27 Later on as Jesus left the town he saw a tax collector – with the usual reputation for cheating – sitting at a tax collection booth. The man’s name was Levi [this is Matthew]. Jesus said to him, “Come and be one of my disciples!” 28 So Levi left everything, sprang up, and went with him.
29 Soon Levi held a reception in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests were there. 30 But the Pharisees and teachers of the Law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples about his eating with such notorious sinners.
31 Jesus answered them, “It is the sick who need a doctor, not those in good health. 32 My purpose is to invite sinners to turn from their sins, not to spend my time with those who think themselves already good enough.”
33 Their next complaint was that Jesus’ disciples were feasting instead of fasting. TLB Luke 5:27-33
This story is awesome but if we don’t slow down and absorb it, we can miss something huge. Think about this for a second. Matthew is a tax collector. That means, he was a Jew who collected taxes on other Jews for the Romans. Matthew would charge his Jewish community the regular Roman tax bill and then add whatever he wanted to add and it was pure profit for him. If Matthew lived today, your tax bill, for example, could be $1,000. Matthew could add $500 to your tax bill and keep $500 in profit and you could do nothing about it. You have to be a pretty low person to live like this. And you can imagine, Matthew was hated for what he did.
Jesus enters this story and invited Matthew to follow Him. Matthew did just that. In fact, Matthew was so excited he had a party at his house with all his friends to hang out with Jesus. What kind of people did Matthew hangout with? People just like Matthew. The religious people called them, ‘notorious sinners.’
Here is the interesting part of the story. The people who went to church on a regular basis [for them it was the temple], what was their response? They complained bitterly. Why? They thought church was for people on the inside and the church leader should never be seen with people who are notorious sinners. They saw Jesus hanging out with Matthew and his friends, it made no sense to them. They lost their minds.
Jesus was so clear, “…my purpose is to invite sinners to turn from their sins…” And to be even more clear, Jesus adds, “…not to spend time with those who think themselves already good enough…” Wow. Do you see this in churches today? Do you see church leaders spending time with notorious sinners? Or, do you see church leaders spending all their time and emails and voice mail on keeping programs and events going to keep church people engaged?
Jesus’ idea of church was radically different. It wasn’t for the elite. It wasn’t for the show. It wasn’t competing for titles. It wasn’t about programs and events. Church to Jesus was hanging out with people who needed to know about God’s love, God’s grace and God’s redemption.
And after Jesus explained His mission, what did the Pharisees [the religious church people of Jesus’ day] do in vs. 33? They had another complaint. I included vs. 33 because sometimes in churches, when the Pastors and the people begin focus on notorious sinners, who complains the most? The people in the church because they assume, church should be about them. That can lead to conflict in the church. That can lead to bitter complaints followed up with more complaints.
What did the religious church people of Jesus’ day miss? They were so focused on criticizing Jesus for not meeting their expectations, they missed what Jesus was up to. For the next three years, Matthew walks with Jesus and he is fully redeemed. Later, this tax cheat, writes the first book in the New Testament, called, wait for it, ‘Matthew’.
This is a stunning story because it completely shatters everyone’s assumptions about God. What do we assume about God? We think; I have sinned and failed so God wants nothing to do with me. We think; because of my failure to be a good person, I should avoid God and church. If you believe that, you couldn’t be more wrong. What does God do? God enters earth in the form of Jesus and He and engages notorious sinners. This is you; this is me.
What do we assume about church? We think, it should be about people inside the church. We think, the people inside church should stay away from notorious sinners. If you believe that, you couldn’t be more wrong. What does God do? God enters earth in the form of Jesus and He engages notorious sinners. This is you; this is me.
What Jesus did was a radical break from what the Pharisees expected from a religious leader. Just a quick thought here. What if Jesus started a church, what do you think it would look like?
Luke 5:17-20 The power of the Lord was there to heal them. Some men took a man who was not able to move his body to Jesus. He was carried on a bed. They looked for a way to take the man into the house where Jesus was. But they could not find a way to take him in because of so many people. They made a hole in the roof over where Jesus stood. Then they let the bed with the sick man on it down before Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the man, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
What does that Bible story mean? Friendship is about bringing people to Jesus. We at church want to help you bring your friends to Jesus but we need your help. We want you to answer 3 questions with your parents. First. What can we do here at MRC that would be so cool, that you would invite your friends? Second. Would you be willing to pray and invite your friends to find God’s love? Third. Would you be willing to come to church with your friends?
Back to Parents. Please hear me. Our community needs to know about the love, the grace and the redemption of God. I don’t believe that people know about who God really is. If they knew that God loved them unconditionally, if they knew God gave up His life to heal them, if they experienced the presence of God, our churches would not be able to contain all the people.
When your family, friends, and neighbors think of church, what is their impression? Do they think about rules they can’t live up to? Or do they think about God’s presence where they were healed?
If we could just get a glimmer of who God really is. His power. His love. His redemption.
Couple thoughts here.
Maybe church needs to be about God’s presence.
Maybe our role is to simply be friends with people and bring them into God’s presence.
Here is what I have noticed. When church is not about God’s presence and reaching out to others, often-times it becomes about behavior management. That means the church works on really hard on trying to get people to follow the rules but, they do not deal with being in a redemptive relationship with Jesus. We call that religion. Living in religion, always working hard on trying not to sin, will make you feel guilty and tired.
I have also noticed, in the absence of pursuing God, programs and events can replace to a life-giving relationship of God. Programs and events can be helpful but if they replace our personal relationship with Jesus, we can become very shallow because we aren’t creating any spiritual depth. What happens when we are shallow? We are easily offended. Life’s challenges can make us feel like giving up on God. We need the church to produce things for us.
Lastly, I have noticed that relationships within the church can become weird. If we are not pursing God, we can expect too much from people around us. We can expect others to make us feel good. We can expect others to serve us and never give a thought about serving others. We can try to get close to people to get something out of them instead of just being friend.
When the church pursues God’s presence, the church becomes normal.
Our community needs the presence of God, not more things to do. We need God’s presence, not more things to do. Today, I want you wrestle with a decision. Will I give my life to Christ in total surrender or will I continue living a divided life? A divided life means I refuse to surrender my life to Christ and I will continue to live the way I want.
For us to experience God’s presence, scripture says:
…humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. NLT James 4:7-8
Let’s walk into this worship set.
I want to close with a couple thoughts. God enters earth to engage notorious sinners. Because of that, maybe church needs to be more about God’s presence. Maybe our role is to simply be friends with people and bring them into God’s presence.
I want you wrestle with a decision. Will I give my life to Christ in total surrender or will I continue living a divided life? That means, I will continue to attend church now and then, but I refuse to surrender. I will continue to live the way I want to live.
If you surrender, God comes.