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Knowing You are Sick - Mark 2:13-17

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Copyright January 22, 2023 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche
One of the problems with serious illnesses (cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's etc.) is that you very often don’t see it coming. You can be sick and not know it until a major event happen and at that point the disease has such a head start, radical and drastic action needs to be taken, and even then, it is often too late.
On the other hand, when you know you aren’t feeling well or that “something is off,” it doesn’t matter how many people tell you there is “nothing wrong.” You know there is something wrong and we must push until someone listens to us or helps us.
We are going to talk about the healthy and unhealthy today. However, the health we will talk about is spiritual health. We will see that Jesus had a sharp eye for spiritual sickness. He sees others in a way that others do not. Our text is Mark 2:13-17
13 Then Jesus went out to the lakeshore again and taught the crowds that were coming to him. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him.
15 Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) 16 But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?”
17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
The Life of a Tax-Collector
I’m pretty sure that whenever good Jews walked past a Tax-collector they sneered at him. Tax-collectors were not seen as true Jews. They were seen as traitors because they were helping to oppress the Jews.
According to one source, Roman taxes totaled one percent of a man’s income. Doesn’t seem like much, does it? But there were other taxes: customs taxes, import and export taxes, toll bridges, crop taxes, sales tax, property taxes, and special taxes when there was a war, building project or campaign to finance.
There were so many taxes that it was impossible for the common man to keep track of what they owed. This opened the door for the tax-collector to skim off the top. In some cases, the tax-collector used extortion and gouged the people to line their own pockets. This is why John the Baptist advised those repentant tax collectors who came to him to, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed” (Lk 3:13) Even Jesus noted their unpopularity when he said, in teaching about an unrepentant sinner: “If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector” (Mt 18:17)
Tax collectors were unclean by virtue of their relationship with the unclean Romans. This means they could not attend synagogue or go to the Temple. For most tax collectors, we have to imagine it was a very lonely life. This is what makes the call of Matthew so remarkable. Why would Jesus choose a tax collector? (Why would He choose any of us?)
It is unlikely that this was the first time Matthew had seen Jesus. Why would he respond to someone who was a stranger to him? We are left to only imagine how he knew about Jesus. Another remarkable thing is how Matthew responded as quickly as Peter, Andrew, James and John to the invitation of Jesus. Peter, Andrew, James, and John all left their fishing business to follow Jesus. However, they could always go back to fishing. For Matthew, this was a “burn your bridges” kind of decision. To walk away from his job as a tax collector was irrevocable. Matthew was willing to bet his life on Jesus.
The invitation of Jesus was specific. He did not ask him to sign a card, walk and aisle, raise a hand or do some work (like get baptized). Instead, He asked Him to “follow Him.” This was meant to alter the direction of his life. It meant being willing to be instructed by Jesus and to learn (and put into practice) the lessons He taught.
The Confrontation
We are told Matthew invited Jesus and the disciples as well as “tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers)” to dinner. Isn’t it interesting that it says there were many of this kind among Jesus’ followers? I think this shows us that Jesus saw beyond the reputation of people. He looked past their failures and saw their potential. He wasn’t concerned about social standing, He was only concerned about the heart.
It is a sad reality that we are often blinded by superficial things when we meet someone. It might be a bad feeling, some gossip we have heard, a person’s skin color, ethnic background, gender, age, or something in their appearance that keeps us from seeing the person that is beneath all these things. In fact, some church growth formulas call for you to target some “types” of people. That is not the way of our Lord. Jesus saw (and sees) the heart of a person. As his followers, we should work to see beyond the superficial. It must be a deliberate choice. We first have to be conscious of the way we are responding to someone. Why do we draw the conclusions we do about people? And then second, we have to squint to see beyond the superficial things and labels given to people.
I wonder how many people have been impacted in their life because they were labeled, “slow” or “a problem child” when in reality, they were just different, learned differently or even just bored? One of the things I enjoy about shows like America’s Got Talent or Brittan’s Got Talent is that every once in a while someone comes on the stage and you immediately suspect this is going to be a horrible audition. They have not sung a note or done a single thing and we are already drawing conclusions. And then, something magical happens . . . they begin to perform, and they are absolutely stunning. At that moment our preconceived notions are shattered and for that brief moment we realize how shallow we are.
