Friend of Sinners

By March 6, 2019Church

Over the next 8 weeks at Mountainview we will be looking at snapshots of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark. Along the way, we’ll find what makes Jesus different, unique, and worth following today.

As we will see, Jesus didn’t fit religious stereotypes of his day. He still defies the stereotypes of him held by our culture, including many Christians.

The Gospel of Mark was written by John Mark. We know a few things about Mark:

  • It’s highly possible that he was present when Judas betrayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
  • He caused a bitter split between Paul and Barnabas.
  • His mom’s house was often used as a gathering place for early Christians in Jerusalem.
  • He eventually become close friends with Peter.

Mark’s biography of Jesus portrays Jesus as constantly on the move and working for a larger purpose. In that respect, he seems like the kind of Savior a guy like Ted Turner would like.

Turner is the billionaire who founded TBS, CNN, and once owned the Atlanta  Braves. He gets things done. And … he’s also a very outspoken atheist. He once received the “Humanist of the Year” award from the American Humanist Association. In his acceptance speech, he described Christianity as “a religion for losers.”

I’m about to say something that I don’t believe I’ve ever said before.

I agree with Ted Turner.

Early in Mark’s account of Jesus, we find this truth front and center: Jesus was a friend of sinners.

Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark doesn’t start his biography with the Christmas story. In chapter one, Jesus arrives as an adult, gets baptized, starts calling his first disciples, and begins healing people. All of this is one chapter.

Chapter two continues with Jesus still on the move …

13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. – Mark 2:13-14

You might read this passage and think Jesus simply selected a government employee. Maybe the government was shut down and Jesus was doing Levi a favor.

Perhaps Jesus was trying to round out his launch team with a finance person.

As 21st century readers, we must put ourselves back in the environment of the passage. What our 21st century eyes and ears miss is this: Jesus just deliberately asked a despised man to follow him.

In the first century environment of Israel, tax collectors were greedy, dishonest people. They collected taxes from their fellow Jewish neighbors on behalf of the Roman government. Since they didn’t draw a salary, they were allowed to be legal extortioners, taxing people beyond what the law demanded.

On the one hand, they were usually very wealthy. On the other hand, no one liked them.

Jesus is building his launch team, and this is the kind of person he picks! But to Jesus, Levi isn’t a category … he’s a person. If you think that onboarding Levi would have been scandalous enough, watch this:

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” – Mark 2:15-16

For the religious leaders, it was bad enough for Jesus to ask Levi to join the team – but this was going too far! This isn’t a “meet and greet” Jesus is going to. It’s not an open house where everyone brings a finger food to share.

The phrase “having dinner” means “to recline.” For informal meals, Jews would sit around a table. Reclining on a couch meant the meal was formal. Jesus is not only talking with people who are shunned by the religious leaders, he’s having a formal dinner with them.

For the religious leaders … this was a scandal! For Jesus, this was right in-line with his mission in life.

17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mark 2:17

For Jesus to avoid associating with sinners would be as ridiculous as a doctor who refused to be around sick people. Could you imagine going to the doctor only to be told, “You’ve got a lot of snot coming out of your nose. I can see that you have a fever. Why don’t you come back when you’re feeling better.”

But Jesus is a different kind of doctor. Thankfully, he doesn’t wait for the sick people to come to him … he goes to them!

Let me close by addressing a few different groups of people.

1. Those who feel unworthy of God’s love. You are not.

You might think you’re worse than the people around you. You’ve done something so bad that Jesus would never forgive you. I have no doubt that if Jesus were here today, he’d accept an invitation to eat at your house.

2. Those who don’t believe they need God’s help. You do.

Maybe life is pretty good right now. There are a few occasional speed bumps but no major potholes. If you were to give your life a grade, it might be a B plus or an A minus. When life is going well, it can seduce into thinking we’re doing just fine and don’t need God’s help.

Or, and this might be the case for you, life stinks right now. It’s hard, difficult, and disappointing. You’re hitting one dead end after another. Perhaps your marriage is falling apart or your kids are making poor choices. In these times, it can be tempting to believe we just need to work harder … read one more book … suck it up and tough it out.

But here’s the thing to remember: The only person Jesus cannot heal is the person who doesn’t believe they need to be healed.

3. Those who want to follow Jesus. Following Jesus means you and him are going the same direction. It is physically impossible to follow someone by walking in the opposite direction.

If you want to follow Jesus, you cannot put people into categories or labels. You must believe people are more important than your prejudices. To follow Jesus will require going where non-Christians are and being their friend.

The impact that Jesus will have on Levi will be so profound that Levi will write one of biographies of Jesus under a second name: Matthew. Two thousand years later, people are still meeting Jesus through the writings of this former tax collector.

My prayer for you is that Jesus will have the same life-changing impact on you.

Experience and Background

  • 25 years of senior leadership in a local church
  • adjunct instructor (public speaking)
  • presenter at the WFX National Conference
  • president, Church Planters of the Rockies
  • helped start 2 for-profit tech companies

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