“Religion or Relationship- Are you trusting in yourself for salvation, or in Jesus?”

Posted: November 26, 2012 in Mark, Sermon Manuscripts

It doesn’t take much time in a conversation with me for you to learn that I’m a fan of Matt Chandler. Not in a weird “decorate the walls with his picture ‘Justin Bieber’” kind of way, but I’m a fan. I have his book. I listen to his sermons every week- highly recommend them. For those of you who don’t know who Chandler is, he’s currently the president of the Acts29 Church Planting Network, and he’s also the lead pastor of the Village Church, in Texas.

I love his personality. What I view as to-the-point, others view as abrasive. What others find to be dripping with sarcasm, I find witty and amusing. He’s a funny guy. I can tell you about his brain tumor that was removed back in ’09. I can walk you through his sermon series. I follow him on twitter @mattchandler74. I know how old he is, how many kids he’s got. I even shook his hand once at a conference in North Carolina!

I could tell you that I know Matt Chandler, but to be honest if he stood before you this morning, he’d be scratching his head and asking himself, “Ok, who is this cat and why does he have a man-crush on me??” And he’d have a point. Yeah- I talked to the guy once, but we’ve never conversed. I’ve read his book, but we’ve never chatted through e-mail. He’s never sent me a text. Yeah, I might know more about him than many of you, but he doesn’t know who I am anymore than he knows who you are! He doesn’t know me.

As we’ve been making our way through Mark, we see that there’s a group of people in Jesus’ day who know about God more than any of us. They were known as Pharisees, which means “Separated One,” and they had this religion thing down. They knew the 613 commands given in the Old Testament. They knew that the Scriptures contained 248 positive commands, “Do this’s,” and they knew about the 365 “Don’t do this’s.”

They were Jews, God’s own special chosen people. Their lives were marked by their seemingly inhuman ability to follow the way of God…and yet we’re picking up on this weird tension between Jesus and these Pharisees and Scribes, the educated men who copied the ancient scriptures, teachers of the Law.

We first noticed this tension as Jesus began to teach in the synagogues, the Jewish places of worship. As He taught the Old Testament scriptures, He taught as one having authority- it was markedly different from how the Scribes taught. Jesus also began to demonstrate His unique authority over demons and physical ailments.

Last week we really began to see a fight brewing between Jesus and the religious elite when Jesus pronounced a paralyzed man forgiven of his sins. They began to think to themselves- “who does this guy think he is? Only God has can do that!” And then Jesus is like “Yeah…I know that. Oh- and check this out:” And then He healed the paralyzed man.

So here’s where the tension was: these Pharisees knew the Law. They knew about all these rules that God had put in place, rules about what to eat, who to talk to, how to work, how to live…and then here’s Jesus, who seems more concerned with grace than with these rules. In their eyes, Jesus was diametrically opposed to God and therefore very rapidly becoming an enemy of the Scribes and Pharisees. We’ll find, though, that grace always trumps rules.

As so as Jesus is going throughout Galilee and proclaiming this good news of the kingdom of God, we see him preaching from Peter’s house, but we also will periodically see Him preaching from the shore of the Sea of Galilee- sometimes even getting in a boat and backing out from the crowd a ways so that His voice will carry over the water and reach the ears of the crowd.

We’re picking it up today in Mark chapter 2, verse 13 where we see that “Jesus went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them.” So work through this with me- paint this picture in your head:

Jesus was preaching in a house in Capernaum- presumably Peter’s, and there was absolutely no room left for anyone. Jesus punctuates this lesson by forgiving the paralytic of his sins and healing his body- acts that caused everyone in the house to marvel and glorify God.

So this loud, excited crowd reaches the busting point, and Jesus leaves the house and makes his way down to the lake where there is much more room, and sure enough the word spreads like wildfire that he’s back in town, and once again the crowd- followers, seekers, Pharisees, Scribes, all of them are on the move with him, and he’s teaching as he’s walking, either on the way to the lake or on the back, “And as He passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth…”

Let’s park it here for a bit, because I don’t think we’ve talked about tax collectors yet. When we think “tax collecting” we envision a first-century IRS, but it’s a bit worse than that. One of the factors in play is why it was that Rome was collecting taxes in the first place. Think about this- first century Rome ruled the world. Stretching from England to Africa, and from Syria to Spain, 1 in 4 people alive on the planet fell beneath the umbrella of the Roman empire.

