Week of September 24

Two Kinds of Prisoners!

Daniel 9-10; Psalm 123; Luke 5
“And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’”
Luke 5:30-32, ESV


The meaning of “Hate the sin, but love the sinner” is easily understood, but we all know that loving the sinner is a messy and challenging business. Two men in yellow jumpsuits come to my mind, but I will take this story up later in the devotional! In the meantime, we often make an internal judgment about sin and sinners and draw an imaginary line which we will not cross when the sin becomes too difficult to conscience—even though Jesus breaks down such barriers (cf. Ephesians 2:14-15). Jesus challenges the internal moral calculus that we tend to use and teaches us how truly to put our love-the-sinner pledge to full use.

The Meaning of the Text

Follow the meaning of “Follow me”
The call to Christ. To state “follow me” did not mean that Levi was being called at this time to become a disciple of Jesus (5:11; 9:23, 49, 57, 61; 18:22, 28). Here, as is obvious from verse 32, he was being called to become a Christian. The word used for “and followed him” may be translated, “and he began to follow him.” Incredibly, Levi left everything immediately and followed Him (5:28). To give up everything involves denying oneself and taking up one’s cross daily (9:23) and even leaving one’s house and family (9:57-62; 18:28). To such “poor” people belongs the Kingdom of God (cf. Matthew 5:3).
There are costs involved! This commitment to follow Jesus will cost you everything in this life. Levi was hated before by the Jews, and now he will be despised even more by the Pharisees because he had associated himself with Jesus (5:30; see also 1 Peter 4:3-4).
Oh! And the new relationship comes complete with a call. Levi knew that his new relationship with Jesus would likely cost him his old friends, but for now they accepted his invitation to a banquet where Jesus was invited (5:29). He was called by Jesus to become a witness of the things that had happened to transform his life.
Seeing people as God sees them
I am often struck by the plain-spoken manner that the Gospel writers use to communicate events. “He (Jesus) went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi” (5:27). No hiding the facts, huh?! We would say that Jesus locked His gaze upon Levi. He took full notice of the man most people wanted to avoid. Names also are important, and we know from Matthew 9:9 that Levi and Matthew were one and the same. People often had two names in first-century Palestine—Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek/Roman.
Levi Matthew was a tax collector and there is no masking what that meant. These people were stationed at commercial centers, such as Capernaum and Jericho, where they collected tolls, customs, and tariffs. They would bid to win the right to collect tolls for the Romans. The Romans required a certain amount, so these folks often abused their position and gathered extreme profits at the expense of those paying the taxes. You guessed it. They were loathsome folks to Jews who already hated the Romans. They were quite often dishonest, and their testimony in a court was not accepted for this reason. Levi would not be on anybody’s short list of potential disciples.
A total life change is required
Keep all this in mind because Jesus approaches the man and says, “Follow me.” That was not a new career invitation, but a life call. The Savior’s words were a honeycomb dripping with moral meaning, and Levi knew this invitation was an extraordinary offer of mercy. The man “left everything” which means that he left everything.

As a boy, I often heard revival preachers tell folks, “All you have to do to be saved is to say this sinner’s prayer and really mean it.” That statement confuses the much simpler and more direct, “Follow me.” In other words, Jesus requires everything. Luke records that “he began to follow him,” meaning that Levi left everything, and from that moment forward he devoted his life to the one who extended mercy to him.
The point: God loves sinners
Slow your minds down here because we often act like Pharisees, even though we claim to be “love the sinner” people. The Pharisees and scribes wanted to know why Jesus ate and drank with such folks. Sharing a meal with people then, as now, implied acceptance of such people as “brothers and sisters.” These leaders opposed Jesus’ actions out of a strict adherence to their interpretation of the law.
He defended His actions with them based upon the core principle that “God does not play favorites” (i.e., show partiality) and that He had come precisely for the ministry of forgiveness (5:31-32). No doubt following Jesus’ example, Peter would dine later with the Gentile Cornelius and his household in Acts 10. He, too, was myopic with this moral judgment by devout Jewish law-keepers. He was most like Jesus in this moment, but he failed the Lord later when, as Paul states in Galatians 2:11-14, he remained aloof from the Gentile converts when it appeared that he might offend the Jewish critics.
Let me put this in Ashlock-speak: Peter’s love aspiration led to much moral perspiration when he was given a dinnertime invitation by a “sinner.” Peter defaulted to the popular moral requirement that rejected such associations, belying the fact that these people had been made entirely clean by the Savior’s gift of grace. I propose a change in our oft-quoted and selectively applied love-the-sinner vow: “Hate the sin, honor the Savior, which assures love for the sinner.” Jesus tears down moral barricades that slow down traffic on the boulevard named Mercy and Love.

The Message for Our Lives

I have not forgotten my pledge in the introduction to provide the rest of the story about two men in yellow jumpsuits. This morning, I was seated in the waiting room at the eye doctor’s office. You know the routine: You take quick glances at folks, but you do not make direct eye contact. Luckily, I could use my super-nifty peripheral vision.

I noticed that four people entered the waiting area in single file. They passed directly in front of me, and I clearly saw that two of the people were wearing bright yellow jump suits as well as hand cuffs that kept their hands cinched to their waists. They also were shackled to one another by a short chain. Yep! Inmates. Flight risk. You get the idea. The two prisoners were escorted by two armed guards: one in front and the other from behind. My typical early Monday morning eye exam took on an added measure of focus.
Let’s just say that I quickly sized things up with my 20-20 moral vision. I immediately began to plan what I would do if one or both inmates managed to escape. After all, a prisoner in Pennsylvania had recently escaped and eluded re-arrest for two weeks!
Here is the spiritual point. You will recognize that I used my internal moral calculator to prejudge the situation, which is not necessarily wrong to do. As God would have it, however, I had arrived early for my appointment and sat in the parking lot reading my daily Bible readings, one of which is today’s devotional passage in Luke 5!
Little did I know that I was also there for a spiritual eye exam. The Lord soon shifted my vision away from my personal security to the soul safety of those two men. Both were important, but the latter held eternal implications.

I began to imagine how Christ might use them once they were transformed by His mercy and grace, then I prayed for them. By the way, there were two kinds of prisoners in the doctor’s office: those with outward chains, and I who was nearly shackled by my own hasty moral prejudgment. Consider how you may be shackled with judgments that hinder others from receiving Christ’s call to follow Him.

For Thought and Action

1. This may take some time but consider what personal moral judgments you may be making that build barriers between you and individuals Christ has called to Himself. Eliminate the obstacles.
2. For Families: Do you have a pair of inexpensive sun glasses lying around the house you could use in explaining this story to your children? Prepare them by cutting out two letter X’s from white drawing paper, and then taping them to the outside of each lens of the sunglasses.

Sometime when your family least expects it, like right before dinner as you are putting the dishes on the table and everyone is gathering, slip on the sunglasses and act like nothing out of the ordinary is happening. Your family may ask what in the world you are doing! You can answer, “Glad you asked!”

Explain that sometimes Christians are caught up pre-determining who should come to Jesus. Some people are “too bad,” or “too poor,” or “too messy,” so we decide we will not share the Good News of Jesus with them. It’s like looking through glasses darkly with a big X’s across other people. “Nope! I will not share Jesus with you!”

This is a great dinnertime conversation starter. Ask your kids what kinds of people they find it hardest to share Jesus with and why. Then ask what Jesus did. He wants everyone—rich and poor, all shades of skin, mamas and poppas, old and young—everyone, to come to Him. If Jesus loves them all, we should too. Pray as a family and ask God to take off your family’s sunglasses and let you see other people like He sees them. Valuable!

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock