Preached at Riverview Park in Cascade, IA on August 19th, 2018.
Good morning. First, let me begin by welcoming all of you to Worship in the Park. On behalf of Cornerstone Church here in Cascade, we are glad you decided to join us. I also want to take a moment and thank the committee for Cascade Hometown Days for asking Cornerstone Church to be a part of this weekend. We really enjoy helping out and being a part of the fabric of this town.
For those who are not familiar with Cornerstone Church. We are located just down 1st Ave on the Northeast side of town, right across from Brothers Market and right next door to Cascade Café. We have been there for going on 6 years and during that time the community here in Cascade has been very supportive of us, and we appreciate it.
If you are interested in knowing more about us, I would encourage you to come and talk with me and ask any question that may be on your mind. Also we want to encourage you to stop in sometime and join us for Worship. Our worship services are on Sunday morning at 10:00 and our services are casual in attire and a mix of contemporary music and hymns. And of course, if you want you can check us out online to get some more information, or follow us on facebook.
Having said all that, if you really want to know what Cornerstone is all about, you just have to open up the Bible, for that is our heart beat. Just as the Bible is about Christ, we are about Christ. Each week we open up God’s Word and allow God to speak into our lives and change our hearts. One of our favorite verses in the Bible is found in 2 Timothy 3:15-17 which says, “from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
At Cornerstone Church we truly believe this, that the exposure to the Bible leads to salvation through faith in Jesus and equips you to become more like Jesus. Therefore, this morning, we are going to do what we always do, open up God’s Word and see what God has to say to us.
This morning I will be preaching on Luke 5:27-32. If you have your Bible, please turn there with me. If you need a Bible we have some available for you this morning, and if you want to keep it for your own, we would be glad for you to have it. It is our gift to you. We desire all people to have the Word of God in their homes.
Because it was a fishing town and fisherman brought their cargo to the shores of Capernaum, it was also, therefore, a place of business, and as we all know that where there is business there is money and where there is money there is government. And it was no different in the days of Jesus. During this time, Israel was under Roman rule, and there were many things that Rome did well and one of those things was to tax its people. As you can imagine, the Jews did not appreciate Roman occupation or its heavy taxes upon them. Roman taxes were a means of oppression towards the Jews, keeping Israel poor and making Rome wealthy.
As it relates to Capernaum, because there was such a constant flow of taxable commodities, primarily due to the fishing trade, the town had a permanent taxing location. You can actually see that in our text for today when it mentions that Levi was sitting at the tax booth. This tax booth was the brick and mortar location for the Roman bureaucracy. This was the point of contact or the face of Roman rule and oppression for those who lived in Capernaum. Most likely, people like Peter, Andrew, James, and John, as fishermen, were very familiar with this taxing booth. Most likely, every day they would have had to present their catch of fish to the powers that be and be taxed for their daily catch. What a great way to end a long day’s work.
This tax booth was not only the sitting place of Rome, it was also the sitting place of greed. Tax collectors were notorious for taking advantage of people, and this was completely acceptable to the Romans. Tax collectors could double, triple, and even quadruple the Roman required tax. This is how tax collectors made their living, by increasing the local taxes to line their pocket.
In the collection of these taxes, Rome was not stupid, they hired Jews to collect taxes from their fellow Jews. This meant that Jewish tax collectors were directly participating in the political oppression of their fellow Jew. As you can imagine, this did not make them popular people amongst their Jewish communities. The tax collectors were considered to be outcasts of Jewish societies. Tax collectors were ostracized. They were excluded from the fellowship of the Jews. They were not allowed in the Temple and they were not allowed in the Synagogues. They were for all extensive purposes considered unclean to all other Jews.
Which brings us to the person of Levi. Most of you know Levi by his other name, Matthew, one of the 12 disciples and the author of the Gospel of Matthew. Levi was a tax collector who lived in Capernaum. Day after day he sat at his tax booth and effectively stole from his own people, the people of Israel. His greed was the vehicle to his wealth, taking money from people so that he could live a comfortable life. To the people of Israel, he was the lowest of the low, daily sitting upon the thrown of Babylon to steel from God’s chosen people.
