Summary: Christ receives even thieves and robbers when they receive Him as Master over life.

“After this [Jesus] went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.

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. 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.’” [1]

How perfectly do you obey the righteous dictates of the Lord God? I know you wouldn’t rob a bank, but do you steal from your employer? Have you ever made a personal call on your employer’s dime? Do you ever take an unused bar of soap, or a shampoo sample from the hotel in which you spent the night? I don’t imagine you would murder someone, but in light of Jesus’ warning delivered in His Sermon on the Mount, have you ever expressed your hatred of a brother Christian? You do recall Jesus’ warning, don’t you? “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” The tragedy of this situation is that we went to the House of God, sat before the Lord, sang the hymns of Zion, and endeavoured to worship, all the while harbouring anger toward our fellow Christian. Jesus addressed what should have been done, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny” [MATTHEW 5:21-26]. Well, you get the picture. Unrighteous anger equates to murder if we take the Word of the Master seriously.

How are you doing in the realm of adultery? I trust you have never violated your marriage vows, but have you ever entertained the thought of what it would be to be married to another sister in Christ? Or have you weighed what life would be if only another brother in the Lord was your husband? You do remember Jesus’ words on that subject, don’t you? The Master said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” [MATTHEW 5:27-30]. The statement poses some serious consequences if we take the Master’s Word seriously.

Wow! What about that tearing out your eye business! If every man who lingered over pornographic videos that just “pop up” while he is surfing were to gouge out his eye, there’d be more than a few blind men around. At first we are startled because of what suddenly appears on our monitor. Then, before we know it, we are searching for more such images with which to fill our mind. At first we are revulsed and horrified; but the wickedness of our heart compels us to explore just a little farther. We never pause to think that we are watching the degradation of someone’s daughter, that we are watching the debasement of a girl who in her innocence was enmeshed by the web of terror that now holds her. No wonder the Master tells us that we might wish to tear out our eye since it became the gateway leading to the wickedness in which we are now wallowing.

And what about that business of cutting off your right hand! If every individual that has allowed her or his hand to linger a bit longer than is wise where it shouldn’t be, the field of bioengineering would be totally focused on designing artificial hands. If every temptation to seize what is not ours to hold, there would be a great demand to perfect surgeries to replace the hand of those who suffered the dreadful amputation.

Jesus has presented an impossibly high standard of holiness. Or has He? Perfection is hard! Each of us lives with a continuum of choices. Some of those choices are quite obvious, and we know that we must not violate righteousness that is pleasing to God. Other choices seem rather harmless, unimportant, and we have no real problem performing those acts, though we know, or at least suspect, that technically what we choose is a violation of righteousness. In between is a spectrum without bright lines to demark when we cross from righteousness to unrighteousness. And we cross those grayed out lines on a constant basis.

We don’t like crooks. Perhaps that is one reason we resent paying taxes—we resent the manner in which government squanders what they seize from the governed. We don’t trust dishonest people. We take note of those individuals who are less than trustworthy, and we tend to give them wide berth. Or if we don’t avoid them entirely, we are always cautious around them. We might attempt to use such people for our own ends, but we will never fully trust them—we don’t want to be duped, and we know they are capable to stealing. However, we will be exceptionally careful not to be seen as associating with those who are crooked. Shady people would destroy our reputation and render our reputation as less than stellar. We certainly couldn’t have that!

Here is what we need to know, however. I’m not speaking to those whom you know—I’m speaking to you as an individual. I’m speaking to that person who may have crossed the line at some point in the past. You need to know that God makes room for misfits. Though we may have been dishonest, though we may have cheated and even stolen from others, God not only accepts those who come to Him through Jesus Christ as Lord, but our God is able to transform the individual with a dark past. The Living God is able to make bad men good! And that is a message that needs to be heard in this day. God makes bad men good!

A LESS THAN HONOURABLE PAST — “After this [Jesus] went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth” [LUKE 5:27]. In years past, one of my favourite television shows was “Corner Gas.” I still watch the reruns on occasion; I’m always assured of a good laugh at the antics of the inhabitants of “Dog River, Saskatchewan.” Brent Butt did a masterful job of revealing, even in exaggerated fashion, human nature.

