Christ Among Sinners (Mark 2:13-17)

Christ Among Sinners (Mark 2:13-17)

Mark 2:13-22

We are going to break this portion of Scripture into at least two segments:

1.) Today we will work through verses 13-17.

2.) Next week we will attempt verses 18-22.

The text we are in this morning gets right to the heart of the gospel message of Christ. The very message whereby God justifies the wicked and ungodly by grace through faith alone. Not on the basis of our work, but His.[1] Not because we first loved Him, but rather He first loved us.[2]

Remember, it is Christ Who came to seek and to save that which was lost.[3] In other words the lost are never truly seeking Him, Who can save.[4] There is only One seeker, and it is God. He seeks through the Holy Spirit’s working by the proclamation of the gospel message.[5]

The text before us this morning demonstrates the love of God that drives Him to seek the lost. Many people hear this and express liking the God of the New Testament instead of the God of the Old. This thinking, however, fails to understand that God is unchanging (Immutable). In fact the Old Testament is riddled with the concept of God seeking lost humanity.

Why then do people hate how God reveals Himself in the Old Testament? Simple: It is within the confines of the Old Testament, God begins to reveal His holiness to humanity. The very quality that sets Him apart from the entirety of His creation. We hate that, because we want God to be just like us, and think and act like we think. The Old Testament shows that God is set apart from us in many ways; to name several:

1.) He is all-powerful (Omnipotent).[6]

2.) He is all-knowing (Omniscient).[7]

3.) He is all-present (Omnipresent).[8]

4.) He is set apart from sin.

It is this fourth area I desire to hone in on.

How do we understand what is sinful and contrary to the very nature of God? The law of God.

His law demonstrates His righteousness, which actually shows how unrighteous we are. If we truly want to know how far we fall from the glory of God we ought to read His law.[9]

We must understand the three functions of God’s law revealed in Scripture:

1.) It reveals humanities need for a Savior from sin.[10]

2.) It provides civil government to protect people from other people.[11]

3.) It instructs born-again believers how to lead lives that please their heavenly Father.[12]

Notice the law of God is incapable of saving sinful humanity from the just wrath of God:

“…by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight…for the law brings about wrath.”[13]

Obedience to the law will not save you; it will only show that you deserve the totality of God’s wrath.

Why do we deserve it? In our depraved nature we live and think contrary to the very nature of God!

How do we know that? His law tells us so.

What then does humanity need to do? Stop striving to appease His wrath through works, and trust in Christ’s finished work.

The Scripture says:

“But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness…”[14]

Paul previously states:

“Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness…that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”[15]

I open with this because it will help us to understand what is taking place within this text. There are really three key entities in this portion:

1.) Jesus Christ and His disciples

2.) Tax-gatherers and sinners

3.) Pharisees

You will notice that Mark 2-3 develops the conflict between Christ and the religious leaders.


Let’s take a moment to consider the Pharisees:

1.)  They were a comparatively small Jewish sect estimated to be about 6,000 people.

2.) Their name means The Separated.

ŸThis was probably bestowed on them by others, because of their isolation from anything they would deem unclean, which included Gentiles and anything that came in contact with such heathen.

3.) They held an unquenchable zeal for traditional Jewish identity and the Law of Moses: Zeal for the Mosaic Law caused them to stumble, because they sought to establish their own righteousness by strict adherence to it. Paul speaks of this in Romans by saying:

“For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.”[17]

Ÿ Jesus later condemns them for this:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”[18]

Ÿ Zeal for Jewish identity drove them to hate the Roman Empire and all its associates.


In light of what we now know about the Pharisees we will quickly understand why they and many others hate publicans, another name for tax-gatherers.

1.) Publicans collected taxes for the Romans. This meant they were constantly associating with the Roman Empire and a plethora of individuals deemed unclean.

2.) They also swindled people by telling them they owed more than they did and pocketed the profit.[20]

3.) Extortion was also commonly utilized to gain a larger sum in the end.[21]

Merrill Unger notes:

“The publicans were also regarded as traitors and apostates, defiled by their frequent intercourse with the heathen and willing tools of the oppressor.”

