Jesus Changed the Sinner—not the Self-Righteous (Mark 2:13-4:34).
Some people are easy to hate. The kind of people who cut you off in traffic and then proceed to go slower than Jabba the Hutt after Thanksgiving Dinner. Or the kind of people who cut you in line like you’re invisible. This past weekend, I went to a local trampoline park—sounds like fun, right? Jump up and down, up and down, flip—oh wait, I can’t flip. But still, a fun time. Except when there are three trillion young children bouncing with you. It felt like a swarm of ants coming out of a hill—everywhere you turned, you were stepping on another one. Just kidding, but these kids were in the way constantly. Yelling. Jumping right in front of you, ruining your race, your flip, your dunk, your fall. What’s worse, they would constantly cut you in line. I mean, if you left a half an inch between you and the thing you were waiting for, they would jump in there! I tell you, I nearly lost all love for children in that place!
There are people described in the New Testament who were equally annoying and easy to hate. They were called tax collectors—“publicans,” your Bible may say. Of course they’re annoying because they’re dealing with the most annoying word on the planet—“taxes.” You think IRS workers are hated today? These guys were detested by everyone—they were lower on the rung than even the prostitutes. Not because they were poor—rather, these guys were rolling in the dough, sometimes literally! Why? Well, that’s why they were hated. Not only would they take your taxes for the vile emperor to use, but they would also jack up the price so that they could keep some money themselves. Dirty, rich scoundrels.
They were THE sinners of the day. No one was more hated—well, except the Romans, but the tax collectors were working in league with those despised occupiers anyway! But we must remember that those who are revolting to us are not revolting to Jesus. Jesus loves the annoying children—all the annoying children of the world! He died for sinners, after all.
And He proved that uncommon love by approaching a guy by the Sea of Galilee in Mark 2. His name here is Levi, but I think his other name is cooler (get it? Never mind…). He was one of these tax collectors—sitting at the tax booth, on top of that! Everyone’s least favorite place. Next to the sewage pile and the leper colony. Jesus doesn’t care…He walks right up to the tax collector, who no doubt was probably counting his denarii at that moment, and said,
Words that have changed many men and women over millennia. Words that I hope have changed you. Levi looked to his coins—all he’d ever known. To all his friends, it had seemed like a good life—sure, they didn’t have many friends and they had to deceive all the time…but hey! They got all the money they needed! But was this life really worth it? He had never escaped the guilt, the pain of constant deceit. He hated himself…
So he arose. You can so read into that phrase. You can almost see him, hesitantly standing, shaking and trembling. You can see him glance at his friends who wonder why he’s standing. You can see the crowd start to gather and wonder why Jesus is talking to this mongrel. And you can see a look in Levi’s eyes…of hope, for the first time ever! Hope for healing. Hope for change.
And that’s what Jesus does when people come to Him. He changes them. And never stops until they are “like Him” and “see Him as He is” in glory. But alas, some people don’t understand this process. They think they don’t need to change at all…
Such were the scribes—remember them from before? Jesus can’t—er, won’t—shake them. But He almost makes them not follow Him when He enters a house…of a sinner. Levi has Him over for his delicious, world-famous fig stew—that’s typically only eaten by his tax-collector friends. But now it will be eaten by the Master and His disciples…and maybe even by these religious do-gooders. Nah, they can’t stand the smell of the place—and all those raucous sinners gathered round! This supposed “Teacher” eats with sinners—gag!
Instead, they talk to his disciples.
“Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners!?”
But Jesus overheard them—as He tends to do. And He turned to them and said,
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
It’s sinners who follow Christ. No one else. And it’s only sinners that God can use…that God can change. Those who think they’re “well” won’t come to Jesus—He has nothing they think they need. But those who are sick—weary and worn by the world, battered by the best this life has to offer and coming up dry—they will come to Jesus. And beg for His healing.
Is that you? Do you know how sinful you are? Have you stood up from all you have and all you’ve known and followed Christ away from the tax booth? That’s what it means to be a Christian. Have you recognized your sin, not just at salvation, but every day? Your need of a Doctor?
The scribes never did. Chapter after chapter, Jesus reveals their sin. Their insistence on the old ways and all these rules—like doing nothing on the Sabbath…not even healing! In fact, they came to the point of accusing Jesus of being possessed by a demon! When Jesus spoke to them, they did not understand His parables, because they didn’t want to. They didn’t want to accept anything from Him, that Friend of sinners! Like the parable of the seed, they had no use for the Word of God—their hearts were rocky, full of thorns, and far by the wayside. They didn’t need Christ—they were perfectly healthy on their own. They were like shriveled old men, ravaged by tumors and broken bones and a body falling apart, crying out, “We’re perfectly fine!” They were blind to their own sin. Is that you? If so, I want you to know something…
YOU are the annoying person. I am the revolting sinner. And when we recognize that, we find hope…hope for change.