Loving All Peoples, Part 1

Text: Mark 2:15–17 ESV

Introduction

One of my main goals this morning is to remind you, and if necessary convince you, that you are a sinner. That may seem odd because that isn’t one of our priorities per se. We haven’t listed “remind everyone of their sin” as a title on any of our documents. Yet, at any given moment on any given day, we find ourselves somewhere on a spectrum of how we think about sin. 

At the far end are those who don’t think they sin. In fact, they may not believe in sin at all. Life is relative and full of choices, but what is right for you is fine. If you don’t believe in sin, I find that quite tragic. It means you have stopped viewing life logically, and you no longer heed your own conscience. We all know intrinsically that we have sinned. We create rules for ourselves that we never keep. New Year’s resolutions, anyone? Even worse, we see that we violate the desires and norms of our friends and even our culture, causing—at the very least—emotional harm to others. You don’t need to believe in God to see the problem here. To ignore the reality of right and wrong, and sin, is to try to live a lie rather than examine the reality of our position in life. 

But what is interesting, is just a few steps over on this spectrum of sin, we can find many Christians. Even though we have acknowledged there is a God who is holy and righteous, even though we have acknowledged, at one point in time, that we had sins, we begin to forget that is our reality today. We wake up in the morning, and we think to ourselves, “I’m doing pretty good! I didn’t hurt anyone yesterday. I did most of the things on my list. I didn’t yell at the McDonald’s counter person when they gave me the wrong order. I actually said “Thank you” to the person who held the door for me. I’m a pretty good person!” 

On the other side of the spectrum is a person who knows they are a sinner and who is diving head-first into that sin. They are enjoying it; they are reveling it. Even Christians find themselves with this problem when we take for granted God’s mercy and grace in Jesus and don’t take our sins seriously—when ee don’t see the offense as separating us from God. 

Or, on the other hand, we find ourselves crippled by our sin. We don’t know how to function. Guilt overtakes and overwhelms us. We fear each next step. We examine our life—focusing on our sin time and time again.  And, when we fail, we don’t know what to do.

Priorities

At first it may seem odd to link a sermon on our priority of “Loving All Peoples” to sin, but I believe it is crucial to understanding this concept. A couple of weeks ago, we talked about our priority of spreading, and it was left somewhat incomplete. As we say in our Table Rock 101 class, most of our priorities are interrelated. It is hard to talk about one without the other. As we talked about God’s passion to spread his glory across this entire earth, we didn’t mention one of the main ways he spreads his glory. It is through his love of all his people. 

We are going to talk about this priority of “Loving all peoples” in two sermons. Next week, we are going to talk about what most people think about when they think about loving all peoples. How God has chosen to love an amazing variety of peoples—gender, age, ethnicity, culture, talents, abilities, intellect, and much more. God displays his glory through a diversity of peoples like a multi-faceted diamond refracts light in a diversity of colors and directions. It is stunning how God reveals his greatness, his glory, his image through a variety of peoples, and we want to love that with him. 

If that discussion is about what distinguishes and differentiates us—all the peoples who God loves and we want to love too—this passage today pushes us to realize that there is a common ground to all the peoples that God loves as well. And we see most clearly that we are all found to be sinners. We don’t want to fall on either side of the spectrum that I just described, instead we want to find ourselves walking in the middle, in a holy tension that heeds Jesus’s call to sinners to repent and find our joy and satisfaction in Jesus Christ alone! That is where our passage takes us this morning.

Mark 2:15–17—The Sinners, not the Righteous

As we look at our passage this morning, we need to notice that from the very beginning of Mark Jesus’s coming to save sinners features prominently. There are two scenes just before this passage in Mark 2 that are both about sinners. 

First, Jesus meets a paralytic, and does something extremely odd. When they finally get the man to Jesus by lowering him through the roof, Jesus’s first statement to him is this:

“And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”” (Mark 2:5 ESV)

We are told that those around him are astounded that he says this because it would be blasphemy for anyone but God to say they have forgiven sins. Yet, notice the other amazing aspect. Jesus sees a man paralyzed and his first concern isn’t the state of his physical body, but the forgiveness of his sins. In fact, this man is eventually healed not because that is Jesus’s major concern, but as he says, “that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” 

Interestingly, the next scene again focuses on sinners. Jesus goes out and calls Levi, or Matthew, to follow him as a disciple. 

“He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.” (Mark 2:13–14 ESV)

This is amazing! Throughout the gospels, tax collectors, gentiles, and sinners become synonymous as those who you shouldn’t be associated with. For those of you who haven’t heard about these types of tax collectors, they were usually somewhat unscrupulous figures. Basically, these tax collectors tended to take this job because they could take a little extra money from people when they were collecting the taxes and become rich themselves while angering all the people in their city because they were taking their money! And yet, Jesus is calling one to come and serve as his disciple! And this isn’t a reformed tax collector, an ex-tax collector. No, Jesus goes straight to him in his job, while he is doing this unscrupulous behavior, and engages him.

