Sermon: Calling Sinners to Repentance (Luke 5:27-32)

Calling Sinners to Repentance

Last week, I was asked the question, Is there anyone who can’t be saved.  I answered that all who come to Christ by faith and repentance can be saved.  On one hand that’s true.  However, there is a group people who cannot be saved.  There is a group of people that Jesus did not die for.  These people are the self-righteous.  These are those who believe they have enough good works to cause God to welcome them with open arms into heaven.

Most all religions are religions of self-righteousness.  Most all religions believe that you can do enough good to make up for bad and then God will accept you.  The sad reality is a lot of so called Christians believe this same concept as well.

So who can’t be saved?  Those who don’t think they need saving.  Those whose righteousness, they believe, has been acquired through hard work, determination, and a strict rigorous exercise of morality.

But what Jesus says in this text will reset our thinking back to a godly perspective.  Because whether we like it or not we all, to some degree or another, think that by working hard at being good, God will accept us…Let’s listen to Luke’s story-

Luke 5:27-32 (ESV)

After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.”  [28] And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.

[29] And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them.  [30] And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”  [31] And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  [32] I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

1. Levi’s Call (5:27, 28)

After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.”  [28] And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.

Jesus’ call to Levi was no different really than His call to everyone He calls to salvation and discipleship.  Levi who becomes Matthew and writes the Gospel of Matthew was prior to Jesus’ call a tax collector.  He had a great profession.  He had everything a heart could long for.  He had money, possessions, and a cush job working for the Romans.

Tax collectors were paid by Rome and paid as they extorted money from the people.  The public hated tax collectors.  Everyone knew how they made their money.  Tax collectors had sold out their own people to go and work for the enemy.

Tax collectors had a reputation as sinners.  The two terms, Tax Collector and Sinner were often used synonymously.

Our text has Matthew sitting at the tax booth collecting taxes at the gate of the city.  I often think this is a lot like a toll booth today.  The difference was that Matthew could charge whatever he wanted and the people either paid it of turned around and went back home.  It’s like pulling up to a toll booth that says 1.75 and then as soon as it’s your turn to pay it says 37.75.  You either pay it or go home.

Jesus is walking along and sees Levi working at his tax booth collecting taxes as he has done everyday.  Jesus walks up to the booth and looks Levi write in the eye and says, Follow Me.  Luke doesn’t report that anything else was said.  There could have been more and Luke is just reporting the just of the conversation.  Follow Me was the words from Jesus.

[28] And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.

With the call of Christ comes conversion.  Can you see the change that took place in the instant that Jesus speaks the words Follow Me, everything in Levi’s world changes.  His priorities change, His worldview changes, His desires change.  He goes from being the poster child for worldliness to seeing Christ as his treasure.

And leaving everything

Luke makes sure we get this point.  Matthew doesn’t have one foot in the tax booth collecting riches for himself and the other foot out with Jesus.

So often we are lead to believe that we can have Jesus Christ and the things of this world both at the same time.  Luke shows us that the call to discipleship is a call to forsake all and follow Christ.  Everything must pale in comparison to the person of Christ.  We cannot have both.  You can’t treasure material possessions and treasure Christ at the same time.

Last week, we learned the Greek word avfi,hmi aphiemi {af-ee’-ay-mee}

Meaning: 1) to send away 1a) to bid going away or depart

Christ literally separated the paralytic from his sins when He said Man, your sins are forgiven.  God’s part is to separated us from our sin when He forgives us for commiting them.

Today, Luke shows us an example of our part:

leaving everything

katalei,pw kataleipo {kat-al-i’-po}

Meaning: to leave behind, to depart from, to forsake, to abandon

At the instant Jesus called Levi, he was separated from his sins by God and then Levi separated himself from his former lifestyle.

At conversion God does a work to separate us from sin and then we have a responsibility to separate ourselves from potential future sins.

Matthew 6:24 (ESV)

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Here’s the imagery Jesus is trying get us to picture: In one hand we have money and in the other we have Jesus, you have to let go of one or the other.  Which will it be?

A few verses ago, Luke tells us that Peter, James and John left everything and followed Jesus.

Luke 5:11 (ESV)

And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

Why is it that Luke keeps using this same phrase over and over again when it comes to discipleship?  He doesn’t through it in by accident.

On two occasions, Peter says to Jesus, Master, we’ve left everything to follow You.

To leave everything and follow Christ means that we, as disciples, are brought under His Lordship.  Leaving everything means leaving sin, worldly cares and desires, leaving what we once thought would bring us comfort and happiness.  To leave everything and follow Christ means the desire we had for material possessions and fame is suppressed because we’ve met Christ.

Do you remember the person in the Bible who refused to leave everything to follow Christ?

Luke 18:18-24 (ESV)

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  [19] And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  [20] You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ ”  [21] And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.”  [22] When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  [23] But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.  [24] Jesus, looking at him with sadness, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!

Do you see the difference between this man and Levi?  Both were rich but one left it all and the other left Jesus.  It all boils down to the fact that Jesus Christ will have no competition for our affections.  We either forsake all and follow Him or we keep all and forsake Him.  We have to get this point because our eternal destiny depends on our submitting to the Lordship of Christ and being His disciple.

Jesus’ tells us today that a call to discipleship is a call to leave everything and follow Him.

