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Feb 28, 2016

I Have Come to Call Sinners

Passage: Mark 2:13-17

Speaker: Scott Jeffreys

Series: Mark: An Action Packed Gospel

Tax collectors have never been popular. People resent taxes when they get too high because government gets too big or when they are used to fund things that violate one’s conscious.

High taxes were the downfall of Israel’s third king, King Solomon, the son of David.

In OT times Solomon was known as the wisest man in all the world but he became a fool when he turned into a big government bureaucrat who put an unbearable yoke on God’s people in order to pay for his massive building programs.

After Solomon died, the people came to his son Rehoboam and asked him for relief, but just like Pharaoh said to the Hebrew slaves, Rehoboam said to the people not only am I not going to lessen your yoke I’m going double it up! “My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. Whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your burden. Dad chastised you with whips, I will chastise you with scorpions!”[i]

The Disdain for the Tax Collector

The disdain for taxes were the same in Jesus’ day.

The Romans occupied the Promised Land and they levied taxes against the people in order to fund their government. As it concerned the Jewish people, the problem with Roman taxes was twofold.

First, the taxes imposed on them were not self-imposed. Instead, they were coming from an occupying country. Obviously, most Jews resented paying taxes to a country that had taken over their land.

Second, the Romans hired Jewish people to collect the taxes on their behalf. Any Jew who took the job was hated by their Jewish contemporaries. It was the highest act of betrayal. How could a Jew work for the Romans and perpetuate the occupation of a foreign power in their own homeland?

To make matters worse, the tax collectors were permitted by the Roman government to charge the people over and beyond the tax itself. This is how the tax collector made his money. If a person owed a hundred dollars to the Roman government the tax collector could collect 150 dollars and pocket the difference. The Romans didn’t care, so long as they got their money.

So when Jesus walks by the tax collector booth and calls Levi, also known as Matthew, to be his disciple it was astounding. How could he do that? Why would he do it? This is what the scribes and Pharisees were thinking when they found out Jesus called Levi to be his disciple. “He just called someone to be his follower who is an agent of an occupier who makes our lives miserable. Not only that, but Levi is unjust! He takes more than is actually owed him and then puts the rest in his pocket for himself! How dare he call such a man to be his disciple?”



A Cutting and Ironic Statement

At this point Jesus shot back with one of the most cutting statements in all the Bible. Jesus said to his critics, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (v.17)

Another way it could be rendered is “Those who are well have no need of a physician, only those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

There is irony in this statement because what it seems to imply on the surface and what it actually means are two different things.

Taken at its face value Jesus’ answer to the scribes and Pharisees seems to imply that some are righteous and for those who were he did not come for them- they had no problem, they were good boys and girls; therefore they were ok. But Jesus did come for the people who were deemed to be bad by society. Obviously a tax collector or prostitute needs a Savior, but surely not a scribe or Pharisee. They were respectable people. They tried to do good and look the part. Their sins were tiny compared to the tax collector and sinner and we all know that God doesn’t have a problem with tiny sins.

But this is not what Jesus meant when he said those who are well have no need of a doctor and that he had come to call sinners and not the righteous.

The fact of the matter is that all people, spiritually speaking, are sick. There is no such thing as a person who does not need a doctor when it comes to their souls. The best person, the most morally sound person, still needs a doctor because, in the words of Jeremiah the bullfrog “his heart is still desperately wicked and deceitful above all things”[ii] and even his teeny-weeny respectable sins are enough to wreck his relationship with a holy God. And it’s not just enough to do it, they have done it.

The Westminster Confession of Faith contains one of those most powerful statements I have ever heard on sin. It says that there is no sin that is so great that it cannot be forgiven by God, nor is there a sin so small that it does not warrant the fires of hell.[iii]

Who Has the Greater Sin?

The other thing that this statement does, ironically, is that it exposes who has the greater sin.

Contrary to what many people say, all sin is not equal. There are gradations of sin. Would you prefer for someone to murder you in their heart or for them to shoot you dead? Jesus said there is one sin that cannot be forgiven, it is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. This has to be the worst sin because it keeps one out of the Kingdom of God every time.

So as it concerns those who were in Levis’ house who has the greatest sin? Is it the tax collector and his unbecoming guests or is it the scribes and Pharisees who thought they were well and in no need of a doctor? Ironically, it was the scribes and Pharisees who had the worst sin problem.

They thought they were more holy than the tax collectors and his sinner friends and because they did they were the worst of sinners because they were self-righteousness, and that was dangerously close to blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit convicts the sinner of his sin and his need of a Savior but when one refuses to recognize his sin and continues to think that he is ok, he is rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit in his life and that is profaning God’s redemptive work. That sin will not be forgiven.

Don’t Ignore Your Symptoms

The worst thing a person can do when he is sick is to ignore the symptoms.

Let’s say you have a growth protruding from your stomach but you choose to ignore it because you think you are going to be fine. “I’m ok. That lump is nothing.” You say to yourself. You can think that all day but if that lump is cancer it will not go away by you avoiding the doctor and thinking everything is alright. The first thing you got to do in order to be well is you have to recognize that you have a problem and then go to the doctor to have your sickness treated. If you don’t go you will die.

It is the same way spiritually speaking. If you don’t recognize your sin problem and brokenness before God you will die in your sin (even if you don’t think you are a sinner) and you will have rejected the great mercy extended to you through Christ our Lord, and you will be lost and unreconciled to God, forever. If you do that you are the sickest man alive, even sicker than serial killer Ted Bundy, who many think had a genuine conversion to faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior as he sat in prison awaiting the day of his execution.

The worst of sinners is not Matthew the tax collector, or King David and the apostle Paul who were guilty of murder, or the woman caught in adultery in John 7, or Rahab the prostitute in the book of Joshua. The worst of sinners is the sinner who thinks he is not sinner and no need of Christ.

The man or woman who thinks that has no hope for salvation because salvation first begins with an acknowledgment on our part before God, “Lord, I am sick. I am broken. I am a sinner. My heart is wicked and sometimes my actions are wicked. Lord, my ways are not inclined to your ways. I need your help. Jesus, I need your mercy. Lord, I deserve your judgment on my sin and I need your forgiveness. Jesus, forgive me and save me through your perfect holy life, your perfect sacrificial sin bearing death, and your bodily resurrection, which defeats the power of sin and death in my life.


Friends, Jesus Christ has come to call sinners like you and me and there is no sin that he cannot and will not forgive if we will but come to the Savior for forgiveness.

When it comes to sin Christ is radically inclusive. He is not inclusive in his approval of sin, as so many think today, but when it comes to the forgiveness of sin he is radically inclusive. The only sin he will not forgive is the sin of self-righteousness because that sin keeps you from meeting him on his terms as Savior and Lord.

Jesus Christ has come to call sinners. Will you come?

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.


[i] I Kings 12:10

[ii] Jeremiah 17:9

[iii] WCF 15.3