By the way this is bad news for Matthew and his compadres.

Now that we have that tidbit out of the way, consider what we are about to see in this text:

1.) Christ just demonstrated His authority over sin through healing the paralytic.

2.) Now, He immediately and compassionately goes among the chief of sinners in all the eyes of Israel.

Mark 2:13-15

“And He went out again by the seashore; and all the multitude were coming to Him, and He was teaching them.”

Again, we see Christ is consistent with His purpose in proclaiming the word of God.

“And as He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax office…

This is speaking of Matthew, which is clearly seen in his own account.[22] Scripture does not speak about why his name changed, but it may have been in an attempt to distance himself from the publican life.

We also see Matthew sitting in the tax office.

According to the Talmud which was written later on, there were two classes of publicans:

1.) Gabbai, who were the grunts on the street.

2.) Mokhsa, who were the custom house officials.

Unger again touches upon the distinction:

“The Gabbai, or tax-gatherer, collected the regular dues, which consisted of ground, income, and poll tax…If this offered many opportunities for vexatious exactions and rapacious injustice the Mokhsa might inflict greater hardship upon the poor.”[23]

We see Matthew here sitting in the office, which leads many to believe he was a custom house official. Meaning he was a man who commonly extorted the poor and suffering. He was hated by all!

What do we see taking place?

“…and He(Christ) said to him, ‘Follow Me!’ and he rose and followed Him.”

Here we see the Messiah calling a wretched and undeserving man to follow Him. It really should be understood as a command. Matthew obeys! Luke records:

“…he left everything behind, and rose and began to follow Him.”[24]

I believe there is sufficient reason for us to understand this is not the first time they met. Not only was Christ well heard of by this point, but Matthew will later be known as an apostle.

What was a prerequisite for an apostle? Must be a witness of Christ beginning with John the Baptist along the Jordan. [25]

We actually see tax-gathers coming to John desiring to know the fruit of genuine repentance:

“And some tax-gatherers also came to be baptized, and they said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than what you have been order to.”[26]

Matthew very well could have been among that group of men, and was bearing such fruit when Christ came and commanded Him to follow.

And it came about that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax-gathers and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him.”

According to Luke as well, Matthew had a party for Christ giving Him a reception inviting all of his friends.

Who were his friends? Predominately other tax-gatherers.

Mark 2:16-17

We will now see conflict introduced between Christ and the Pharisees. Remember what Jesus has previously demonstrated and declared to them:

1.) He is the Messiah.

2.) He has authority to forgive sin.

3.) He is God.

Keep in mind they also have a zeal for God without knowledge where they sought to establish righteousness based on the outer working of law. To them the Messiah will obviously have the same zeal as they do for:

1.) Defending the traditional identity of Israel.

2.) Strict adherence to not only the Law of God, but all the foolish ordinances they added to the Law so that one may not break it.

What do they see the Son of Man doing?

“And when the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with sinners and tax-gatherers, they began saying to His disciples, ‘Why is He eating and drinking with tax-gatherers and sinners?’”

They see Him partying among:

1.) Men who do not defend the traditional identity.

2.) Men who give no thought to God’s law, or their self-righteous ordinances that they do not keep.

They reason, “He cannot be the Messiah!”

Why? He does not think and act like they do!

The “true Messiah” would be dining with them!

Again, they sought to obtain righteousness through the outer working of law. They believed obedience to the law saved. They therefore considered themselves righteous by their own merit. They were concerned about outer moral reform.

The text then reads:

“And hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

In other words, only sick people seek out a doctor.  You do not go to the doctors when you believe you are healthy.

What had the Pharisees concluded about themselves? They were righteous by the works of the law and did not need a Savior.

What had the tax-gatherers and sinners concluded about themselves? They were unrighteous by the words of the law and needed a Savior.

Christ desired the Pharisees to come to the same conclusion of their condition.

Do not be confused, there is only One righteous Person in Matthew’s house, Jesus Christ! The rest fall into one of two camps:

1.) Repentant unrighteous sinners

2.) Unrepentant self-righteous sinners.