One episode featured a CRA auditor named Marvin Drey. The poor man was constantly misunderstood; thus, he was constantly tormented. Of course, Hank and Oscar gave the poor man grief, and Wanda was no help. Oscar just knew he was about to be audited, and he couldn’t find his records from years past when he ran the Corner Gas. Brent tried to apprise the taxman of the reason he was despised and Lacy simply tried to be kind. What made the show funny was that almost any of us could relate to the feelings of the inhabitants of Dog River. Tax auditors are almost universally despised, even though we acknowledge that human nature demands that we must have accountability.

In the case of Levi, the tax collector in our text, there was good reason why he was detested and despised by the people whom he taxed. It is almost certain that Levi was a thief. I say that because tax collectors were notorious for extorting money from those who were compelled to pay their taxes collected in that ancient day. Rome had a system of taxation that was liable to corruption. The government would determine that a certain amount of money needed to be raised for whatever project was under consideration. Accordingly, the Senate or the Emperor would levy a tax, demanding that a given region must provide a certain amount of money. Then, the bureaucrats would auction off the concession for collection of the tax. Those who were successful in their bid would provide Rome with the money with which they won the auction. Then those who won the auction were free to extort the populace, thus restoring what they had spent. You may be assured that they made money on the concession. And they were assured of success in their bid to make money because they would be backed up in the collection of taxes by the Roman Army. Inevitably, they would collect far more than they had spent to obtain the concession. It was a system fraught with dishonesty. Consequently, the populace hated the tax collectors because they were notoriously crooked.

Let’s get a sense of what was going on in order to get a handle on why this particular event was important enough to include in Luke’s Gospel. Of course, it should be enough to say that the pericope is included to encourage any of us who may have dark secrets haunting our memories. Christ the Lord came to save sinners, and that surely includes any of us who have are hiding dark secrets from the past that still haunt our minds. However, something more immediate accounts for the inclusion of this particular pericope.

Note that little words, “After this” at the beginning of the text. After what? Jesus had just called some fishermen to follow Him. Fishermen! Not religious scholars, but fishermen! And these men didn’t hesitate when Jesus called them; they immediately left their nets and became disciples of the prophet from Galilee [see LUKE 5:1-11]. The mere fact that Jesus would deliberately choose fishermen rather than religious leaders undoubtedly proved offensive to the Pharisees and their scribes.

Then, Jesus was approached by a man “full of leprosy.” Think about that! Jesus allowed a leprous man to come near to Him—he didn’t even maintain social distancing. Worse still, when this man asked the Lord to heal him, Jesus touched him! Jesus touched an unclean man, and the touch of the Master was sufficient to cleanse the man. Jesus was careful to honour the Law. When the man was healed, Jesus commanded him not to tell anyone, but rather, “Go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them” [see LUKE 5:12-14]. Again, His refusal to obey religious norms must surely have offended religious leaders.

In the face of growing anger toward Him, Jesus walked into a trap the Pharisees and teachers of the Law had set. Let’s read the account as Luke presents it for our understanding. “On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.’ And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, ‘Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, ‘Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” or to say, “Rise and walk?” But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the man who was paralyzed—‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen extraordinary things today’” [LUKE 5:17-26].

You get the picture—Jesus was disrupting religious norms, demonstrating that the rigmarole demanded by the religious leaders was ineffectual, but that God’s power was still effective when it was sought. What was worse, those outside of the religious bureaucracy were glorifying God and ignoring the religious leadership. If Jesus had only played nice with the religious elite, they would never have been offended with Him. As it was, He didn’t inflate their egos, and they were angry because God was glorified and they weren’t!

“After this…” After this series of acts that offended religious leaders, Jesus came to a tax booth, and there sat a sinner. This sinner’s name was Levi. When Jesus came to the tax booth, rather than acting as the religious leaders always acted, Jesus walked right up to the tax collector and called the man to follow Him. Rather than sneering at the man as the Pharisees normally did, and rather than spitting in the dirt to show disgust as the teachers of the Law would do, Jesus called the man. Imagine! Jesus, the Prophet from Galilee, treated this man as though he was worthy of respect! Can you imagine how insulting this must have been to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law?

Don’t read through this account so fast that you miss the impact of Jesus’ actions on the religious people who seemed always to travel alongside of Him in order to serve as sort of a rapid response team. Treating the outcasts of society with respect is certain to gain the anger of the religious elite.

