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Knowing You Are Sick - Mark 2:13-17 (2)

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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 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!
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!
It is hard to help such people. We can only keep defining the gospel as a gift for undeserving people, share our personal stories, and patiently pray the Holy Spirit turns on the light in their souls.
But the better question to ask is: how do you reach people who are cast off by others? How do we help sick people?
1. We must first befriend them. You can’t reach out to people if you are keeping them an arms-length away. You have to take the chance to see beyond the surface to the person that lies beneath. Think about Doctors and nurses who worked with patients during Covid. It was risky but it was the only way to help these sick people. We must enter the trenches and to where lost people are. We have to risk perhaps staining our reputation a little by association.
2. We need to accept the fact that non-believers will act like non-believers! Our job is not to change behavior . . . it is to bring people to Christ who will in turn change behavior.
3. We must present the gospel not as a burden to carry but as great news for broken people. We need to talk of Jesus as the rescuer and lover. You might even give some examples of Biblical characters who had great failures, yet, were loved by the Lord.
4. We need to be honest about our own brokenness. Sometimes people look at us and assume we have everything all together. They need to know that Jesus rescued us from brokenness in the same way He can rescue them.
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.
Is there such a thing as a spiritually healthy person? There certainly are no perfect people but I believe there are truly spiritually healthy people. Healthy people need to maintain that health. 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. The know they are saved not by their behavior but by God’s grace and mercy.
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 have a passion to tell others about Jesus. They want to share the good news they have discovered.
7. They talk much less about themselves and much more about the Lord.
8. 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 when He ate with others. He was building bridges in the hope of tearing down walls of resistance against the gospel. His ultimate goal was to set these people free from that lifestyle.
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. Eventually they tire of the charade. The gospel must always be preached . . . even to those in the pew because many who are regular church-goers still do not understand that we cannot save ourselves by our good deeds (for we have none).
Finally, We need to constantly ask ourselves . . . are we spiritually healthy or do we only think we are? We need to ask ourselves some very direct and honest questions:
Am I deceived? Am I relying on a one-time experience or am I anchoring my hope to a life-transforming encounter with Christ. Have I ever acknowledged my “lostness,” confessed my sin and turned to Christ alone? Am I merely a fan of Christ or am I a true follower?
Have I become complacent. Do I feel I have “arrived” spiritually (perhaps like the Pharisees) and now feel superior to others? Do I just know Scripture, serve in the church, know all the old hymns and new choruses but lack a genuine day by day relationship with Jesus? 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 a genuine relationship with Christ.
Am I 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. Have you grown tired in the journey.
· When was the last time you felt the renewal of God’s Spirit inside of you?
· How long has it been since you truly worshipped when you sang or felt the conviction or direction of God’s Spirit as you worshipped?
· When was the last time you truly hungered to know Him better?
· How long has it been since you were overwhelmed with the realization of His grace and perhaps were led to tears of gratitude and wonder.
If you find that you have grown accustomed to His grace let me encourage you to do something about it. Get involved in a new Bible Study or small group. Be more diligent about your practice of worship. Find someone who seems to radiate the love of God and ask them for some tips for staying fresh in the faith.
I hope you don’t merely think you are spiritually healthy but that you actually ARE spiritually healthy. Do a regular check-up on yourself so you don’t miss any of the life God called you to live. And then look around at the people you know, and then look beyond them to those you may have dismissed. Begin a friendship and share the incredible news of Gods redeeming grace.
You never know, you may find a new friend, or even better, you may find someone who becomes a brother or sister in Christ.
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