The Lord's Day Morning
May 24, 2009
“He Came for Sinners”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bible, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke 5:27-39, as we continue our way through the Gospel of Luke. The story that we're going to read this morning is all of a piece. It presses to one great point, but I want you to see three parts in it before we read it so that you can appreciate what Luke is laying out for you under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
The first part of this story is the conversion of a person that you know. In this story he's called Levi; you know him by another name, but his conversion story and the call of Jesus to him is reported in the first part of the story we're going to read today. Then the second part of the story is Jesus answering a question about fasting. (In the first part of the story already we will have seen Pharisees and scribes present who are questioning Jesus’ disciples, and by implication questioning Jesus and what He's doing, and Jesus begins to answer them in the first part of the story; and, the second part of the story He answers them about a question pertaining to fasting.) And then the third part of the story is Jesus himself telling a parable about old garments being patched with a new patch, and old wineskins being filled with new wine, and what happens when you do that.
The reason He's telling that story is He knows that His purpose and His ministry does not match the expectation of the Pharisees and the scribes. They were hoping for a Messiah who would come along and rejuvenate Israel…take Israel back to the good ol’ days. And Jesus is telling them in these stories that that's not what He came for. He came to do something new, something that's beyond their expectations. And He tells them at the very end of the story in this strange, almost cryptic phrase in verse 39, that He knows that they’re not going to like what He's come to do, but He's come to do it anyway.
Now as we come to this passage today, I'd like to be on the lookout not for three things, but for four things. As you hear God's word read, first I want you to be on the lookout for what Levi leaves when Jesus calls him. Second, I want you to be on the lookout for what Jesus says He has come to do. Surely in any passage in the Bible where Jesus announces that He's about to tell you what He came for, you want to be all ears. And I want you to be on the lookout for what Jesus says He came to do. Then as Jesus responds to this issue of fasting, I want you to be on the lookout for the implications of Jesus’ answer to the question about fasting. What does Jesus’ answer say about who Jesus is? And then finally, as we look at Jesus’ story about the worn out garment and of the old wineskin, I want you to be on the lookout for the answer to this question: What did Jesus come to do in His preaching? What is it designed to do? What is He here for? Luke is clearly wanting us to think about all of those things.
Now let's look together to the Lord in prayer as we prepare to read God's word.
Heavenly Father, this is Your word, and it is true and it is powerful, and it is searching. Lord, Your word has a way of searching out parts of us deep inside that we ourselves were not even aware of. We ask that You would search us today by Your word. We pray that You would show us our hearts — the dark places of our hearts that we would rather cover up and hide. And we pray that as You search us out that You would show us those dark places of our hearts, that You would show us our sin–not so that we can mope and be discouraged, not so that we can attempt to atone ourselves for what we are and what we've done, but so that we would turn to the only hope there is, Your Son, our Savior. We ask, O Lord, that You would cause Your word to be effectual for the salvation of Your people as they hear it. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of God:
“After this He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ And leaving everything, he rose and followed Him.
“And Levi made Him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at His disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’
“And they said to Him, ‘The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.’ He also told them a parable: ‘No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, “The old is good.”’”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Luke once again has us in his sights. Yes, Luke wrote two thousand years ago. Yes, he wrote especially in a context for people who were first hearing the announcement of who Jesus was and His proclamation of good news. And, yes, in this passage he is addressing a searching message that Jesus had for the Pharisees and scribes themselves, as well as His disciples. But as we read this passage I think you already sense how appropriate it is, how relevant it is for us today, because these words are not words from a history lesson.
These words are God's words for His people, and I want you to see four things as we look at them today.
I. Jesus’ call to discipleship is a radical call to embrace His lordship.
The first is simply this: In the call of Jesus to Matthew (vss. 27-29) Jesus shows us that His call to discipleship is a radical call to embrace His lordship. The story of Jesus’ call of Levi (whom we know as Matthew, the author of the Gospel of Matthew)…the story of Jesus’ call to Levi is unique, of course, in that He is not calling any of us to be in the inner circle of His twelve apostles today. But the call of Jesus to Levi (to Matthew) to be His disciple is no different than His call to us to be His disciples today in this sense: the same radical demands that Jesus places on Matthew, He places on all those He calls to be His disciples. And Luke makes this clear.
In this passage, Jesus comes to Matthew and He says to him, Follow Me.” Now that's Luke's summation of what, no doubt, was a long exchange between Jesus and Matthew. Luke is giving you the kernel. He's telling you what the final application of whatever Jesus’ correspondence was with Matthew. He comes upon Matthew. Matthew's sitting outside of his house. He's collecting custom taxes and poll taxes. Matthew is a part of a despised segment of society, because his fellow Jews would have considered him both a traitor and an extortioner. You see, he was a traitor because the Jewish people would have viewed tax collectors as being in cahoots with their Roman oppressors, because it was the Roman emperor who appointed petty kings in the provinces in the outlying part of the Roman world to collect taxes, and then those petty kings would have appointed others to collect taxes. And of the taxes that Matthew was collecting, some of them would go back to the petty king, and then some of them would go back to Rome. And so ultimately the Jewish people viewed people that were participating in the tax collector profession to be traitors. They were serving the interests of the very people who are oppressing them. And they viewed them as extortioners.
Tax collectors usually did quite well, thank you sir. They were pretty well off. And they were particularly known for being well off by taking a little bit more of a surcharge than they ought to have taken on their tax collecting duties. And so the people resented them because they were wealthy, and they were wealthy off of the backs of God's people. And so Jesus comes to this tax collector — Levi (Matthew) — and He engages him with the gospel. And at some point He gives a call, and He says, ‘Matthew, I want you to leave everything, and I want you to follow Me.’ And Luke tells you that that's exactly what Levi did. He left everything and followed Him.
Now this is quite extraordinary, because Luke is clearly drawing attention to that. If you’ll look back just a few verses to Luke 5:11, this is exactly what the other disciples did. You’ll remember Jesus has been preaching and teaching from the boat, and when they come ashore Jesus calls the disciples to follow Him, and Luke tells us that they left everything. They left their boats, and they followed Him. This is a continual refrain in the Gospels. In Matthew 10, Peter, in verse 28, says to Jesus: “See, we have left everything and followed You.” In Matthew 19:27, Peter again says, “See, we have left everything and followed You.” It is a constant refrain that as Jesus calls His disciples, He calls them to leave everything and follow Him. In part that means this: that in acknowledging Jesus to be Lord, they are acknowledging that Jesus is more important to them than anyone or anything else in this world. You can remember Jesus saying things like this: “If you will not leave mother and father and sister and brother for Me, you are not worthy o Me.” Jesus’ preaching both entailed a more radical demand and a more radical grace than we are used to hearing in a lot of preaching that goes on today.
Very, very few preachers are telling you to leave everything and follow Jesus. But that's what Jesus does repeatedly in the Gospels. Why? Because Paul (in Ephesians 2 and Colossians 1, and the author of Hebrews in Hebrews 2) says God's plan is for the whole world to be brought under the headship of Jesus Christ. And so if disciples are going to be won to Jesus Christ, they must be brought under the headship of Jesus Christ. And in order to be brought under the headship of Jesus Christ, there can be no one who is His competitor for Lord of your life. There can be no thing that is more important to you in this world than the Lord Jesus Christ. And so the refrain is said over and over, “They left everything and followed Him.”
Now let me quickly say that looks different for different disciples. Leaving everything and following Him looks different for different disciples. You even see it in Luke 5. The disciples who were fishermen, who left their boats and followed Him, does that mean that they never fished again? No. We find them fishing throughout the Gospels. Clearly that was one of the ways they fed themselves, so they continued to fish. And you remember after Jesus’ crucifixion some of them were prepared to go back to their fishing trade.
