On BBC Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day” recently, Ann Atkin’s described what happened after a family funeral. She said, “I found myself rather pompously planning my own. I wanted to lighten de. Shakespeare’s, “No longer mourn for me…” Or Rosetti’s, “Better by far you should forget and smile…” Best of all, Donne’s, “Death be not proud”. But Shaun, my husband, preferred Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good night; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
She conceded in her reflection that death is indeed an outrage. That is because we were not made to die. God didn’t create us to suffer such pain, to go to work one morning never to return, to kiss our children goodbye lightly, but forever because of we happened to be driving on a particular road at the wrong time or because we caught a particular flight, or we had an undiagnosed condition.
Yes, it happens all the time. Accidents happen. Tragedies strike. But it is monstrous that it should happen. We cry out, “Why”? Why her, why them, why now?
Ten days ago, lying in my mosquito tent bed, alone, in a remote part of northern Uganda, far away from a hospital or medical services, with a makeshift saline drip stuck in my arm, tied to the window above me with a rubber glove, watching tiny bubbles enter my blood stream, dosed up on antibiotics and unknown medication to reduce my fever, cared for by a Korean missionary surgeon, who did not speak very good English, I had plenty of time to contemplate the frailty of my life, to reflect upon my future, or lack of it.
And it brought me back to basics, to prayer, to confession, to scripture, to acceptance that my life was in God’s hands. And I made my peace with God. God has indeed set eternity in our hearts, Ecclesiastes says. That is why we see illness, suffering and death as wrong.
That is why the Christian hope – rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus is so unique and so powerful. John Donne was one of His followers: “One short sleep past, we wake eternally, and death shall be no more. Death, thou shalt die.” I want us to reflect upon a question this morning – “Why did Jesus come?” Please turn with me to Mark 2:13-28.
Jesus describes himself as a doctor who calls (Mark 2:13-17), as a Bridegroom who celebrates (Mark 2:18-22) and as the Lord of the Sabbath who cares (Mark 2:23-28). We will pick up on the latter next week in Mark 3. Today, I want us to concentrate on the first. Please observe,
1. Doctor Jesus came to Rescue Sinners
“Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:13-17)
Jesus came because God loves you so much he couldn’t leave you to die. In this story, just as in the world today, there are two groups of people – the good guys and the bad guys. The bad guys were made up of people like Levi.
Tax collectors were reviled as traitors because they worked for the occupying Roman forces. Not only did they work for the enemy, they exploited their own people. The Roman’s didn’t pay them a salary to collect taxes. They added what ever income they wanted to the taxes collected. The more manipulative and coercive they were, the more money they could make. The good guys were the senior religious leaders of the day – the teachers of the law and the Pharisees (2:16). They looked impeccable, whiter than white.
And that is why Jesus is so shocking. What does he do? What does verse 15 say? “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house…” Let the enormity of that sentence sink in. Jesus spends time with the bad guys, with the naughty ones, the so called “sinners”. He goes to their homes. He eats with them. He wants to meet their friends.
This is shocking. Jesus came to earth not to judge but to rescue, not to destroy but to save, not to condemn but to call. When challenged, Jesus says,
‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’ (2:17).
Jesus makes it quite clear he is interested only in people who realise they’re sick, not the people who think they are healthy. So, the qualification for coming to Jesus is not, ‘Are you good enough?’ but, ‘Are you bad enough?’ ‘Are you desperate enough’. ‘I’ve come,’ says Jesus, ‘to rescue you’. Why did Jesus come? Jesus came to rescue sinners. Second question. From what do we need rescuing?
2. Because we have a Terminal Heart Condition
‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’ (Mark 2:17).
Jesus assumes here that every single human being is sick and needs rescue. He assumes that we are all lost, that we are all sinners, we all need rescue. Jesus implies the teachers of the law and the Pharisees are ‘righteous’ in verse 17.
They are righteous, but only in their own eyes, by their own standards. The contrast could not have been greater. They thought to be right with God, they had to stay away from sinful people. Jesus mixed with sinful people. They thought God would accept them because they abstained from certain foods, fasted twice a week and kept the Sabbath legalistically. Jesus did the opposite. Like a bridegroom at a wedding he celebrated with those who knew they needed rescue, especially on the Sabbath.
They were indeed righteous says Jesus – but they were self righteous and it wasn’t long before it was plain. Because, according to Mark 3:6, within a few days they had started to plot together “how they might kill Jesus.” (Mark. 3:6).
So with whom do you identify? What is your heart condition? As I lay watching bubbles slowly moving along my saline drip, alone in my mosquito tent for six hours, not knowing the nature of my infection, or the cause of my fever, I reflected on my life, physical and spiritual. I reflected on my life up to that moment, the things I had done that I was ashamed of, the things I had neglected to do, the things I needed to confess and repent of. And one by one I confessed them. And I asked Doctor Jesus to forgive me, to heal me, to save me, to make me right with God, so that whether I lived or died I was at peace with God.
What about you? Imagine for a moment that this room was a public gallery, and that all over the walls are the scenes of your life. Each day is on the walls: 8 February 2010, 8 February 2011, 8 February 2012, 8 February 2013, 8 February 2014 – every year, every month, every day, every waking hour. An exhaustive, complete and true account of everything you’ve ever said, ever thought or ever done. There will be lots to celebrate: loving relationships, real achievements, acts of kindness, moments of generosity and selflessness, a flourishing career. But there will also be things that we’d want to keep out of the public gaze, as people wandered around. Which parts of the wall would you most want to cover up? Which day? Maybe it is buried so deep inside you that nobody knows, not your closest friend or even your spouse. Each day is on the wall; nothing is hidden. If my life was on the walls it would be a nightmare. I couldn’t stay in this room. So what’s the problem? Please turn to Mark chapter 7.
“What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23)
The issue in this chapter is about what makes a person unclean in God’s eyes; what makes us unacceptable to God. The Pharisees were blaming external things – They insisted you are unacceptable because of who you know, what you touch, where you go, what you eat. Jesus says the problem is much deeper. The problem, says Jesus in verse 21, is our hearts. Its not what goes into the body but what comes out that makes us unclean. If we were to trace all the evil in the world back to its source, the place we’d end up is in the human heart. In here.
For it is out of our hearts that come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly (v. 21).
That’s what makes us unclean. This is where the fits of rage, jealousy, selfish ambition, factions and envy all come from.
Why is it so hard to keep good relationships working with each other? Why do we hurt the people we love most? Why don’t we automatically love each other? Why aren’t people in the office naturally co-operative? Someone put it like this: “The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.”
Tragically, when many are faced with Jesus diagnosis, like the Pharisees they go into denial mode or blame mode.
You have no doubt seen the film Titanic. Most of the passengers are blind to how serious their situation is. They are having the party of their lives. They believe the hype, the ship is unsinkable. There is nothing to worry about. Don’t be so silly. The Titanic cannot sink. Even the captain refuses to believe the truth. But the shipbuilder who designed the boat knows the truth. He knows that the ship will sink and that there aren’t enough lifeboats. He knows the situation is deadly serious.
Jesus says we should do anything and everything to avoid the infinite justice that will befall all who refuse to admit their need and be rescued. Why did Jesus come? Jesus came like a doctor to save us. Why do we need rescuing? Because we have a terminal heart condition. So what must we do to be rescued?
3. Respond to the Call of Jesus and Begin a New Life
“As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.” (Mark 2:14)
What did Jesus say to Levi? “Follow me” (2:14) The word “follow” means “to walk the same road” Notice three things about this sentence. I alluded to them last week.
3.1 It is an Imperative Call
Jesus takes the initiative. The word “follow” reflects Jesus initiative and is in the imperative mode. Jesus was issuing a command. Jesus was not saying, “Would you like to follow me” This was no invitation. It was a summons to be obeyed. Levi got up immediately and followed Jesus. An imperative call.
3.2 It is an Irrevocable Call
Not only is the verb in the imperative, it is also in the present tense. Jesus was saying “Start following me, and continue following me for the rest of your life.” Jesus was not calling Levi to make a decision, but to begin a lifelong relationship.
Of all the disciples Levi probably gave up the most to follow Jesus. The others could always go back to fishing.
But as Levi got up from his tax collector’s booth, in that one moment of time, he put himself out of a job forever. He could never go back to being a tax collector. The Romans wouldn’t give him a second chance. And the Jews would never employ a traitor. Levi staked everything on following Jesus. The old Levi was living to die. The new Levi, renamed Matthew, was now dying to live. His new name means “Gift of the Lord”. That is what Jesus gave him. It wasn’t what he had earned. It wasn’t what he deserved.
Jesus brought him to his senses and he never looked back. And that is what happens to us when we hear Jesus call. An imperative call. An irrevocable call.
3.3 It is an Irresistible Call
Jesus didn’t just say “Follow me”. What he actually said was “Follow with me”. Jesus was welcoming Matthew to be his companion and co-worker. It was to be a side-by-side walk. At last someone accepted him for who he was. To know that God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to bring us into a right relationship with God is surely irresistible. Such love. An imperative call, an irrevocable call, an irresistible call.
Why did Jesus come? Doctor Jesus came to rescue sinners. He came because we have a terminal heart condition. He came to call us to follow him. And when we do, he gives us a new heart, a new name, a new life, a new hope, a new destiny. Because we are more sick than we ever realized but more loved than we ever dreamed.