We’re talking millions of people in over two million plus square miles- it was an amazing empire, but not one that ruled without conflict. As the empire expanded and absorbed people into it, rebellions would occur on occasion. The Roman Army simply wasn’t large enough to have a battalion of soldiers in every city, nor could they afford such an army, so what Rome would do is when needed, they would purchase the use of mercenary forces who would crush the rebellions and then disband. They were soldiers for hire.

Soldiers for hire required pay, hence the taxation. But now the Empire needed men in place who could collect these taxes, and so what the hopeful tax collectors would do is bid on a taxation rate. They would tell the empire, “I can get this much for you in taxes,” and the winning bidder would then gain the right to be Rome’s official collector on a given product or region.

Now you’re a tax collector, and you realize that whatever you can collect above what you quoted to Rome goes into your pocket, a commission, if you will, than all of a sudden you realize “hey- let’s tell the people that they owe more than they really do, and I can get richer in the meantime!”

So here is Levi- also known as Matthew, sitting in his tax booth- his station set up by the sea of Galilee where he can easily tax the fishermen. And get this- it was common for fishermen to pay a fee just to be able to fish a place on the Lake, and then they had to pay a market fee just to take their catch to the market, and once they did sell their fish, they had to pay taxes on that income!

So by the time Peter, James, John- all the fishermen were paid for their toil, they’d lose up to 40% of their pay! And so Matthew is a Jew who has essentially turned his back on his own people and is now employed by the occupying Roman government.

And what he’s doing is making his own people pay taxes not just to pay for Rome’s ability to keep the Jews under Rome’s thumb, but to also line his pocket as well. Tax collectors were the scum of the earth. You think lepers were considered outcasts? Try being a traitorous thief who helped opposing forces continue their oppression over a people.

So as Jesus approached this tax collector to speak, no doubt the Scribes and Pharisees may have been hoping that Jesus was going to put this man in his proper place, that he would tongue-lash him for his job, for the role he was playing in the abuse of God’s people, yet what Jesus says to him is this: “Follow me.”

Sound familiar? Follow me, Jesus said. And sure enough “he rose and followed him.”

Now we don’t know if there was a history between Jesus and Matthew at this point. We don’t know if Matthew has been sitting here for some time, watching Jesus at work, listening to His message. We don’t know if this was the first time Matthew ever laid eyes on Jesus.

All we know is that when Jesus commanded Matthew to follow Him, Matthew left his lucrative job. He surrendered his right to tax the people in that area. See, the fishermen who left their job to follow Christ could always go back to fishing. But not Matthew- once he failed to meet the bid he’d made, his days as a tax collector were over.

Isn’t it amazing, the things we hold on to as we try to follow Christ? Anything we value more than Him is an idol, yet too often we find ourselves placing our comfort, popularity, financial stability, social status, health, and material goods above Jesus. Not that these things are bad- they aren’t. But they become bad when we give them greater value than we give to Jesus. Some of us have yet to embrace Christ as Savior because of what it would cost us…

Not Matthew, though- he throws a party! One of our core values here at Life Journey is seeing the grace of God radically transform lives, and we’re seeing it in action here. After leaving his booth to follow Christ, Mark’s account jumps to a scene in Matthew’s house as verse fifteen tells us that as Matthew “reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.”

In the Greco-Roman culture, you wouldn’t eat at a table surrounded by chairs. No, they would lay on couches on three sides of a low table, lay on their left side, support their head with their left hand if they wished, and use their right hand for eating. Might have worked great for them- not for me. I’d fall asleep before desert came. Maybe that was the point, I don’t know.

But the phrase “recline at table” encompasses the whole gathering to eat deal- not just the literal reclining part. This wasn’t a quiet dinner affair among friends- this was Matthew inviting all of his now-former coworkers and friends, as well as Jesus and His followers. Imagine the awkwardness of that moment, Jesus telling his closest friends, “Hey, remember that dirtbag Matthew? He’s one of my followers now, and he’s throwing a party for all of his friends- let’s go hang out there for a while.”

But this party’s big. It’s not just Jesus and His boys, Matthew and his boys. This party is spilling out of the house and becoming a block party. We know this because it’s caught the attention of the Scribes and Pharisees. They themselves would have never eaten Matthew’s food- surely he hadn’t tithed on it. They would have never been inside the house, because a house like that, with sinners and tax-collectors- that was certainly no place for a God-fearing Pharisee!

But this party’s outdoors now. The wine is flowing, the people are laughing, the food is cooking. And in the middle of it, the object of celebration, is Jesus. And the Scribes and Pharisees are baffled. I mean, here was this guy who supposedly split the Heavens and heard the voice of God at His baptism. Here was this man who was teaching Scriptures in a way never before heard. Here was this man who touched a leper and made him clean. Here was a man who proclaimed another man’s sins to be forgiven and then healed him of paralysis.

So this Jesus, who by his words and actions has declared himself to be equal with God, is in the middle of this party surrounded by God-hating hellions, and he’s having a good time? Ridiculous!

And so they began to ask Jesus’ disciples, “Hey, why is he eating with tax collectors and sinners? What is he celebrating for? Doesn’t he know who they are? Doesn’t he know how wicked and vile they are? Doesn’t he realize that they’re nowhere near as righteous as we are? Doesn’t he know he’s seeking the approval of the wrong crowd? Doesn’t he know that God would never approve of this?

When Jesus found out that these religious guys were questioning his actions, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Who goes to the doctor when they don’t believe themselves ill? No one, right? Only sick people go to doctors, so for us who are well they are unnecessary. No one needs them. Likewise those who are righteous don’t need Jesus. Those without sin have no need for a Savior.

And Jesus is saying point blank- you religious people don’t need me. I’m not calling out to you- I’m extending my grace to these sinners who are about as far from God as one can be! But you? You don’t need my grace. You’ve got this thing figured out.

And He’s right! There is no need for a savior if there are no one needing to be saved. There is no need for a Messiah if no one is separated from God. There is no need for a Mediator between God and man if there is no gulf between God and man…and to the Scribes and Pharisees, there was no need for a Savior, there was no need for a Spiritual rescuer, there was nothing separating them from God. Their obedience to the Law, their religiosity, their ability to make God happy was all they needed.

Or at least, that’s what they thought. There was just one problem, though. These religious guys knew God like I know Matt Chandler. They knew a lot of facts, they knew a lot about the person of God…but they didn’t know God. And God didn’t know them. There was no relationship there.

They were so caught up in their religion that they failed to realize that they too were in need of a Savior. They were so blinded by their endeavors at external perfection that they couldn’t see their inward sinfulness. They thought they knew God, but they knew only the god they had created in their minds, one  whose justice they could satisfy by their adherence to the Law, not even realizing they they failed pathetically in keeping that law.

It’s easy to look backwards on 2000 years of church history and feel bad for the Pharisees. We can pity them for their ignorance, we can perhaps judge them for their stupidity…but the sad reality is that 2000 years later we have churches full of Pharisees who believe they knew Jesus Christ as their Savior, but sadly they are cluelessly deceived.

You say “Well Richard, that’s kinda harsh! Who made you to determiner of who’s truly a Christian?” But here’s the thing- I’m simply telling you what Jesus said. If you were to read Matthew chapter seven, you’d find Jesus telling His followers that on the Day of Judgement, the vast majority of people who emphatically declare themselves to be Christians on the basis of their actions are going to hear Jesus say “Depart from me- I never knew you.”

It is terrifying, how much we can know about God without knowing Him. It’s a sobering thought, that we could be so wrapped up in empty religion that we miss our true need for a Redeemer.

Guys, Jesus wasn’t telling the Pharisees that they didn’t need him. He was condemning them for their self-righteousness. He wasn’t saying to them “You’ve made it- you’ve achieved perfect righteousness!” No, He was saying to them, “Hold on to your religion all you want- but it’s going to fail you when you realize that only I can save you.”

Jesus was giving a choice to the Scribes and Pharisees, and He extends it to us again now, and it’s our Journey Marker this week: “Religion or Relationship- Are you trusting in yourself for salvation, or in Jesus?”

Jesus came because the same Law the Pharisees thought they kept was never intended to be the means by which we become right with God.

The purpose of the Law, all of the do’s and don’t of the Old Testament, was to show us our total inability to live a life of righteousness. That’s why Jesus came. Because He could live that life. He did. And through His death on the Cross in the place of whoever will believe upon Him, and His supernatural resurrection on the third day, He now says to the worst of us, “Follow me.” There is no one beyond the reach of God’s love. Will you come to Him today? Are you ready to trust Him with your soul?

Christian, let me ask you this- are you resting in His salvation, or are you still wrapped up in religious externals? Have you bought the lie that God cares more about your actions than He does your heart? I wonder how many of us would have refused to talk to Matthew, much less hang out with him? Apart from grace, where would any of us be? Are you willing this week to extend that same grace to others? Will you love the unloveable?

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