The Red Words #3 12/11/2018

In Mark 2:14, Jesus passed by the tax booth and called Levi to follow Him.  Levi (later known as Matthew) got up immediately and went after Jesus.  Later that day, Jesus entered Levi’s house for a meal.  Many of the tax collectors – Levi’s friends, no doubt, and others identified simply as ‘sinners’ – had gathered and joined in the meal.

Never far away from where Jesus was, the Pharisees and the scribes looked on with disdain and sneered, ‘Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?’

Hearing them, Jesus replied, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”  Mark 2:17

Have you ever thought to yourself, ‘Why would God ever use me? I’ve messed up so much.’  But what if God’s interest in using you in His kingdom is not based on your performance but on His sovereign choice?  What if, despite your mistakes in life, God still believes in you and calls you to a close relationship with Him?  What if you didn’t have to be “good enough” for God? What if God took care of that for you? What if God called ordinary sinners to Himself rather than perfect people?

That is precisely what this passage in Mark 2 is all about. Jesus called into His inner circle an ‘outcast’ in the eyes of the religious folks. And that is good news!

In those days, tax collectors were deeply despised by the Israelites. Even today, most of us are not fond of bill collectors or the IRS.  Back then, it was worse. Tax collectors had power to extract money from the people for the Roman government, and they were allowed to keep a percentage for themselves.  Corruption was rampant.

Furthermore, Levi was a Jew which made it even worse! His fellow Israelites looked upon any Jew who worked for the Romans as a traitor, especially the tax collectors. They were excommunicated from the synagogues along with their entire families.

So for Jesus to call a tax collector was not only unexpected by unthinkable in the minds of the religious crowd.

Jesus addressed their attitude directly and without apology.  “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Levi was a sinner.  Jesus called him, and Levi got up and followed him.  Understand that this was no small thing.  If things didn’t go well for Peter and Andrew or for James and John they could always go back to fishing.

Not so for Levi.  A tax collector’s job was hard to come by and if you lost that job, you’d never get it back. Besides that, just having ‘tax collector’ in your resume would disqualify you for almost any job thereafter!

When Levi got up from his tax booth, it was a one way ticket.  He knew what he was doing. That’s why Luke reports this event by saying, ‘Levi left everything to follow Christ. (Luke 5:28)

LeviTax

It was the Pharisees who weren’t too happy with this. They pulled the disciples aside and asked them, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” This was not an innocent question but an outright accusation.  They went nuts. This was a scandal worthy of the gossip columns! This broke all their rules.  You didn’t eat with Gentiles. You didn’t associate with sinners. This was as big a scandal to them as your pastor hanging out at the local bar.

The opening chapters of Mark expose a growing escalation of hostility towards Jesus on the part of the Jewish religious leaders.  In verse 6 of this chapter the teachers of the law simply thought accusing thoughts about Jesus in their minds. (Mark 2:6) Now here in verse 16 they speak out, but just to Jesus’ disciples. (Mark 2:16) In verse 24 they address Jesus directly (Mark 2:24), and by the time you get to chapter 3 they begin plotting to kill him (Mark 3:6). That’s quite a progression in a very short time!

Jesus welcomed sinners, and the Pharisees were disgusted by them.  Jesus accepted those whom the Pharisees deemed unacceptable. In fact, He declared those were the ones He came for!

Don’t you love the way sinners flocked to Jesus in the gospels? They obviously felt comfortable with Him;. they felt loved and accepted. They were attracted to His teachings and Jesus was obviously glad to be with them.

What about us? Do we have the attitude of Jesus?  Are we as concerned as He was about  ‘sinners’? About those who don’t know about Him, about the good news of His salvation?

Most people’s lives revolve around three places. Work, home, and what I call ‘third places’ – places we go outside of work and home. For many Christians, the church and church activities become their only ‘third’ place.

But our non-believing friends in the community have different third places. And if we never intersect with them in their third places, how will we ever communicate Christ to them?

We need to meet the people of our community where they are – at work and in our homes and in their ‘third’ places and share Christ’s love with them through friendship. Jesus is a friend of sinners.  A doctor who avoids the sick isn’t much of a doctor.

In no way am I advocating that you go to the local bar.  But there are plenty of acceptable places to interact with our neighbors, our co-workers and the general public.  As we go about our daily life, let’s not be so busy that we don’t even notice the people around us.

Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to make us sensitive and aware of others; to make us sensitive to His inner prompting to smile at this one, or speak to that one. Sometimes all it takes to open a door for the Gospel is to have a cup of coffee with a neighbor.

“It is not those who are healthy who need a physician but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Jesus called sinners to follow him. He called sinners to fellowship with him. Jesus called sinners to repentance.

Freely have you received His gift of salvation; freely give it away.

And what better time than right now.