Everyone in that house is in need of a spiritual Doctor, but the Pharisees do not realize it. Not only do they trust in their own outer workings of morality, but they teach the lost to do the same. They completely fail to see the initial purpose of the Law of God. Matthew records Christ saying to them:

“…It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”[27]

When Christ says, “Go and Learn” He is not making a simple suggestion, but a rebuke. In other words, “You men do not even understand the very words you teach, but come back to me when you have learned.”

Jesus directs them to the prophet Hosea, who God instructed to take a prostitute for a wife, Gomer. Gomer was continually unfaithful to Hosea, and repeatedly committed adultery, but Hosea always remained faithful and merciful to his wife. Their marriage represented the nation of Israel’s relationship with God. Israel was constantly committing adultery against Him through Idolatry, but He always remained faithful and merciful towards her. Since God shows mercy to the wicked and ungodly, the wicked and ungodly who God has forgiven are to do the same. Acknowledging we are just as undeserving of the love of God as they are!

Why should we have compassion for the lost? God had mercy on us helpless and ungodly sinners, who were His enemies.

What should produce compassion in us? The gospel by which we are saved!

“For while we were still helpless Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”[28]

What should we plead for the lost to know? The mercy of God revealed in the gospel.

Do we understand the implications of the mercy of God towards us as American believers?

Let us first acknowledge:

Is there a moral decline in our nation? Certainly, but even if the nation were morally upright they would still be dead in sin apart from Christ. The answer is not for us to battle the moral decline with conservativism or patriotism:

1.) Both call only for outer moral reformation.

2.) Both are also incapable of dealing with humanities sin debt, and can enforce an even greater sin: Pride!

Outer moral reform will only produce one thing in the mind of the lost: Self-righteousness! They both scream you are wrong, and this is what you need to do to be right. They stand in opposition to the gospel message which says:

“All of humanity is wicked, evil and wrong, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to be right before the Holy God!”

The answer is the gospel message!

Think on these things:

1.) Our political voices should not be louder than the gospel call, because the gospel message alone provides true mercy and forgiveness to the lost.

2.) The gospel message and the church it produces is able to thrive in every form of government, but the American Dream cannot.

3.) The Great Commission is not for us to make morally upright patriots clothed in their own righteousness, but Christ followers clothed in His.

There is but one way to do that, and it is teaching Christ crucified and risen again!

Let us not be like the Pharisees, elevating outer reformation over inner regeneration and thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to. We must have compassion for the lost as our Savior, Jesus Christ does for us.

What does this compassion to the lost look like?

1.) In love, acknowledging their ailment (Sin) and its consequences (The wrath of God).

2.) Direct them to the only One (Christ) who bore our sins and took on the full wrath of God we all deserve.

[1] Romans 3:19-5:1; Ephesians 2:8-10; Galatians 3

[2] 1 John 4:10

[3] Matthew 18:11; Luke 19:10

[4] Romans 3:10

[5] John 16:5-11; Romans 10:17

[6] Genesis 1:1; Job 42:1-2

[7] Psalm 139:1-4

[8] Psalm 139:7-10

[9] Genesis; Exodus; Leviticus; Numbers; Deuteronomy

[10] Romans 7:7-11; Galatians 3:24

[11] Exodus 20:12-17; Deuteronomy 5:16-21

[12] John 14:15; Ephesians 2:10; 1 Peter 1:13-19

[13] Romans 3:20; 4:15

[14] Romans 4:5

[15] Romans 3:24-26

[16]  Unger’s Bible Dictionary; Page 854-586

[17] Romans 10:2-3

[18] Matthew 23:15

[19] Unger’s Bible Dictionary; Page 899

[20] Luke 3:13

[21] Luke 19:8

[22] Matthew 9:9

[23] Unger’s Bible Dictionary; Page 900

[24] Luke 5:28

[25] Acts 1:21-22

[26] Luke 3:13

[27] Matthew 9:12-13

[28] Romans 5:6-11

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