
Series: Hope Emerges
Topic: Easter , grace , salvation , sin
Book: Mark

The Deplorable's Savior

Bible Passage: Mark 2:13-17

Do you feel you are too big of a sinner for God and thus can’t bring yourself to repent, believe and follow Him? We have Good News!

Hope Emerges

The Deplorables’ Savior

Mark 2:13-17

I love the words of the song we sang, especially the words, “He is for YOU!”  We are gathered here today to celebrate not just that Jesus is alive, but that the Jesus who died on the cross; and as such suffered the eternal wrath of God on our sin, rose from the grave on the 3rd day, officially announcing to all of creation that He had conquered sin and its curse!  We are here today to celebrate that the one and only Son of God, who accomplished this great and awesome feat, who is the one worthy of all praise and honor and glory is for us!  He wants you to be in His family.  He wants to bless you with His Kingdom!  He wants to grant you eternal life!  He wants you to bask in the hope of all that He is, all that He is done, and all that He can provide! 

But all too often we find that impossible to truly believe; impossible to truly internalize and change the perspective of ourselves and our actions enough to truly change us.

After graduating from High School, I had the incredible opportunity to go to Virginia Tech not just as a student, but as a student-athlete to play football for the Hokies.  As a football player, it was a dream.  I was on a major college division 1 football team.  But, after two seasons God led me to transfer to Liberty University to pursue a college education in the field of study that I was going to spend the rest of my life doing – preaching and leading in a local church.  I love Liberty, I love the coaches I had there, I’m proud of Liberty and I’m so excited to see how our program has moved from the Division 1-AA ranks to now appearing in, and winning, two back-to-back bowl games as a full Division 1-A football program.  But VT was my first love, and I can never shed the pride I have in being a Hokie.

However, after transferring I felt like I was unworthy of getting to be a part of the Hokie family.  I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there.  To my shock, I got an email one day from the Assistant Head Coach at the time (Coach Hite) inviting me to a football alumni event.  I actually deleted it assuming it was sent by mistake.  I then got a letter in the mail.  So, I sent an email to Coach Hite and let him know I was honored but I think they may have made a mistake.  Coach Hite responded quickly and reminded me that they had recruited me to not just play football at VT but to be a part of the family, and just because I moved away and didn’t finish there didn’t change the fact that I was a part of the family!  I was blown away!  

It’s been really cool getting to take my wife and kids to all the events and let them be exposed to that part of my life, for them to see what my minuscule contribution to VT Football helped build.  I even had the privilege of being the “president” of the football alumni group that represented players from every living generation of VT football players.  There were certainly former players who thought that went too far, that I didn’t deserve to be their voice, but again, to my shock, that vast majority were incredibly supportive, which is why I ended up in that role.

Now listen, that’s how so many people feel about Jesus.  They either see themselves as not being good enough for Jesus and therefore never imagine that Jesus actually wants them in His family, or they are among the people who view certain people as being unworthy of them, that is, they view certain types of people as one’s Jesus can save but they aren’t willing to let anybody see them welcoming them into their homes as sincere and equal friends! 

Enter our next passage!  Our next passage is a walk through the Gospel of Mark where we see Hope Emerging in the Story of Jesus! Will you stand with me in honor of God’s Word as I read Mark 2:13-17?

13 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. 15 And as he reclined at a table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:13-17)

There are 3 actions of Jesus in Mark 2:13-17 that shattered the culture of religious thinking and values.

Jesus invited a man to be one of His disciples that some of His other disciples would have considered deplorable on a very personal level. Their tax collector! (2:13-14)

13 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

After a short mission trip to some other towns and cities in Galilee Jesus has come back to his home base of ministry, Capernaum.  After a pretty crazy day where some people ripped the roof off of his house to get their paralytic friend to him, Jesus heads down to the sea to teach, not going to try and do this from his house. On the way, he passes by a tax collector named Levi (later called Matthew), and just as he had called Simon, Andrew, James, and John, he does the same thing with this tax collector.  He personally invites Him to follow Him, and implied, because of what we know from other stories about Matthew who wrote the first book in the New Testament, he repented and believed in Jesus!

So, what’s the big deal? Well, Simon (Peter), Andrew, James, and John were all fishermen in Capernaum, and Levi was very likely their tax collector!