Unfortunately, there many people in our lives who never get the chance to open their mouths and prove how special they are before we dismiss them. Jesus saw beyond the stereotypes. If Jesus had embraced the stereotypes most of the New Testament books would have never been written.
The Pharisees (acting much like we might) drew immediate conclusions. “How good of a teacher could Jesus be” they reasoned, “if he would spend time with such scum as this?”
The Pharisees (which means “separated ones”) were made up of Torah-concerned men who were concerned with the ritual purity of the people. They focused on the rules that classified things, times, and persons according to degrees of holiness. They wanted to be holy before God and urged others to likewise be holy. They came up with many laws to help people keep the laws of God.
To the Pharisees, this dinner was defiling those who should be pure. To Jesus, this dinner was a chance to make new friends, build new bridges, and hopefully transform some lives. Jesus was not concerned about ranking people, He looked to save and transform people.
The Principle
In a sense, the Pharisees were saying to Jesus, “How could you be sent from God if you spend time with people like this?” They shouldn’t have asked the question because Jesus was ready for them.
17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
The first part of the answer would not have upset the Pharisees at all. They considered themselves healthy (and maybe even a little superior). And, they considered these people to be unhealthy or “sick.” But it was the second part of the answer that must have stung. “I have not come to call those who THINK they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
Doctors have a hard time treating people who believe they are fine. They don’t think they need medicine, they don’t need therapy, and they don’t even feel they need the unnecessary Doctor visit. And when it comes to our spiritual lives, if we feel we are spiritually in good health, why would we need a Savior? Sadly, I think sometimes the church is guilty of putting all our efforts to getting good people into the churches, when we should be trying to bring lost people (sick people) into the church.
But, what how do you define a sick person? A sick person is one who is in need of God’s transforming mercy and grace. These people come in all sizes. Some are successful, others are struggling; some have a good reputation while others do not. The sickness is not something related to the surface of our lives, it is sickness of the heart. Spiritually sick people are heading down a dead-end road and most of the time, they know it.
If a person recognizes they are sick, then they are also looking (or at least open) for someone to help them. Whether a sick person knows it or not, they are looking for Jesus. They need someone who can address their sin problem. They need someone to infuse them with spiritual life. They can try occult practices, they can try various religions, they can even turn to substances to try to numb their pain . . . but what they actually need is Jesus!
This is the message we have the privilege to proclaim: “there is healing in the name of Jesus!” There is a way to be forgiven and it is through the cross. You CAN have a new beginning through the power of the Holy Spirit that God puts within us.
We all know people who prance around as if they were God’s advisor. Sometimes they stick their nose up in the air; sometimes they are condescending to others; sometimes they even have kind of a holy voice to let you know they are holy and you are not. They have a scripture for every occasion and they are sometimes known to wag their finger at others. Most of the time these are the people who make you want to just sock them in the nose!
These people think they are healthy, but they may not be. How do you reach people who don’t know they need to be reached? Here are a few ideas:
· We must continually and carefully explain the message of the gospel. We need to tell people that God’s salvation is not something you can earn . . . it is something you are given. We need to avoid “Christianese.”
· We must confront the tendency to define sin as “doing bad things.” Instead, we need to help people understand that sin is refusing to obey or submit to the Lord. It is as much about attitude as it is about behavior. It can be something that looks good to others but is done for selfish or manipulative reasons. It might be in our thoughts, in our words, or in our desire to follow Christ only in some areas but not others.
· We need to confess to others that we too are sinners . . . saved by God’s grace. We cannot talk to people as if we are on some holy mountain talking down to them. We must talk to them and see them as fellow travelers.
This won’t win a hearing with everyone but we may be able to help some of the sick people to see that they are in need of a Savior.
So, is there such a thing as a spiritually healthy person? There certainly are no perfect people but I believe there are truly healthy people spiritually The person who is spiritually healthy will be characterized by things like this:
1. They realize and admit their sin without justifying it or excusing it.
2. They confess their sin to the Lord and to each other and have gladly embraced His sacrifice on their behalf.
3. Since they have been forgiven and made new, they are humble, soft, and grateful.
4. They have a new passion to honor the Lord by doing what He commands (without making excuses for the exemptions they want to claim).