Matthew, on the other hand, when he left the profession that he left, he left it without the capacity to ever go back to it again. You didn't just walk out on the Roman Empire and say, ‘That's it. I'm done. I'm not collecting taxes anymore,’ and then just go back into the office of the provincial leader and say, ‘You know, I'm thinking about that again. I think I would like to collect taxes again.’ When Matthew walked away, he was walking away from a very lucrative profession once and for all. He really did leave everything and follow Jesus. But however that plays out in our lives, that is the demand for every disciple.
You know, it's not a surprise, is it, that a few chapters later in Luke 18, we're going to meet a fine young man, a morally upstanding young man, a wealthy young man who is a leader in his synagogue. And he comes to Jesus and he asks Him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And you know what Jesus says to him? “Leave everything and follow Me.” And you know what that young man does. He says, ‘I can't.’ You understand, though, that that is the call to every disciple. That doesn't mean that every disciple divests himself or herself of every last shred of his or her worldly goods and takes upon a vow of poverty for the rest of his or her life. But it does mean that there is no competitor to Jesus in your life.
Was it last Sunday night that Derek was telling us the story of Henry Martyn, who felt called of God to go to the mission field? And he was deeply in love with the woman who was the love of his life. But he knew that he was going to the mission field and he would never return to England. And he thought two things: one, it is wrong to take this woman away from her family and from her country never to return again; and, two, this woman is my idol. She is a competitor in my heart for Jesus himself. I idolize her. And so he wrestled for months with what to do, but in the end it was very clear for Henry Martyn. He would leave England unmarried, he would never marry, he would die in Persia. Why? Because Henry Martyn had heard a call: “Henry, follow Me.”
Now, he left the love of his life. I don't know what the Lord is asking you to leave. It's going to be different for almost every one of you in the room today. I don't know what He's asking you to leave, but I do know this. This is not something that Jesus just asked the twelve apostles to do. It's something that He asks every disciple to do. He is saying, ‘There is no one, there is nothing in this world that equals Me. There is no one, there is nothing in this world that I will allow to be a competitor with Me. I will be your Lord. And if you’re going to follow Me, you’re going to have to leave everything, and I'm going to have to be your Lord.’
A man named Ray Miller wrote some amazing lyrics in the early 1920's, and a woman named Bev Shea took those lyrics and put them on her son's piano because she wanted her son to read those words and think about them with regard to his commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. Her son was a very talented composer and had been offered a lucrative contract by NBC to come and write music for the National Broadcasting Corporation. And he sat down at his piano that morning and saw the words, and he was deeply moved by those words, and he wrote a tune to go with those words. The words were:
“I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I'd rather be His than have riches untold.
I'd rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
I'd rather be led by His nail-pierced hand,
Than to be the king of a vast domain,
Or be held in sin's dread sway.
I'd rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.
“I'd rather have Jesus than men's applause,
I'd rather be faithful to His dear cause.
I'd rather have Jesus than worldwide fame,
I'd rather be true to His holy name.”
You know his name: George Beverly Shea. And he traveled around with Billy Graham for many years and wrote many, many songs that have encouraged the saints over his time. But he had the choice — follow his dreams into a lucrative career, or follow Jesus.
You understand that that is the choice that every disciple faces. In this hand, you can have all your dreams, all your ambitions, all your desires; you can hold onto your idols. And in this hand, you can have Jesus. Now which will it be? And Jesus says, ‘I won't let anything from this hand be in this hand. It's Me and nothing else. And if you’ll follow Me, I’ll give you a hundred times what you give up, but you've got to give up everything. You've got to give up your sin. You've got to give up your ambitions that compete with Me. Whatever the dearest idol of your heart is you must give up, because I will brook no rival. That's the call of discipleship. And, my friends, that call of discipleship hits us between the eyes. Is this not what we struggle with? We are comfortable. We like life how it is…or we want more of how it is than we have so far. And we haven't the faintest idea in the back of our mind of leaving everything for Jesus, but it may just be this morning that the Lord Jesus is calling to you through His word to give up your desires and ambitions, to give up the things that are competing with Him for the lordship of your life. And that, my friends, is the call of Jesus to every disciple.
