************ Sermon on Luke 5:32 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 20, 2020
"Jesus Came to Call Sinners to Repentance"
I looked through the Hallmark Christmas cards we received this year. The front has the typical lines:
-Joy to the World
-Peace on Earth
-Glory to God
-A Savior has been Born
-Good News of Great Joy
-Town of David
You know what I didn't see? I did not see a Hallmark Christmas card with the words of our text this morning: "I have ... come to call ... sinners to repentance" (Lk 5:32). In fact, I have never seen a Hallmark Christmas card with "Repent" emblazoned on the front.
You heard me right: Jesus came at Christmas to call sinners to repentance. This is probably too harsh sounding for the good folks at Hallmark.
I The Righteous
A Why did Jesus come? First of all the negative: "I have not come to call the righteous" (Lk 5:32).
Think of what this means. It means Christmas is not for good people. Our culture teaches the myth that Santa comes for good boys and girls. Jesus is not like Santa. Jesus did not come for the righteous.
Jesus did not come for good people. Christmas is not for good people. The Christian faith is not for good people. The church is not for good people. Isn't this the number one criticism people level against the church? That the church is filled with hypocrites? You bet it is. That's why we are here. We know we are not perfect. We know the church is not a club for the righteous. We know it is a hospital for the sick. We know one cannot enter into the Kingdom of God unless one has recognized his or her sin. One of the signs of spiritual maturity, congregation, is that you come to know and understand more and more how truly wretched and sinful you are. It is a sign of spiritual maturity to know and recognize your sin.
B This kind of thinking was absolutely foreign and strange to the Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus. Repentance wasn't a word in their vocabulary. They considered themselves the spiritual elite, the righteous, guiltless before God, with insight into the ways of God. Jesus' call for repentance offended them to the point they wanted to kill Him.
"I have not come to call the righteous" (Lk 5:32). Jesus did not come for those -- like the scribes and Pharisees -- who think they are righteous. Which means there is no salvation, there is no forgiveness, there is no eternal life for anyone who has the attitude of the scribes and Pharisees. There is no salvation, there is no forgiveness, there is no eternal life for those who claim it is well with their soul because of the life they live.
"I have not come to call the righteous" (Lk 5:32).
A Why did Jesus come? Our second point is the positive: "I have ... come to call ... sinners to repentance" (Lk 5:32). Why did Jesus come? Jesus came at Christmas for sinners. Jesus came for the bad, for the evil, for the wicked, for the fallen; Jesus came for sinners. This is one of the things that makes the Christian religion unique as compared to all other religions. Jesus came to call sinners to repentance. Which means, of course, that if we want to be saved we need to understand ourselves to be sinners, admit our sin, confess our sin.
"I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Lk 5:32). That's why a good summary of Jesus' preaching is "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Mt 4:17). That's why Jesus centered His ministry on the poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed. He focused His ministry on people who understood their true spiritual condition. He focused His ministry on people who had no illusions about their relationship with God. These people were the sick, and they knew they were sick. They knew they were the spiritually poor. They knew they were prisoners to sin. They knew they were blind to spiritual truth. They knew they were oppressed by guilt.
B "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Lk 5:32). Whose sins does Jesus forgive? He forgives the paralytic in the verses just before our Bible reading (Lk 5:17ff). Who else does He forgive? How far does Jesus go? How deep does Jesus dig into the dregs of society to rescue sinners?
Are you ready for the answer? It is a shocking answer for the Jews. Our Bible reading mentions a tax collector by the name of Levi. His other name is Matthew which means "gift of God." Matthew was a quiet apostle. None of the gospels record a single word he said. More than one commentator suggests Matthew was so quiet because he was in awe that Jesus took him a sinner and made him an apostle.
How low will Jesus go to save sinners? Jesus came at Christmas to even save tax collectors. That's how low Jesus was willing to go. If you think IRS agents have a bad reputation, it is nothing compared to tax collectors in Israel at the time of Jesus. In the view of the Jews, tax collectors were the scum of society. They were the worst of the worse, the lowest of the low, the dregs of society.
The Romans set the tax to be collected in every province and occupied country. In the case of Israel, it was King Herod who collected the tax and then paid it to Rome. What Herod did -- and this was permitted by Roman law -- what Herod did was sell the right to collect taxes to the highest bidder. Anything collected over the amount set by the Romans the tax collector could keep. It was a very lucrative business if you were unscrupulous and willing to lie, cheat, steal, and abuse. If you were a Jew, like Levi, this meant you abused your own people, extorted them, and gave their money to the heathen Gentiles; this meant you abandoned your Jewish faith, your Jewish friends and family, your Jewish heritage; this meant you were a traitor because you sold your birthright to work for the hated Romans.
