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The Face of Conflict

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Good morning and welcome to Dishman Baptist Church. Please take your Bibles and open them to Mark 2, Mark 2. It is a joy as always to have all of you with us this morning. We’ve had so much going on here and none of it could be accomplished without your continued participation and support. We know that God is the One Who is in control and that all that is happening is for the accomplishment of His plans and designs but He has chosen to move through His people to work here in Spokane Valley and we greatly appreciate your continued willingness to fulfill what He has put on your hearts. If you’re joining us online we are so thankful that you have and we are privileged to be worshipping with you this morning.
Jesus has started to turn a little bit of a corner in His ministry as Mark has recorded it for us. He’s starting to get Himself into a bit of trouble. Christ’s ministry had been going pretty well and being well received until He returned to Capernaum and had the audacity to heal a paralytic. It really wasn’t the healing that ruffled to establishment’s feathers so much as Christ had the audacity to do what, up until that point, only God could do - He pronounced the man’s sins forgiven. In so doing He put Himself on the same level as God. Really this is the root of all the conflicts that He would have with the Pharisees and the other religious leaders up until the time they will crucify Him.
Today we’re going to come to see the face of the conflict - and not really so much the face in the singular but rather the faces of the conflict because there will be many of them. The question we’re going to see addressed through this text this morning is really “who can be saved” or is there anyone who is beyond saving. The question wasn’t really all that original to Jesus day. The Old Testament book of Jonah is a corpus on the salvation of a people who the prophet didn’t really want to be saved or didn’t want salvation offered to. In chapter 4 of that book he complains to God
Jonah 4:1–3 CSB
Jonah was greatly displeased and became furious. He prayed to the Lord: “Please, Lord, isn’t this what I thought while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and one who relents from sending disaster. And now, Lord, take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Jonah wanted to die himself rather than to see the salvation of the city of Nineveh.
The same attitude is evident in our day as well. Maybe you can think of someone in your own life who you might think - there’s no way that person could or should be saved. How often have you been witnessing to someone and the question gets asked - and they always think its such an original question - “Well could Hitler have been saved?” Or “Could Charles Manson be saved?”
I’m just going to let those questions linger for a few minutes as we turn to the text. You already have your Bibles open to Mark 2, let’s take a look at verses 13-17. Mark 2:13-17. If you don’t have a Bible they’ll be up on the screen behind me.
Mark 2:13–17 CSB
Jesus went out again beside the sea. The whole crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. Then, passing by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the toll booth, and he said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him. While he was reclining at the table in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who were following him. When the scribes who were Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he told them, “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
I’m sure that you probably didn’t need me to read the text to give an answer to the questions that I posed just a moment ago - but I’m still not going to answer them. We’re going to see several distinctions in this text this morning that will lead us to the answer to an even more fundamental question than “Could Hitler have been saved?” And we’re going to see this in three contrasts that this text lays out for us. First we’re going to see the contrast between the crowd and the called in verses 13-14. Then we’ll see a contrast between the pharisees and the publicans in verses 15-16. And finally we’ll see a contrast between the sick and the saved in verse 17.

