Luke 5:27-32 ESV
The Great Physician
One of the concepts that has been on my mind lately is the idea of Authority. This is partially because I have to explain to my children, almost daily, why I am responsible to God for them at a young age, but there is more to it than that. I try to consider the complex web of authority that asserts itself in our lives. I like to think of there being different spheres of authority. For young people, they are responsible to obey or submit to their parents, teachers, government to a certain degree, and other leaders in the community. Adults are responsible to obey or submit to their employers, government at both national and local levels, and their spouse or families.
The ultimate authority in our lives, at all times, belongs to God whether we think about it or not. For me, God’s ultimate authority has become increasingly important to teach my children, especially as my oldest keeps getting older. I want him to be able to leave our house and know that he still has a Father in heaven that cares for him more than I can. I want him to know that God’s authority is not something to rebel against and I have to model that with the authority that I have over him. This is the toughest job that anyone can undertake, to raise a child. But it can also be the most rewarding! I am sure that you all had perfect parents and obeyed your parents perfectly, but take a second today and think about how you handled and responded to the authority that your parents had in your life and how that shaped who you are today.
As we go into the passage for today, I want us to think about the different responses that were made to Jesus’ authority. What makes one person choose submission rather than grumbling or complaining and vice versa?
Luke 5:27-32 ESV
“After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.
29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.””
Chronology & Parallel Passages:
The parallel passages are Matthew 9:9-13 and Mark 2:13-17. In all three gospel accounts, this passage follows the healing of the paralytic. Upon healing the paralytic, the Pharisees and teachers/scribes were the ones questioning in their hearts. They had come from all over Judea and Jerusalem to hear Jesus teach and there is good reason to think that they are the ones present in our current passage as well. In order to get a better understanding of the motivation and intention of Levi/Matthew and the Pharisees in this passage, we will have to consider some of the historical nuance from the Old Testament, other Jewish literature and commentary, as well as historical documents from that time. Instead of bombarding you with all the history up front, we will examine it as it comes up in the passage.
Luke 5:27-28 “After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.”
- From Mark 2:13-14 & Matthew 9:9, we read that the man, Levi, is called Matthew and that he is the son of Alphaeus.
- We also read that Jesus left the house in which he was previously teaching- where He healed the paralytic. Mark records Jesus as going “out again beside the sea” to teach them.
- Let’s take a moment and review some of the history of Judea from earlier in the 1st century. In roughly 6 AD, Rome proposed a tax on the native inhabitants of Judea. This outraged the Jews who had previously not had to pay a tax under Roman rule. This was one of the ways in which they felt oppressed by Rome. Directly following the imposed tax, a man from the region of Galilee named Judas of Gamala became the leader of a resistance to Roman rule. He was very popular with the people and even incited violence against other Jews who registered with Rome in the taxation. It is in this light that the Pharisees asked Jesus about paying taxes to Caesar in Matthew 22:17. Judas of Gamala, along with Zadok the priest, are considered to be the founders of the 4th sect of Judaism, the Zealots- the other three being Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. This is the same Judas that was spoken of by Gamaliel in Acts 5:37. Josephus, the Roman and Jewish historian, records much of this in his 2 books, The Jewish War and Antiquities.
- With this historical understanding of the Roman imposed taxes in Judea, let’s look at those collecting the taxes. One wanting to be a tax collector had to bid for the job to the Roman governor and the one with the highest bid usually got the job. The bid was the amount of taxes that they were going to collect to give to Rome. They were allowed to keep any money collected above the bid. This led to unethical practices among some of the tax collectors who became considerably wealthy. Amongst the Jewish people, they were considered as outcasts, traitors, thieves, extortionists, and a signpost of Roman rule. They were also denied entrance to ceremonial rituals because of their impurity. Jesus was well aware of all this when He told Matthew to “Follow me.”
