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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Who Needs a Doctor? (Luke 5.27-32)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; February 21, 2016 
Text: Luke 5:27-32

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."  

:: Scripture and Music ::
Call to Worship: "Hear the Call of the Kingdom" (chorus) (Getty/Townend)
Song of Praise: "Hear the Call of the Kingdom" (Getty/Townend)
Song of Praise: My Soul Finds Rest (Ps. 62) (Keyes, Townend)
The Word through Drama: Camden Campe, monologue
Assurance of God's Grace: Gospel Song (Sovereign Grace)
Offering of Music: Walker Austell, piano
Our Song of Praise: The Doxology (a capella)
Hymn of Sending: Where He Leads Me I Will Follow (a capella) (NORRIS)
Postlude: Elizabeth Austell, piano 

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript.  Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

We are continuing in a series called “Things We Leave Behind.” We are looking at what it means to follow Jesus and considering those things that might be in the way or holding us back from following. Last week we looked at the first disciples, the fishermen, and particular at the story of Peter. We saw some themes common to following Jesus, like acknowledging his presence, experiencing the presence and power of God, responding with humility and worship, and responding in obedience to the particular call of Jesus on your life.

Today we are looking at the story of another of the twelve disciples: Levi (also known as Matthew). As we did last week, we will also consider the story of someone similar to Levi who followed Jesus “in place.” And we’ll look at some of the other particulars of the passage, especially some of the push-back Jesus got about Levi.


First, let’s consider Levi. We’ve talked about first century tax collectors before. They were absolutely despised by the Jewish people because they were Jewish people who worked for the Romans to collect taxes. Their taxation was enforced by Roman soldiers and they were fully authorized to line their pockets with extra taxes charged at their whim. Both for serving the Romans and for exploiting their own people, they were truly hated. So for Jesus to include a tax collector in his follow-me invitation was unusual to say the least.

This time around we don’t get much insight into what motivated Levi to leave his booth and follow Jesus. We might think he was unhappy with his role as tax collector and saw a way out (though it was a pretty luxurious, if despised, lifestyle). Or we might speculate that Levi heard some of Jesus teaching and found it compelling.  Though the scripture we heard as the call to worship happened later chronologically, it might be indicative of the kind of teaching Levi heard: “What does one profit if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?” (Luke 9:25)

Instead of explanation for Levi’s action we get more details about what happened afterwards, and it is significant! Levi wanted all of his friends, who were equally despised by the religious folks, to meet Jesus. Those details also give you a glimpse into what Jesus was doing. He wasn’t just calling wicked tax collectors out of their business to a life of following a master Rabbi; he actually was socializing with whole groups of outcasts! This scandalized… SCANDALIZED… the Pharisees, who not only despised the tax collectors as most Jews did, but also would have found the non-religious friends as or more undesirable than the tax collectors.

Whatever else we might say, it seems like Levi’s life was really changed by his encounter with Jesus. But I’m stuck with the same issue as last week. Is the only way to follow Jesus to drop everything and run off into ministry or missions? Let’s look briefly at the story of another tax collector. His story is in Luke 19.

Zacchaeus (Luke 19)

A tax collector who “stayed in place” (presumably) and transformed his work and relationships.

Later in his ministry, Jesus was traveling through Jericho on the way to Jerusalem. While there the chief tax collector came out to see and hear him. You may remember the story about Zacchaeus being short and climbing the tree in order to see Jesus. Well this time, Jesus didn’t wait for an invitation to dinner or a party; he asked (or told!) Zacchaeus that he was coming to his house for dinner. During that dinner, for which Jesus was also criticized by the religious leaders, Zacchaeus was convicted to give half of his possessions to the poor and to repay those he had defrauded. And Jesus declared him saved and a son of Abraham.

In this case, we have no indication that Zacchaeus left his job as chief tax collector of Jericho. Rather, following Jesus for him was a radical transformation of how he treated others and how he approached his job. Indeed, if he followed through with his statement, he would have been unique among tax collectors in that time period.

