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TEXT: Luke 5:27-32
SUBJECT: Luke #15: Friend of Sinners-But Not of Sin
Today, with the blessing of the Holy Spirit, we'll continue our study of Luke's Gospel. The book was written to increase our knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and to confirm our faith in Him. Luke does both by telling stories.
When I was a young man, I heard a preacher attack story-telling in favor of systematic theology or doctrinal preaching. I was very impressed at the time, but the more I thought about what he said, the less I liked it. If story-telling is such a waste of time-I wondered--why does God spend so much time doing it?
The answer is an easy one: story-telling is not a waste of time. In fact, it is God's preferred way of teaching His people. The stories are not full of hidden meanings or mysterious symbols, but speak for themselves. What they chiefly do is to tell us Who the Lord is and what He is-to us.
We'll get to these things shortly, but first the story.
Luke doesn't tell us exactly where and when the story takes place, but if you check Matthew and Mark, you'll find out it occurred in the first year of the Lord's public life, near the Sea of Galilee in a village called Capernaum.
Thus far, the Lord has not stirred up the bitter hatred that would finally crucify Him. But He's moving in that direction. Last time, He forgave a man his sins against God. That opened a wound in the Pharisees' proud soul.
And now.He's going to rub salt in it.
It starts with a man called Levi, whose other name is Matthew. He is collecting taxes for King Herod and the Roman Empire.
The tax collectors were notorious for their crookedness and brutality. But Levi is more than your run-of-the-mill publican. He's what the Jews called a Moksha. Alfred Edersheim tells us what these men did-and how they did it,
"There was a tax and duty upon all imports and exports; on all that was bought and sold; bridge-money, road- money, harbor dues, town dues, etc. They could find a name for every king of exaction, such as on axles, wheels, pack animals, pedestrians, roads, highways; on admissions to markets; on carrier, bridges, ships and wharves; on crossing rivers and dams; on licences and so on. "But this was nothing compared to the vexation of being constantly stopped on the journey, having to unload all one's pack animals, when every bale and package was opened, and the contents tumbled about, private letters opened, and the Moksha ruled supreme in his insolence and greed".
They taxed everything-buying, selling, and bartering. They taxed the produce you brought to market-and the wagon you carried it in. They taxed your fishing nets and the fish you caught with them. And, unlike our taxes-which are mostly hidden, the publicans were in your face about it!
Because of the kind of men they were, the Publicans were universally hated and excluded from the social and religious life of Israel.
Levi is no exception. In every bad book or movie, you'll always find a prostitute or a thief with a heart of gold. He's trapped in the work; she's fallen into it to support her family; and so on. Good people doing bad things-that's what books say.
But life rarely does. There's nothing in the Bible to make you think Levi was a good man. He wasn't. He was like all the rest of them-a bully, a liar, a thief, a traitor, and an apostate!
When the Lord sees the man sitting in his tollbooth, he stops and says something to him, "Follow Me".
Levi must have been shocked by what he heard. In all his life, he had never heard a kind word from a fellow Jew. They had told him where to go, but no one had ever invited him to go with me.
But the Lord does. And Levi obeys. "He left all, rose up, and followed Him".
The old crook is a new creature in Christ. The man who once lived for money, will now serve the One who has "nowhere to lay His head". One Word has made the Publican into a Disciple.
And why wouldn't it? The Word that once created the universe has lost none of its power! If the Word of Christ can cast out demons and heal leprosy and raise the dead, even, it can change sinners into saints.
"The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul".
If Levi has found a friend in Christ, the first thing he wants to do is to introduce Him to others. So that very night, he threw a dinner party for the Lord Jesus. He invited his friends, all of whom were lowlifes of one kind or another. They must have had a splendid time.
But not everyone did. There were some party-crashers that night-and they weren't so happy. They were the scribes and the Pharisees.
They wondered how the Lord-who was supposedly a righteous man-could spend time with "publicans and sinners". They put the question to the disciples, but, evidently, they didn't know how to answer it. But the Lord sure did,
"Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick".
Doctors go to the sick because they're needed there. In the same way, Christ "Did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance".
The word, righteous is used ironically-no one is righteous, of course. But the scribes and Pharisees thought they were-or, at least, would be if they tried hard enough.
But the publicans and sinners knew better. They knew they were rotten to the core and had no hope of being saved-unless God did it Himself!
That's why they flocked to the Lord Jesus-and why He was so happy to have them!
"Foul I to the fountain fly, wash me, Savior, or I die".
When the scribes and Pharisees called Him "A Friend of Sinners", they meant it as an insult. But anyone who knows the plague of his own heart turns it into a praise. We're grateful that The Holy One of Israel is not holier than thou-that "This man receives sinners".
Including the really bad ones.
That's the story. And here's the message: Jesus Christ is the friend of sinners-but not the friend of sin.
The first part is quite encouraging: Though many people are too good for Christ, no one is too bad for Him. If you feel bad about yourself today-I mean really bad-you have a friend in Jesus Christ.