Some have asked me in the past I’m just not growing as a Christian.  What’s wrong?  There are a few possible answers to that question: Perhaps the reason is you might not be a Christian.  Another is that you are not devoted to Christ like you should be. Three, perhaps there are things crowding out your affection and love for Christ.

Most of the time people simply don’t understand the cost of being a disciple.  It costs you the world because you can’t have one foot in worldly endeavors and one foot in the Christian life and expect to move forward with either.  If it’s the world and it’s riches you desire than quit playing games with Jesus and go all out and seek the wealth the world has to offer.  If it’s a close relationship with Christ you desire than let go of everything that hinders that goal and run hard after Christ.  Remember, whatever you choose will have eternal consequences so…choose Christ.  He is so much better than anything else.

Levi rose and followed him. Coming from a man who had all the world could offer, we should see that following Christ is much better than following other things.

King Solomon tells us the same thing in the Proverbs and in Ecclesiastes.

The end of the matter…fear God and keep His commandments.

When we have wealthy people stand up and say following Christ is better then we should learn from their experiences and trust them and follow Christ.

Church, my plea is that we save ourselves the heartache and wasted time of pursuing what the world offers.  Cut it loose and chase hard after Christ.

2.  Levi’s Conversion (5:29)

[29] And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them.

No man who has tasted grace wants to go to heaven alone—

He wants all his tax collector friends to meet Jesus.  Matthew tells all his friends, which by the way were only tax collectors like himself because that’s all the friends he had.  He wants others to meet Jesus.  This is one sure sign of conversion.  Salvation had entered into that tax booth that day and Levi was saved.  He runs home calls all his friends and throws a party in honor of Jesus.

Feasts are for one reason…to celebrate.  Luke tells us this is a great feast.  Much celebrating was going on that day.  Levi had found the Savior, or we more accurately should say, the Savior found Levi.

We’re not told if any others were converted that day.  We’re not told what other tax collectors were asking Jesus.  We’re not told much except this…there was another group besides the tax collectors, our old friends the self righteous Pharisees.

3.  Passing Over the Self-Righteous (5:30-32)

[30] And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”  [31] And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  [32] I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Can sinners be saved?  Yes.  Can self righteous be saved as long as they believe they are right before God based on their own works?  No.

Last week, the Pharisees were complaining that Jesus didn’t have the authority to forgive sin.  Even when they saw a miracle that only God could do, they still didn’t believe.

Today, there has been a miracle of conversion take place and everyone who knew Levi before knew there was a change.  The only thing the Pharisees can do is grumble.

They didn’t grumble to Jesus.  They got some of His disciples off to the side and said, Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?

Why are you hanging out with people of this sort of reputation?  Jesus either overheard them or read their minds, like last week, and responded.

Given the context, I believe His response was firm and to the point.

[31] And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.

If you’re a doctor, you don’t spend your days taking the temperature and writing prescription to those at the park on picnics or at the beach.  If you’re a doctor, you spend your time with those who need you.  You spend your time with the sick.  You’re at the hospital or in you office seeing patients.

These, tax collectors and sinners were just the type of people Jesus needed to be with because they needed Him.

What is the difference between Levi and his friends compared to the Pharisees?

Levi knew he was a sinner and in need of grace.

Pharisees thought that their righteousness was sufficient.  They believed in their own righteousness so much that they were even placing it about Jesus Christ.  In their grumbling, they believed that they were the authority and that Christ should come under their lordship.

If you ever run in to a chronic grumbler, you’ve just run into someone who believes their righteousness exceeds others or their righteousness exceeds even Christ’s.

Jesus finally finishes the conversation by telling them that they are not who He came for…[32] I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

With this sentence, they are put in their place.  It’s sad really that there are folks so deceived into thinking that they can be acceptable to God based on their own righteousness.  Jesus calls sinners.

With this word, we have gone full circle.  Jesus called Levi to lifelong discipleship.  Jesus declares that He calls sinners to salvation not the self righteous.

There is another sad truth.  Within each of us is a Pharisee ready to raise up and be counted.  We must be extremely careful and diligent to be putting to death the root of self righteousness that remains within us.

To help us accomplish this is to realize that self-righteousness is really unrighteousness.—Ligon Duncan

The tax collector’s sins were sort of like bold print, everyone knew what they were and what their sins were and their reputation preceded them.  The Pharisees’ sins were like the fine print at the bottom of the document.  The bold print at the top is noticeable but the fine print is easily overlooked.  Their sin was in many ways worse because they knew about it and pretended it wasn’t there.

Here is a litmus test to see how much Phariseeism is lurking under the surface of your heart.

Ask yourself, Is my morality drawn from the Scriptures alone or do I impose my own standards on them? Next, Do I see my sin as less offensive than what the Scriptures view it?

If I impose my morality on the Scriptures then I am lifting myself up and viewing my morality as superior to the ethics of Scripture, I am self-righteous.  If I see my sin as less offensive than how Scripture sees it, then I am also lifting myself up and placing myself in the realm of self-righteousness.

What does Jesus say about the so called righteousness of the Pharisees?

Matthew 5:20 (ESV)

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

They were seeking to be righteous on their own by hard work and a rigorous attention to the minutest details of the Mosaic Law.  Jesus offers us His righteousness.

When we come to Christ we must leave everything behind and strive to treasure Him alone.  In Him and Him alone will sinners find true and lasting righteousness.

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