The Impact of Discipleship
The Sick, the Sad, and the Same
Luke 5:27-32 27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. 29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” 31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
This story and the explanations Jesus gives that follow this story are packed full with the reasons Jesus came. If you want to know what God wants for your life, you can find the answers in this story and in the verses that follow about the bridegroom, the patched garment and the old and new wineskins. We’ll walk through those together.
First, let me tell you about Levi. He also had another name. It was Matthew. Luke and Mark call him Levi. In the Gospel he penned himself, the first book of the NT, he referred to himself as Matthew. “Matthew” comes from the Hebrew, mattija – meaning, “the gift of the Lord”. “Levi,” however means “adhesion,” “Joining” or “stuck to” something.
The two names represented two realities in Levi/Matthew’s life. As a tax collector, perhaps he was stuck to the world’s system. Maybe he was adhering to a way of life that involved selfish gain and dishonesty. For back in that time, tax collectors would help themselves to extra money. Everyone needed a job. For those who wanted to pursue worldly wealth, the job of a tax collector was a good option if you could get your foot in the door. As we know, wealth often comes with a price. Tax collecting had quite a price tag. Few people would consider friendship with a tax collector. Religious people would certainly have stayed away. A tax collector’s friends would have been the Roman government and the money they took home at night. Mark and Luke had no trouble referring to this soon-to-be disciple as Levi, as one who was attached.
Matthew himself, however, must not have liked that name. He didn’t use it. He called himself something that reflected a new life as he became a disciple of Jesus. He was a gift of God. He was gifted of God. In fact, he had many gifts. Tax collectors were good record keepers. They were keen observers of people. They paid attention to the details. During this tax season, those are the qualities you are looking for in an accountant, right? Attention to detail makes for a good disciple too, and it especially makes for a good writer. We are grateful to Matthew for the book of Matthew that was written some 20 years later.
The calling of Matthew, accomplished at least four things for Jesus. A soul was saved, a disciple was made, an opportunity to share the Gospel with all of Matthew’s friends was created, and the presentation of the reasons Jesus came was given to the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. I’m so glad they questioned Jesus because we are able to read in Jesus’ response the awesome benefits of becoming a disciple of Jesus.
So Matthew left the profession of tax collecting to become a follower of Jesus. He was detaching himself from his attachment, if you will. He was leaving a job that was hard to come by in order to follow Jesus in faith. Because of the corruption in the tax collecting business it would have been awfully hard to stay employed as a tax collector and live with a converted, clean and clear heart. Sometimes, in order to follow Jesus, a clean and complete break from our old way of life is needed. While Matthew had financial security, there was something more significant he realized he needed. There was something else he lacked. He exercised faith when he left what he knew for something he would have to uncover over time.
And when he left his job, he threw a party; only this wasn’t a retirement party for himself. This wasn’t a big party to celebrate how successful he had been in his career. This wasn’t a celebration of the new life he was choosing. What does verse 29 say? He threw a party for Jesus. Jesus was the guest of honor. Matthew took his own resources to throw a party for Jesus and to invite all of his friends to the celebration. Usually when you get an invitation to a party it is for someone you know personally. It’s not the friend of a friend that your friend wants you to meet, right? This was not a regular party.
Maybe that’s how Matthew got his friends to come . . . by calling it a party. He didn’t invite people to a religious meeting, but to a party. Interesting, don’t you think? Nonetheless, they came. The only friends he had weren’t exactly the religious types. They were other tax collectors and people the religious leaders referred to as “sinners.” The religious leaders immediately wanted to know how Jesus could justify hanging out with this sordid crowd. Look at verse 30: The Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
Jesus first spoke about the SICK.
Look at verse 31: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the SICK.
Religious people like to label, judge, and condemn people as they view them as “sinners” who need sentenced. Jesus looked at people through eyes of mercy, grace and compassion and viewed people as sick who needed saved.
The people at the party were all in the same boat. They were all outcasts. They were all people the religious leaders had already distanced themselves from and written off as lost causes. Jesus likened Himself to a Doctor. He came to the earth to bring healing to people’s lives, and the truth was and is that He couldn’t afford to waste time on people who didn’t believe they were sick. The religious leaders thought they were healthy. The religious leaders were convinced their self-righteousness was enough. It was only those who were “poor in spirit” like we talked about last week, who could receive the help of Doctor Jesus.