Maybe you have committed a big sin-a sin so big that you'd be ashamed if anyone knew about it. Maybe you aborted a baby; maybe you molested a child; maybe you beat your wife; maybe you had an affair; maybe you betrayed a friend; maybe you let your father die without ever saying I love you.
The guilt of your sin is keeping you from Christ-What if He found out? There's no what if about it. He knows all about it-and still offers His friendship.
Or, maybe it's not one big sin that you've committed, but a smaller one-but you've done it over and over again. You have no idea how often you've done it, but it must be in the hundreds or thousands or more. For one it is immoral thoughts; for another is it the feeling of envy; for a third, it is buying things you can't pay for; you're dogged by a bad temper or laziness; a million times, you've resolved to pray more or read the Bible, but you never have. No one is going to throw you in jail for these things or exclude you from the church, but they weigh down the conscience! You've got sixteen tons on your heart right now. You wonder if there's any hope for you?
Peek in on the dinner party that night. The Publicans had lived on cheating and lying. Yet they found mercy in Christ. You can too.
No sin is too big or too often committed to keep Christ away. Why did the Master "Eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?"
It's because they need Him. And, like any good doctor, He goes where He's needed.
Do you need forgiveness? Do you need cleansing? Do you need fellowship with God? Sure you do-everyone does. And, although you don't deserve it, Jesus Christ offers it free of charge.
This applies to the unsaved sinner. Levi was no believer, no secret follower of Christ. No, he was called while cheating the people! He wasn't preparing himself for Christ, but the Lord came to him-just as he was-and gave him life.
There's no reason you cannot be saved right now. Your sin is worse than you think it is, but it's not too bad for the grace and power of the Lord Jesus Christ to wipe it out.
It also applies to the saved sinner. David was a saved man when he committed adultery-and he found forgiveness in the Lord. Peter was a Christian when he denied the Lord three times, and Christ restored him by His grace.
Just hours before the crucifixion, the Lord wrapped a towel around his waist and washed the disciples' feet. They were all surprised by it-but Peter was appalled-"Lord, You will never wash my feet!"
But the Lord said, "If I do not wash you, you have none of Me".
To which the dear man exclaimed, "Not my feet only, but my hands and my head!"
There is forgiveness for Christians. The fellowship you once had with Christ can be restored. You see, your Dearest Friend, unlike other friends, doesn't hold a grudge. Although you're the offender and He's the offended, He takes the initiative. He makes the phone call; He's willing to make up with you.
Why don't you take the offered mercy? And get back into the fellowship you once had?
Sinners have only One True Friend: It is the Lord Jesus Christ. He offers His friendship to anyone who will take it. His way.
That brings me to the second part of the message: Jesus Christ is the friend of sinners-but not the friend of sin.
This is what needs to be preached today. People have read part of the verse--
"I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
But that is not the end of the sentence. Listen to the whole verse,
"I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.to repentance".
Yes the Lord came to Levi's dinner party and enjoyed the company of everyone there. But He was not indifferent to their sins, no less did He approve of them. He came to them, but He did not come with a message of approval. C.S. Lewis said "The Church was not commanded to go into all the world and tell people they were all right!"
Sin is not all right. The Lord hates sin far worse than the most self-righteous hypocrite! If you think the Pharisees were hard on sin and the Lord, soft, you haven't read the Gospels!
The Lord was always condemning sin in the strongest words possible. And not just the sins of other people, but also the sins of His own disciples.
When the Apostles fought for position in the Kingdom, He called them "Gentiles"-a very ugly word in those days. When Cleopas and his friends didn't believe He rose from the dead, He called them "Fools and slow of heart". When Peter tried to hinder His work, He called him "Satan".
Years later, when the Lord was in heaven, He looked at the Seven Churches in Asia, and-for the most part-didn't like what He saw. He spotted their sins, named them, and lambasted them for their heresy, immorality, pride, cowardice, and lack of love.
Paul wasn't a private man, but an Apostle, an official spokesman for Christ. After calling churches "Saints, faithful in Christ Jesus" and so on, he also names their sin and commands them to repent of it.
Some of the sins were scandalous, like incest; others were less shocking, like worry and selfishness and gossip.
The point is: Jesus Christ hates sin. He loves the sinner, but He hates the sin-and commands the sinner to repent of it. Whether he's a lost sinner or a saved one.
You should repent. Everyone here should repent. The worst sinner should repent. The holiest saint should too. Near the end of his heroic life for Christ, George Whitefield said, "I repent of my repentings".
There are many reasons to repent. But the best one of all is the one suggested in our story- it is the love of Christ.
Just imagine how Levi and his friends must have felt that day. They are hated by everyone in Israel, everyone but Israel's King. He calls Levi, attends a party at his home, has time for every sinner there. No one had ever treated them this way before. It must have broken their hearts with love and gratitude.
What it may have done for them, it ought to do for you. The love of Christ for sinners ought to fill every heart with love for Christ and an eagerness to serve Him.
"What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me?"
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