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Discover the original intent of Scripture. Make good application to our everyday lives.
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Read His Words Before Ours!

Mark 2:13-17

Jesus went out again beside the sea. The whole crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 Then, passing by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him.

15 While he was reclining at the table in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who were following him. 16 When the scribes who were Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.

The Original Intent

1) Why did Levi immediately rise and follow Jesus? (verse 14)

When Jesus passed by the tax collector, Levi, also called Matthew, in Capernaum, He gave him a single command, “Follow Me,” which Matthew immediately obeyed. (Mark 2:14) Many of the other disciples had been called in the same way (Matthew 4:18-22), but none of them gave up as much as Matthew to follow Jesus.

Being a tax collector was a very lucrative business. William Barclay explains that “tax-collectors extracted from [people] as much as they could possibly get and lined their own pockets with the surplus that remained after the demands of the law had been met.”

Matthew couldn’t just “reclaim” his profitable tax contract if being a disciple didn’t work out. As author David Guzik notes, “Peter, James, and John could more easily go back to their fishing business, but it would be hard for Levi to go back to tax collecting.” Even with all he stood to lose from following Jesus, Matthew did so without hesitation. When he heard Jesus’ command, he seemed to recognize it as the answer to his heart’s cry.

The call of “Follow Me” apparently resonated within him, causing him to immediately obey. Jesus’ words were an invitation to righteousness (Psalm 23:3), fellowship (1 Corinthians 1:9) and purpose (Ephesians 2:10), things he evidently longed for.

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges asserts, “We cannot doubt that the new disciple had already listened to some of the discourses and beheld some of the wondrous miracles of Christ, so that he was now, in the eyes of Him Who reads the heart, prepared for his call.” Whatever Matthew had heard about Jesus and His teachings prepared his heart to answer the call when it came, even though it was unexpected.

The Everyday Application

1) Why did Levi immediately rise and follow Jesus? (verse 14)

My friend’s parents met in the 1960s, long before dating apps and google searches could give you information about a prospective date. The way my friends’ father tells it, they met at a formal-dress party with plenty of dancing and good conversation.

For him, it was love at first sight. Before the night was over, he leaned over to his friend and declared, “I just met the girl I’m going to marry someday.” He recognized on that first night their connection that would flourish and endure for 58 years and counting.

For the disciple Matthew, there was also a moment of instant recognition, a sort of “love at first sound,” that compelled him to leave everything when Jesus bade him, “Follow Me”. (Mark 2:14) It shouldn’t have been an easy decision, since Levi was essentially abandoning a career that made him wealthy. But the instant Jesus called him to discipleship, he changed course to follow Jesus.

John Piper notes, “The words “follow Me” were used not only because what [Jesus] taught was what they should do, but also because He was an itinerant preacher who would show them in His deeds, as they walked around with Him, how to live and how to minister.” Matthew was leaving the comfort and safety of his riches to sleep under the stars (Luke 21:37), walk long distances (Mark 6:8), and learn by watching and helping Jesus (1 Peter 2:21).

Undoubtedly, Matthew had heard about Jesus’ miracles and His teaching on forgiveness. (Mark 1:28, 36-38, 45, Mark 2:5) Considered a traitor by his own people, Matthew probably longed for the forgiveness Jesus offered. When he had the unexpected opportunity to experience life with Jesus, he couldn’t refuse.

The Original Intent

2) Why did the scribes and Pharisees group sinners and tax collectors together? (verse 16)

When the religious scribes and Pharisees learned of Jesus sharing a meal with His new follower, Matthew (Levi) the tax collector, they were astonished and asked His disciples, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?”. (Mark 2:16) The Pharisees’ response reveals how they valued “an external, hypocritical righteousness consisting of nothing more than rule keeping, judgmentalism, and outward show”. (Preceptaustin.org)

For Jesus to eat with a tax collector was just as bad as fraternizing with sinners in their eyes. Mark Strauss explains, “Banquets in the first century were rituals of social status, and you ate with those you identified with.” No Pharisee would sit at a table with such people, and they were shocked at Jesus’ choice.

Tax collectors were particularly odious to all Jews, not just the Pharisees. As a tax collector working for the Romans and their allies, Matthew was viewed as a traitor to his people. William Lane points out, “When a Jew entered the customs service he was regarded as an outcast from society: he was disqualified as a judge or a witness in a court session, was excommunicated from the synagogue, and in the eyes of the community his disgrace extended to his family.”

When Matthew chose his profession, Jon Bloom suggests “He was trading his reputation for financial security. Thereafter he had kept a prudent distance from synagogue society and made his friends within the ‘sinner’ caste.”