- Matthew answered the call, he left everything, and followed Jesus. Let’s take a second to consider what leaving his post as a tax collector meant. We previously read about the call of Peter, James, and John in Luke 5:1-11. They were professional fisherman and left everything to follow Jesus, just like Matthew. However, when they left to follow Jesus, their father or other family members were still able to keep the family business going. We read in John 21:1-8 that, after His resurrection, Jesus revealed Himself again to Peter, James, John and some of the others as they were fishing on the Sea of Tiberius or Galilee. They were able to go back to their previous way of life. Matthew on the other hand, could not return to his post once he left. Surely Rome would not suspend the tax just because Matthew decided to leave his position, another would be put in his place. We can see that Matthew’s call would have a drastic effect on his life. What was his response to this life changing event?
Luke 5:29-30 “And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” “
- Matthew made a great feast for Jesus. What does his response to Jesus’ call tells us?
- First, it tells us that Matthew may have been wealthy. This is worth noting because in Matthew 19:23-24, “And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”” And in verses 27-29 we read, “Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”
- Second, it tells us that he wanted to celebrate this new relationship with Jesus. He invited everyone he knew, a large company of tax collectors and others to the great feast.
- Before we consider the response of the Pharisees and their scribes, let’s again get some historical perspective. By the time of Jesus ministry, the Torah had been interpreted by the scribes and Pharisees to contain not 10 or 11, but 613 laws called the Mitzvot. Broken down into 14 books, the largest sections are laws on Idolatry and Paganism with 50 laws, laws on forbidden relations with 36 laws, laws on the Sanhedrin and Punishments with 29 laws, and laws on forbidden foods with 27 laws. These traditions are what kept them set apart from the many nations. However, they were never intended to bring salvation or righteousness. Much of Jesus’ teachings amongst the Pharisees breaks down the walls that they created.
- This is their response. The Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at His disciples about eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus’ interaction at the great feast could have broken many of the traditions of the Pharisees, and they grumbled. Grumbling is a response that portrays discontent. Is this the first time we have heard the word ‘grumbling’ in the Bible?
- If you have read the book of Exodus, then you surely have heard about the peoples grumbling in the desert after leaving Egypt. What is really interesting about the 40 year exodus narrative is the response of God to their grumbling before and after Moses was given the commandments on Mount Sinai. Before the commandments were given in Exodus 19-31, Israel’s grumbling received a response of grace from God. Grumbling in Ex 16 about hunger resulted in manna from heaven; grumbling in Ex 17 about thirst resulted in water from a rock. But after receiving the commandments when Israel left Sanai in Numbers 10, they almost immediately grumbled about their misfortune in the desert and in Numbers 11 a fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the camp; they grumbled in Numbers 21 about food and water and the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and many died. The law was never intended to bring grace but instead brought wrath and death. This adds new context for Romans 7.
- After receiving revelation from God in Jesus, just like in the desert with Moses, the peoples grumbling was a response that God is not enough. This became more apparent in the Rabbinic traditions of Pharisees in the transition period between 70AD and 135AD after the Temple was destroyed by Rome. There is a story in Talmud called ‘The Oven of Akhnai’. In the story, Akhnai made a new oven by combining tiles and sand to an old oven and wanted to know if his new oven was ritually impure. In the discussion, one view was that the oven was pure whereas the opposing view was that the oven was impure. After much debate, finally a voice from heaven came down to say that the oven was pure, but those holding the opposing view claimed that regardless of any miracle, God had given man the power to interpret the law. The famous quote by Rabbi Joshua at the end of the story says, “The Torah itself is uncovered not by prophets, nor even by God’s miracles or audible voice, but by man’s interpretation and decision making.” We can use Jewish literature like the Talmud, Mishna, Gemara, Targums and even some apocryphal works like the books of Enoch and Maccabees to get an idea of what the people of that time were thinking regarding Scripture. As you can see, they thought very highly of themselves. This type of attitude will display itself as discontentment towards God’s authority.
- There is a similar occurrence to our current passage in Luke 19:1-10 when Jesus stopped on His way through Jericho to stay and dine with Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus received Jesus joyfully into his house and In verse 7 we read, “And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.””
- What becomes evident is that there are two opposing attitudes toward Jesus. One is that of Matthew and the other disciples who sees their relationship with Jesus as paramount. The other is that of the Pharisees who see their relationship with the law as paramount. How will Jesus respond to these opposing views?
Luke 5:31-32 “And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.””