Now I’m going to comment more on the cultural significance of this in a minute, but for now, I want you to catch the personal impact of this on people already on Jesus’ team!

The Roman tax burden was massive.

  •       Poll Tax – all men 14 to 65 and women 12 to 65 had to pay for being alive.
  •       Income Tax – 1% of annual income.
  •       Ground Tax – 1/10 of all grain, 1/5 of all wine and oil produced.
  •       Transport Tax– included docking your boat! – Simon (Peter), Andrew, James, and John.
  •       Cart Tax – tax for every wheel on your cart as well as any goods you were carrying on it.
  •       Fish tax – it varied but it was the major industry and that area so it was very likely Matthew taxed Simon (Peter), Andrew, James, and John.

But here is what made that burden even worse, the system used to collect taxes.  Roman used a franchise system that worked very similar to the way the Mafia works. 

The Romans collected their taxes through a system called “tax farming” (similar to farming out franchises such as McDonald’s fast-food restaurants). They assessed a district a fixed tax figure and then sold the right to collect taxes to the highest bidder. The buyer had to hand over the assessed figure at the end of the year and could keep whatever he gathered above that. The obvious potential for extortion was compounded by the poor communication characteristic of ancient times so that the people had no exact record of what they were to pay.

If the person could not pay, the tax collectors sometimes would offer to loan money at an exorbitant rate, thus pulling the people further into their greedy hands. They were trained extortionists. Quite naturally, they attracted a criminal element of thugs and enforcers—the scum of society. So rare was honesty in the profession that a Roman writer said he once saw a monument to an honest tax collector! 1

So, two things can’t be missed here:

Levi left a very lucrative business to follow Jesus. Very likely far more lucrative than the successful fishing businesses that Peter & Andrew as well as James and John left.  However, Jesus shows no concern that some of his disciples would have despised this guy!  He literally shatters the culture of his team by inviting somebody into the team that nobody would have wanted to be there, especially those 4 fishermen that Matthew had likely been ripping off!

Now, this culturally shattering action by Jesus gets even more significant in the next two verses.  Because with Matthew/Levi you could see the disciples saying, hey, he has repented and believed in Jesus, so we are good with him! But what about people that had yet to repent?  What about those who were still actively living as cultural deplorables?  Well, this takes us to,

Jesus sought out culturally deplorable people to be his friends. Tax collectors and sinners. (2:15-16)

15 And as he reclined at a table in his house (some believe this is Christ’s house and others believe it is Levi’s house/Matthew. There is significance in either of them!), many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.

They were reclining over a meal, meaning this is an official party, event and therefore they would have been intentionally invited to attend! The many people were very likely associates and friends of Levi/Matthew.  More on the significance of this in a second, but for now please note that these tax collectors and sinners were not yet disciples of Christ, but they were inquiring and following Him, just not repenting and believing yet.  They were taking the time to hear what Jesus had to say, but they had yet to repent and believe in Him yet!  

16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

“Tax collectors and sinners” – Now I want you to understand how big of a deal it was, that Jesus was eating with unrepented tax collectors and sinners.

“Tax Collectors” – A Jew who collected taxes was disqualified as a judge or witness in court, expelled from the synagogue, and a cause of disgrace to his family (b. Sanh. 25b). The touch of a tax collector rendered a house unclean (m. Teh. 7:6; m. Hag. 3:6). Jews were forbidden to receive money and even alms from tax collectors since revenue from taxes was deemed robbery. Jewish contempt of tax collectors is epitomized in the ruling that Jews could lie to tax collectors with impunity (m. Ned. 3:4)—a ruling, incidentally, with which both the houses of Hillel and Shammai (who normally stood poles apart) agreed. Tax collectors were tangible reminders of Roman domination, detested alike for its injustice and Gentile uncleanness. 2

“Sinners” – In order to understand the term “sinners,” we need to think of the “wicked” of the Psalms, which in the LXX appear as “sinners” (Gk. hamartōloi). The “wicked” are not occasional transgressors of the Torah but those who stand fundamentally outside it. They are categorically reprobate. The Mishnah describes “sinners” variously as gamblers, moneylenders, people who race doves for sport, people who trade on the Sabbath year, thieves, the violent, shepherds, and, of course, tax collectors (m. Sanh. 3:3). Some of the above are criminal elements, but many are simply laborers and commoners, who were too busy, too poor, or too ignorant to live up to the rules of the religious authorities. In our eyes, of course, listing common folks with thieves is like throwing jaywalkers into jail with hardened criminals, but it did not seem so to the Pharisees. 3

“Said to his disciples.”