During the days of ministry in the Outer Mission District of San Francisco, I witnessed an incident of religious bias. The congregation in which I served had organized a church basketball team composed of young men from the community. It was a diverse community, representing people from almost every continent in the world. These young men, truly representative of that community, were attending services of the church. Now, on several evenings each week the men would play basketball in the church gymnasium. It wasn’t long until they asked if they could participate in a church basketball league. They would be playing basketball against teams representing other churches throughout the Bay Area.

As you might expect, the young men from the Outer Mission District, the neighbourhood where the church was located, were mostly minority kids. They had few outlets for their energies and they were assuredly lacking in religious training. However, they were eager to attend services and they were eager to play basketball. They were pretty good at the sport, and they were quickly becoming versed in the Scriptures. A growing number of these men had come to faith and followed the Master in baptism.

It didn’t take long for almost all the churches in that league to take note that these men were not like them. The young men were not polished, and they came from some rough backgrounds, and though they made a genuine effort to be polite, we would sometimes find it necessary to bench them until they regained control of their tongues. Consequently, the religious leaders of those churches formulated new rules designed to exclude these young men from playing basketball in the church league. Apparently, those religious leaders thought that the young men might contaminate their pure minds.

If the response of those religious leaders was an exception, I might be willing to pass it off as an aberration. However, I’ve lived for more than a few years; and I’ve observed that the elite of our world, while talking a good game concerning the hoi polloi, really don’t want much to do with people whom they consider to be their inferiors.

AN UNHESITATING RESPONSE — “[Jesus] said to [Levi], ‘Follow me.’ And leaving everything, [Levi] rose and followed [Jesus].

“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” [LUKE 5:28-29].

Isn’t that amazing? Jesus called Levi, and Levi left everything—his concession, his livelihood, his wealth. That is commitment! That is something that is rare within the community of the saints. We call people to enjoy the benefits of salvation, but when did you last hear a call to commitment as demonstrated by willingness to leave everything behind? When did you last hear a follower of Christ the Lord admitting that she had left everything for His sake?

We admire the Apostle Paul because of what he accomplished for the sake of Christ the Lord. Indeed, he deserves our admiration, even our emulation. However, underlying the Apostle’s powerful service is a sense of commitment that is rare among the saints of the Risen Saviour. Listen to Paul as he writes of his commitment to Christ. He has the credentials; he has the right to boast; but his boasting is in Christ His Lord.

“We are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” [PHILIPPIANS 3:3-14].

After writing these words, the Apostle makes the issue applicable for all who lay claim to be followers of Christ the Lord when he writes, “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” [PHILIPPIANS 3:15]. Don’t tell me what you accomplished—tell me what Christ has accomplished in your life! Tell me of the power of the Risen Saviour demonstrated through you and revealed in the manner in which you are living your life.

Throughout the years of my service before the Lord and to His people, I’ve witnessed many people professing love for the Saviour. Some would confess Christ without any discernable emotion. It was as if they are making a routine business transaction. At other times, people obviously felt deep shame at the sin that had sullied their life; they wept copiously as they came to the Lord. Among those who came to faith, many struggled as they weighed what they thought they must give up in order to receive Christ as Master over life. Others seemingly jumped at the opportunity to turn from their present situation in order to follow the Lord.

What I have learned from these situations is that no one can predict the reality of a profession of faith by the response of the one claiming faith at that precise moment. Some who display no emotion become the most committed Christians and the most dedicated servants of the Saviour. Others who appear deeply moved are like seed planted on the pathway. They sprout up quickly, only to die away as the heat of the day drains them of spiritual life. We know nothing of the work of the Spirit when He first touches a life, and we can know nothing because we are not God. Paul brings anyone up short who imagines they can know what is going on in the life of another when he writes, “Who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” [1 CORINTHIANS 2:11].

Levi heard the call of the Master, and without hesitation he left his former life. The toll booth, and even the wealth he had amassed that day, was left behind. Levi had found something far more valuable than mere money. His response to Jesus’ call exemplified the Master’s parable concerning a merchant who unexpectedly found a pearl. Jesus told a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven in which He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” [MATTHEW 13:44].