The Crowd and The Call

Jesus is back out by the sea shore, teaching as He goes along. This would most likely have been the same general location where He had called Peter, Andrew, James and John. And as usual His presence has gathered a substantial crowd. As we continue to explore and study the book of Mark it is instructive to us to note the prevalence of a crowd around Jesus. Thirty nine times in thirty six verses in Mark he mentions the presence of a crowd. The majority of these are passages about Jesus teaching, healing or feeding the crowd. Also in many of those passages we see Jesus moving from ministry to the crowd to ministry to an individual - almost as if Mark is trying to drive home the point that John will bring out later in his Gospel
John 2:24–25 CSB
Jesus, however, would not entrust himself to them, since he knew them all and because he did not need anyone to testify about man; for he himself knew what was in man.
The crowd’s reason for looking for Jesus was genuine. They were genuinely in awe of Him and His teachings, they were genuinely in need of His healings but they never seem to move beyond the awe struck stage or the needy stage. The crowds give us an illustration of those who are just after what Jesus can give them rather than actually seeking Jesus Himself.
Most of the instances that Mark highlights the ministry of Christ to an individual, that individual is a part of the crowd or is brought to Christ in some way. The incident that immediately precedes this one involving the paralytic - he is brought to Jesus. This morning’s incident is brought about completely by the will of Jesus. Look with me at the text.
Jesus went out again beside the sea. The whole crowd was coming to Him, and He was teaching them. Many times rabbis would teach as they walked along from place to place. This seems to be what Christ is doing here - somewhat like a doctor makes His rounds through the hospital teaching residents as they go, Christ was walking along the sea shore and through Capernaum teaching as He went. This mornings lessons would provide a very intriguing subject. Then, passing by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the toll booth.
The location of Capernaum on the north eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee made it a prime location for tax collection. There was a major thoroughfare that ran from the Decapolis to the East and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. It would be much like I-90 running from Seattle to Idaho - everything has to pass through Spokane, everything had to pass through Capernaum. The Roman tax system had taxes for many different facets of life. There were poll taxes that every man and woman was required to pay, income taxes, sales taxes, land taxes as well as custom taxes or taxes on transporting goods from place to place.
Unlike our tax system that is managed by the state or the IRS, the Romans would sell tax franchises to individual - especially in the area of sales or customs taxes. They would prescribe a certain quota that each franchise was required to make but that was only a minimum. There was no maximum set for how much a particular toll collector could charge and so anything that he chose to exact above the minimum prescribed was his to keep.
The men who chose this profession were very unpopular with their neighbors. In a sense they became functional lepers - they weren’t allowed to attend the synagogue, they couldn’t serve as judges or witnesses in court. In fact most self respecting Jews wouldn’t even speak to a toll collector. And really most of these men probably didn’t care much. Levi was sitting at his toll booth much like Scrooge of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” busily counting his money and he may or may not have even noticed the crowd or the rabbi that was coming towards him. Even if he did notice them he would have rightly expected them to just pass by without even taking notice of him as they always did.
But this time was different. Jesus stops.
Jesus, who wasn’t concerned with touching a leper, stops to address a social leper. Jesus is surrounded by a crowd - and while most of them didn’t understand His real mission or much of His teaching, their very presence showed a desire to be near Him and to be a part of whatever it was that He was doing. And yet He stops at the booth of a toll collector who, up until this particular moment, could care less about religion, Jesus or what this new rabbi was doing. He wasn’t in awe of the events that had been happening around Capernaum. They were remarkable events - a woman with fever healed, unclean spirits cast out, a paralytic not only healed but his sins were forgiven and here is Levi sitting as he always had at his toll booth ready to exact his next tax from the next traveller who came along the road. If he had taken time to look at the approaching crowd, he probably would have dismissed them because there was no financial gain opportunity for him.
But, Jesus stops.
And more than simply stopping He speaks - “Follow Me.”
We’ve heard these two words before. They were issued to Peter and Andrew, to James and John on the very same sea shore only weeks before. The implications of these words have lost none of their weight in the intervening time. In fact in this instance their weight is even heavier. Follow Me - this is not a request this time any more than it was last time but the consequences for Levi are much graver than they were for Peter and friends.
You see, the tax collection business was a profitable enterprise that once left would be impossible to return to. If Levi gets up from his table, if he abandons his booth to follow Jesus there is no coming back.
The NIV Application Commentary: Mark The Call of Levi the Tax Collector and Dinner in His House (2:13–17)

The other disciples can always go back to fishing (John 21:3), but not so a toll collector who abandons his post.

More than just that there wouldn’t be a whole lot of other employment opportunities for someone who had once been viewed as a traitor to his own nation. When I was in the military we were often told about the consequences of getting a bad conduct discharge or worse a dishonorable discharge. There was a code entered into your DD-214 and according to one source this has dire consequences for your employment opportunities. Individuals with these types of discharges can expect to experience considerable prejudice shown by future employers due to the nature of their discharge and once again they are generally precluded from receiving veteran's benefits of any variety.
Yet we see no internal debate, no delay, Mark tells us simply that Levi gets up from his desk and follows Jesus. The disinterested is now interested. This is a living example of what Paul would write later in his letter to the Ephesians
Ephesians 2:1 CSB
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins
Levi was a dead man sitting there on the sea shore collecting tolls for Rome and cheating his fellow citizens. He had zero interest in the Jewish religion or religious system but instead was serving his god of money.
Ephesians 2:4–5 CSB
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!
Christ comes along and issues a command - Follow Me - and Levi’s life is instantly, completely changed. And there is no going back. So what do you do when you take a torch to your entire livelihood? You throw a party of course....well in Levi’s case it was a banquet.