Also, note Jesus wasn’t there by himself, his disciples were with him as well.  So, Jesus wasn’t kidding when he told his followers he was going to make them become fishers of men.  He had them all in there hanging out with these culturally deplorable people.

The religious leaders also took note that Jesus had his most trusted disciples in the house associating with these tax collectors and sinners, therefore, rather than question Jesus, they instead went after his disciples.  It’s a clear attempt to discourage them from being thereby shaming them for the total culture taboo position of hanging out with these people who are despised both politically and religiously!  These people were hated on every level!  

So, this was truly earth-shattering to anybody in the Jewish culture.  It turned heads both of sinners and religious people!  Nobody did this.  The religious people stayed in their corner wanting nothing to do with sinners, especially those who stole from them (tax collectors). Now, these actions by Jesus shattered the religious-cultural practices and thinking but the next action shattered the values at an entirely different level.  This action sent cracks all over the windshield, but the next action tore the windshield completely off!

Jesus made it clear that he didn’t come to save those who felt they deserved it, but rather those who knew they didn’t – sinners!  (2:17)

17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Here is where we see the first major assault in Mark on the concept of “being a good person”, saving you.  God is not seeking (calling) those who view themselves as worthy of Him, He’s calling those who know they are not.  

In the Bible belt, especially right here in Gaston, Lincoln, and Cleveland County, everybody generally thinks they are alright with God.  Christianity is a cultural thing just like Judaism was a cultural thing in Galilee where Jesus was preaching.   Many considered themselves “right with God”, “righteous”, “worthy of being blessed by God, and “saved” because of their commitment to all the cultural practices of Judaism.  In the Bible belt, people feel saved if they are committed to the cultural practices of “Christianity.”  

The Pharisees are ironically like a person with stage 4 cancer who refuses to go to the Doctor because they don’t think they are sick!

So, in true human fashion, they started finding fault; they wanted a socially acceptable Messiah, not a spiritual Messiah with burning compassion for all despised sinners. They considered themselves righteous and worthy of His attention; but He went instead to the ‘poor in spirit’ (Matt 9:13), just as He had taught in the Sermon on the Mount! 4

When he associates on intimate terms with people of low reputation, he does not do this as a hobnobber, a comrade in evil, “birds of a feather flocking together,” but as a physician, one who, without in any way becoming contaminated with the diseases of his patients, must get very close to them in order that he may heal them! Moreover, it is especially the Pharisees who should be able to understand this. Are not they the very people who regard themselves as being healthy, and all others as being sick? If then, in the eyes of the Pharisees, publicans and sinners are so very sick, should they not be healed? Is it the business of the healer to heal the healthy or the sick? The sick, of course. 5

Matthew 9:13 identifies the difficulty the Pharisees faced and would stumble over repeatedly and consistently. They insisted that their dos and don’ts (legalism) is the basis of righteousness and refused to recognize that righteousness is founded only on God’s mercy. Jesus accused them of foisting legalism on the people and not extending God’s mercy to them, but they self-righteously considered themselves righteous, and a person in this state is deaf to God’s call. Each person has to recognize he is a sinner before he can avail himself of God’s mercy (note, Luke 5:32, includes the aspect of repentance). Repent is the first call, therefore if you don’t believe you have anything to repent of you can’t be cured! 6

The scandal of this story is that Jesus does not make moral repentance a precondition of his love and acceptance. Rather, Jesus loves and accepts tax collectors and sinners as they are. If they forsake their evil and amend their lives, they do so, as did Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10), not in order to gain Jesus’ favor but because Jesus has loved them as sinners. It is this that scandalized the religious leaders of his day, as it scandalizes those who define the gospel in terms of pure moral reformation and character formation of our day. 7

The fact that Jesus can be found in the company of people such as Levi reminds us of the difference between his mission and that of the scribes. They come to enlighten; he comes to redeem. Given that mission, it is as senseless for Jesus to shun tax collectors and sinners as for a doctor to shun the sick. The grace of God extends to and overcomes the worst forms of human depravity. Ironically, in one sense great sinners stand closer to God than those who think themselves righteous, for sinners are more aware of their need of the transforming grace of God. “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Rom 5:20). 8

There are three really important challenges we need to seriously consider in this text.

