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Friend of Sinners

June 3, 2020·Mike Gentry

I love the story of the calling of the apostles by Jesus. The particular example I want to write about today is found in Mark 2:13-17 (NLT). It says,

“Then Jesus went out to the lakeshore again and taught the crowds that were coming to Him. As He walked along, He saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow Me and be My disciple,’ Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed Him. Later, Levi invited Jesus and His disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw Him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked His disciples, ‘Why does He eat with such scum?’ When Jesus heard this, He told them, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor — sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.’”

This account of the calling of Levi (Matthew), in particular, has always stuck out to me. Matthew was a tax collector. Tax collectors were despised by most, because not only did they work for the Roman government that was oppressing the Jewish people, but they were known to overtax the population and then keep the difference for themselves… they were basically thieves endorsed by the government! Yet Jesus comes across Matthew and obviously sees something in him. Jesus calls Matthew to follow Him and be His disciple. Soon after, Jesus appoints Matthew to His own inner circle of people that Jesus would directly influence and spend time with for the next three years of His ministry, until His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. What a tremendous privilege given to a man that was despised by all.

The next thing I notice in this passage of Scripture is found in verse 15. Matthew invites Jesus, the other disciples and many other tax collectors and “disreputable sinners” into his house for dinner. Jesus was so compassionate and loving to everyone He encountered. He didn’t care what other people thought about who He chose to associate Himself with. He desired to see all come to truly know Him and be free from sin. He was willing to go where no other religious leaders would dare go, because He truly cared about everybody. He was even available to the lowest of the low. I also love that Matthew wasn’t afraid or ashamed to have Jesus know or spend time with “scum” (as the Pharisees called them) he had associated himself with. I believe he just knew there was something special about Jesus, and he wanted his friends to know and follow Jesus as well.

The last thing that gets me about this text is the words Jesus utters in verse 17, “I have come to call — not those who think they are righteous — but those who know they are sinners.” This makes me look deep into my own heart. I pray I never get to a point in my life as a follower of Christ that I would ever think I was righteous. May I always have the humility to come to Jesus and say, “forgive me, Lord, for I am a sinner!” Never do I want to look down on others in the way the Pharisees did, but I want to acknowledge my sin and point people to Jesus saying, “Jesus saved such a wretched sinner as me, and He can save you too!”

My prayer is that we will all, not just have compassion on the lowly, downtrodden, sinners of this world, although that’s admirable; but befriend them and show them the love of Jesus. Jesus was known as the friend of sinners. There are numerous songs about it. My prayer is that we mirror that and live it out all the days of our lives!

Pastor Mike Gentry

The Church on the Way