Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)
Call to Worship
“Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women, instead of perch and bass.”
— Matthew 4:19
We joyfully come into Your presence this morning, gracious Father, because of the new covenant sealed with the blood of the Lamb. As grateful as we are with this new arrangement, we are also aware of its implications … that You have invited us to share in the wider application of this grace, beyond our fellowship to a world in need of renewal and forgiveness. We humbly pray that You would equip us for this joyful opportunity, through our time together today and through a generous measure of Your Spirit. In the strong name of the Word Himself, even Jesus … amen.
Today's Message: Jesus’ Table Talk – Part 2
Scripture Reading: 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.”
Welcome to this second installment of our month-long series, exploring the lessons Jesus taught as He gathered at table throughout His ministry with a wide variety of folks. And it all begins with a revealing question, asked by His critics … “Why do you eat with ____ (v. 30a)?” Such a question raises the subject we began to explore last week, that gathering around a meal with others is not all about the eating. In the movie “My Dinner with Andre” two friends come together around dinner … and that’s where 90% of the “action” takes place! The movie is all about these two old friends talking about life, truth and friendship around the context of a meal. Writer and pastor William Willimon has written about this issue in his book Sunday Dinner:
“Few of us need be told that a meal is a sign of hospitality and friendship. Any child knows that when you share your candy bar with the new kid on the block, it is an act which produces instant friendship. In your family, when your daughter has been dating a young man and announces that she would like to bring him home for dinner, you sense that their relationship has moved to a more intimate and serious level. She is inviting this stranger into her family’s inner sanctuary, to the family dinner table. You are correct in assuming that this signals something important may be about to happen.” (p. 16)
But we must complete the question asked above … not just “Why do you eat with …” but “Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Of course, we know “tax collectors” (or “publicans”) as those acting in the communities of the Hebrew nation collecting taxes for the occupying Roman forces. They were really private contractors working on behalf of the Roman government … and it was quite well known that they were exacting more than what the hated Romans were asking. Since it was their job, they needed to make some sort of profit … and they were universally despised by all the Jewish people for performing this role.
But the religious leadership included a second group in their question … not just tax collectors but sinners as well. Professor Fred Craddock defines this term sinner as describing “… those whose breach of the Mosaic law was known in the community, their violations having been formally or informally noted, and who were therefore excluded from the synagogue.” The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament describes sinner as “… a man (or woman) who lives in conscious or witting opposition to the divine will (Torah) …” In a society super-charged with religiosity, no matter how diseased it had become, the people Jesus was meeting with on this particular occasion (and apparently many times before) would not have been welcome at many social, or any religious, gatherings. That Jesus continued to include these “types” of individuals in His social life caused great concern amongst the religious leadership of the day.
Even though the question is asked of His disciples, Jesus cannot fail to rise to the challenge. His answer is quick and to the point …
“But Jesus answered them,
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor,
but the sick.
I have come not to invite the righteous
but the sinners to repentance.”
— Luke 5:31-32
As you can see, I have replaced a word here … from “call” (a perfectly acceptable way of translating this verb) to “invite” which is another possibility and conveys, to me, a different and helpful sense to Jesus’ role. In all this, the scripture and our Lord are suggesting something that I know is very controversial in today’s western world … that people are not quite complete the way they are and that our Lord is inviting them to something new and better. Another way of looking at the word “sinner”, so the editors of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament have suggested, is as “… a man (or woman) who misses something.” So, Jesus is suggesting that these “tax collectors and sinners” who stand outside the usual healing properties of a living faith need to be invited to come in, and thereby discover what they are “missing.”