The Pharisees and the Publicans

Mark moves the text on to tell us that Jesus is reclining at the table in Levi’s house. Jewish historians depict typical Jewish behavior being that they would sit for ordinary meals. They would only recline at the table for banquets or festive occasions. This may be something you want to try during this holiday season. Instead of needing that big table for Thanksgiving just have everyone recline around a low board laid on the floor. Pillows and rugs would be arranged around a low table and hosts, guests and honorees would lie on their side with their heads towards the table and their feet outward.
Levi would have only had friends among a very select class of people - much like the old Garth Brooks song all of his friends would have been from low places. So surrounding the table with Jesus and His disciples was an eclectic group of the social undesirables of Capernaum society. Mark tells us that “many” tax collectors and sinners were present and eating with Jesus. Tax collectors we’ve already seen would have been those who owned franchises and gouged those who lived near them for their own financial gain. But who exactly were the sinners who were sitting at the table?
Sinners in the first century encompassed two groups of people. There were those who had unsavory occupational practices such as tax collectors, prostitutes or those who were caused to be ceremonially unclean because of their job. The other group would have been those who lived an immoral lifestyle such as murderers, robbers and other criminals). Levi would have naturally associated with other tax collectors in the course of his work but tax collectors also often employed rough individuals to extort more taxes from those who may have been unwilling to pay. They really were the mafia of the day. And Jesus, this pristine Jewish rabbi who presumes to place Himself on the same plane as God in the capability to forgive sins, is reclining at table with them.
It is completely unthinkable. These were the most unworthy members of society in all of Capernaum. Thankfully, unworthiness is not a determination that we as humans get to make - it is a determination that lies solely with Christ.
Charles Spurgeon once said
Satan tells me that I am unworthy: but I was always unworthy and yet You have long loved me: and therefore my unworthiness cannot be a barrier to having fellowship with You now.
Just as this story introduces us to the most undesirable elements of Jewish society, we are also introduced to those who would seem the most desirable. Mark tells us that the Pharisees are hanging around the outside of the home looking in at the party and are incensed that Jesus would eat with tax collectors and sinners.
The Pharisees were one of the leading Jewish religious parties during the days of Christ. They, along with the Sadducees and the Essenes, determined and drove much of the Jewish religious system. Jewish historian Josephus tells us that the Sadducees centered most of their focus on the temple and the political atmosphere in Jerusalem while the Pharisees were more active outside of Jerusalem in the countryside. There is no clear picture on when the Pharisees came into being as an entity but it seems to have taken place sometime during the Inter-testimental period, between the closing of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. They were strict adherents to the law and had even taken liberties to restrict life even more with the desire to prevent people from transgressing the law. They sometimes get mischaracterized - their zeal for God was real but misplaced. Instead of understanding the importance of the heart in relationship to God, they attempted to legislate the Jewish relationship to God and in so doing lost touch with the real motivations and meaning behind the commands they so zealously protected.
This is their first appearance in Mark but they will continue to be a part of Jesus ministry challenge throughout the rest of the Gospel. Unlike the scribes in verse 6 who questioned Jesus in their hearts, these men are more brazen even if they do go about it in a round-about way. They go to His disciples. You could just see the scene. Jesus is reclining at table with the publicans and the pharisees are just outside the door beckoning to the disciples. There was no way the pharisees would enter the house - to do so would have been to become ceremonially unclean something the pharisees avoided at all costs.
The disciples step out into the night and the pharisees pounce - Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners. There’re really two motivations for this question. The first is to undermine Jesus credibility with His disciples. Are you sure you want to follow this man - he can’t possibly be a real rabbi. He may say some good things but no real rabbi would ever eat with those sinners. This is going to end badly for you - you should get out while you still can.
The other is more along the lines “would you please get your rabbi under control”. Much like the disciples had done to Jesus when they found Him outside the city praying, the pharisees thought they were qualified to tell Jesus how to run His ministry. He should not be there, He should either be out here with us or in the synagogue where a respectable rabbi teaches. They not only thought they could tell Jesus how to run His ministry but to judge who was worthy of being ministered to.
The fact that the pharisees added to the Jewish laws and made them untenable was bad - but what may have been worse is that instead of fulfilling the mandate that God had given the Jewish nation to be a light to surrounding nations, they had actually excluded members of their own nation away from God and determined that they couldn’t even be saved. They had decided for themselves who was worthy and unworthy of salvation and they would presume to tell God who those people were.
Are you a practical pharisee? Do you presume to determine those who are worthy of being saved and those who should be excluded? Maybe we’re just not as open about it as the Pharisees were but does that excuse us? The church of Jesus Christ consists not of perfect people but of forgiven people.
I asked a couple questions in the introduction and I said I would get back to them - they’re some common questions that are asked in witness encounters. Could Hitler have been saved? Could Charles Manson get saved?
Jesus has an amazing and instructive answer both to the pharisees but also to us today.