II. Jesus came for sinners.
Well, the second thing we see in this passage is Jesus’ description of what He has come to do. When Matthew responds to Jesus’ call, he throws a party. And isn't that the only right response for a person who has discovered the grace of God in Jesus Christ, to rejoice this way? Shouldn't there be that kind of rejoicing when we come to worship the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of sins that He has given to us? Matthew thinks, ‘He's just called me! He's just saved me! Let's celebrate!’ And he throws a party and he invites all his tax collector friends, because he wants them to meet Jesus. No man who has tasted grace wants to go to heaven alone. If you don't care about other sinners joining you in glory, then you just don't know grace. This man doesn't want to go to heaven alone. He wants all his tax collector and sinner buddies to be there and to meet the Lord Jesus, because this man is worth giving up everything for.
And the Pharisees are there. And they don't like the fact that Jesus is associating with tax collectors and sinners, and so they attack His disciples and they say, ‘What are you guys doing hanging out with sinners?’ And before they can open their mouth — I can't believe that Jesus beat Peter to the punch, because normally Peter has a snappy response, but Jesus does. Jesus answers the Pharisees, and He says, ‘You know, doctors aren't here to heal the healthy. They’re here to heal the sick. In the same way, I haven't come for the righteous; I've come for sinners.’
Now of course there's an irony in what Jesus says. On the one hand, you see, this appeals to the Pharisees because the Pharisees think of themselves as righteous and they think of themselves as healthy. And it's almost as if Jesus is saying, ‘Look, you guys don't need what I have. It's these sinners out here who need what I have to offer.’ But there's abiding irony, isn't there? It's not that the Pharisees don't need what Jesus has to offer, it's that they don't think they need what Jesus has to offer.
My friends, every single one of us in this room is either sitting where the tax collectors are, or we're sitting where the Pharisees are. If you don't know that you’re a sinner, if you don't know that you need grace, you’re sitting in the Pharisee's chair. And if you’re a sinner who thinks your sin is just one step beyond the reach of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, here's what Jesus is saying to you: ‘I have come to call sinners. That's what I came for. Don't think that I can't do what I came for.’ Every single one of us is sitting in one of those two chairs.
You know, when you join this church, the first question you answer is, “Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His good pleasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy?” You understand what we're saying. We’re saying you can't be a good person and join First Presbyterian Church. We do not allow “good people” to join First Presbyterian Church. Only sinners are allowed here. If you’re not a sinner, you’re not welcome here.
But have you admitted to that with your lips, and you don't believe it in your heart? Do you really deep down think you’re a good person? If you do, you’re sitting with the Pharisees today. And until God opens your eyes to what you are and what you need, you’re going to continue to sit with the Pharisees. But there are no righteous people and there are no healthy people. Paul, quoting the Old Testament, says, “There is no one righteous; no, not one.” So when Jesus says He's come for sinners and not for the healthy, it's not because there are some people out there who are healthy and righteous. It's just that there are some people out there who think that they are. And notice what Jesus does. He calls those sinners to repentance.
You know, our culture loves to picture Jesus being with sinners, but our culture doesn't have a clue of what to do with Jesus’ calling sinners to repentance. This Jesus loves sinners with a gospel love, and He sups with them and He drinks with them and He fellowships with them. But he calls them to repent of their sins. He does not come to sinners and say, ‘You know, you’re really okay.’ He comes to sinners and He says, ‘Repent; follow Me.’ If that's where you’re sitting today, hear that call! That's Jesus’ call. That's not my call, that's not the church's call, that's Jesus’ call. He says, “I have come to call sinners to repentance.” That's what Jesus says He came to this earth to do, and the church must always continue to do what her Lord came to do: call sinners to repentance.