What a joyful surprise for Matthew to find Jesus at his door, bidding him to leave his old life behind and start anew! It was so wonderful that he left his money and power behind for the love and forgiveness offered by the Savior! (Colossians 1:14)

The Everyday Application

2) Why did the scribes and Pharisees group sinners and tax collectors together? (verse 16)

In the C. S. Lewis novel “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”, the Pevensie children are betrayed by their brother, Edmund. The White Witch manipulates Edmund’s selfishness and spitefulness, causing him to reveal his siblings’ whereabouts, endangering their lives.

The children are frightened by the perilous situation, but it hurt worse knowing it was their own brother who betrayed them. In Mark 2:16, Mathew the tax collector was also seen as a traitor by his people, as bad as any sinner. Richard Phillips explains, ‘Tax collectors enriched themselves by preying on impoverished people, stifling trade, and operating what amounted to a local mafia. To make matters worse, they were despised for collaborating with the foreign power that had subjected their own people to bondage.”

Extortion by a fellow Jewish citizen was abhorrent and made the bitter pill of exorbitant taxes even harder to swallow. None of us gets through life without encountering our own Edmund or Matthew. It is devastating when someone you love turns against you, and our knee-jerk response is to lash out or, like the Pharisees, avoid and reject with disdain.

But God exhorts us to forgive! (Colossians 3:13)

When Edmund realized he was wrong and repented, his siblings forgave him. When Matthew left his tax office to follow Jesus, he experienced God’s grace and the forgiveness of the other disciples, fellow Jews, who lived and served beside him while following Christ.

Forgiveness is not easy, but God helps us forgive just as we have been forgiven by Him! Paul writes in Ephesians 4:31-32, “Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.”

May God give us grace to forgive, just as He forgives us!

The Original Intent

3) Why did Jesus choose to associate with sinners? (verse 17)

When the Pharisees saw Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, they were appalled that a Rabbi would associate with such detestable undesirables. Jesus’ explanation to them was, “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners”. (Mark 2:17)

Jesus’ answer was shockingly unexpected to the Pharisees. The very people they made a point to avoid, Jesus had purposed to seek and save. (Luke 19:10) Jesus was derided as a “friend of sinners” (Luke 7:34) because time and again He chose to show love and forgiveness to those others condemned. (John 3:17)

According to David Guzik, “Eating at the same table with people was a sign of friendship and relationship.” Jesus invited sinners into relationship with Him so they would call Him Friend and accept Him as their personal Savior. By eating with sinners and inviting them into fellowship with Him, Jesus was calling them out of darkness and into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Instead of shaming them for their sins, Jesus showed the tax collectors and sinners an abundant willingness to free them from their sins. Mark Strauss asserts, “The religious leaders are unwilling to repent because they do not think they are ‘sick.’ By contrast, the tax collectors and sinners acknowledge their spiritual need. The first step in receiving God’s gift of salvation is to acknowledge our sin and need for God’s grace.”

This is still true today. Jesus invites all of us to come (Matthew 11:28), acknowledge our need (Psalm 40:17), and let Him fill it (Philippians 4:19). What a joy it is to be the friend of God! (John 15:14-15)

The Everyday Application

3) Why did Jesus choose to associate with sinners? (verse 17)

My dad was a minister; my sister and I attended our church’s small Christian school while growing up. Our closest friends became like family as we did church and school together, had sleepovers, play dates and celebrations. It was wonderful…until it suddenly wasn’t.

A fracture in the church leadership made my parents the focus of many congregants’ anger and blame. Some of our closest friends left immediately, and most who remained gave us the cold shoulder or were cruel. The lunch table gang dwindled to just my sister and I and Angie, a friend who stuck with us. Her family was also upset, but she didn’t abandon our friendship. Angie sat at the outcast table with us, shielding us from the condemnation of our former friends.

Our rejection was likely only a fraction of what tax collector Matthew experienced from the Pharisees and fellow Jews who called him a “sinner” (Mark 2:16) for his traitorous occupation. Shockingly, Jesus didn’t join their condemnation of Matthew. He rebuked the Pharisees, ““It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners””. (Mark 2:17)

Jesus purposefully sought out Matthew and other sinners, people who would never be accepted by the religious leaders, because He had Good News for them! (1 John 2:2) Jon Bloom argues, “Being a sinner was the only qualification [Matthew] had for joining Jesus’ disciple band. Jesus had come to call sinners to repentance; Levi was sick with the disease of sin and Jesus, the Great Physician (Luke 5:31-32) healed him.” We can rejoice in the Good News of Jesus and His never-failing (Psalm 136:2), always present Love! (Isaiah 54:10)

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