Again, my point is to say to you that “following Jesus” is not for ministers and missionaries or for some kind of super-Christian. It is the response – your response and my response – to encountering God through Jesus Christ. It does mean something; it does look different. But what it looks like is as varied in the details as there are people here today.

Said another way, following Jesus isn’t necessarily a change in geography (though it could be that); rather, it involves a change of perspective. It trades any number of things (or pursuit of those things) that we grow up hearing are important – wealth, success, power, security, health – for something greater: the glory of God through obedience to Christ. I’d like to share a short video with you that unpacks what it means to trade perspectives, indeed to be a “missionary,” but perhaps not the kind that you imagine when you hear that word.

It’s a lot to think about, isn’t it? And then there is one more question raised by our text today.


When you trade the pursuits of this world for pursuing Christ, sometimes (maybe usually?) things start to look different. The company we keep may change. The places we go may change. We may find ourselves having a modern-day equivalent of dinner parties with tax collectors. It sounds messy. If I said it sounds like coffee in the sanctuary, crying babies, people who don’t dress like me or talk like me, and don’t know how to “behave like a Christian,” I’d just be scratching the surface.

I remember saying over and over a number of years ago that we would know we were starting to reach outside our church walls when things started getting messy in here. That’s not when you back up and pack up and head for comfort and safety. That’s when you know you are on to something. When our Sunday school faith starts rubbing shoulders and holding hands with those struggling with depression, disease, racism, betrayal, hopelessness, crushing poverty or insulated affluence; just when we really start to feel uncomfortable, we’ll know that we are on to something.

Becoming aware of the scandalous dinner party with Levi and friends, the Pharisees asked the disciples why Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners. They only had one template for religious faithfulness and it was law-keeping and Temple worship. The rest of the world, including non-religious or non-observant among their own people, were to be avoided and shunned. Yet Jesus seemed to turn all of this upside down and backwards. Jesus heard about their questions and responded in two ways, with an analogy and with scripture.

Jesus responded with an analogy: “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick.” (v. 12) It is from this idea that we understand the church to be a “hospital for sinners.” The point is easy enough to understand: doctors are for sick people. But think of all the ways we complicate that analogy. For one, we have well checks. So, sometimes doctors are for healthy people. And think about hospitals, though I know many of you don’t like to. They would be pretty fascinating places – with all those halls and labs and cafeteria and gift shop and research and doctors and nurses – except for what? …all the sick people?

Mix all that together and you get a pretty good picture of what the church often turns into: a place we go for “well checks” periodically just to make sure we have a dose of this or that for our good… and a place where we’d just as soon see other healthy people as deal with real spiritual need. In fact, if you can gloss over or keep out the real spiritual needs, churches can be pretty fun and interesting places to be… sometimes even like a mall or movie theater or restaurant. But do you see how we get off track? Jesus just laid it out there: “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.”

And then, if you missed the analogy, for once he just said it plainly: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (v. 32)

And that is where this story connects with our story. There are some key questions we need to ask ourselves:

•    Is this church primarily for the healthy or the sick?
•    Are you the healthy or the sick?
•    What would it mean for God to heal, bandage, revive, and even raise a person up?
•    What does it mean for us to show compassion?

And to move out of the healthy/sick language and back to the dinner party:

•    With whom would Jesus (specifically) ask us to have a dinner party? Would you come?

Within our walls we have financial crisis, struggling marriages, desperate people, depression, and much more.  Outside our walls we have all the same, and more. Why we gather here is not because we are actually well, but because of the news and hope of the Great Physician, who we believe does heal, bandage, revive, and raise up the sick, and even the spiritually dead, to life. If we are doing anything less, we are falling far short of Jesus’ intent for us and we may be missing the dinner and God’s purpose altogether.

To say all this another way, Jesus asked a very basic spiritual question: Who needs a doctor?

It’s another way of saying, “Follow me.” It’s another way of understanding our belonging to God. And in response to him, I know that I do. Amen.

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