5. They see real change in their lives but don’t feel the need to tell everyone about those changes.
6. They talk much less about themselves and much more about the Lord.
7. They are sometimes moved to tears by the magnitude of His grace.
In other words, a healthy person is one who once knew they were sick and ran to Jesus to be made well.
As we take the words of Jesus to heart let me draw some practical applications. The gospel does not discriminate like people do. Here are some truths we must embrace and hold dear:
(1) Sinners do not need to do something first to become a worthy recipient of God’s love. They do not have to strive to become worthy and then apply with a glowing résumé to follow Jesus. One becomes worthy BY responding to His call.
(2) Jesus did not condone sinful lifestyles by eating with others, He was building bridges in the hope of tearing down walls of resistance against the gospel.
(3) Jesus spurned the whole system of ranking and classifying people—to the disdain of the Pharisees who worked so hard to attain their “status.” Jesus saw past the labels to see people. That’s what we are called to do as well.
(4) Jesus did not fear being contaminated by broken people and sinners. He sought to embrace them with the Love of God. In other words, He was not corrupted by sinners. He was a blessing to them. This is not always an easy road to balance and walk but we have to be willing to engage broken people before we can ever give them the good news. Think about Doctors and nurses who worked with patients during Covid. It was risky but it was the only way for these people to get help.
The second application is this: Often those who act the most spiritual are the very ones who need to be healed the most. Too many times people who act like they have it all together spiritually are very sick and just don’t realize it. It is easy to mimic religious behaviors and to learn to blend in with other believers. To do this is to misunderstand what it means to be a Christian. The gospel is not about wearing a particular uniform or having a certain “experience,” it is about surrendering our hearts to the Lord.
These people often eventually drift from the church. Too many, in seeking acceptance from others, merely act like believers (when they are around other believers), out of a desire for acceptance.
Jesus calls all followers to mental, personal, verbal, sexual and even financial transformation. It is a transformation and purity in conformity with OT and NT absolutes. Such purity is the result of Christ’s atoning work and His instructions to His followers. Galatians 5:22 says: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” That doesn’t mean we don’t struggle or stumble on occasion, but our desire, our heart, longs to be faithful to the One who gave His life for us.
Finally, We need to constantly ask ourselves . . . are we spiritually healthy or do we only think we are? There are different kinds of people who may believe they are spiritually healthy because of an experience they had or a prayer they prayed but they may not be as healthy as they think.
Some are deceived. They may have had an experience of asking Christ to be their Savior, but they really didn’t understand what they were doing. They believe they are saved and go on their way living lives indistinguishable from those who are not believers. They are fans, not followers.
Some are complacent. These are people who feel they have “arrived” spiritually (perhaps like the Pharisees) and now they feel they can look down on others from a position of superiority. They may know Scripture, serve in the church, know all the old hymns and new choruses but they are not growing in their relationship with Christ. That is like getting to Atlanta on a trip to Disney World and concluding you are “close enough” and you turn around and head home and tell everyone how wonderful your vacation to Disney was.
God does not call us to be better than others, He calls us to become like Him! Satan is happy to encourage believers to feel proud of their spiritual depth and accomplishments because it keeps us from radiating the true joy of walking with Christ. And when we are proud and complacent, it is easy to be led into error.
Some are stagnating. There is a simple rule of thumb: if you stop paddling when you are going against the current on a river . . . you don’t stand still, you go backwards. These people have grown tired in the journey. Perhaps the novelty has worn off or they feel their faith has failed them. They may be drawn away by friends into behaviors and practices that are creating distance between them and the Lord. They have stopped moving forward and are now drifting. If this continues, they may face the discipline of the Lord (Hebrews 12) to re-awaken them.
The whole point of a yearly checkup with your Doctor is to catch problems early so they can be addressed. Even more importantly, we need to do regular spiritual check-ups to make sure our spiritual health is good, so we don’t become sick or ineffective and miss out on the joy and privilege of truly following Him.
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