- Well vs sick – physical vs. spiritual (combinations)
- Jesus’ teachings go beyond the physical world of what is seen and point to the spiritual truths that are unseen.
- Jesus shows that he is the Great Physician that can bring spiritual health as well as physical health. Jesus cast out demons, healed Peter’s mother-in-law and cleansed the leper. He also called His disciples to follow Him and have a relationship with Him.
- In the preceding passage, Jesus healed paralytic and forgave the man his sins in front of the Pharisees and scribes.
- If we look at the Hebrew term for righteousness, ‘tzedek’, it denotes a right standing or relationship with God as a gift of His saving grace.
- Jesus’ ability to forgive sins demonstrates His equality with God, therefore; a right relationship with Jesus, the gift of God, determines one’s righteousness. Neither the law or nor any work of man can earn righteousness.
- Jesus said He came for the sinners, not the righteous. In this passage, Levi saw himself as a sinner and accepted Jesus as Savior, but those who see themselves as well or righteous have no need for a physician or a savior.
- Sin is like a disease that, left untreated, condemns the soul to hell.
- Seeing oneself as righteous versus a sinner is in how you see your spiritual condition.
- One can see themselves as righteous and not think they need spiritual healing.
- One can see themselves as a sinner and not want spiritual healing.
- Or, one can see themselves as a sinner and seek spiritual healing.
- In the parallel passage Matthew 9:13, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.””
- This teaching is evident in another passage where Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a Tax Collector, in Luke 18:9-14, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.””
- The next question is: what does this mean for us?
- Self-righteousness is marked by judging others, grumbling, complaining, and discontentment.
- It is easy to point out the fault in the Pharisees’ attitude toward Jesus and His disciples, but Jesus gave us a teaching on this too. In Matthew 7:1-4, ““Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?”
- There are times when we may have righteous anger used to judge others, but are we justified in our judgement? It is always important to check our attitudes, motivations, and intentions.
- Grumbling is opposed to worship and complaining is opposed to praise. Like the Thessalonians, we are to “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
- Discontentment is never enough. Do we need more than Jesus for righteousness? Listen to Paul’s heart for those who pursued righteousness by works of the law, Rom 10:1-4 “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
- What is the appropriate response when we are faced with our own self-righteousness?
- When you are confronted by your own self-righteousness, then the Spirit is working in you to examine where you need to submit to Him.
- The righteous anger we have towards others can be used to judge ourselves. The law, while it doesn’t bring righteousness, does bear witness against us and provides us knowledge of our sin.
- When we submit ourselves to the Word made flesh, Jesus, the darkened corners of our lives become apparent. Jesus is the Light of the world that illuminates our sin. Jesus said this to the Pharisees that tried to have Him condemn the adulteress woman, John 8:12b ““I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.””
- When the sin becomes apparent in our lives, we have to make a choice. We either maintain a personal relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit which requires us to follow Him, Or we continue in our sin which is in direct rebellion to God’s ultimate authority.
- What does it look like to follow Him?
- Humble Righteousness
- Following Jesus declares that He is enough. Paul says that His authority is above all others, Jesus is preeminent, Colossians 1:15-20 “15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
- Following Jesus means that we continually seek a personal relationship with Him. There is no formula of prayer or ABC ritual by which you can earn a right relationship with God. Romans 10:9 “because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
- Internally, this is a life of conviction, confession, and repentance to God.
- Like Matthew, we are called to leave everything from our old life and old self, in sin, and embrace the new life given by Jesus, in righteousness.
- This is motivated by God’s Love and Christ’s Return and is a work of the Holy Spirit.
- Externally, this is a life of faith, hope, and love.
- We see this is how Matthew left everything, followed Jesus, and invited the tax collectors and others to the celebration he had in Jesus’ honor.
- Share your faith, celebrate Jesus, and invite others to see what the Lord has done, Romans 10:17 says “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
- Humble righteousness is a life that shines the light of Jesus rather than their own.
- There is no one size fits all Christianity.
- Each believer lives before the Light of the Lord and must live out their relationship with Him in a manner that communicates His love to the darkness of a dying world.
- A sinner is declared righteous, by God’s grace, through one’s faith in Christ’s merit and worthiness rather than their own worthiness.
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”