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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Jesus Reveals the Kind of Person whom He Wants as Follower
Text:Mark 2:13-17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 134:1,2,3                                                                                

Ps 32:2,4                                                                                                        

Reading – Mark 2

Ps 84:1,5,6

Sermon – Mark 2:13-17

Hy 15:1,2,3

Hy 56:1,2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Jesus Christ, what do you think: Is there a typical church member? Is there something like the ideal profile of a Christian, the kind of person we think should be part of the church? What would he or she be like? We might say that we like our church members to be well-dressed: in a modest skirt, or wearing a nice tie. We might say we expect believers to hold down respectable jobs like being carpenters and school teachers. A typical church member will have good manners, a good work ethic, and the right group of friends.           

There’s something to be said for each of these aspects. But are these the things that make a Christian? Are these things that we can insist on, or that we can have in our mind as expectations, when it comes to who belongs among us? Who really should be part of the church? Is the church also for people whom we wouldn’t think are respectable? For instance, is it for people that have been unemployed for years, or who dress badly?

The easy answer is to say that of course everyone is welcome—come as you are! But do we really think that? Would we still say that if some of our neighbours wanted to join us in worship? In the end, is there a certain kind of person that the gospel is for: Is it for someone who is already strong, who already has a lot of things in his life figured out? Is Jesus for decent people, for moral people?

That’s worth reflecting on sometime: Do we have in our minds what a typical member of the church should look like? Someone like us? And then we should compare that with the kind of person Jesus ministered to while He was on earth. In our text for this morning we take special notice of the kind of person Jesus wants as one of his followers. I preach God’s Word to you,

            Jesus reveals the kind of person whom He wants as follower:

1)     an unlikely disciple

2)     a scandalous dinner

3)     a confronting declaration


1)     an unlikely disciple: In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is preaching and teaching in quite a variety of places. He’s been to a number of synagogues. He’s preached in people’s homes. And now He will preach outdoors: “Then He went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to him, and He taught them” (v 13). We see this more often in the Gospels: Jesus in an open air church, with a boat as his pulpit, or a hillside as his auditorium.

And on this day of preaching by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus will again be a fisher of men. He’s on the lookout for disciples. And as Jesus went along, “He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office” (v 14). This is the same Levi who is also known to us as Matthew, the author of the first Gospel that we find in the New Testament.

When Jesus sees Levi, he is at the tax office. Or literally: he is “sitting at the place where the toll was collected.” It’s a passing reminder that at this time the land of Palestine was an occupied territory, part of the Roman empire. While they were ultimately the ones in charge, the Romans would entrust the rule of the various provinces to local “kings,” men whom they had chosen, and those whom they knew were agreeable with Roman policy. Herod the Great was one well-known king who formerly had ruled much of the land. This was the same Herod who had ordered the slaughter of the infants of Bethlehem.

But Herod the Great had died, and the Romans divided the land of Israel among his sons. The province of Galilee went to Herod Antipas. Like any king or prime minister, he was interested in earning money, of course. So whenever you entered his territory you had to pay a toll. We would compare it to having to pay duty at the border, or paying a fee to make use of a highway. Capernaum, where Jesus is preaching, is right on the border between two provinces. So it’s not surprising that He comes across this place for collecting tolls.

Levi isn’t a tax collector in the normal sense then. He’s working for King Herod, not for Rome. But you can be sure that people saw little difference. Most people could probably remember a time when you didn’t have to pay for going from one province to the next—now it cost them every time.

So tax collectors and toll collectors were both looked on with hatred. They were usually locals, men who’d been found willing to serve Israel’s unbelieving masters—they were traitors! Even worse, they were known for being dishonest, and getting as much as they could from people. They would line their own pockets with whatever they didn’t have to send in to the king or emperor. This was an occupation where you needed a thick skin, because people would often get upset with you—sort of like someone today who goes around giving parking tickets. It’s a job that invites insults and anger.

Jesus sees Levi at his work in the toll booth, waiting for the next customer, or maybe counting up the day’s revenue. And what does Jesus say? He doesn’t yell at him for siding with the enemy. He doesn’t grumble about corruption. He says something unexpected, the same thing that He said to the fisherman a few weeks ago: “Follow me.”

