daily biblical sermons

Jesus came to call sinners who long for salvation, not the self-righteous who think they do not need his help
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Saturday, First Week of the Year, January 14, 2023
Hebrews 4:12-16, Psalm 18 (19), Mark 2:13-17

Scripture quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“He [Jesus] went out again beside the sea; and all the crowd gathered about him, and he taught them. And as he passed on, he saw Levi the son of Alpheus sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him. And as he sat at the table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were sitting with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Mark 2:13-17).



We see the remarkable reaction of Levi (also called Matthew) when Jesus called him from his tax office. He said to him, “‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him” (Mark 2:14). Levi is a model for us all in his immediate total abandonment of his previous life to follow Jesus and become his apostle and evangelist who would write the gospel of St. Matthew.



Some ancient enemies of Christianity, however, considered Matthew to be a rash and superficial person for following Jesus immediately without knowing anything about him but simply having heard a call from him. This is, however, a foolish criticism, for Matthew lived in Capernaum, the town where Jesus performed many of his miracles and did much of his preaching. Surely Matthew heard of this famous preacher and miracle worker, and likely heard some of his sermons saw some of his miracles. He was probably considering in his heart becoming one of his disciples, but being a despised tax collector, he might have feared that Jesus would reject him.



But when this famous preacher and miracle worker came up to his own tax booth and personally invited him to be one of his inner circle of disciples, Matthew immediately got up and followed him, and his whole life changed from that moment on.



Matthew was surely a fairly wealthy man, since tax collectors made a lot of money, mostly by shaking down their own people and overcharging them and then delivering their money to their hated Roman oppressors. So Levi had a lucrative but shameful and despised occupation. He was probably happy to have a lot of money, but not happy to be looked down upon and despised by his own people. This might also have been a secondary motive for his accepting Jesus’ call. He needed something more than money to make him happy. He needed the respect of other people and something meaningful to do with his life. This, Jesus gave him when he became his apostle.



Next, we see that Matthew invites his friends to meet Jesus by making a feast in his house to which he invited his fellow tax collectors and public sinners who were his friends, and Jesus came with his disciples and sat at table with Matthew. This scandalized the scribes whose idea of a religious man was quite different from what they saw in Jesus. For them a religious person separated himself from worldly people and worldly activities for fear of being defiled by them.



The scribes would never dream of sitting down at a meal with despised tax collectors and public sinners. Jesus’ approach, however, was quite different from theirs. He did not separate himself from despised people and from tax collectors and public sinners. He saw himself as a physician who spends his time among the sick, not to hang out with them, but to cure them. In the same way Jesus, a righteous man and the Savior of the world, preferably spent his time with tax collectors and public sinners, not to carouse with them and become a companion with them in their sinful life, but rather to persuade them to leave that form of life and commit themselves to God with all their heart and soul, mind and strength. To do this he had to be like a physician going among the spiritually sick.



But when the scribes saw this behavior of Jesus, they asked his disciples, “‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Mark 2:16b-17).



How do we consider ourselves? Do we identify with the scribes and Pharisees who considered themselves better than everyone else, but had a false idea of religiosity and righteousness; or do we consider ourselves in a truer light as sinful people in need of a Savior? If we identify with the latter, then we are the people whom Jesus came for. If we identify with the scribes, then Jesus will not have much interest in us, because we are deceiving ourselves in thinking that we are righteous and have no need of a Savior. The truth, though, is that we have great need of a Savior to rescue us and forgive us for our sins and reconcile us with God.



Jesus was a true Savior. How many today see him as a Savior? I think that many do not. They simply see him as a good example of how we should live in imitation of him, and as a good teacher explaining truths about God and man and the world using parables and other forms of instruction. They see him basically as a teacher and an example. Many do not see him as a Savior, which is really the main reason for his coming into the world. He didn’t come just to teach us or give us a good example, but to save us from our sins.



“The Lord Jesus did not come into the world, as some suppose, to be nothing more than a law-giver, a king, a teacher, and an example. Had this been all the purpose of His coming, there would have been small comfort for man. Diet-regimes and rules of health are all very well for the convalescent, but not suitable to a man laboring under mortal disease. A teacher and an example might be sufficient for an unfallen being like Adam in the garden of Eden. But fallen sinners like ourselves need healing first, before we can value rules” (JC Ryle, 1816-1900).



So what should we do when we look around us and see that most of the Christians that we know and even most of the preachers whose sermons we hear again and again see Jesus almost exclusively as a teacher and example. We need to stress the truth that Jesus is primarily a Savior and only secondarily a teacher and a good example to follow.



He saves us from our main enemies, sin, the devil, and hell as the punishment for our sins by becoming our representative and substitute to suffer for us and in our place the just penalty that we owe God for our sins so that we will not have to suffer it if only we put our faith in him and sincerely repent of our sins.



God sees his suffering on the cross as paying our debt of suffering that we have with God in punishment for our sins – when we put our faith in him – and so he reckons to us his own righteousness – that is, he justifies us – and makes us thereby shine with the righteousness of God himself. This is the primary reason for his coming into the world, and this should be the primary theme of Christian preaching.



It is a sad fact that this is not the primary subject of the preaching of many preachers. So those who are aware of this defect and of the real truth of why Christ came into the world need to stress this point in our own teaching and preaching so that people can really hear the gospel, the good news of salvation from our sins in Jesus Christ.



Christ came to justify us through our faith in him so that we might live a holy life of good works following his biblically revealed moral law. If we do this, we will be rewarded according to our works, as Jesus told us, “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works” (Matthew 16:27 NKJV).


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