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God’s Word for You

Mark 2:15-17 That sinners would repent

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, October 16, 2021

15 Then when Jesus was reclining at a table in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples because many of them also were following him.

The house of a wealthier person such as Levi (Matthew) was often built in a mixed style, with Jewish elements and Roman architecture. There would be a water source outside (stone jars of rainwater for ceremonial washing). There would be a central communal area with a hearth for lounging and dining on couches, with niches around the sides for additional guests. There might be a screen or an open window leading into a surrounding gallery where others might dine or mingle, and side rooms for sleeping, a kitchen, storage rooms, and so on. There may even have been an indoor bathroom supplied with water flowing from one of the city’s upper springs or from a channel from a stream. This arrangement is seen in various excavations in cities occupied by Rome including Jerusalem and Capernaum.

16 When the experts in the law and the Pharisees saw that he was eating with the sinners and tax collectors,

The arrangement of a wealthy home also meant that outsiders might gather in the home’s courtyard and look right in through large, open windows. Bold strangers might even ask questions of someone inside the house, and unless the host had them driven away, they were usually accepted as just part of the way things happened in those days. Large crowds would come to see “who’s who” at a gathering like this, because Jesus would have attracted a lot of attention. And people wanted to hear what Jesus would have to say, in case he spoke or responded to questions.

The words “sinners and tax collectors” tell us two things. There were many tax collectors who were present, men who knew Matthew and were interested to know why he had followed Jesus, and they were following, too, to hear him. They were hated and feared, and here we see that they were really a category apart even from other sinners. Second, the additional word “sinners” means that there were other people, also known for their public sins, who were following Jesus in order to listen to what he had to say. Some of these might have been people guilty of sexual sins, not only prostitutes or men who consorted with prostitutes, but also men and women who had gotten divorces for reasons other than unfaithfulness, or people whose reputations were stained by sins from their younger years: stealing, bullying, immorality, or other shameful things. Someone guilty of a sin might try to justify their way of life by comparing themselves to other people guilty of worse things, but God’s standard doesn’t compare sinners to sinners. Our holy God compares sinners to his righteous law, and we all collapse in that comparison. “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Ephesians 5:3). Also: “No one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him” (1 Thessalonians 4:6). After having our sins exposed and laid bare by the correct preaching of the law, we ache to hear the gospel. This is true repentance.

...they said to his disciples, “Why is he eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus was not telling the Scribes and Pharisees that they were righteous. He was declaring that he had come to call sinners to repentance. These words are the “sharp double-edged sword” (Revelation 1:16) that preach both gospel and law. The teacher who thinks he knows all of God’s law but fails to see his own failings needs to be shown his sins, and he needs to be taken to task so that he understands just how deeply sin infects his life. When the sinner sins and has a bad conscience, then he needs his Savior and his heart is open for the gospel to flow in and heal him. But when a sinner sins and his happy about it, that’s another matter. This is when someone rejects the whole idea of right and wrong, which is even worse that sinning and trying to justify the sin. When someone sins and then doesn’t stop the sin but lives in it, revels in it, brags about it, this is nothing but contempt for God.

Asaph, David’s pastor and priest, wrote in one of his hymns: “The Mighty One, God, the LORD, speaks and summons the earth” (Psalm 50:1). This includes his call to sinners, that sinners should repent. In fact, the call to faith and repentance is the most important part of his speaking and summoning. What a great and glorious God we have, who would do more than point out our sins, but also give to us the solution and medicine for all of those myriad sins. In the blood of Christ we have forgiveness. In the Word of Christ we have encouragement, the promise of the resurrection of the dead, everlasting peace, and help throughout this lifetime in every trouble.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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