Back in chapter 1, Jesus’ first four disciples aren’t distinguished as being especially well-qualified. Simon and Andrew, James and John, were just ordinary, working-class men. Jesus called them, unlikely disciples, unlikely preachers of the gospel. Well, now He calls Levi: the man that no one wanted, one who was even farther from the ideal follower of Christ. He didn’t have a respectable occupation. He wasn’t welcome in polite company, and he was scorned the orthodox people of his day. To them he was unclean, and they would’ve refused to have anything to do with him. It’s striking then, that Jesus calls him!

We don’t actually know much about this Levi. There’s no reference to his motives, nor is there any mention of having previous contact with Jesus. We wonder if Levi had heard of Jesus before, if he’d listened to him preach? What is remarkable is Levi’s response to the Lord. It’s very similar to the one that Simon and Andrew gave when they were called by Jesus: an immediate and a whole-hearted answer. For Levi “arose and followed him” (v 14). You can almost picture him standing up at his table, putting away his papers and closing his money box, and going after Christ.

Simon and Andrew, and James and John had also left things behind. They left behind their nets, their boats, their hired servants, and even their father. But because fishing was the family business, these men could always return to it. If following Jesus didn’t work out, they could always take up their trade again. For Levi, though, it’s different. If he leaves his toll booth today, by tomorrow there will be someone to take his place. By going after Christ, he is cutting connections for good.

And don’t forget that this was probably a well-paid business for him. As a toll collector, he was pulling in some good money. But when he hears the call of Christ, he has to go. Instead of working for King Herod, he’ll work for the real King, and earn real treasure.

We marvel at his immediate response, the sacrifice it involved—we’d hope to have a trust in Jesus like Levi showed. To be that willing! But it’s also beautiful to think about what this shows about Jesus. With this call, He extends a rich mercy. He calls a man whose life was very difficult. It was difficult by his own choice, but still very hard: living on the margins of society, being stuck in a job that offered financial reward, yet gave no peace. Tough to live like that. But the Lord shows great compassion to him. By following Christ, Levi can be forgiven. He can have the gift of clean hands, and a soul at rest. He lost one job, and he gained a far bigger one—he could give his life to a worthy cause.

That’s the unchanging mercy of Christ our Saviour. He calls anyone to him, even the unlikely. He doesn’t necessarily call those whom we would think will make excellent disciples: the strong, the intelligent, the influential. Instead, Christ calls without discrimination. He calls people in whom He can show his great power, and his life-transforming grace.

We know that’s true by our own experience. Any Christian who’s at all self-aware will be quick to confess his sinfulness and weakness. We really have little to offer. We’re no better than anyone else—not any more moral than our unbelieving neighbours. We don’t deserve the privilege of salvation, or the privilege of service. Yet here’s the beauty of it, revealed in our text, that whom the Lord calls in his grace, the Lord also employs and equips.

Levi’s life is an example of this. It’s been said that when Jesus called him that day, Levi left everything except one modest item: his pen. What he formerly used for keeping records and tallying accounts, he would later use to write a detailed account of Christ’s life. We have it in the Gospel of Matthew, a work that has endured as a blessing for the church for nearly twenty centuries.

Next to writing a Gospel, many of the things that we do as Christians aren’t so memorable. We go to the office and work for our pay every fortnight. We aim to be godly husbands, and loving wives. Maybe we raise children, and take care of a household. We go to Bible study, serve in church office and school boards. We support the ministry of the gospel and Christian education, and some other causes. We pray, show hospitality, go to church, and try to be good neighbours. That’s our life as disciples of Christ.

In a way, it doesn’t sound like much. But that doesn’t matter. Even some of Christ’s own apostles—most of them, actually!—lived, and served, and died, without ever being mentioned again. They were anonymous foot soldiers of the King. It doesn’t matter. They served the Lord, and they served him well. They were faithful. So it should be for us. We are weak sinners, unlikely disciples, unworthy servants, who have been forgiven by Christ, renewed, and entrusted with a holy task—working for a glorious Saviour.


