“And he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them.
And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.
And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
I recently heard a sermon on this passage and the message was so powerful. The preacher said, “If you think you are good, Jesus didn’t come for you.”
We need to unpack that, because that is a seriously harsh accusation and if there is an ounce of truth in it every hair on the back of your neck should be standing straight up right now.
Is there a possibility that Jesus didn’t come for you?
The Pharisees had this saying of themselves, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick.” They used this phrase to puff themselves up, to exalt themselves in their perfect religiosity and law-keeping. They used it to put down the inferior people who could not or would not keep their religious customs.
Now, Jesus uses this same phrase against them to stifle their haughty expectation that the Great Rabbi should be eating with those of “his own kind”, so to speak.
It’s important to understand just how repulsed the Pharisees were by the company Jesus was keeping. The Publicans were Jews whom the Romans hired to collect taxes. Men would bid on the right to collect the Roman taxes and agree to pay the required amount for their region and then they would mark up those taxes and pocket the profit. Tax collectors, or publicans, were ostracized immediately after accepting this sort of work. They were cut off socially, they were excommunicated religiously and this absolute defamation of character extended to their entire family. They were instant outcasts in Jewish society. Being a publican in Jesus’ time came at quite the price.
The other group at Jesus’ table, referred to as simply, “sinners”, is another bunch of societal outcasts. The word that is used here indicates that these people had nothing to do with the religion of the day. They refused to participate in the ritualistic, heretical “worship” of God that the Pharisees loved so dearly. These people wouldn’t even wash their hands before a meal.
The Pharisees would have called these people unclean and unfit for God. So, they were absolutely galled and offended that Jesus would willing choose to have a meal with such people. They themselves were far too holy to associate with such uncleanness.
There is reason to believe that Jesus was more than just eating with these people. He was quite likely the host of this feast. If not the host, He was at the very least the central figure of this meal. The people that had come, had come for him.
So, he tells the Pharisees in no uncertain terms, “Look, these are my people. You aren’t sick, right? You are righteous, yes? You have no need of me.” And the Pharisees would have agreed, “Yes, of course, we are not the sick ones. Yes, of course, we are righteous”.
Jesus says, “I didn’t come for you”.
If you think you are a good person. Jesus didn’t come for you. He came for the broken. He came for the outcast. He came for the publicans and sinners. He came for the sick in spirit.
He didn’t come for those who rely on the strength of their own religiosity. He didn’t come for those who think their merits outweigh their flaws. He didn’t come for good people.
The best news for all of us, then, can be found in the words of Romans 3:10, “There is none righteous, no not one.” This means we all qualify as those for whom Christ came. We are all in the camp of the publicans and sinners. We are all helpless to make our own way to God. We are all in need of a Savior.
Jesus came for people like us.
The sad truth is, many people, like the Pharisees, will die thinking they are good people and never recognizing they are exactly the sort of people Christ died to save. If you think yourself a good person, fear for your soul, my friend. Jesus didn’t come for you.
But, if you agree with God that you are broken and in need of a Savior. Take heart, you are exactly the sort of person Jesus loves to save. Come join his feast and eat freely from his table.