We have many medical professionals in our congregation. You know can’t do anything for people who won’t listen, people who won’t take their medicine, people who won’t acknowledge that your diagnosis is reality. Who is it that you want to help and enjoy helping and can help? People who will take the prescription and apply it to their lives, right? People who trust your diagnosis and who let you play the role of physician in their lives. Let me say the same is true of Jesus. He can’t heal people who won’t acknowledge they are sick. The people at the Matthew party? They knew they needed the medicine Jesus had to bring.
Some of us are stubborn. We like to minimize our physical problems. We say things like, “If I’m not better next week, I will go to the doctor.” Next week turns into next month. Ignoring the problem doesn’t fix it, does it? Our spouse starts to climb on our backs telling us we need to be looked at. Other people start to tell us we don’t look so good, but we keep responding the same way: “Oh, I’ll be alright.” (Stop bumping your neighbor’s arm. ) That is not a good strategy for our physical health, and it is a catastrophic strategy with our spiritual health. Some of you within the sound of my voice have loved ones telling you that you need to stop putting off a visit to the Great Physician. You need to stop putting off salvation. You need to quit minimizing your condition. You need to let Doctor Jesus come to your house and heart for a salvation party.
Why do we put off going to the doctor? Because we are afraid of what we will be told. We are afraid of the diagnosis. We are afraid of the treatment. We are afraid of the cost. Let me tell you something. You don’t have to be afraid to see Doctor Jesus. What He has to tell you, you already know. You are sick because of sin. The treatment for that problem isn’t something to fear because it isn’t anything you will have to go through. Jesus took the treatment for you on the cross of Calvary, and Jesus has paid it all! You won’t even have a co-pay as you walk out of the appointment! Your account has been paid in full by the precious blood of Jesus.
Because Matthew was an eager disciple and wanted to introduce his friends to Jesus, they got to hear the good news that Jesus was like a doctor who could treat their sickness!
The first thing Doctor Jesus does on us is surgery. He performs a heart transplant on every person who will put their heart into His hands. He completely cleanses our hearts of sin, and then He puts His Holy Spirit in our hearts which is a sort of pacemaker, if you will. The Holy Spirit makes our hearts beat in sync with the heart of God. What God wants, we begin to naturally have a heart for because of the Spirit’s work in our hearts. What God desires we become, causes our hearts to beat with anticipation, excitement and expectation.
From there, Doctor Jesus performs a lobotomy. It sounds cheesy, but it makes for great preaching because it is true. Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, starts to transform our thoughts so that we don’t think the thoughts we used to think and we think about our lives from God’s perspective. There is a maturing of our mind that comes from having our minds transformed and renewed to be like Christ’s (Romans 12:2 and I Corinthians 2:16).
Well, the religious leaders didn’t care much for Jesus’ answer, so they questioned him further about the party lifestyle He evidently was promoting.
Luke 5:33-35 33 They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.” 34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”
Certainly the disciplines of fasting and prayer are tools that connect us to God, but the implication that they are to dominate the tone and quality of a disciple’s life to the exclusion of joy and celebration was a ridiculous idea. A person can fast and still have great joy. A person can pray and still experience an abundant life filled with great celebration as they practice that spiritual discipline.
Jesus did have several nicknames. One was “Man of Sorrows” from Isaiah 53:3, but He was also filled with great joy! (Luke 10:21, John 15:11, John 17:13) Jesus came to bring joy to the life of His followers.
So, in response to their question about the eating and drinking going on in the company of the disciples rather than a sober, somber sort of life through constant fasting and prayer Jesus used wedding imagery to explain the difference His presence was intended to make in the lives of people who would follow Jesus.
He called himself the bridegroom. Weddings were huge in that day and time. They last an entire week. The usual twice a week fasting was suspended during this week when you were in the presence of the bridegroom. It was celebration day after day after day. Jesus was telling them, “I came to the earth to make life like a wedding feast, not a funeral.” You don’t fast at a wedding reception! You may fast before the reception so you can eat more while you are there, though! I’m telling the truth. Man, if I know I am going to a wedding reception I start going light the day before because I want to save room to be able to tank up. Party food is the best! It is fun to eat at a party!
There were reasons for great joy and celebration since Jesus had come. The waiting for a Messiah was over. The Spirit of the Lord was upon Him to minister to the poor, to set at liberty the captive, to give sight to the blind, to bring salvation to the entire world. There was no greater reason to celebrate. Jesus, the One who could pull all of that off was right there in their midst. It wasn’t a time for sober reflection, but for super celebration and joy.
