Christianity 201

November 17, 2016

Who Needs Jesus?

by Clarke Dixon

  • How dare you call me a sinner?!
  • How dare you think you are better than me?!
  • How dare you think that, if such a thing as heaven exists, you are worthy and I am not?!”

This might be the kind of thing we hear from people as we share the Good News that Jesus came to save sinners. Good news, but with the bad news that you are a sinner. This also might be the kind of thing someone might not say, but that we imagine they will, so we shy away from sharing the Good News for fear it will come across as bad news. Let us consider a time “sinners” are the focus of Jesus.

The Pharisees came to the disciples with a question about Jesus: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16 ) A good question considering the likelihood the people Jesus is friendly with would not be welcome in the local synagogue, never mind the Temple. Why is Jesus eating with these types? The answer is twofold.

One reason is so obvious we can easily miss it; Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners because he invites them to do so. This is made clear from the preceding verses.

As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” Mark 2:13

Levi, also known as Matthew, would have been collecting taxes on behalf of Herod Antipas, who would have been ruling by the power of, and on behalf, of Rome. This would make Levi one of those guys you do not want to be associated with if you have any desire to be truly Jewish and truly holy. At least according to the Pharisees. But this is the kind of guy Jesus invites to follow him.

The second reason is just as obvious; Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners because they accept the invitation. Notice Levi’s response to the invitation: “And he got up and followed him.” Mark 2:14. And then notice something about the tax collectors and sinners surrounding Jesus:

15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. Mark 2:15

Although Levi gets a specific invite to be a disciple, there are many tax collectors and sinners following Jesus around. They want to be with him. These are the kinds of people Jesus eats with because these are the kinds of people that want to be with him.

We see these two reasons reflected in the reason Jesus himself gives as to why he is eating with these sinners:

17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Mark 2:17

Jesus comes to call the sick, and the sick respond to the call. Jesus comes to bring grace and healing to sinners, and sinners know they need grace and healing. Now notice how annoying these words of Jesus are for the Pharisees. They do not see their need of Jesus, but Jesus is clearly telling them that they do. But are they not the righteous, therefore not needing Jesus? Consider that the Pharisees would have known well the verses from the Old Testament that Paul brought together in his letter to the Romans:

What then? Are we any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin,
10 as it is written:
“There is no one who is righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who has understanding,
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned aside, together they have become worthless;
there is no one who shows kindness,
there is not even one.”
13 “Their throats are opened graves;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of vipers is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery are in their paths,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”  Romans 3:9-18

The Pharisees would likely have agreed with Paul’s summary of the above: “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). They would have agreed about the need for God’s saving work in the lives of the sinful. But they also would have thought that if God was coming to save, they would be the insiders looking out, not the outsiders looking in. They would be eating at the table of God’s representative, congratulating themselves on how deserving they were of such an honour. But if God’s salvation activity is in Jesus, they are the outsiders looking in on tax collectors and sinners, the least deserving of society, sharing at the table with Jesus.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

So what are we to say to those offended by the bad news part of the Good News? To those who would object to being called “sinners”? To those who would object that we Christians in no way deserve the hope of heaven any more than anyone else?

We say

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

We spend time with Jesus, not because we deserve to, or because we are better, but because He invited and we know our need of him, just like the sick know their need of a doctor. And he invites you also:

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. Revelation 3:20


All scripture references are from the NRSV. Read more of Clarke’s Sunday’s Shrunk Sermons at this link.

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