Though I can predict neither the permanence of the commitment resulting from the profession an individual makes or the tenacity with which that profession will be held, I am nevertheless delighted when I witness anyone acting with alacrity and demonstrating resolve when they affirm their determination to follow the Saviour. And I suspect you are delighted when witnessing a vibrant profession of faith in the Saviour. What I don’t want to see, however, is an individual who equivocates while claiming they are coming to the life offered in Christ as Lord. I don’t want to see someone who asserts a desire to follow even as they are fretting about the cost of following Jesus. Let me state clearly that there is a cost for following Jesus. This Christian life will cost you in terms of what this world can offer.

Friends may desert you, and I know that in many instances family will resent you because you aver faith in the Risen Christ. Jesus our Lord warned us who follow Him, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” [MATTHEW 10:34-39].

An old hymn presents the stanza that asserts,

I am resolved to enter the kingdom, leaving the paths of sin.

Friends may oppose me, foes may beset me, still will I enter in. [2]

Following Christ can be demanding, and those who preceded us in the Faith appear to have been far more aware of the cost than we are in this day. We seem almost casual about obeying the call to follow the Saviour. Consequently, we seem shocked when we do meet opposition because we dare believe that Jesus died because of our sin!

There may be a fiscal cost, to say nothing of a physical cost, when you choose to follow the Christ. An unnamed writer says of those who followed the call of the Living God, “Time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” [HEBREWS 11:32-38].

In his first missive to the Church of God in Corinth, Paul questions readers, people who have taken a stand as followers of the Christ, “Why are we in danger every hour” [1 CORINTHIANS 15:30]? He is reminding them that even standing for Christ can endanger the Christian. Surely, what he wrote in that missive serves to challenge us.

Speaking of his own travails resulting from his devotion to Christ, the Apostle would write in a later letter to these same saints in Corinth, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant” [2 CORINTHIANS 11:24-29]?

I could wish that everyone who hears me speak this day would receive Christ as Master of life. However, I am dutybound to caution each one who considers the call of Christ to weigh the potential cost. You do well to take to heart the words Jesus Spoke concerning the cost of following Him. Jesus cautioned “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” [LUKE 14:26-35].

It is easy enough to say, “Don’t count the cost of following Jesus as Saviour; count the cost of not following Him.” However, as Jesus called people to follow Him, He did not hesitate to remind those who heard His call that they would be required to give up everything. If you imagine that you can come to the Saviour and follow Him with one foot planted firmly in this dying world, you deceive yourself. Jesus warned those who heard Him in that ancient day, just as He warns any who hear Him in this day, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” [MATTHEW 6:24].

OFFENDED LEADERS — “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]. Religious leaders in that day were offended that Jesus didn’t allow them to feel good about themselves; He didn’t permit them to be seen as important in the eyes of the public. Something like that attitude seemingly infects many religious leaders in this day.

In the original production of “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man are about to enter a dark forest. Eyeing the forest and anticipating what terrors might lurk among the trees, Dorothy expresses her fears when she says, “I don’t like this forest! It’s… it’s dark and creepy!”

The Scarecrow explains, “Of course, I don’t know, but I think it’ll get darker before it gets lighter.”

Dorothy then ask, “Do, do you suppose we’ll meet any wild animals?”

The Tin Man helpfully explains, “We might.”

This, of course, elicits an exclamation from Dorothy, who cries out, “Oh…”

The Scarecrow, listening intently asks, “Animals that, that eat straw?”

Again, the Tin Man attempts to be helpful by responding, “Some; but mostly lions, and tigers, and bears.”

Dorothy exclaims, “Lions?”

The Scarecrow timidly asks, “And tigers?”

The Tin Man helpfully concludes, “And bears!”

Dorothy then begins to chant, “Oh! Lions and tigers and bears! Oh, my!” And the trio begins to travel through the dark forest reciting the mantra, “Lions and tigers and bears! Oh, my!” Picking up speed as they recite the words, they continue down the yellow brick road, skipping and saying in unison, “Lions and tigers and bears! Oh, my!” until they hear a ferocious roar! Of course, for those who have seen the movie, the ferocious roar is the Cowardly Lion announcing his presence. All the lion has is his roar because he is actually timid and frightened by everything. The mere thought of actually encountering anything or anyone who might roar back terrifies the lion.