2)     a scandalous dinner: In the next part of our text, Jesus gets in trouble for eating with the wrong people. Why is that such a big deal? Well, back then it was true—and it’s still true today—that you don’t eat and drink with just anyone. Sharing a meal is done between friends, or a meal is something that’s enjoyed as family. A table is actually an intimate setting, so when you eat together, you’re saying something about these people you’re with. These are people you love, ones that you care for, with whom you have a unity.

So this is what happens: “[Jesus is] dining in Levi’s house” (v 15). Levi was probably excited at becoming a disciple of Jesus and learning about his message, so he hosts a dinner party. He wants to introduce other people to the Lord. And as you might expect, Levi’s friends are a lot like him. He’d been in a job which cut him off from decent people, so the men he knows are fellow outcasts. “Many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and his disciples” (v 15). The four disciples from chapter 1 have now grown into a sizable number: “there were many, and they followed him” (v 15).

We’re happy to hear about bigger numbers, but keep in mind that these aren’t the kind of people that a normal person would spend time with. Jesus is eating and drinking with undesirables, He is expressing unity with public sinners.

So this scandalous dinner doesn’t sit well with the Jewish leaders, “When the scribes and Pharisees saw him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to his disciples, ‘How is it that He [does this?]’” (v 16). Now, let’s pause and say something about these men taking offense. The scribes were devoted to writing out the Scriptures and studying them—they were the religious scholars of the day, people who were generally on the right side of an issue.

The Pharisees are here too, another religious group in that time. The name “Pharisee” means something like “those who are separated from defilement.” These men had banded together to keep God’s law more strictly. The Pharisees have a bad reputation, but the fact was, they had an important task. Jesus himself acknowledged that they were Israel’s teachers, those who passed on the law of Moses.

These particular scribes and Pharisees probably didn’t live out in the boondocks of Galilee, but had travelled from Jerusalem on a fact-finding mission. They wanted to check out this new teacher Jesus. When they see what He’s doing, they’re deeply concerned. They’re horrified that Jesus is having fellowship with men like this. Why? Because these are law-breakers. They swindle God’s people. They collaborate with the Roman oppressors and with their so-called “kings.”

And here’s Jesus sitting at table with them, sharing their fellowship. Isn’t it true that you’re known by the company you keep? We still say that today. And back then, to accept the hospitality of a law-breaker was considered improper. If you ate in their homes, there’s a good chance you might be served food which wasn’t prepared or served in the right way. Or you might be defiled through contact with a law-breakers unclean garments, dishes or furniture. Even worse, associating with people like this might lead you to take on their way of life.

Notice also how the leaders speak about these men at Levi’s table. They are tax collectors and “sinners.” Everyone’s a sinner, but this is a special term of scorn. It’s someone living out of line with God’s Word—and someone that didn’t keep the Pharisees’ rules for purity. “Sinner” had become a label to stick onto someone who didn’t conform, who didn’t do what was expected. And actually, it wasn’t long before Jesus and his disciples are considered “sinners” because they didn’t wash their hands as often as the traditions said, and they didn’t keep all of the man-made Sabbath rules.

Yes, it’s a scandal for Jesus to sit with these people! But we can be sure Jesus accepted this invite with a purpose. He wasn’t just hungry, He wanted to make a statement. In the first place, He’s not saying that sin doesn’t matter. Jesus took the law seriously, and not for a minute did He condone stealing from your neighbour, or breaking the Sabbath, or committing adultery. Jesus has been saying it from the beginning of his ministry, and He says it to us too: Those who are ignoring what God’s Word says need to repent! You cannot live in your sin and still expect to enter the Kingdom of heaven.

At the same time though, Jesus shows a very important truth about that Kingdom. Salvation is available not only to the ones who conform. It’s not just for those who fit a certain profile. The gospel of Christ is for the lowly. It’s for the troubled. It’s for those whom we might say are “undesirable.” It’s for those whom we might look down on because of where they live, or how they act. It’s for those whom we might be inclined to dismiss because of their skin colour, or because of how they’re dressed.

