The Great Physician
- Terry Johnson
- Oct 23, 2011
- Series: Luke
- Passage: Luke 5:27-32
- Categories: Morning Service
- Tags: jesus christ, missions, healing
We are not well. It is uncommon for people to say that “people are basically good.” The Bible says we’re not. We’re spiritually sick. This is why Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law (4:38, 39), healed multitudes of those sick with various diseases (4:40; 5:15), healed the leper (5:12-14), and healed the paralytic (5:17-26). In the case of the latter, he made explicit the meaning of His healings─they were designed both to illustrate and confirm Jesus’ power to heal souls. He healed bodies “that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (5:24). The physical is meant to illustrate and confirm the spiritual.
The call of Levi (also called Matthew) to be one of the twelve disciples provides the occasion for Jesus to extend the medical metaphor. Jesus identifies himself as a physician who has come to heal the sick, a spiritual doctor whose mission is to cure afflicted souls. He has come, He tells his critics, to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Call of Levi
“After that He went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me.” (v. 27)
Surprisingly, Jesus invites Levi, a “tax collector” who is in the very act of functioning as a tax official (“sitting at the tax booth”) to join the fishermen as His disciple (see 5:10, 11). “Follow Me,” He says.
The Romans, we may recall raised revenues by farming out taxing rights to the highest bidder. The system was subject to abuse because of the strong temptation to collect more than was required or reasonable in order to increase profits. Tax gatherers were resented as both collaborators and extortionists, as Morris explains. “As a class, they were regarded as dishonest,” as greedy, as cheats, and as unpatriotic. They were traitors, working for the imperial power, and ritually unclean through their constant contact with Gentiles. They are classified along with the worst of sinners, with prostitutes, murderers, and robbers, and were socially ostracized, and barred from the synagogue. Green identifies them as “the social equivalent of pimps and informants.
Why does Jesus call such an individual to be His disciple? Why not reward someone who has sought to honor God through careful obedience, high morals standards, and faithful religious observance? Jesus calls Levi in order to show that there are none beyond the reach of His grace. No sinner, however low, however disgraced, however foul and polluted, however corrupt and disgraced, however cruel, mean, or perverse is beyond salvation, if he or she will but turn to the Great Physician and repent. Jesus elevates this despised sinner to the status of one of His twelve disciples in order to display the goal of the incarnation and purpose of His mission, that is, to heal sin-sick sinners.
What response does Jesus require? That of Levi:
“And leaving everything, he rose and followed Him.” (v. 28)
“Leaving everything, he rose and followed Him.” What does this mean? Neither John the Baptist nor Jesus required that tax-collectors give up their profession, as though there were something morally wrong with it (see 3:12, 13 and 19:1-10). Yet in this case, Levi did, presumably in order to be among Jesus’ traveling companions. Tax-gathers were wealthy. Whereas fishermen could return to fishing (and did; see John 21:3ff). Levi would have forfeited forever the opportunity to collect taxes. He would not have been able to get his job back. “They would surely never take back a man who had simply abandoned his tax office. His following of Jesus was a final commitment,” Morris explains. Levi could decide to follow Jesus only at great cost.
Yet we should also note that Levi is still able to throw a great party. He hasn’t literally left everything. The meaning of “left everything,” says Green, is that “Levi has repented. . .
Reorienting his life completely around God’s purpose as manifest in Jesus’ mission.”
Levi’s circumstances, then, closely parallel our own. Some of us may be called to abandon literally everything in order to pursue Christian discipleship, to follow Jesus to the mission field or the ministry. Most, however, won’t. Most will be called to “remain in that condition in which (they are) called,” as the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians (1 cor. 7:20). However, there must be this willingness, even readiness to leave all. This is what it means to repent. This is what it means to submit to the Lordship of Christ. All that we are and all that we have are to be placed at the foot of the cross: all our dreams, our hopes, our aspirations; all our things, our possessions, our wealth; and all our power, our prestige, all that makes for our standing in the community or in our social circle. Levi, like Peter, James, and John repents and leaves “everything” (cf. 5:11). Whoever will do likewise will be forgiven, and their sin sick souls will be healed by the Great Physician.
“And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them.” (v. 29)
Upon his conversion (if we should call it such), Levi throws a “great feast,” or “big reception” (NASB) for a “large company.” Levi is not in the least distressed about the decision he has made to follow Jesus. He’s not grieving the loss of income he is going to suffer or the inevitable decline in his standard of living. Instead he throws a party. He gathers all his friends to celebrate the occasion. Why? Because he wanted his associates to be introduced to his new Lord. Of course he did. Those who know Jesus want others to know Him. Those who know the joy of total commitment want others to know that joy. Those who know their sins have been forgiven want others to know the same. “A converted man will not wish to go to heaven alone,” says Ryle. Like Andrew he will want to go to his brother and say, “We have found the Messiah,” and bring him to Jesus (Jn. 1:42. Like the Samaritan woman he will want to say, “Come, see a man who told me all things that I have done.” (Jn. 4:29). “Come and see,” Philip said to Nathaniel (Jn. 1:46).