The religion of the Pharisees had no joy! If your face didn’t look like the face of a mule, you weren’t doing religion right! There was no spirit of celebration. The Pharisees never turned the lights off and had an Ash Wednesday encounter like we did this past week. There was no clapping of hands, no shouts of joy, no relief because sin had been taken care of. It was a burden, not a blessing, to have any religion back in that time. Just as Jesus came to tell people they didn’t have to live sorry for sin all their lives because He could cure their sin sickness, He also wanted to tell them they didn’t have to live sad, downtrodden, burdened religious lives. Following Jesus isn’t a funeral! It’s a wedding. Party! Party! Party!
What a departure from the religious status quo! Jesus said He came to bring something new, and not the same old, same old.
Luke 5:36 36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.
So let’s camp here a minute. The teachers of the Law were bound to the traditions that had become law over time. They were observing laws that had never been given by God. They were added by religious leaders. It was hard to be religious, too hard. Jesus had two laws to declare which summed up the whole intent of every law. “Love God with all you have, and love your neighbor the same way.” By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, the Pharisees had developed a system of 613 laws! How can anyone know and be cognizant of 613 laws? 365 of them were negative commands and 248 were positive commands. What I mean is that 365 of them were “Thou shalt nots” and 248 were “Do this or else!”
It was ridiculous. Accountability to God was replaced by accountability to men. It created a false standard of righteousness. It was completely external and it was a total burden! But, the religious leaders would never admit that Judaism was a flawed system by this time.
The old garment Jesus was referring to was self-righteousness, works-righteousness or what I would call “law-righteousness.” The new righteousness is a robe of righteousness Jesus brings to us through His sacrifice on the cross. Jesus wasn’t promoting the same old thing; the thing man had created to try to behave his way into heaven. We don’t behave our way into heaven. Our way is bought by the blood of Jesus.
And Jesus used old and new garments to explain to the religious leaders how blind they were to what they needed and how Jesus was that answer. With their old garments they tried to cover their sins. Jesus wasn’t about covering sin. He was about convicting them of it and then personally taking the penalty for it. He doesn’t want to cover anyone’s sin. He wants to cleanse them!
The religious system had holes in it. You can’t take a new shirt, cut out a hole of material and sew it onto the old one. It won’t work. They don’t match. They aren’t compatible. When you wash it the new piece will separate from the old.
Patchwork won’t work when it comes to a relationship with Jesus. We can’t take a little of our old ways and a little of Jesus and put them together and think that they will be compatible. Jesus didn’t come to patch us up! He came to make us new. God didn’t come to dress us up or add some bling to our way of life. He didn’t just come to add some sparkle to our back pockets or a name brand to our shoes so we could say we were stylin’! A sick stylin’ sinner is still sick, right? Jesus came to strip us of the garments of sin and our old way of life and to clothe is with Christ as we wear His robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). Christianity isn’t Judaism with a patch on it. It is a completely new way to embracing life with God.
37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’”
Again the words “new” and “old” are used. It is obvious what Jesus wants the religious leaders to understand. Their old ways can’t contain the Gospel. The Gospel, like wine that is fermenting, is too expansive to fit into their old framework.
Please understand that Jesus wasn’t throwing out the Law. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)
Jesus wasn’t discarding the Law. He was discarding the heavy framework, the traditions, the rules that had surrounded the Law to the point that the original intent of the Law couldn’t even be seen or experienced or expressed. Jesus wanted the religious leaders to understand that the Law, rather than set inside the context of rules, would now be set in the context of a relationship with Jesus through His blood which frees us from having the burdens the Law had come to demand! The relationship with Jesus would liberate us and empower us and move us to accomplish the intent of the Law which is really love for God and others.
The religious leaders were threatened by Jesus because they wanted to keep things the same, to maintain the status quo, and Jesus came to say, “We are going to have a new way of experiencing God and expressing our devotion to Him. That’s why I have come for the sick. Sick people can’t party. I want to make them well, so they can party. That’s why I have come to rescue the sad. Sad people can’t party. I want the sad to come to the party and experience my joy!”
Religion that makes you sad isn’t worth anything. Make some room for my Church of God heritage this morning! “I will sing hallelujah for there’s joy in the Lord, and He fills my heart with rapture as I rest on His Word. I will trust in His promise. I will shout. I will sing. In my blessed loving Savior I have sweet victory. There is joy in the Lord. There is joy in the Lord. Hallelujah, glory, glory there is joy in the Lord!”
Jesus didn’t come to keep things the same, but to show us a whole new way of being able to fulfill the demands of the Law inside a love relationship with Jesus that wouldn’t be a burden but a blessing.
What great news for Matthew! What great news he shared with his friends! The sick are healed. The sad are given permission to celebrate, and people who follow Jesus will never be the same again! The Pharisees couldn’t embrace it. Can you?