And our passages continue this narrative of Jesus engaging with sinners. He is dining with them, and when the religious leaders see this, they have something to say about it—they can’t believe he would do such a thing. And here is Jesus’s reply:

“And when Jesus heard it, 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.”” (Mark 2:17 ESV)

This should shock us! Do you view yourself as basically good? Perhaps you would even call yourself “righteous?” Jesus is saying here that he did not come for you. 

The reality is that you actually aren’t righteous, but until you are willing to admit that you won’t accept what Jesus is doing for you. Scripture tells us all are sinful.

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”(Romans 3:23 ESV)

(Solomon) “—for there is no one who does not sin—” (1 Kings 8:46 ESV)

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5 ESV)

“The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:2,3 ESV)

“Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.” (Psalm 143:2 ESV)

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.” (Isaiah 64:6 ESV)

And this knowledge should undo us as a person. We should respond like Isaiah, who when confronted with God’s holy requirements exclaimed:

“And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”” (Isaiah 6:5 ESV)

Or Job, who God told Satan at the time was the most blameless man on earth (1:8):

“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5–6 ESV)

How does one continue to exist knowing we have betrayed and come against our holy God?

Application 1 

This directly confronts the first side of the spectrum regarding sin that we talked about. When you at least are consistent and admit that you sin, you may even begin to realize that there is a perfect and holy God who has requirements of you, and you can’t fulfill them. And praise God he provided a way for you through Jesus! Jesus lived the perfect life you couldn’t. Jesus died the sinner’s death you deserved so you don’t have to. And as very God of very God, he has the power to raise you up from the dead to live with him forever, just as he did himself.

If you find yourself as a believer falling into self-righteous thinking, the first application point is to examine yourself. Do you truly see yourself as a sinner saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ? 

We often want to say with Paul:

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15 ESV)

What we struggle to do is finish the sentence:

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15 ESV)

I have to admit that I fall more often than not on this end of the spectrum. As a perfectionist, it is easy for me to work hard, try to check all the boxes, and “look” like I have everything together. Jesus has something choice to say to me and to those who want to act as though we have no sin:

““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. So, you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27–28 ESV)

Mark 2:17 & Luke 30:32—Sinners to Repentance

There is a tension here. We don’t want to stay in the ditch of self-righteousness, but we also don’t want to slip into the other ditch of self-pity or acceptance of our sins. 

Sometimes, staying crippled by our sins is overlooked as one of the problems. I wonder if that is because we all secretly hope that others will feel that way. When someone sins against us, how often do we hope that they feel some of our pain and don’t too quickly find forgiveness and joy after their repentance? We want to see them stuck in their pain for a while. So, we pile guilt on ourselves and others. We stay stuck under our sin and looking only at our sin. 

In case that is your struggle this morning, let me remind you of Peter. The disciple who three times denied that he even knew Jesus. If anyone had a reason to feel guilty, Peter did. But when Jesus gets the opportunity to talk to Peter about it (John 21:15–17), he doesn’t berate him, rather he calls him back on mission to serving God’s people. 

And we see a similar call to those who want to run toward their sin and not worry about the grave offense it is to God. We are told in Romans 6:1–4:

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:1–4 ESV)

We have a new life in Jesus, and we should live like it. Luke adds a helpful word to the same story we are reading in Mark this morning. In Luke 5:30–32 he says this:

“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 goal of seeing our sin is not to become callous to it, not to be crippled by it, not to become accepting of it. Rather we are to come back to God in repentance, again and again, to bring glory to God as we admit that we have only one hope for the damage sin does to our soul and our relationship with God. We need God himself to intervene, and he has done that for us in Jesus Christ!

Application 2

Do you find yourself stuck in the rut of sin today? Have you identified that you either love your sin or let it rule you and keep you even more from God? Have you considered that both wallowing in your sin and diving into it head-first are both sufficiently pleasing to Satan? His goal is not just sin itself, but to have you forget who God is and his call to you through Jesus Christ. Acceptance of sin belittles God’s grace and mercy as much as wallowing in self-pity. Both ignore the glorious truth of Jesus Christ. Only by living a life of repentance for our sin and walking in the new life we have been given in Jesus will we escape this cycle of sin that keeps us away from relationship with our God and father!

A Look Outside Ourselves

When we look at these priorities, the goal is not just to stop at self examination, but to look at how this affects our relationship with those around us. When we see how God has loved all his people despite their sin, we have to take a turn now and look beyond ourselves to how this affects our interactions with our neighbors and those we meet every day. 

I am convinced one of the reasons we fail at community, at evangelism, at welcoming others is because we don’t rightly see ourselves as sinners saved by grace and still in need of grace. We fall into the “other gospel” that Paul chides the Galatians for believing. We should all heed his admonition:

“Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2 ESV)

Whether we came to Christ trying to clean ourselves up first, or are now trying to find God’s mercy and grace only in our work, it is no wonder we have a hard time relating to and connecting with those who are deep in their sin—those who need most desperately to hear the good news we have!

