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 Red Words #1 11/27/18

Welcome to a new series on Coffee and Commentary – the “Red Words” – the very words of the Lord Jesus which in many Bibles are printed in red, making them easy to find. 

While all four gospels have a large number of verses which quote the words of Jesus, for our study, I’m going to focus on the Gospel of Mark as it is universally identified as the very first Gospel to be written.  Though Mark was not one of the apostles, he worked closely with Peter after the Ascension, heard Peter’s sermons, gathered all of Peter’s memories about the words and works of Jesus and sometime between 50-70 AD, wrote the scroll we now know as the Gospel of Mark. 

Before we delve into Mark’s Gospel, it’s worth our while in this first post in the series to address the reliability of the New Testament.  While I trust this is not an issue for any of my subscribers, you may well encounter people who question the validity of the Gospels and these few comments may help you in speaking with such people.

Just as the Hebrew Bible contains the history and prophecies that witness to the first covenants of God with Israel, so the early Christians gathered memories, experiences and texts that bore witness to the life and ministry of Jesus.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, the gospel writers then recorded for generations to come the person, the character and the life on earth of the Lord Jesus.

Abundant evidence supports the reliability of the New Testament.  First of all, the amazing unity of the entire Bible – Old and New Testaments – speaks powerfully of a divine authorship. The more of the Word that I learn, the more amazed I am at the incredible weaving of God’s Redemption plan throughout all of the Bible.  Literally hundreds of prophecies contained in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) are fulfilled in the New Testament.  Considering that the varying ‘authors’ span centuries, only the Spirit of God could have orchestrated such a perfectly unified and revelatory book.

Secondly, the early church acknowledged the divinity of Jesus from the very start because that is what the apostles taught, as recorded in the New Testament. Written by ordinary men, not literary geniuses, the authenticity of the gospels stems from the fact that those who wrote were eyewitnesses, or, as in the case of Mark, gathered their facts from eyewitnessesALL of the New Testament writers placed great value on eyewitness testimony.  Consider these verses:

For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard…’  Luke writes in Acts 4:20

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.’ Peter records in 2 Peter 1:16

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…I John 1:1

Thirdly, as reported in the book of Acts, thousands of people accepted the Lordship of Christ and His redemptive atonement before a single word of the New Testament was committed to parchment. Christianity is founded on historical events – the life, death resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  It is not the figment of someone’s imagination, nor a cleverly devised religious system from the minds of man.  It’s – simply put – all about Jesus.

Fourth, there are some 25,000 New Testament manuscripts or fragments of manuscripts in existence, most of which are carefully housed in temperature and humidity controlled locations to preserve them.  By contrast, there are only about 1800 fragments and manuscripts of Homer’s Iliad, less than 10% of the New Testament texts. 

The New Testament writers reported what they actually saw, heard, experienced and witnessed during the three and a half year ministry of Jesus.  Their testimony is true, reliable and deserves our total acceptance.

In short, the Gospels declare to us that the Christ of prophecy in the Old Testament is the Christ of fulfillment in the New. The Messiah hoped for in the Old Testament is the clearly presented realization in the New. The expectancy of the Jews in the Old Testament is transformed into experience in the New in which the long-predicted Messiah is revealed in all of His fullness.

With that background, let’s turn to Mark’s Gospel. 

Mark skips over the birth and early life of Jesus which Matthew and Luke recorded.  As already stated, by asking Peter questions and gathering Peter’s memories, Mark was able to write a clear and persuasive gospel which generations since then have enjoyed, studied and absorbed.

In Mark 1:14-15 we read: Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’

repent

The Jews had been waiting for centuries, looking and hoping for a Messiah whom they anticipated would be a military, political hero.

Instead, the first instructions they hear are: ‘Repent and Believe…’  This was shocking.  Can’t you hear the reaction?

‘What do You mean, Jesus, telling us to repent? ‘  they may well have cried out.What about those Romans? Why don’t you tell them to repent? They treat us harshly and besides that, they shouldn’t even be here.  This is our land.’

But REPENT was the first commandment.  It still is.

REPENT and BELIEVE.

True repentance is an expression of humility; that is, an acknowledgment that we are not perfect, superior or righteous.  We have sinned.

Why didn’t Jesus say BELIEVE first and then REPENT?  (Bible study tip: When you study the Word, not only the actual words but the order in which Jesus spoke them is important.)

I suggest there are two reasons why REPENT comes first and BELIEVE comes afterward.

Before we can have any relationship with Jesus, we must acknowledge our own  sinfulness.  We fail miserably at being our own sufficiency.  We make a mess of our lives quite easily. Until we REPENT of our selfishness, our egoism and our inclination towards sin, we fail to BELIEVE that we even need a Savior. 

Repentance expresses our need of a Savior; Believing enables us to receive the salvation we so desperately need. 

REPENT is more than a word; it’s a behavior.  The word means ‘to turn around’, ‘to change’. 

BELIEVE is also more than a word; it’s a surrender to the only Person who can save me from myself – the Lord Jesus Christ.

From Mark’s perspective this was the Lord’s first message, the foundation on which to build a relationship with Him.

Mark, of course, was right.