There were various kinds of taxes: land tax, property tax, income tax, tax on crops and grains, duty and import and road and poll tax, bridge tax, letter tax, package tax, market tax, axle tax, wheel tax (two thousand years later and things haven't changed, have they). The tax collector determined the value and taxed accordingly. They could stop people at any time or place. They could search their goods. They could tax their produce. They would loan money at fifty percent interest to those who couldn't pay their taxes. They used criminals to harm people who didn't pay. They took bribes from rich people and abused the poor.
Tax collectors, like Levi, were hated by the Jews. They were banned from the synagogue and Temple because they were considered unclean. They were forbidden to give testimony in a court of law. The Talmud, the Jewish rule book, said you can lie to and deceive a tax collector. Try that with the IRS and claim the Bible says you can do this.
Levi was one of these hated tax collectors. He was the worst of the worse, the lowest of the low, one of the dregs of society. According to the Jews, Levi was unforgivable.
C Why did Jesus come at Christmas? To call a sinner like Levi to repentance. So Jesus walked over to Levi and said, "Follow me." As far as Jesus was concerned, Levi was a perfect fit to be an apostle, a disciple. Levi was the type of man Jesus was looking for. "Follow me." This shocked the scribes and Pharisees. This must have shocked Levi too. "Me? You want me to follow you? Me the tax collector? Me the sinner?"
"I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Lk 5:32). Levi heard Jesus' call. Levi repented. He knew he was a sinner. He admitted he was a sinner. He realized his heart and his life were wretched and miserable. He was burdened by his sin. He understood Jesus came at Christmas for him a sinner. He understood Jesus came to call him to repent.
D There are two proofs of Levi's repentance. First, "Levi got up, left everything and followed him" (Lk 5:28). What did he leave? His career, his job, his position as a tax collector. There was no going back for him because within a day his position would be filled by someone else. This means Levi made a more dramatic break then did Peter, James, and John. Those three left their nets and their boats to follow Jesus but then went back to fishing again after Good Friday's crucifixion. But not Levi. He couldn't return. Once you leave your tax place, your career is over.
What a dramatic change. The traitor, the extortionist, the robber, the outcast, the sinner, became a follower and apostle of Jesus. He lost an earthly career and gained an eternal destiny. He lost material possessions and gained a spiritual future. He lost earthly security and gained a heavenly inheritance. He lost sinful companions and gained the fellowship of the living Christ. He was forgiven. He was made new. He was considered righteous -- something the perverted Jewish religion told him he would never be.
The second proof of Levi's repentance is the party, the great banquet, he held in honor of Jesus at his house. Who did he invite? "Tax collectors." Those are the people he knows. The people he worked with in the tax collection business. Bad people. Sinners. "And others." Thieves. Thugs. Hit men. Enforcers. Drunks. Prostitutes. Smugglers. Criminals. Outcasts. Levi wanted his old friends and co-workers to meet the Savior.
"Tax collectors and others." Imagine the conversation at the dinner table: who they beat up that day, the amount of money they extorted, the thugs who produce the quickest results, a new way to cheat people out of their money, a way to launder their books.
The scribes and Pharisees noticed, of course; they noticed Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners. They were outraged. If the Pharisees had their way, there would be no contact with tax collectors and sinners. Because such contact made one unclean, unfit for worship, unfit to attend the synagogue or Temple.
There is a downside to being a long time Christian. The longer we know the Lord, the fewer unbelievers we know and reach. This is also the downside to being a Reformed Christian in a city like Visalia. With the church, Christian schooling, Sierra Village, Bethany Christian Services, Love INC, Tulare/Kings Right to Life, and fellow Christian business owners, it is too easy too isolate ourselves from unbelievers, too easy to isolate ourselves from tax collectors and sinners. Jesus didn't have that problem. He went out of His way to eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus went out and saw Levi. And, Jesus went to Levi's home afterwards knowing the kind of people who would be there. Why? Because Jesus came at Christmas to call sinners to repentance.
"I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Lk 5:32). Congregation, Jesus says the same thing to you and me He said to Levi: "Follow me." Jesus came at Christmas so that you and I, like Levi, would repent. And, like Levi, those who repent are saved!
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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