In Luke chapter 5, we are at the place in the gospel account where Levi has just been called to salvation by Jesus. “Follow Me,” said Jesus, and Levi was forever changed. So, Levi throws “a great feast” and invites all his friends so they can meet this amazing Man, Jesus. Somehow some Pharisees and scribes find their way into the feast and complain to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answers 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 5:31-32
Here in these two short verses, Jesus gives us some vital information. He tells us why He has come and for whom He has come. As we look at this passage, we want to make sure that we are among those for whom Jesus has come.
As usual in the gospels, the antagonists are the Pharisees and the scribes. Who were they? These were the strictest religious people in Israel. They were devout adherents to all the ceremonial laws and rules. They also viewed themselves as superior and looked down on “sinners” with contempt.
At the other end of the religious spectrum were “the tax collectors and the sinners.” Tax collectors were Jewish people who were employed by the Romans to collect Roman taxes from their fellow Jews. If this wasn’t bad enough, they often overcharged and kept the extra. Tax collectors were despised by the Jews. “Sinners” were those with questionable or disreputable lifestyles. These included prostitutes or beggars or perhaps thieves. They were at the bottom of society.
So, the Pharisees ask their question with a bit of disgust, “Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?” To them it is unthinkable for religious men to associate with such rabble. The logic of Jesus’ answer (see above, Luke 5:31-32) is cutting and profound:
“Those who think they are healthy have no need of a physician, but if you think you have a disease, you will seek out a physician. Just as it is only those who think they are sick who seek out a doctor, so it is only those who know themselves to be sinners who call out to Jesus for salvation.”
We need to consider this very carefully. Why has Jesus come? He tells us that He has come to call sinners to repentance. For whom has He come? He tells us that He has come for sinners. For whom has He not come? Jesus has not come for those who do not see themselves as sinners.
Here at last is the One who had been promised and foretold from of old. Here is the one Man who can deal with sin and not merely play religious games. All religions play games with sin, pretending that feeble human effort and invented works can quench God’s holy wrath, but Jesus deals with sin and vanquishes sin. Every child of Adam produces sin, but here is the one Man in all of human history who bears sin and who forgives sin and who takes away sin. Jesus is the only one who has this authority, and here He declares that He has come to call sinners to repentance.
Jesus is the only Savior of sinners, but He is also the Savior only of sinners. The Pharisees and the scribes had no need of Jesus because they were religiously self-righteous and certainly did not see themselves as sinners. And since they did not see themselves as sinners, Jesus had not come for them.
So far, so good. We see that the Pharisees were in trouble because they were religiously self-righteous. Got it. As long as I am not self-righteous, then I am good, right? Well, not exactly. It is true that Jesus has not come to call those who think they are righteous. That much is certain. But there is more than one group of people Jesus has not come to call. What do I mean? I mean that, according to this passage, Jesus has come to call SINNERS to repentance. Since that is the case, it must also be true that Jesus has not come to call anyone who does not see themselves as a sinner.
For example, let’s say that you identify yourself as “basically a good person.” You have never been to prison, and you have never killed anyone, and you try to do what you think is right most of the time. Now, you are quick to admit that you are not perfect. “After all, nobody’s perfect.” (Jesus is.) But you are basically a good person. The fact is that you have no need of Jesus, because you are not a sinner, but are basically good. More importantly, Jesus has not come for you, because He came to call sinners, not basically good people.
Maybe you see yourself as a respectable, church-going person. You are good to your neighbor and you obey “the golden rule” and are in the church almost every time the doors are open. All things considered you are better than most. You are not perfect, and you do make mistakes, but you are not as bad as a “sinner!” Well, you have no need of Jesus, because you are not a sinner, and Jesus has not come for you, because He came to call sinners to repentance, not respectable people to being nice.
You see the point. Jesus has come to call sinners to repentance, and He has come to call only sinners. If you do not acknowledge that you are a sinner, then you have no need of Jesus. More importantly, Jesus has not come to call you.
Do you see yourself as a sinner? That is, do you acknowledge that you have broken God’s commandments and have sinned against Him and justly deserve His condemnation? Then Jesus has come to call you to repentance. Repent, and cry out to Him for His salvation. “For whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).”
SDG rmb 11/3/2020