Teaching series from Luke

Jesus' Mission Statement

Luke 5:1-32

Teaching t20255


Luke 5 gives us a glimpse of the early stages of Jesus’ public ministry, which centered around Capernaum (MAP).  In some ways, Jesus acted like many other rabbis (religious teachers) of his day—he taught crowds of people, he trained disciples (apprentices), etc.  But in other ways, he was so different from other rabbis that he soon drew the scrutiny and criticism of the Jewish religious authorities.  One of the key differences was the kind of people he helped and apprenticed.  When the authorities questioned him on this issue, Jesus responded with a pithy “mission statement” that defended his actions and indicted his critics—read 5:31,32 (NLT).  Encounters between Jesus and four “sinners” precede Jesus’ mission statement and illustrate it.  We’ll look at three of them this morning, beginning with the encounter between Jesus and Peter.

Peter: a “mainstream” sinner

Read 5:1-10a.  Explain 5:5 (why this is “bad” fishing advice) and 5:7 (20’-30’ long boats >> lots of fish!).  Simon (Peter) is what I would call a “mainstream” sinner.  He is married, runs his own business, and is a solid community member.  This means that he attended synagogue regularly, but he probably didn’t like it much—and certainly had no aspirations to become more “religious” in that sense.  He probably drank too much occasionally, maybe looked too long at other women, and we know that he had a volatile temper.  (Maybe you can relate to Peter.)  He didn’t walk around with a guilt complex—but he had a healthy awareness of his own sinfulness that came into focus when Jesus supernaturally orchestrated this bonanza fish haul.  If he was evil, Peter would have been scheming on how to entice Jesus to become his business partner.  But his excitement about the catch is overshadowed by the painful awareness that he doesn’t deserve to be around Jesus (5:9). 

The amazing thing is Jesus’ response (read 5:10b).  If Jesus were a good American counselor, he would have disagreed and told Peter that he was a good person.  Instead, he accepts Peter’s assessment of himself—but instead of agreeing that his sinfulness disqualifies him, he says “The fact that you acknowledge your unworthiness means you’re just the kind of person I can work through to gather many people into God’s kingdom.”  That kind of undeserved love permanently changed the course of Peter’s life (read 5:11).  He understood that Jesus was making the offer of a lifetime—to become his disciple and play a role in spreading God’s kingdom—and he grabbed the opportunity and never looked back.  And he did just what Jesus predicted—he led thousands of people to Christ, including the first group of Jews (Acts2) and the first group of Gentiles (Acts10).  He also became a key leader in the early Christian movement and wrote three New Testament books (including Mark).  Remember Jesus’ mission statement: “I have come to call sinners...”

The Leper: a “reject” sinner

Read 5:12.  This guy is far worse off than Peter.  As a leper, he not only had to deal with a chronic skin disease—he was also viewed by his society as a bad sinner.  According to Old Testament law, his leprosy made him ceremonially unclean—a kind of physical and spiritual quarantine.  He wasn’t allowed to touch anyone lest he spread his leprosy.  In fact, he had to shout “Unclean!  Unclean!” whenever people approached him.  He was also barred from worshiping God at the Temple, and anyone who touched him also lost this privilege until they underwent a ritual cleansing procedure.  To make matters worse, many rabbis taught (not the Old Testament) that chronic lepers were being punished by God with this disease because they had committed horrible sins.  All of this meant that lepers were social and religious outcasts—shunned by their community and by God.  They were caught in a Catch-22—they couldn’t get better without help, but their condition cut them off from the help they needed.

Maybe you feel like this kind of person.  I call this kind of person a “reject” sinner.  If you’re this kind of person, you know you’re pretty messed up (EXAMPLES: PHYSICAL HANDICAPS; SERIOUS EMOTIONAL & PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEMS; PICKED ON AT SCHOOL; POOR REACTION TO YOUR PROBLEMS & OTHERS MAKES MATTERS WORSE)—and you know that most people don’t really want to be around you.  And you’re pretty sure that even if God could help you, he probably is just as grossed out by you as other people are.

You see this mentality with this guy.  Because of Jesus’ miracles, he has no problem believing that Jesus can make him clean (i.e., physically heal him and make him acceptable to God)—his problem is believing that Jesus would want to do this.

Once again, Jesus’ response is completely unexpected (read 5:13).  No self-respecting rabbi would be caught dead in the physical proximity of a leper, let alone conversing with him.  But Jesus not only converses with the man and tells him that he is willing to cleanse him—he also reaches out and touches (embraces?) him!  Jesus’ touch heals him of his leprosy completely and instantaneously—and thus restores him to community and makes him fit to worship God at the Temple!  I honestly believe that this man was more blown away by this demonstration of Jesus’ compassion than he was by his power.  Here is a man who has been rejected by his community and (supposedly) by God—yet here is indisputable proof that God loves him!

Read 5:14.  Jesus gives him this command for three reasons.  First, the Old Testament law required that lepers who got well be certified by the priests—and Jesus was obedient to Old Testament law.  Second, this gave the man an opportunity to provide testimony that Jesus had healed him—thus providing the religious leaders with proof that he was the Messiah (cf. Isa.35).  And third, Jesus wasn’t interested in running healing crusades.  But the man can’t keep the news to himself (who can blame him?)—read 5:15.  Remember Jesus’ mission statement: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.  I came to call sinners...”

For time purposes, I’m going to skip over the next encounter between Jesus and a paralytic.  It illustrates the same points as the leper’s healing.  Let’s go on to the fourth encounter...

Levi: a “terminal” sinner

Read 5:27.  You can’t appreciate how revolutionary this invitation is until you understand who tax-collectors were.  This guy was viewed as a far worse sinner than Peter or the leper—he was a “terminal” sinner.  Tax-collectors were truly the bottom of the moral barrel in Jewish society—right down there with pimps and prostitutes and professional thieves.   They worked for hated Rome, so they were viewed as traitors to God’s chosen nation.  Rome gave them soldiers to enforce their collections, and told them they could keep all they could collect after Rome’s cut.  This was a nasty recipe for greed and exploitation.  Levi not only grossly overtaxed his countrymen—he had probably also had innocent Jews beaten for protesting his unjust collections.  Even the Romans knew they were horrible—they called them “licensed robbers” and “wild beasts in human form.”1  They were excommunicated from the synagogues and most rabbis taught that they had passed the point of repentance.  (Other moderate rabbis taught that a tax-collector could repent, but the proof that he repented was that he dropped dead on the spot.)  They were rich, but because they were so corrupt, their money was ceremonially unclean—so most Jews wouldn’t take their money.  So they just made more money and spent it on wild parties with other “terminal” sinners.

Can you relate to Levi?  Are you a “terminal” sinner?  Did you blow it so badly, so long ago that you concluded that you had no chance with God?  (Some religious types probably confirmed this for you in case you had any hope.)  Even if you wanted to change, you probably wouldn’t be able to—and besides, that would never make up for all the bad stuff you’ve done.  When you live like this long enough, you develop a hard exterior that communicates a “I don’t care what I do or what you think” attitude.  The more you live this way, the more people condemn you and distance themselves from you, and the more you harden yourself. 

Now you can appreciate how utterly radical Jesus’ invitation was—and why Levi responded the way he did (read 5:28).  There is no miracle like the other three encounters.  The miracle is simply that Jesus would love this man and want him to be his friend and confidant—and this changed his life dramatically.  He closed his seedy business and joined Peter and the rest of Jesus’ “sinner” disciples.  Read 5:29.  Levi hatched the idea of throwing a big banquet so his “terminal sinner” friends could meet the man who had given him a new life.  Jesus loved the idea, and gladly ate with Levi’s friends (this communicated acceptance of the ones with whom you dined).

The religious leaders were horrified that Jesus would accept such people (read 5:30).  They had their own “rabbis-only” dinner clubs so they could avoid being polluted.  Jesus’ response brings us full-circle to Jesus’ mission statement (read 5:31,32).  One final point about Levi: He had another name—Matthew, the Matthew who wrote the first book of our New Testaments. 


 The first lesson is one we have already seen in Luke—but we can never hear it enough.  No matter how sinful and broken you are, Jesus loves you, wants you, and is able to transform your life.  It doesn’t matter if you are a “mainstream” sinner or a “reject” sinner or a “terminal” sinner—Jesus can forgive your sins and heal your wounds and change the whole direction of your life.  The “righteous” and “healthy” people (including so-called Christians) who tell you (subtly or directly) that you’re a lost cause are absolutely wrong!

I’m really glad about this, because I was a “mainstream sinner” well on my way to becoming a “terminal sinner” when Jesus called me to follow him.  After almost 37 years, it still blows my mind how he went out of his way to reach out to an arrogant, self-centered, people-using punk like me.  I think about this almost every day, and thank him for saving my life from the misery and corruption and condemnation I would have experienced.

The second lesson is that the only thing you need to do to experience Jesus’ life-transforming forgiveness and love is to humbly admit to him that you need it.  That’s the whole point of these encounters.  Peter admitted he didn’t deserve to be with Jesus—and Jesus invited him to come.  The leper admitted that he was unclean—and Jesus cleansed him.  Levi knew that he was lost—and Jesus found him and called him.  The only people in this passage who weren’t called or healed were the Pharisees—and the only reason they weren’t was because they wouldn’t admit they needed it.  This attitude that insists that you’re good enough, religious enough, together enough, resourceful enough to fix yourself, etc.—is what the Bible calls pride, and it is the one sin that is fatal.  Not even Jesus can heal you if you won’t admit you’re sick.

Have you ever humbled yourself before Jesus and told him that you are sick, that you can’t heal yourself—and that you are asking him to heal you?  It’s not enough to mentally realize you need help.  You have to join the leper and cast yourself before him and say, “If you are willing, you can cleanse me.”  If you have never done this, and you sense that God is speaking to you, do it today—don’t delay and let your pride re-assert itself.  Just tell him right now...

The third lesson is that following Jesus always involves reaching out to people who need him.  This was Jesus’ mission, and this is what each of these people did after they met Jesus (5:10,14,29).  The moment you meet Jesus, he immediately gives you the privilege to do the most important thing anyone can do—tell others about his love.  He may send you to people who are like you (Levi), or he may send you to people very different from you (the leper).  You may lead many people to Christ (Peter), or you may sow many seeds but harvest few.  Those issues are Jesus’ business—ours is to embrace this privilege and to follow him out to others.

Nothing could be more natural than to offer others the love that has rescued you, and nothing is more unnatural and hypocritical than to be unwilling to do this.  What is more useless than a doctor who won’t help sick people?  One of the greatest tragedies in the so-called evangelical church is that it acts more like the Pharisees in this passage than Peter, the leper and Levi.  Mega-churches offer all kinds of programs that attract Christians from other churches, but less than 5% of their growth is people coming to Christ.  And no church (including Xenos) is immune from this betrayal of Jesus’ call.  I believe that the best thing that has happened in this church recently is that so many of us have recommitted ourselves to this call—following Jesus out to the people he loves so much, showing them his love and compassion, sharing how his love has changed our lives, and inviting them to meet him so they experience his love for themselves.  Will you join us?

1 Roger T. Forster and V. Paul Marston, God's Strategy in Human History (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1974), p.213.