Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 October 11, 2020
“The Great Physician Has Come”
Take a look at the world around us in these troubled times. We see—in fact, we cannot help but see—high levels of soul-sickness around us. We see this easily in the larger world that knows not our Lord, but we also see this all too often in the Church—though we may prefer not to see it. Rejoice in spite of this, dear ones in Christ Jesus, for the Great Physician has come. Our Great Physician, Jesus Christ, has come to rescue us from where and what we were. He also has come to usher us into what and where He will have us be. I look forward to that which follows today. Let us hear the Word of God once again read and proclaimed in this place.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Our passage occurs in time, and in print, just after Jesus’ marvelous healing of a paralytic (5:17-26), after which the crowd exclaimed, in the New King James Version, “We have seen strange things today!” After this, Jesus went out of the house in Capernaum and saw Levi (also called Matthew in Matthew 9:9), a tax collector, sitting at the tax booth. Roman tax collectors, on the whole, stood in low esteem in first-century Palestine. Tax collectors often stole from the populace by assessing an inordinately high tax, rendering the Roman levy up the chain, and pocketing the difference. Jewish tax collectors, collecting for Rome, were considered traitors by most of their brother Jews, for they collected tax for hated Roman overlords, thus blessing those hated overlords at Jewish expense. Levi, who shared his name with a priestly tribal leader in Israel, was a despised, hated man in Israel—not unlike Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector of Jericho (Luke 19:1-10). Jesus found Levi at work plying his somewhat honest, somewhat nefarious trade.
Jesus says two words, both in English and in Greek, to Levi. He says to Levi in English, “Follow Me.” These are the next words we read in Dr. Luke’s Spirit-led Gospel, “And, leaving everything, he rose and followed Him.” We do not read a question or a remark from Levi. We do not read of any glance backward. Levi, in that instant when Jesus called him to follow, knew Jesus’ irresistible call to faith, discipleship, and ministry. Hence, Levi departs his former vocation for another: disciple—and, later, apostle—of the Lord Jesus Christ.
At some later time after Jesus called Levi to faith, discipleship, and ministry, Levi made a great banquet in Jesus’ honor—with accumulated resources, if not with current income. Many tax collectors, among others, came. Of the tax collectors we know enough, but I wonder about these others. Possibly, they are other “sinners”—as defined by the Pharisees and scribes, leading sects and functionaries in first-century Judaism. These “sinners” likely cared little for observance of Mosaic Law, as defined by Jewish leadership, and they may have cared even less for Jewish religious leadership itself. These “sinners,” in some cases not likely to associate with one another, find themselves bound together in their mutual rejection by polite society—and many of them find themselves at Levi’s party that night.
Pharisees and scribes, experts in the Law, somehow were in the neighborhood as well—and they grumbled at this scene. They ask Jesus’ disciples, in their grumbling manner, “Why do y’all eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” To the card-carrying Pharisee or the licensed scribe, these sinners—apparently—are not worth a holy rabbi’s time. Moreover, these sinners, apparently, will defile the truly righteous if said truly righteous fail to keep sufficient distance between the sinners and themselves. We read of no answer to this question from the disciples, but we read Jesus’ answer—and His answer teaches the Pharisees, the scribes, and us.
Jesus begins with a curious, apparently irrelevant, self-evident statement: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” The text does not indicate if Jesus paused and allowed his hearers to ponder, but Jesus’ next sentence applies his curious statement to the situation. The application is profoundly relevant. Hear Jesus’ words, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
Sinners are spiritually sick; they need the Great Physician. Yet we read these words at least thrice in Holy Scripture: “There is none righteous—no, not one” (Psalm 14:3, 53:3; Romans 3:10, punctuation mine). All need the Great Physician’s healing salvation. Levi, in hearing Jesus’ words, knew he needed God’s salvation and received it. Perhaps others received that salvation at the banquet that Levi gave for Jesus. The Pharisees, and their allies, likely miss this—and, therefore, they miss His salvation at this time. Alas, many today miss His salvation too.
There is soul-sickness among the sinners in the culture today—among those who are lost without saving relationship with Jesus Christ. They exhibit these representative symptoms, among others: despair, anger, and idol-worship (worshipping pleasure, e.g.). These are not too hard to spot if you know where to look and dare to be in position to look.
We are tempted to think that such soul-sickness confines itself to the lost—that it is nowhere found among the found. Yet, and alas, there is lingering soul-sickness among the found too. The representative symptoms are almost identical to those found in our lost world: despair, anger, and worship of lesser so-called gods (pleasure, e.g.). How often are you and I buffeted by such a sickness of soul?
Again, rejoice, for the Great Physician has come. He has come, just as He did in Capernaum at Levi’s tax booth, to call lost sinners to salvation. More than this, Jesus has come to cleanse saved sinners—and that in ongoing fashion. Let us, then, announce His coming. Let us announce His coming, for these purposes, to one another for our mutual encouragement and joy. Let us also announce His coming to those outside His covenant people—for their potential temporal (i.e., this-worldly) and eternal delight. May our Great Physician, our Lord Jesus Christ, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, bless you each and all abundantly—both now and forevermore. AMEN.