III. What about fasting?
And then the Pharisees have another question: ‘Well, why don't Your disciples fast? John's disciples fast, and You like him. Our disciples fast, and you don't like us. But why don't you fast? That's the thing for holy people to do.’ And Jesus’ answer is amazing, but Jesus’ answer is ultimately all about himself. Jesus’ answer is, ‘Look, you don't invite people to the wedding and ask them to fast.’ We just had a wedding yesterday, and there was a whole lot of food there. Dads have been paying for a whole lot of food for a long, long time — and some dads feel like they’re going to be paying for a whole lot of food for a long, long time! But at a wedding, you feast! And Jesus says, ‘Look, I am the bridegroom. I am the center of the cosmic party of the universe, and as long as I've around, we party. When I'm gone, My disciples will fast, but right now the bridegroom is here.’ Do you understand what Jesus is saying? Jesus is saying that ‘I'm the one that brings this world joy, and as long as I'm around, My disciples are going to rejoice. They’re going to feast, not fast.’
Now there are many occasions in the Gospels where when Jesus says something provocative like that, the Pharisees will tear their garments and throw ashes up into the air and wail and mourn and cry and say, ‘He's blaspheming!’ Now Luke doesn't tell us whether they reacted that way, but they sure could have. Because the one who gives joy to this world is God, and Jesus is saying, ‘I'm here! God here! God in the flesh!’ Jesus is saying something about himself: “I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life. I come to make your joy complete.” ‘That's who I am. I'm the one who can give you life. I'm the one who can give you joy, and as long as I'm around, my disciples are going to be feasting.’ You see, it's a statement about who He is.
And then He tells them a story. In the story He says, ‘You know, nobody takes a new piece of cloth and patches up an old garment with that new piece of cloth. It doesn't match. And nobody takes new wine and pours it into an old wineskin that's already gotten a little more rigid and is dried out, because it will burst.’ And He says, ‘You know, that's the problem with you Pharisees. You keep wanting Me to bring back the good old days of Israel. I'm not here to do that. I'm here to do something bigger. I'm here to call sinners, men and women and boys and girls from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation to God through Me. The ceremonial law is not coming back again. The things that you care about and in which you've invested your righteousness have gone away. Ceremonial righteousness is gone; real righteousness is coming. And yet you’re going to prefer the old wine. You’re going to say, “You know, Jesus, I don't like what You’re bringing. I like what I'm already drinking.”’ You see, Jesus is saying, ‘I'm not coming to do what you think I'm here to do, because your view of what Messiah is going to do is too small. It's too narrow. You’re satisfied with the righteousness you have. You’re satisfied with the kingdom that was. I come to bring a righteousness that you don't have, and to build a kingdom that has not yet been built. And you’re not going to like it.’
My friends, we can look back and we can wag our heads at the Pharisees and talk about what legalists they were. But, my friends, whether we're legalists today or whether we're libertines today, if we're not trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, if we don't see that we're sinners in need of His grace, we are still sitting exactly where the Pharisees were, saying, ‘We like it the way it used to be. We don't like what You’re bringing.’ If we're sitting in either of those seats, legalist or libertine, we're sitting exactly where the Pharisees are sitting and we're saying, ‘Jesus, we don't need what You’re bringing.’
And, my friends, that's the issue that is set before us today, because the only people that will be in this kingdom that Jesus is bringing are people who know that they’re sinners and who know that they need grace. And there will be no sinner in that kingdom who, having received the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, will think, ‘You know what? His grace is not sufficient for me.’ Because just like Matthew, when you encounter this Jesus you realize that He's worth giving up everything, and He has a power to do and to save beyond anything you've ever imagined.
Let the reader understand.
Heavenly Father, it's easy to say “I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold.” It's very hard to do, unless of course you've really met Jesus and you really know your need. Some of us today need to do business with You, Lord, because we've been playing games. And I pray that Your word would reach deeply into our hearts and draw some from death to life, and draw others from deadly distraction, but draw all to Jesus Christ and His grace in the gospel. This we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Now let's take our hymnals in hand and turn to No. 473, and let's sing the truth of this passage back to God.
[Congregational hymn: Jesus Sinners Doth Receive]
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