One of the crazy and sad things about the world we live in is the way we’re so ready to divide ourselves into little groups of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Have you noticed yourself doing it? I have. You listen to someone speak, or read them online, and the first question you’re asking yourself is not, ‘What is this person actually saying?’ but rather, ‘Are they the right kind of person?’ ‘Are they like me, one of “us”, Or are they one of “them”, the wrong kind of person?’ It’s the way social media works, It’s increasingly the way news stories are written, and so often, it’s the way we relate to each other personally.
Or continue to read the text:
Barack Obama thinks it’s a global problem. In a recent speech in South Africa, Obama said this:
Most of us prefer to surround ourselves with opinions that validate what we already believe. You notice the people who you think are smart are the people who agree with you?
(ironically, in that very speech, Obama himself, he made fun of people on the other side of politics to him, and everyone who agreed with him laughed and clapped him for being so smart).
My question for you is this:
Who are the Jesus kind of people?
Who are the right kind of people according to Jesus? Who is Jesus for? Is Jesus just for one kind of person in our world: Christians people with certain kinds of thoughts and lives, versus everyone else? Is Jesus for you?
(This is the text of a sermon on Luke 5:1–32 preached at St Augustine’s Anglican Church, Neutral Bay, 18 November 2018).
That question keeps coming up in Luke chapter 5. Luke chapter 4 was all about what Jesus came to do.
Jesus came to preach the gospel, the message of freedom and forgiveness; and as he preached, he healed and cast out spirits. But this chapter is about who Jesus is for.
The people who encounter Jesus
Did you notice how this passage is full of personal encounters with Jesus? All sorts of people meet Jesus and respond to him. And they’re all so different, aren’t they?
Let’s remind ourselves of their stories now, and we I do, I want you to ask yourself a question: Which of these people do you relate to the most? Which of them are most like you?
The regular business people
That’s Simon Peter and the fishermen, middle-class small business owners, along with their employees, going about their lives, washing their nets. Are these kind of people like you?
They encounter Jesus one day when he turns up on a seaside preaching tour. And when Jesus arrives, business as usual goes out the window. He commandeers one of their fishing boats to preach from. And when he’s finished, he tells them how to do their job:
Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch. (Luke 5:4)
It’s slightly weird behaviour from Jesus—and a bit arrogant too, isn’t it?
But Simon Peter listens to what Jesus has to say. He follows his instructions. They let down the nets, and suddenly, they’re full to bursting! Jesus has given them a surplus of stock that’s so gigantic it threatens to sink their business assets, literally.
So Peter and all his partners realise something. They’re in the presence of greatness—greatness far beyond anything they could ever have imagined. And that strikes Peter. He realises who he is, and he knows he can’t handle it:
Simon Peter… fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ (Luke 5:8)
This is something Peter’s training and experience could never have prepared him for. I guess most of the time, he was too busy with his job to think about how sinful he was. But when he comes face to face with Jesus, he knows in the depths of his heart that Jesus is great and he is worthy.
What does Jesus do? Does he leave Peter alone to get on with business? No, he completely changes Peter’s life. He effectively says, ‘Peter, yes OK I’ll go—but you’re coming with me’:
‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’ (Luke 5:10)
Peter suddenly has a new life, and a new job. He’s met Jesus, and he’s going to help other people meet Jesus too. So Peter, and his partners too, take up their new life. They:
left everything and followed [Jesus]. (Luke 5:11)
Here’s a question for you: What was Peter’s main qualification for being a ‘fisher for people’? What was it that made Peter qualified to be a great evangelist? Was it his talent or skills? Was it because he was successful in business? No. Actually, he’s just testified that he was terrible at business: they’d fished all night and hadn’t caught anything.
No, Peter’s qualification was this: He realized how great a sinner he was And he worshipped Jesus. And if that’s you, you’re qualified to share Jesus with others too. Because that’s the message. We’re sinners, and we need Jesus. And who is better qualified to speak that message, than sinners who need Jesus?
Well the next person who encounters Jesus is:
He’s a man ‘covered with leprosy’. The word translated ‘leprosy’ here refers to a skin disease of some kind, It’s not the same as Hansen’s disease which we call leprosy today. For someone living in ancient Israel, a serious skin disease like this wasn’t just a medical condition. It made him an outcast: an outcast from society, and an outcast from the regular worship of God. According to the holiness code of ancient Israel, in Leviticus 14 in the Old Testament, a skin disease was a sign of unwholeness and defilement. It was a pointer to sin and death, and it made a person ‘unclean’, unfit to live in the community and worship God. He had to live outside the people, away from everyone.
Maybe you feel like an outcast yourself for some reason? Maybe you feel that something in your life makes you unworthy or unable to worship God?
What does this man do? He sees Jesus, and he begs. He falls to the ground, like Peter, and he says,
Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean. (Luke 5:12)
He doesn’t doubt Jesus’ ability, does he? He knows Jesus is the powerful Lord of all. He knows that Jesus can make him clean. But he doesn’t know if Jesus wants to make him clean.
What does Jesus do? He touches him. He touches the untouchable. He loves the isolated through that gesture of warmth. And more: with that touch, he answers the man’s question, without any hesitation:
I am willing… be clean. (Luke 5:13)
And he is cleansed, and restored, and goes to the priests to show them and get his life back.
Other people encounter Jesus too. Did you notice:
The men who carry the paralysed man to Jesus.They’re caring for him and they want him healed. If you’re a carer, you’ll probably relate to them. It can be so lonely, and hard, can’t it? For various reasons we’ve had to deal with the complex bureaucracy of the NDIS recently And the frustration we felt… You get palmed off and pushed away, and sometimes you just get desperate and feel you need to do something to break through and get help.
These guys actually break through the roof to bring their friend to Jesus!
They do it because they know Jesus can help him. And this is called ‘faith’ (Luke 5:20)? Why is it called faith? Because ‘faith’ isn’t just some inner feeling of religiousness. Faith is belief and trust that Jesus Christ can do something for you, something that you desperately need.
And Jesus does do something for their friend,
The severely disabled
paralysed man. There he is, unable to do the regular things of life, reliant on others, humbled, humiliated, Maybe you relate to him?
This disabled man encounters Jesus too. But the encounter starts in a very surprising way. Jesus says:
Friend, your sins are forgiven. (Luke 5:20)
Nobody’s asked Jesus for forgiveness of sins, have they? They were clearly looking for healing.
So why does Jesus say, ‘your sins are forgiven’? It’s not because of some particular sin that has caused his disability. After all, we’re all sinners—even Peter recognized that, didn’t he? No, it’s because Jesus knows that forgiveness is something he needs. What we need isn’t always the same as what we need. We all need forgiveness of sins, even if we don’t realise it or ask for it. If we don’t have forgiveness, we’re as good as dead, because we’re facing God’s judgment. And Jesus gives him forgiveness.
But Jesus also heals this man physically, doesn’t he? The man stands up, and praises God! And so his life becomes a sign to others— a sign of what Jesus does. Jesus forgives sin. Jesus raises people to life. Jesus leads us to a life of praise and worship of God.
Who else encounters Jesus here? Did you notice:
The opinion shapers
The Pharisees and teachers of the law. These were the respected, honoured people in ancient Israel. Their lives were exemplary. And their opinions were listened to. Their opinions are moral opinions. These are the people who aren’t afraid to call out wrong, and they’re ready to pounce on anyone who doesn’t do the right thing. They’re in charge of the media of their day, and they know how to use it.
What’s the equivalent of these Pharisees and law-teachers in our own day? If you’d asked me that 50 years ago (and if I’d been alive then), I would have said the equivalent is religious leaders, priests, and preachers. Of course, this is still relevant to religious leaders today, and as I prepared this sermon I had to reflect on how it applies to me. But the thing is, preachers aren’t really opinion shapers any more, are they? Nobody in Australia really cares about what we think.
Today the moral opinion shapers are the journalists, the writers, the bloggers, the tweeters, the moral forces of good, who call out evil and proclaim loudly what is good. Sometimes it’s celebrities. But in fact, it’s anyone with an opinion that people out there are wrong and bad, and who isn’t afraid to share that opinion with the world. Maybe that’s you? Righteous you. You who takes up the moral cause. You who call out the wrong. You who stands as a force of right against the wrong.
These opinion shapers have a question about Jesus:
Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? (Luke 5:21)
You see, Jesus has spoken the wrong words. The wrong words show that you are the wrong kind of person. They know they must call out the use of language. Judge the blasphemy!
And they’re right, aren’t they?
Who can forgive sins but God alone? (Luke 5:21)
A person can’t just go around forgiving sins, can they? That’s God’s job at the end of time when we face his judgment.
So you need to ask: Who is this man?
You see, either the Pharisees are right, and Jesus is speaking utter blasphemies and he’s a raving lunatic who thinks he’s God and able to go around declaring people forgiven as if it’s the end of the world. And he does need to be called out for his language.
Or… he actually is the Son of God.
So now, are you going judge Jesus for saying these incorrect words? Or are you going to weigh up what he has to say? Jesus has backed up his words. He’s shown his incredible power over the effects of sin in our world. He’s shown his deep compassion for those who are desperate. He has raised these people to life and he himself is risen from the dead.
You can’t escape having an opinion about Jesus.
had to make up their minds, didn’t they? ‘All’ the crowds who watched and followed Jesus (Luke 5:26). They glorify God. But they’re also afraid and amazed by this man who forgives sins and raises people to life.
What are you going to do with him?
Then Jesus comes across an associate of Eddie Obeid: a tax-collector called Levi.
Tax-collectors of the time weren’t like ATO employees today. They were more like fee and toll collection agents for the Roman government. And the thing is, the Roman overlords didn’t care about regulating the prices; they didn’t care how the tax-collectors got the fees as long as they gave a share to Rome. They were allowed to charge whatever the unregulated market would bear. So as a result, corruption was rife, even inevitable. But worse than that actually, because these people also worked for an invading foreign oppressor. They were scum.
Jesus says to this scum, ‘Follow me’. And Levi leaves everything, like Peter. And he rises up, like the paralytic. And he follows Jesus, like the disciples.
But hold on, Peter and his friends were regular business operators; The paralytic was disabled and desperate; fair enough that they should follow Jesus. But a tax collector? Really?
Levi holds a feast for Jesus with his friends. And the Pharisees and law-teachers ask:
Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners? (Luke 5:30)
The new NSW opposition leader has been in a bit of trouble for his past associations with corrupt people like Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi. It’s the same here, isn’t it? In fact, Jesus is being naïve, don’t you think? If Jesus had employed a proper PR advisor, I’m sure they would have told him to stay away from Levi’s feast.
Let’s think about the consequences of Jesus’ actions here: ‘The opinion shapers will have a field day; he’ll be howled down. There’s tax-collectors, for goodness’ sake! And their associates. There will be alcohol there, and far too much of it. Surely there will be prostitutes. And there will be abusers and perpetrators of all sorts. Of course there will. There is a massive danger for Jesus of guilt by association! At best Jesus is ridiculously unprepared for it, at worst he’s actually associated with these people.
And come to think of it, frankly it is disgusting, isn’t it? It’s disgusting that Jesus would have anything to do with these awful, awful people, don’t you think? They are scum. They are not to be considered. Jesus needs to get out.’
And that is exactly what you would say if you don’t know Jesus. If you haven’t understood what Jesus has come to do, And if you haven’t seen who Jesus is for. Because if you don’t know Jesus, you don’t know yourself. And you don’t know how desperate you really are.
Who is Jesus for?
Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick… (Luke 5:31)
Jesus is a healer. The funny thing about being a healer, is that you can’t avoid sick people. It kind of goes with the territory.
But it’s not just about healing. All the way through, the healing of sickness has been pointing to a deeper problem: our sin; our lives of rejection against God, sins that deserve God’s judgment. Without Jesus we’re all spiritually sick. All of us. Without Jesus, I’m not OK, and you’re not OK. We need help.
So Jesus says:
I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:32)
Not the righteous
In the end, there’s only one kind of person who Jesus isn’t for. Jesus is for regular people. Jesus is for outcasts and carers and the disabled and desperate people. Jesus is for the scum.
But the one kind of person Jesus is not for is the person who thinks they’re OK. The person who thinks God is happy with them all by themselves. The person who might be full of moral outrage against the evils of the world, but fails to look at themselves and see how desperate they really are. Is that you? Are you the righteous?
Will you follow Peter’s lead and admit you are actually a sinner in need of help?
Because Jesus has come to call sinners. Jesus takes us and accepts us as sinners. He doesn’t ask us to be perfect or righteous before he can love us. He loves us as sinners And he calls us as sinners.
What does he call us to?
To repentance. Let’s be clear: Jesus wasn’t hanging around with the tax-collectors and sinners so he could just give them all a big hug and tell them their extortion and sinful behavior was beautiful and God affirms them and loves them for it. He was there to proclaim forgiveness, and he was there to call them to repentance. Repentance is what Peter did: he got up, left behind his old life, and followed Jesus. Repentance is what Levi the tax-collector did: he got up, left behind his old life, and followed Jesus.
Jesus accepts you as you are. There is absolute forgiveness. But he doesn’t keep you where you are. He calls you to change and live a new life for him, which can be a struggle, and can be hard, but is so worth it.
Have you come to repentance?
So there are two kinds of people
Firstly, there are the righteous. Are you one of the righteous? You think you’re OK, especially when compared to all those other terrible people. If that’s you, I can only ask you to look at who Jesus really is, and so realise who you really are.
But secondly, there are the sinners. Are you one of the sinners? You realise you’re not OK. You’ve come to see who Jesus is, and when you see Jesus, you see how desperate you are. If you’re a sinner, Jesus is for you. He forgives you. And he’s won that forgiveness for you by his death on the cross, taking your sins on himself. He has authority and power to forgive you completely. And he is willing. So:
Have you come to repentance? Have you turned to Jesus? Jesus is calling you to repentance. To leave your old life, and follow him. He’s not calling you to instant perfection. But he is calling you to the struggle against sin. He’s not calling you to conform to everyone around you. But he is calling you to conform to himself—which is far more wonderful. In this passage, different people come to Jesus in different ways and for different reasons, don’t they? But all of them come to see their sin and all of them are raised up to live. They followed and worshiped Jesus, and left their old way of living behind.
Will you come to repentance? Pray to God and give your life to him? If you don’t know what to do, this link will help. Jesus is for sinners, and he calls them to repent.
And if you have repented, and you have followed Jesus, how wonderful! Here’s my question for you:
Who are you for?
Who are you for?
Remember what Jesus said to Peter:
Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people. (Luke 5:10)
Peter was a sinner who repented and followed Jesus. That was his qualification for the people-fishing business. The business involves calling sinners to repent and follow Jesus. So if you’re a sinner who’s
You’re qualified for the people-fishing business too. We’ll all play different roles in the business, but we’re all part of it.
Jesus is for all people, and all kinds of people. Because all people, and all kinds of people, need Jesus.
Without Jesus, people are lost in sin and facing God’s judgment. But with Jesus, there is full assurance of forgiveness and life and hope and resurrection: for all people, and all kinds of people.
Earlier in the year I was helping to lead a team from Moore College. We were partnering with churches around Lake Illawarra. There was a big event at Shellharbour City Centre where we invited people to come and hear about Jesus. I met some people there and we sat in the back row together. There was a terribly obese diabetic. There were two Mormons. There was a convicted criminal. And they’d all been invited by members of churches to come to hear about Jesus. Because Jesus is for all people.
Are you for all people? Here’s how you know. If you actively welcome and associate with people who are different from you, rather than just with the people who are like you. If you’re willing to cope with discomfort and pain and frustration for the sake of reaching different kinds of people, even the people who are hard and difficult. If you care more about people becoming more like Jesus, than you care about people becoming more like you.
Who is Jesus for? Jesus is for everyone. Unless, of course, you think you’re all fine and everything is OK. In which case you’d be wrong. We need to listen Jesus’ call, admit we are sinners, and come to him in repentance.