There is no witness like that of an enthusiastic Christian, especially a convert, especially one with lots of friends who are unbelievers. Recent converts have access to non-Christians. They still have friends who are in the world. One of our members once “called in all his chips,” as he put it, and twisted arms to get all of his high-society friends to come to a Bible study that we organized. They came, and 15 years later they still are coming, men, most of whom had never been to a Bible study before. Ordinary believers can make a huge impact for Christ by connecting the worldly friends with the gospel, by sharing what they have received with those who as yet don’t know. Do not underestimate what you can do for Christ’s Gospel kingdom through your personal witness to the unbelievers with whom you have contact.
The complaint and response
“And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (v. 30)
The Pharisees would not have been at the reception itself. Luke is telling us of their reaction once they heard of the event, and of Jesus mingling with such. They “grumbled” because Jesus had dined with “tax collectors and sinners.” To do so would have rendered him ceremoniously unclean. He would have been contaminated and defiled by contact with those who were unclean. Sharing a meal also implied friendship and acceptance. It implied a condoning of their sin. No respectable Jew would have had anything to do with this sordid crowd.
We should note that the Pharisees’ and Scribes’ restrictions are not Old Testament requirements. Contact with the diseased, with corpses, and unclean animals, among other things, rendered one unclean, but not contact with “unclean” sinners (Lev. 10-15). Lev. 10:10 requires of priests a distinction between the unclean and the clean, which religious enthusiasts were taking to mean separation from those who were “unclean; namely “sinners.” These extra-biblical rules of separation made outreach to sinners next to impossible. Jesus’ answer is in terms of the purpose of His mission.
“And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.’” (v. 31)
Jesus identifies Himself as a physician for sin-sick souls. He has not come for the well. His ministry is to the sick. Consequently, He mingles with the sick, that is, with the irreligious crowd at the house of Levi. Lest there be any confusion he explains his meaning.
“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (v. 32)
The righteous are the same as the “well.” Those who already are devout, already God-fearing and faithful, were not the focus of Jesus’ ministry. On the other hand, Jesus’ reference to the righteous is ironic. He did not come for, and He cannot heal those who think they are righteous, or appear righteous, or are regarded as such. Sinners can be called to repentance. However, those who regard themselves as righteous have nothing for which to repent. “Repentance is not easy for the respectable or the self-righteous,” as Morris explains.
Jesus’ words, then, are both an explanation of the focus of His ministry and a warning to the self-righteous. Jesus, in a certain respect, can do nothing for the self-righteous. He can only heal the sick who know they are sick, and demonstrate that they do by repentance. What is repentance? It is to change one’s mind (metanoia), to change one’s direction. Repentance is the flip-side of faith. Faith is the positive act of trusting Christ. I turn from my idols and lusts (repentance) and embrace Christ (faith). Jesus can help me only if I come to this self-awareness. I am sick. I am a sinner. I need the healing touch of the Great Physician.
Notice that the Pharisees’ practice of avoiding the gatherings of the unbelieving and not socializing with them is not being criticized. A great deal of unwise mingling with the world has been justified by this passage and other like it. Too many people are hanging out in bars and night clubs and using Jesus’ example as justification. As Gooding points out, “Christ did not tell them that they ought to attend such parties.” “Bad company corrupts good morals,” counsels the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 15:33). “Come out from their midst and be separate and do not touch what is unclean, he urges us.” (2 Cor. 6:17). Had the Pharisees attended the wild parties of the “sinners,” they might have succumbed to the same moral disease that afflicted the “sinners.” The Great Physician can do what others can’t. He can touch lepers. He can socialize with sinners. We have to be more careful. We must not be naive about where we belong and don’t belong.
Rather, Jesus’ point is about His mission and not theirs, and by extension, our mission as His disciples. He is not teaching us to party-up with pagans, to attend their drunken orgies, listen to their seductive music, and adopt their sensuous dance movements. This kind of counsel is destroying vulnerable Christians. What he is saying is, open the doors of your hearts, of your church and of your houses to unbelievers. Accept them, show hospitality to them, invite them in for a meal, have them over for a social function, and introduce them, by word and deed, to Christ and His gospel for sinners. Why? Because they need the same physician that we need. They are spiritually sick, as we were, and the Great Physician can heal them, even as He has healed, and is healing us.
 Morris, 119.
 Green, 246.
 Morris, 119.
 Green, 246 “phrase illustrates his decisive break with his old life (aorist participle) followed by his continuing life of discipleship (imperfect indicative)” (Morris, 219).
 “a great banquet for...a large crowd” (NIV).
 “He took the step not in a spirit of grim resignation but with banners flying.” (Morris, 119).
 Ryle, 150. Ryle also says, “It may be safely asserted that there is no grace in the man who cares nothing about the salvation of his fellow-men.” (149).
 “shared meals symbolized shared lives, intimacy, kinship, unity─throughout the Mediterranean world.” (Green, 246).
 Morris, 120.
 Gooding, 110.