 

 

 

 

 

The Presence of God #8 July 17, 2018

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are you ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.  Isaiah 55:8-9

I have learned that God loves to show up in unpredictable ways. He is always the same God but manifests His presence in a multitude of ways, including some that surprise us. He has His reasons for doing so.

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If God showed up the same way all the time, no faith would be required of us to accept His ways. We might even take Him for granted.  Once He presented Himself as the fourth man in the furnace with the three Hebrew boys.  Another time He shut the mouths of lions to save Daniel’s life. In Hebrews 11 we read that ‘some were sawn in two…slain by the sword’ but others ‘escaped the edge of the sword’.  But God was with both groups – giving abundance of grace for martyrdom to those who were slain and abundance of grace to those who escaped.  As opposite as these two experiences are, both were accomplished through faith. His presence was as real to the martyrs as to those who escaped martyrdom and it is His presence that strengthened them all.

Believe it or not, if God showed up the same way all the time, we might get bored. Just look at Numbers 21:5 when the Israelites got tired of the manna falling from heaven every day. Think about it:  they were being nourished supernaturally every single day and they got tired of it!!!

God can do anything He pleases and may show up in our lives in a variety of ways but one thing is sure – every manifestation of His presence will be consistent with His Word in one way or another.

Is there a difference between the way Adam and Eve experienced His presence and how we do?

Adam and Eve ‘heard the sound of the Lord God’. it says in Gen. 3:8 Have you ever wondered what that ‘sound’ was?  It seems from the context that it was His voice for God called out, ‘Where are you?’ (vs. 9)  Was His voice angry? Was it sad?

Though they had walked with Him before, this time they hid themselves.  They felt shame for the first time because they knew they had sinned.  What made them conscious of their sin? The Presence of God.

Isaiah had a similar experience. In Isaiah 6 the prophet had a magnificent vision of the throne room. ‘I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.’ vs. 1  Almost immediately the prophet cries out, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined. Because I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.’  vs. 5  The manifest presence of God convicted Isaiah of his sinfulness.

In Luke 5, Peter had been fishing all night and caught nothing, but when Jesus came on the scene,  he hauled in a boat load of fish. What did Peter say? ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’ Luke 5:8  Did that ever strike you curiously? He didn’t burst out in praise for the large catch of fish which is what we might expect him to do.  Peter instead acknowledged his own sinfulness when confronted with the Presence of the Lord.

The greatest saints in church history saw themselves as the greatest sinners.  Yet in our day, we hear so little preaching about sin.

The presence of the Lord also manifests as joy.  ‘In Your presence is fullness of joy,’ David wrote in Psalm 16:11.  Nehemiah told the people of his day, ‘the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ Neh.8:10

God gets our attention by convicting us of sin but quickly forgives and restores us when we repent, which brings joy. Listen to David once again: ‘Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow.  Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones you have broken may rejoice.’ Psalm 51:3, 7-8  Forgiveness and restoration always being joy to the soul.

His presence may also introduce fear – the fear of the Lord which is completely different from human fear.  The fear of the Lord is both joyful and scary.  There IS a heaven and there IS a hell. God is merciful and He is also just. The fear of the Lord is a deep respect and awe for Who He is accompanied by a revelation of who we truly are in light of His transcendent glory.

Part of the fruit of Pentecost was that ‘fear came to every soul.’ Acts 2:43  When Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead, ‘great fear came on all those who heard these things.’ Acts 5:5  The early church knew the presence of the Lord in its various manifestations.

Another manifestation of His presence is in healing sick bodies.  There is something called ‘a healing presence’ that accompanied the ministry of Jesus and still manifests to this day. Luke 5:17 And the power of the Lord was present to heal the sick.

Many a disciple has sensed the presence of the Lord in their private prayer times, as well as in community worship. It is always such a blessed gift from heaven when God shows up in our worship services.  The more we praise, the more His presence is released to us, for God ‘inhabits the praises of His people.’

Perhaps one of the most thrilling experiences of the presence of the Lord is when He illuminates a passage of scripture to us. It may be something we’ve read 48 times but the 49th time, it leaps off the page and we ‘see’ in the verse that which we never saw before. Insight into His Word can come at any time.  I’ve had ‘light bulb’ experiences driving down the road or washing dishes. He can show up anytime for He is always with us. Grasping a deeper meaning of scripture than we previously had is one of the most exciting experiences with God and He often does it at the most unusual times.

His presence will also surprise us at times.  Remember when Peter and John were on their way to the temple in the afternoon? As they passed by a disabled beggar, the Spirit of the Lord stopped them and Peter said to the man, ‘Look at us.’ Then he added, ‘Silver and gold have I none, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.’ Acts 3:4-6  The beggar was instantly healed. I rather think that Peter was amazed.

Application:

By His wonderful presence God directs us, gives us inspiration, understanding and wisdom; He shares His joy with us and assures us of His love. There is nothing like the comfort that His presence brings.

May we each recognize His presence as it manifests in our lives and embrace it with our whole heart.