Challenges:

The 1st challenge is to Christians:

What’s the name of your friends that the American religious culture considers deplorable?

I’m only going to spend a second here.  You don’t need to put their name on Facebook and tell everybody this person is your religiously deplorable friend; that could make things a bit awkward for your friend!  However, who are the people your family and friends are fully aware of, that you don’t have to let them know, that they are not followers of Jesus; they don’t get, understand or have any concern for Jesus yet; but you are clearly friends with them.  You are not compromising your commitment to Jesus; you are not compromising the Biblically moral behavior Jesus and the rest of the New Testament authors clearly taught us; but you are also genuine friends with people who have no allegiance or value in the Kingdom of God nor its King – Jesus!

The 2nd challenge is to people who “think” they are Christians:

Do you feel your life is good enough for God? That you don’t have anything to really repent from nor any real need to live your life truly following Jesus?

Jesus was not agreeing that the Pharisees were righteous and didn’t need Him, because later he makes their depravity very clear, instead, he was pointing out how incompatible and intolerant the religious mind is with the Gospel, and thus, how incompatible and intolerant the religious life is to be living in and abounding in the eternal life that is not only exclusively made possible by the death, burial and resurrection of Christ; but accessed through repenting, believing and following Jesus!

So, are you a good person who goes to church every now and then, works hard, loves his family, his community, and his country, and therefore just assumes that’s what God is looking for?  Please understand, that is exactly the person that Jesus just said he is not calling!  It’s not that you can’t be saved, but rather that until you are willing to repent from believing you are meeting God’s standard; that you don’t really have anything going in your heart and life that God doesn’t need to change or heal; you can’t be saved.  To be saved; no matter how good you are by religious standards, you must repent, believe in the person of and work of Christ, and as such, commit to spending the rest of your life making the effort to follow Him!

The 3rd is to those who know they aren’t Christians.

Do you feel you are too big of a sinner for God?

Matthew’s pre-conversion state was such that he was one whom the Jews would have regarded as a hopeless case. But Jesus only had to call; no one is beyond the reach of the gospel! Matthew’s obvious courage and evangelistic zeal testify to the reality of his conversion, his fruits were certain and evident proof of the veracity of his salvation. 9

We are all unworthy of God.  We are incapable of truly following Jesus.  We are unable to even truly believe in Him!  We all still follow ourselves, find our value and purpose in what is sinful and woefully lacking the glory of God, yet, Christ, in His love and grace, never even imagines rejecting us!

Jesus is the way maker!  He is the miracle-worker!  He is the promise keeper!  He is the light in the darkness!  Sinners need a Way Maker!  Sinners need a Miracle worker!  Sinners need a promise keeper!  Sinners need light in their darkness!  Listen, you need to understand, you are who Jesus came for!  You are who Jesus is for!  He is for you!  Stop letting the hypocritical religious culture of our day be your excuse to not repent from your sin, believe in the person and work of Jesus, and join the alumni association of jacked-up sinners who have committed to stop justifying their sinfulness and start fighting the flesh and following Jesus! 

So, listen, as our band ministers to us and leads us in one final awesome song about. The way maker, I challenge you to praise Him as your way maker and either renew your commitment to repent, believe and follow Him or make today your first day, the day Jesus passed by and called you!

Venture Church
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Footnotes

  1. Hughes, R. K. (1989). Mark: Jesus, servant and savior (Vol. 1, pp. 68–69). Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.
  2. Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (pp. 82–83). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.
  3. Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p.83). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.
  4. Mills, M. S. (1999). The Life of Christ: A Study Guide to the Gospel Record (Mt 9:9–Lk 5:32). Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries.
  5. Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Vol. 10, p. 97). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
  6. Mills, M. S. (1999). The Life of Christ: A Study Guide to the Gospel Record (Mt 9:9–Lk 5:32). Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries.
  7. Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (pp. 85–86). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.
  8. Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 86). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.
  9. Mills, M. S. (1999). The Life of Christ: A Study Guide to the Gospel Record (Mt 9:9–Lk 5:32). Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries.