Three times in the gospels, Jesus begins a sentence with “The Son of Man came…” If you were with us last week, can you remember any of those three?
The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10)
The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for man (Mark 10:45)
The Son of Man came eating and drinking (Luke 7:34)
In all these statements, Jesus is referring to himself, to his own mission. Jesus – the Son of Man – came to seek and to save the lost, he came to serve and give his life, and he came eating and drinking. The first two tell us why Jesus came, but the last one tells us how he came. In our lenten journey this year, we will be listening to Jesus around the table, listening to how Jesus lived out his mission eating and drinking.
This morning, we find ourselves in Luke, chapter 5. Luke 5, beginning in verse 27. If you have a bible with you this morning, please feel free to turn there with me. If not, you are welcome to grab one from the pew in front of you and leave it open as we read and study God’s Word together. Luke is in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Luke 5, beginning in verse 27.
Before we hear God’s word, take a moment and visualize something with me. If you could have one living person over for dinner, who would it be? Who would you want sit around the table with for a long, enjoyable meal? Can you picture that person in your mind? Good. Hold on to that.
By the way, in case it was relevant, Pastor Olga and I and the kids are available most week nights. Just in case it was relevant.
Okay, so you have in your mind the person you most want to have dinner with. Now, think who you would never want to eat with. Who do you not want around your table? With both people in mind, let us listen to God’s word, but before we do, please pray with me.
Father, may your Word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.
If you are able, I invite you to stand as we hear God’s word.
Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.
After this, Jesus went out
and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi
sitting at his tax booth.
“Follow me,” Jesus said to him,
and Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.
Then Levi held a grand banquet for Jesus at his house
and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.
But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect
complained to his disciples,
“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus answered them,
“It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick.
I have not come to call the righteous,
but sinners to repentance.”
They said to him,
“John’s disciples often fast and pray,
and so do the disciples of the Pharisees,
but yours go on eating and drinking.”
“Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?
But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them,
in those days, they will fast.”
He told them this parable,
“No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one.
Otherwise they will have torn the new garment
and the patch from the new will not match the old.
And no one pours new wine into old wineskins.
Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins,
the wine will run out,
and the wineskins will be ruined.
No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.
And no one after drinking old wine wants the new,
for they say, ‘the old is better.’”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
With whom would you most like to share a meal? With whom would you never eat?
Our answers reveal what we believe matters, who we believe belongs and who does not? In other words, our answers reveal what we believe about salvation.
Our most-desired guest often shows what we think it looks like to arrive – to finally be satisfied, fulfilled, and accepted. This is what it takes, this is who I want to be. If what we value is being accepted by our friends, then we might want to eat with the coolest person we can imagine. If we value competence, the smartest. If status, the most powerful or successful.
But even more revealing is who we would leave off the guest list permanently. People who do not measure up, whose lives, whose choices, whose circumstances or character disgust or disappoint us. So we push them to the side and out of our lives.
The Bible tells us that Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. In no period of history have people enjoyed paying taxes, but the tax collectors of Jesus’ day were particularly despised. These tax collectors worked for the Roman Empire, who had occupied the land and oppressed the people of Israel. They were often corrupt, charging bogus extra taxes to line their own pockets. They were considered lackeys by the romans and despised by their own people.
Jesus sees Levi sitting in his tax booth and says, Follow me and Levi got up, left everything, and followed him. To be loved, to be called by Jesus changed everything for Levi. He left his job, his life, everything because of the joy of following Jesus. Levi was likely wealthy, likely had much in the way of possessions, but he lived on the outside, far from God and God’s people. For someone like Levi, who had lived on the edge, the welcome of Jesus was transformative – it was joy and life, like cool water after years walking in the hot sun.
Levi leaves everything to follow Jesus. In his joy of knowing Jesus, he wants all his friends to meet him. So Levi held a grand banquet for Jesus at his house and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. Levi’s response to this new life has found is to throw a party for Jesus. He invites all his friends so that they can know him. Levi’s friends are like him – tax collectors and others like it – people who lived on the outside or at the edges of God’s people.
Jesus eats with them. A simple and yet powerful gesture. They share a meal – a sign of love, respect, affection, and welcome. They break bread – a sign that they belong together. You are one of us.
But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
People from a group known for their passion for God, their outstanding and holy lives, and their devotion to living every second of their lives in obedience to God – they show up and cannot believe what they are seeing. Jesus – God’s chosen Messiah – and his disciples are eating with tax collectors and sinners.
The Pharisees agreed that God’s kingdom was going to be a party. They weren’t objecting to the choices of food or beverage. They weren’t objecting, at this point, to Jesus eating and drinking by itself. Their problem was with the guest list.
Tax Collectors. It just doesn’t compute. Not only were they outcasts, they were collaborators. They worked for the enemy. The Romans lived alongside the Israelites in the very land God had given them. They used violence to oppress them, stripped them through taxation, and worshipped false gods. These romans were not just enemies of the Jews, but enemies of God. And the tax collectors worked for them. They were traitors and enemies of God.
Jesus was eating with the enemies of God. Eating is a sign of peace, a sign of respect, a sign of belonging. How can Jesus eat with these enemies of God? Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?
Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
There is grace around Jesus’ table. Jesus eats with the outcasts, the unclean, and those on the margins. He breaks bread with the people other would rather have left off the guest list. He eats even with sinners, even with enemies.
Jesus at Levi’s table shows us at least three things about the way Jesus is working out his mission. First, bringing salvation to the lost and broken means getting your hands dirty. It involves eating and drinking with them, setting aside comfort and respectability in order to share the gospel with them.
Jesus came to raise the dead, to justify the guilty and condemned, to wash those who were dirty and unclean, to rescue the lost from hell, to clothe with his glory those who were covered with shame, and to renew to eternal life those who were trapped in sin and death. If we remember that this is why Jesus came – that this is why he took on flesh, why he shed his blood, why he offered the sacrifice of his death, why he descended even to hell, then we will never think it strange that God saves the worst of people, those whose list of sins is long.
The people we despise we believe to be unworthy of the grace of Christ. But why else did Christ sacrifice his life and take on the curse of the cross than so he might stretch out his hand to those lost in sin?
The Pharisees want Jesus to be a like a doctor who avoids sick people. But it is the sick who need him. It is the lost and broken who need Jesus, so, of course, he will be found eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners.
The second thing Jesus at Levi’s table shows us is that eating with Jesus changes us. Levi wasn’t the same after knowing Jesus. He left his old life for the joy of Jesus. He could no longer live that life. Jesus says that he came to call sinners to repentance. Eating with Jesus – the welcome, the friendship, and the grace – doesn’t leave us the same. We are changed by eating with Jesus. As Paul says, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. The old has passed, behold everything has become new.
The last thing we see in Jesus sitting at Levi’s table is that those who know their need are closer to the kingdom than those who think they are well. The Pharisees were astounded that Jesus ate with sinners because they didn’t consider themselves to be among them. The people who knew how far they had fallen were the first to respond to Jesus. The people who knew how much they need saving were the most joyous when they encounter Jesus. It was the respectable, put-together Pharisees who couldn’t handle Jesus.
The irony in Jesus saying he did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance is that there are not any truly righteous people. Only Jesus. All the rest of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The guests at Levi’s party knew it and they rejoiced to see Jesus. The Pharisees denied and found themselves on the outside.
Go back with me to those two people you had fixed in your minds. With whom would you love to eat? With whom would you never want to eat? I want to add a third question, with whom would Jesus eat?
There was grace around Jesus’ table – grace at the table and grace in who was sitting around the table. Is the same grace found around our tables? Do we eat with tax collectors and sinners? Do the people we eat with encounter Christ and his transforming grace?
At Stout Reformed, we have intentionally kept Lent light this year. We did not want to clutter your weeks because as we seek to follow Jesus, I have one challenge for us this week: Eat with someone. Let the Spirit guide you on who that should be, but eat with someone this week.
Friends, Jesus still eats with sinners. If we are honest with ourselves, none of us deserves a seat at the table with Jesus. None of us has loved God with our whole heart, soul, and mind. None of us has loved our neighbors as ourselves. If we are honest with ourselves, each of us deserves to be excluded from this royal banquet and, indeed, from God’s presence forever.
Yet this is God’s feast of love. Coming to this table is not an act of virtue. It is not a place for those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are not and humbly repent and trust Christ alone. It is a table for those who find in Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension their only peace.
Friends, Jesus still eats with sinners. So if you long to eat with Jesus, to be transformed by his grace, come to the table. If you know Christ and long to know him more deeply, come to the table. Come, feast with Jesus. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.