The Book of Luke, The Calling of the Disciple, Levi or Matthew As We Know Him – Lesson 62
Luke 5:27-32, And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me. 28And he left all, rose up, and followed him. 29And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. 30But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? 31And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. 32I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
In our last lesson we attended the great feast that Levi made for this great company of publicans and others and among those others were scribes and Pharisees.
Remember this was a happy occasion, for Levi had decided to follow Jesus Christ and wanted every one of his friends and acquaintances to be happy with him and to celebrate his decision to leave all and follow the Lord Jesus.
But total happiness was not to be, for there were men in attendance who could not be happy in such an environment.
For there were also attending the celebration, men who the Pharisees and scribes looked down upon as unworthy to be in their presence.
It appears that they stood off in the critic’s corner with sour looks on their faces, turning down all food and drink, watching critically, waiting for the chance to find fault.
As you read the Gospels you will find that this is the usual position of the self-righteous Pharisees and scribes, always looking to find fault rather than entering in and helping people to know God.
The Pharisees and scribes give us an identifier of self-righteousness, for self righteousness produces an interest in finding fault in others more than an interest in leading people to the Lord.
The Lord Jesus Christ warned us about this when he said to remove the beam in your own eye before criticizing the mote in your brother’s eye.
This party was a perfect place to find fault, for the guests at this banquet are the source of great concern for the Pharisees.
Luke tells us that the guests were “tax-gatherers and other people” (v. 29).
Matthew and Mark, identify the guests as “tax-collectors and sinners” (Matt. 9:10; Mark 2:15).
It was natural for Levi, who was a tax collector himself, to invite tax-collectors because this was the crowd with whom Levi socialized.
Undoubtedly this explains much, but Mark adds to their identification by commenting that many of the tax-collectors and sinners at this celebration were also followers of Jesus.
Mark 2:15, 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.
This would mean that while Levi may have invited some who had not yet met Jesus, many whom he invited were very familiar with him.
Because of this they could easily share in Levi’s joy at following the Lord for they and Levi were now of like mind.
But the group of scribes and Pharisees could not be happy with this guest list for in their mind they saw that Jesus was associating with undesirables whom they called sinners.
Eating and drinking was something a “proper Jew” did with “proper people” but never with “sinners.”
In Edersheim’s The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, I, p. 513. “…..Rabbinic teaching about the need of repentance runs close to that of the Bible. But the vital difference between Rabbinism and the Gospel lies in this: that whereas Jesus Christ freely invited all sinners, whatever their past, assuring them of welcome and grace, the last word of Rabbinism is only despair, and a kind of Pessimism. For, it is expressly and repeatedly declared in the case of certain sins, and, characteristically, of heresy, that, even if a man genuinely and truly repented, he must expect immediately to die — indeed, his death would be the evidence that his repentance was genuine, since, though such a sinner might turn from his evil, it would be impossible for him, if he lived, to lay hold on the good, and to do it.” the writings of the Talmud expressly state that the disciples of the scribes may have no table communion with the ‘Am-ha-’arets (“the people of the land,” those who do not know or observe the Law).
So it was natural and within the boundaries of their unbiblical beliefs that the Pharisees converged upon Jesus’ disciples with this question:, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? (Luke 5:30).
Luke does not call the guests at this reception “sinners,” but the Pharisees do not hesitate to label these tax collectors as sinners.
And in using that label they divorce themselves from the category of sinner and when that is done they place themselves in the category of self righteous for that is the only place in which they can fit.
Why? The issue hinges on the definition of the terms “sinner” and “righteous.”
These terms have very different definitions in our passage, the first the definition of the Pharisees, the second, the definition of Jesus.
The difference between the Pharisee’s definition of these terms and that of the Lord’s can be seen best from the story which He tells later in Luke’s gospel:
And He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:
Luke 18:9-14, And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
We see in this passage the view of the Pharisee in regards to how he defined righteousness for it is based on a comparison with others.
Paul warns against this very thing in: II Cor 10:12, For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
So in the Pharisee’s mind the “righteous”, in which they held membership, held the right social and racial positions, and sinners did not.
According to the view of the Pharisees the “righteous” were better than “sinners,”
The “righteous” were holy because they followed the rules, they did the right things; they kept the Law of Moses, as they interpreted it.
The “righteous” were also justified in having contempt for the “sinner” and in keeping separate from him.
The one “claim to fame” of the Pharisees was their “separation” from sin and “sinners.”
They saw themselves as holy because of what they would not do, where they would not go, and with whom they did not associate.
According to this definition a fence post is the most righteous for it does not do anything, does not go anywhere, and does not associate with anybody.
What the Lord Jesus did when he came on the scene was a blow to their system because he did virtually the opposite of all they did, and claimed to be God at the same time.
What a humbling thing it must have been for the Pharisees to be present at the reception which Levi put on.
They were undoubtedly present only because they wanted to catch this Jesus in an offense worthy of death and they were there to report any offense to the proper authorities.
Jesus’ answer reflects the difference between the heart of God and the heart of Pharisaism:
Luke 5:31b-32, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. 32I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Jesus had made it clear from the beginning that He had come to help those in need.
The Pharisees had no interest in helping those in need, they had no interest in helping to lift the load, but only an interest in making the load heavier to bear.
But the Lord Jesus’ message of repentance, like John the Baptist’s message, was aimed at sinners and sinners only.
After all, from what do the “righteous” need to repent?