It will be messy!

And before I tackle the specifics of getting outside ourselves and engaging with other sinners, let me admit, it will be messy! Look at what was said about Jesus:

“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” (Luke 7:34–35 ESV)

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”” (Luke 15:1–2 ESV)

Look back at our passage this morning. Look what is said about Jesus:

“And as he 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.” (Mark 2:15 ESV)

Let me highlight what I want you to see:

“And as he 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.” (Mark 2:15 ESV)

While to some, the news of Jesus will be off-putting but to many people in a life marred with the filth and stench of their own sin and of those around them, the sweet fragrance of Christ smells that much sweeter!

Pursue Sinners

So, do you pursue those who are sinners? Praise God he pursued you in your sin! And if we want to take our place in God’s great salvific mission, we have to be willing to engage others—sinners—as well. 

At Table Rock, we do this with other believers through Open Life groups. This is a time to get together with two or three other men or women to talk through our sins and struggles, to repent, and to receive prayer and encouragement as we walk that difficult path in the middle of acknowledging we are sinners and yet repenting of that sin. 

Yet the hard question is, “are you willing to pursue sinners, like Jesus with Levi or the other tax collectors and sinners, that they might truly feel loved as image bearers of God who you want to see come back into relationship with him?” We admittedly have a hard time engaging others we have labeled and decided are definitely sinners. We can start with a mundane example:  

  • For you mature people, how do you engage with the millennial who you know is sinfully reveling in their independence and devalues the previous experience of others?

  • Or, for you millennials, how do you engage with an older person who you know is sinfully set in their ways and insisting you accommodate them without any desire to try something new?

There are so many ways to apply this concept: sins like drunkenness, greed, laziness, self-centeredness, and many more abound all around us every day. We need to be challenged to press into relationship with other sinners both inside and outside the church for the sake of seeing them come to know and love Jesus whether for the first time or the thousandth, and not place a prerequisite that they clean-up before we can love them by sharing our love for God!

Major Example—Sexual Sin

There is much more teaching to be had regarding entering into relationship with others who are sinners. There are specifics about relating to others who claim to be believers but are living in unrepentant sin. There are extents to which we should enter into someone else’s life, especially if it means entering into sin with them. But I venture to say that our biggest problem as Christians is rarely that we enter too far into someone’s life, but rather not enough. And that is directly relevant to our priority of Loving All Peoples this morning. 

I feel like there is one major cultural example that I just can’t escape this morning. Table Rock, have you placed a sinful barrier of perfect sexual conformity to God’s word before you will relate to and love someone for the sake of the gospel of Jesus? Have you decided you will not befriend and care for someone who has a different sexual ethic than Scripture, and by doing so pushed away many who need to know the love of God through both words, deeds, and love?

Let me remind you that we are all disordered sexually. This deserves its own sermon, but I feel we must mention it here in Loving all Peoples. I dare say 90%+ of our life will be realizing that our desires and wants sexually cannot be fulfilled the way we want them to be. And we have to turn again and again and find our satisfaction, even our sexual satisfaction, through our relationship with God. 

  • As a young person, every drive and desire has to be met with “no, find your satisfaction in Jesus”

  • As a single person, every drive and desire has to be met with “no, find your satisfaction in Jesus”

  • And that doesn’t change with marriage. While God has designed sex to occur in heterosexual marriages, even then it has many “nos”

    • No, I don’t get sex whenever I want. I need to find my satisfaction in Jesus.

    • No, I don’t get sex every way I want. I need to find my satisfaction in Jesus.

    • I will still find others attractive, likely until the day I die, and the answer is still, “no, find your satisfaction in the one God gave you and in Jesus”. I may not act out physically, mentally, or emotionally. 

This is what unites us in our common experience in this area. We are all called—single, married, straight, gay, lesbian, transsexual, bisexual, name your sexual orientation—we all must submit sexuality first and primarily to Jesus Christ and find our satisfaction in him alone. 

Table Rock, will you relate to those who don’t have this figured out? I hope so—I want to be your friend, and I don’t have this perfectly figured out. In our context this morning, the question is, “have you decided there is a category of sin in those outside the church which means you no longer need to relate to them for the sake of love and the chance to share your own experience of submitting that area of your life to Jesus Christ? And is that category sexual sin?” 

Conclusion

Our priority of Loving All Peoples reminds us to love all those whom God has loved—sinners. We need to admit we are sinners, and sinners called by Jesus to repentance. And we marvel at God’s amazing pursuit of us as sinners. Jesus pursued sinners to the point of leaving heaven, coming to earth, and dying on a cross for us. What does that demand of us in our relationship with other sinners? And are you willing to engage the tax collectors of our town, of our age, for the sake of calling them to follow Jesus?