But Levi was not the only person who lived in Capernaum during that time, the Son of God, Jesus, also lived in Capernaum. One of the reasons that Jesus lived in Capernaum was because Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth, tried to kill him. So much for Hometown days! We read about that story in Luke 4. The reason that Nazareth tried to kill him was not because he was a criminal, not because he was a physical threat, but because of his message that he is the savior of the World. Nazareth did not like the words that Jesus was proclaiming so there solution was to destroy him and his message.
A Divine Appointment
And now in Capernaum these two people, the wretched Levi and the Righteous One of God, Jesus, cross paths. Now what is interesting is that this crossing of paths was not random. It was not as if they were both walking down the road and bumped into each other accidentally and struck up a conversation. What happened is that Jesus went out and saw Levi. Levi was just doing his thing, minding his own business, collecting taxes, raking in the money and Jesus sought Levi out, and only him. The tax both district would have been crowded with people, men women, blue collar, white collar, devout Jews, nominal Jews, and Jesus set his eyes upon Levi and said two words, “Follow me.” Jesus, the Son of God, was caling a wretched, low life, tax collector to be his disciple.
And before those two words spoke by Jesus, “Follow me” Levi had done absolutely nothing to qualify for this position. He was not praying, he was not reading the Bible, he had not given any money to the Temple, he was not helping the poor, he was not fasting, he was not doing one single religious ritual. The only thing he was doing was taking money from people to fill his own coffers…yet Jesus sets his eyes upon Levi and says “Follow me.” Why?
The answer lies in verse 32, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” In the eyes of the world, there was no great sinner in that moment than Levi. Levi was a transgressor, disobedient, a lawbreaker; he lived his life in rebellion to God’s good and holy law and lived his life his way. The world knew Levi's sin and Levi knew Levi's sin. And Jesus says that he, as the Son of God, took on flesh and came into this world so as to call people like Levi, a sinner, out of the domain of darkness and into his beloved Kingdom.
And Levi is not the only sinner whom Christ calls. The call to follow Christ goes out to all men, for all men are sinners. Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—“ All humanity at their core is Levi. You are Levi, I am Levi, your family is Levi, this town is Levi. We sit at the tax booth of our lives and live out our own passions and desires, and this morning, Christ is calling you to repent and follow him. The question is, will you listen?
Not For the Self-Righteous
In our story this morning, there were some who did not listen. They did not have ears to hear that message of Jesus, and they were the Pharisees and Scribes. This group of people were the religious people of Israel. They went to the temple, they participated in the ceremonial cleansing, and they believed that their good works before God was enough to save them on the Day of Judgment. The Pharisees and the Scribes were what we call self-righteous, they were righteous in their own eyes.
The problem with their religious self-righteousness is that, on the Day of Judgment, when they stand before God and give an account of their lives, their opinion about their righteousness is not relevant. The opinion that matters is God’s opinon. And we are told in Isaiah 64:6, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” All of the religious work of the religious people during the days of Jesus, the Priests, the Scribes, the Pharisees, they were like a polluted garment. Their garment of religion that they wore so proudly was stained with their sin.
If you want to read more about this, you can read through Matthew 23 where Jesus repeatedly says, “Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees” and rebukes them publicly for all of their empty, hypocritical, self-righteous religion. Jesus says to them things like, “call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” And “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” And “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Does this sound familiar? It should, for there is nothing new under the sun. Every community, during every age, displays, at least partially, a false self-righteous religion. A self-righteous, works based religion that will not save a person on the Day of Judgment. And Jesus warns the self-righteous that he did not come for them. Look at verse 31, “And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Who is Jesus talking about? Who are the well? Who are the righteous that Jesus did not come for? They are the religious snobs, the Pharisees, those who put their trust in their religion. Jesus is telling them, as long as you think your religion will save you, then I am not here for you. Jesus is telling them that if you continue to trust in your sacraments, in your temple attendance, in your penance, than I cannot heal you. Christ came for repentant sinners, not the religious self-righteous.
Jesus came for Levi, who heard the voice of Jesus, felt the weight of his sin, left the world and put his entire trust in the person of Jesus Christ. The question I have for you this morning is, “Will you?” Will you recognize that you are a sinner, dead in your trespasses and sins, and destined to stand before a God who is Holy, Holy, Holy. Will you be a Levi or a Pharisee? Because there are only two roads that are available? Road one is to trust in the righteousness of Christ, who is perfect in every way, or road two is to trust in your own righteousness, which God sees as filthy rags.
Just to drive this point home, let me read to you Luke 18:9-14, which sums up this mornings entire message.