That’s where the last part of Jesus’ answer comes in to play. The last word in all of this is not that we are “sinners” or people missing the mark, as we in our moments of great candor freely admit but that there is this exercise known as “repentance” in which all of us can participate. The word used here in the Greek New Testament is “metanoia” which, when broken down, is quite illustrative. “Noieo”, which is the verbal form of the word, means “to think”; whereas “meta” is a conjunction which means “again” … therefore the word translated “repentance” means to “think again.” As we have explored many times over the past few weeks, humankind’s main challenge, according to scripture, is that we worship the wrong things, with disastrous results. When we “think again”, as we all will do at some point in life, we begin to search for something worthy of our worship … beyond the pleasure, power, prestige and profit that takes up most of our “worship time”, which may be enjoyable for a time but lack the power to give us the deep satisfaction we are searching for in this life.
Now, back to this dinner and all the other times Jesus spent with needy folks during His earthly life. As He responded to His critics’ questions, either during or after the party at Levi’s house, Jesus summarized in two short verses His own calling. It’s not that the “righteous” don’t need what Jesus can provide … sometimes they do, and there were occasions when Jesus met with them too (often at dinner). But He is declaring that this is not His main job. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament effectively summarizes what our Master has set out to do. “It was the aim of Jesus to set men (and women) before the total reality of God and to mediate to them total fellowship with Him (p. 330, TDNT, Vol. I).” When we are shown this “total reality” and achieve “total fellowship” with the Son of the Father, life begins to take shape in a way it never did before.
Why else would the tax collector Levi respond to Christ’s call in his life so emphatically and immediately? New Testament scholar Leon Morris suggests that we should not miss what he describes as the “quiet heroism” involved in His response. For the four disciples who were engaged in fishing as an occupation (Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John) they could very easily return to their nets if the “Jesus adventure” did not work out … and they did so for a while, immediately following Jesus’ crucifixion. But for Levi he would never again be afforded the opportunity to return to that line of work … once he was out, the sprawling Roman bureaucracy would not countenance such disloyalty. The text states that, once he becomes a disciple, he throws a “great banquet (v. 29).” This decision to leave the tax booth will lead to the loss of a great income. Rather than regretting this decision, he seems to find in this an exhilarating opportunity to begin his life anew!
This leads me to share a terrific quote, which sums up the point of this passage. I’m not even sure who Robert Munger is … I think he was quoted in one of the Luke commentaries which I consulted in preparation for this message. But his comment says much about the nature of faith and the community that nurtures it in each of us …
“The Church is the only fellowship in the world where the one requirement is the unworthiness of the candidate.”
When we find it within ourselves to admit our unworthiness, we are afforded the chance of a lifetime … to experience the same exhilaration that caused Levi to throw his great party. Come to the party, everyone!
As we track Jesus’ activities during His earthly life, we are reminded, gracious Father, of His encounters with people at their most vulnerable moments. Such occasions are the stuff of which our days are made, with neighbours, fellow workers, family members and complete strangers. We thank You for the knowledge that Your Holy Spirit fills the atmosphere of each conversation and every meeting. Help us honour the holiness of the hours we inhabit …
We confess to You today, You of the still small voice, that we have sometimes harboured in our thoughts what the religious leaders of Jesus’ day articulated … that there are some people who have acted in such inappropriate ways or carried on some way of life that takes them beyond the scope of Your love and concern. At times like this we fervently pray that, again through Your precious Spirit, You may remind us of some of the greatest words of scripture … “for God so loved the world.” We have seen the way You have extended grace into our own lives … remind us that You can still do that in others as well.
Finally, we come into Your presence as a wounded community, after events that have happened in our sister city of London. In spite of the nature of this tragic loss we pray that, once again, Jesus’ timeless words, “Blessed are those who mourn” may bring the comfort He promised to all those who called this family relatives, friends, fellow workers and neighbours. Our prayers stretch beyond the family to the troubled young man at the vortex of this terrible event. May our system allow for due process, one of the hallmarks of a free society. And may you bring into this young man’s life the wisest of the helping professions who can help in the rehabilitation process that must follow this awful tragedy. In all of this we are reminded that “no one understands like Jesus” … and so we pray in His matchless name. Amen.
“He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does God require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”
— Micah 6:8