Jesus rebukes us for our pride. He rebukes us for our racism. He rebukes us for being judgmental. He says that the kingdom of God is open to those who are considered “last,” those who are considered “unlikely.” It’s for those sinners whom we think should have repented by now, and those neighbours on whom we might’ve given up. The message of hope that Christ brings is for all who seek it. It’s open for all those who accept the King.

This scandalous dinner party reminds us of a couple parables that Jesus tells, about how the Kingdom of God is like a great wedding banquet. It’s a banquet for which invitations go out, and it’s not like a wedding today where the fancy invitations go only to the ones on your carefully-chosen list of family and friends. No, Jesus says that the banquet of salvation is open to all: the poor, the blind, the homeless and the wanderers, the prostitutes and the drug addicts. It’s even for you and me, who have nothing to give our King, who also have lived in rebellion against him. Jesus will welcome anyone who comes to him in true faith and repentance, and to them He will grant his blessings.


3)     a confronting declaration: Once again, the religious leaders can’t hide from Christ their objections. They didn’t like how He forgave the paralytic earlier in the chapter, and now they don’t like how He eats with sinners. But again Christ answers them in a pointed way. “He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick’” (v 17).

This is Jesus’ calling—He compares himself to a doctor who goes where he’s needed. There’s no point in a doctor keeping company with healthy people, but he should visit those who are sick. So for Christ: He hasn’t come to earth to spend time with the decent folks, with the righteous and respectable, but with the outcasts and sinners. His whole ministry is to bring healing to those who really need it.

Maybe we don’t understand that. Is Jesus saying that the scribes and Pharisees are good enough, that they already have their foot in the door of the kingdom? That He’d give them a clean bill of spiritual health? That’s not what Christ is saying. Everyone is sick. Everyone needs the cure that only Jesus can give.

But Jesus can do nothing for the person who thinks that he’s above help. It’s just like the doctor can’t assist the person who stays home, denying that there’s a cancer eating through their body. There’s no remedy for those convinced that they need no remedy. No, the person whom Jesus can forgive is the one who knows he’s a sinner. He can help us when we acknowledge that we’re failures. He can heal the one who is praying for wholeness. A deep sense of need is our permission to come into his presence.

Maybe we still minimize our need. Are we really sick? That badly? We can think of a lot of people worse than us. Really bad sinners. Maybe we just need a Band-Aid, some spiritual aspirin, a bit of help from Jesus to deal with our rough spots. We want him to help us get over our anger, and deal with our fear. But we need more—we need total healing. Apart from Christ, we’re all deathly sick—we’re all already dead. We need to go to Christ for everything, for complete restoration.

In a certain sense we need to do that every day. Not that we come to faith in Christ each new day, like yesterday never was. But every day we ought to re-live the gospel: every day facing again how much we need God’s mercy in Christ, every day realizing how helpless and hopeless we are, every day being amazed at how Jesus Christ makes us new, makes us righteous, and forms us into his willing servants.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” And Jesus repeats that mission statement in the next part of the verse, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (v 17).

Who does He mean by this, by “righteous” and “sinners”? It couldn’t be more clear. Standing opposite him, the scribes and Pharisees, are the righteous—not the truly righteous, but those who thought they were favoured by God for all their rule-keeping. Obedient. Self-secure. Such a person isn’t looking to repent, not really. And the sinners whom Jesus came to call? It’s Levi and his fellow toll collectors, the men having fellowship with Jesus—sinners, all of them, who are ready to hear the Saviour’s words. Sinners who are already starting to understand that their life needs to change.

“I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” That declaration confronts us with what we hear when we hear Jesus speak. Do we hear his call? Do we hear that we need to change? Do we hear the hope that He holds out?

In our text, Jesus reveals the kind of person whom He wants as follower: Someone who knows that he’s a sick beggar. Someone who knows that he lives only through God’s forgiving and healing mercy. Someone whose constant aim is to repent from sin, and to live for the Lord who saved him.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2016, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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