The Sick and the Saved

Hearing the pharisees question His disciples, Jesus doesn’t remain in the party but instead addresses the pharisees directly. And His answer speaks volumes. He draws on a common saying of the day - It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. And then His closing statement is the most poignant - I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.
The crowd thought they were well because they were hanging out and listening to Jesus teaching. But they were sick because they were there for the wrong reasons - they were searching for what Christ could do for them temporally rather than eternally.
The Pharisees thought they were well because they kept all the laws and tried to honor God in all that they did. They didn’t realize they were sick because in their pride they had sought to bar the door to God from all those who they deemed unworthy.
It is those who recognize their inability to save themselves, that recognize their sickness that truly find salvation. The tax collectors, the prostitutes, the ruffians and Levi may not have woken up that morning looking for Jesus but by the end of the day they had been found by Him - because they were sick and dead in their sin and they needed the healing that He had come to bring. And when He applied His diagnosis to them they recognized their sickness, gave it all up and followed Him.
The pharisees and the crowd woke up that morning thinking they were well because they were doing “all the right things”. It is cheap grace.
The Second World War theologian and spy Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote
“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.”
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession…cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ living and incarnate.”
What about us? Are we the sick who think we’re saved? The crowd thought they were saved because of the system they grew up in - they were culturally saved. Do we seek to get close to Christ for what He can do for us? Do we think that if I just keep all of these standards that He will be pleased with me?
This is not an allegorical tale - the point isn’t for you to insert yourself into the story. Am I the crowd? Am I a pharisee? Am I Levi? Am I one of the other revelers at the banquet? Because in truth we are all four at different points and with different people. The point is to recognize that Christ came to save the sick - and each of the players in this drama, each of the participants in these comparisons were sick. Some realized it, some didn’t. Some thought they were well, some recognized they were sick and some had no idea because they were spiritually dead.
This is a passage that requires self-evaluation.
So the appropriate question isn’t could Hitler have been saved. The appropriate question is not can Charles Manson be saved. The appropriate question is not even can my neighbor, spouse, sibling, child or any other person be saved. The appropriate question is can I be saved?
And the answer is - yes.
Yes because Christ came to seek and to save the lost. Yes because Christ came to save sinners of whom I am the worst - and if I can be saved then any one of you can be saved. Yes because Christ came, lived as truly God and truly man and went to the cross where He paid the ultimate price for the most pervasive sickness ever to infect mankind - sin. There is no cure for it other than the shed blood of Jesus Christ but it has the power to take a traitor, a cheat, and one who was a functional leper in society and to make him a disciple, an apostle and one of the writers of the New Testament.
This is not an allegorical tale - the point isn’t for you to insert yourself into the story. Am I the crowd? Am I a pharisee? Am I Levi? Am I one of the other revelers at the banquet? Because in truth we are all four at different points and with different people. The point is to recognize that Christ came to save the sick - and each of the players in this drama, each of the participants in these comparisons were sick. Some realized it, some didn’t. Some thought they were well, some recognized they were sick and some had no idea because they were spiritually dead.


Ask yourself this question today - can I be saved? Have I been saved? If not - then hear the words along with Levi that call you to forsake a life not of tax collecting but one of sin.
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