Many religious leaders today manage to roar ferociously, vigorously stating how they will stand against wickedness if such evil should ever dare venture near them, how they will resist the incursions of wicked politicians who imagine they are more important than God. They are adamant that they don’t want any sinners coming into their congregation. Crooks, thieves and robbers, to say nothing of prostitutes and profane people will not be find a welcome among their parishioners! They are far more pure than to allow such riffraff into their church. They’ve really seized the charge to be guardians of the flock, though they are having some problems dealing with those passages that demand mercy and grace.

Such religious leaders sound like Peter when he was boasting of his courage, “Even though they all fall away, I will not” [MARK 14:29]. And again, we witness Peter as he emphatically boasted, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you” [MARK 14:31]. But merely saying the words is not evidence of courage. These boastful Christians, many of whom are leaders, think that with their ferocious roars they will frighten the wicked one and intimidate the unwary. However, I have often observed that those same religious leaders seem unable to stand firm when they are threatened with fines or jail. It requires real courage to stand firm in the cause of Christ. And the only courage that will suffice in the final analysis is that which comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit.

It doesn’t take much to enrage many of the religious elite. A sinner coming to join them will threaten their control. Recall an incident when Jesus saw a woman who had been incapacitated by eighteen years. It will be instructive to look at the account as Doctor Luke records it. “[Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, ‘Woman, you are freed from your disability.’ And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God” [LUKE 13:10-13].

This woman was present when Jesus was teaching in a synagogue one day. Apparently, her twisted body was obvious to anyone who saw her. Jesus took especial note of her condition and in front of everyone He called her over. Then, He simply spoke the words that would transform her life and leave a religious leader sputtering in rage. Jesus simply said, “Woman, you are freed from your disability,” and He laid His hands on her. In front of everyone, God healed her! She immediately stood up straight. Everyone saw what had happened. Surely, everyone was thrilled at the mercies of God!

Well, not everyone was thrilled, because Doctor Luke writes, “But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, ‘There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day’” [LUKE 13:14]. The synagogue ruler was offended because in his mind there was a scheduling conflict. This woman should have had better sense than to permit herself to be healed on the Sabbath! She needed to go home and think about what she had done.

Talk about a downer! God showed mercy and the religious elite complained! During one pastorate in the Lower Mainland, I had been pleading for people to be saved. The response to the message of life was heartening. After three months the building was filled with people from the community coming to hear the preaching of the Word. Most of those coming were first generation Canadians. People from the Caribbean Islands, people from the Middle East, people from Africa, people from several Asian nations and people from South America were present. How blessed we were.

On one particular morning I gave an invitation and a woman from Barbados stepped out of the pew and came hesitantly down the aisle to present herself before the congregation. She was the first person to respond to an invitation at that point in my tenure. She came requesting baptism because she had put her faith in Christ as Lord as I had been preaching. As I rejoiced and turned to present her to the congregation, a man stood and said in a loud voice, “Ain’t nobody getting saved until I say so!”

He was a church leader, and he had taken it upon himself to pass judgement on the testimony of anyone who might dare seek the Lord. I was astounded. The deacons met in emergency session to discuss whether the Pastor could make a pronouncement concerning the testimony of anyone without the approval of this particular man. After a discussion that consumed the better part of the afternoon, these leaders decided that if someone openly testified of their faith before the congregation, the church could receive that testimony. I was witnessing some of the initial stages of spiritual atherosclerosis. The symptoms were revealed in that one incident, and I departed that assembly soon after. My absence would allow them to strangle the life out of those who remained and ensure that the Spirit of God would no longer be a bother. That church did eventually die from hardening of the heart compounded by terminal self-importance of the leadership.

We are blessed that we don’t have leaders who are so puffed up with their own importance that they resent God working among His people. We do have leadership that wants to see the Spirit of God work in each heart. And we are blessed here to know that the preacher can issue a call for each one who hears the message to receive the forgiveness of sin and thus be assured of a warm reception within the Family of God. A crook, or a robber, or a thief—God transforms each one, making each suited for the precincts of Heaven. Those who are known in this world as murderers or as harlots and whoremongers will find acceptance by the Living God as each one receives Christ as Master over life. As Scripture promises, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” [ROMANS 10:13].

And that includes you as you place your faith in Jesus, the Risen Son of God. The promise of God is to receive all who come to Him in faith. Jesus invites you, saying, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God” [LUKE 12:8-9]. Believe Him and be saved. Amen.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, IL 2016)

[2] Palmer Hartsough, “I Am Resolved,” 1896