Here's a sermon from Donald Sunukjian on what we ought to do when we encounter someone who has yet to know God. We've mentioned before that one of Sunukjian's greatest strengths is creating big-picture illustrations that he can revisit throughout the sermon as he makes his way through the text at hand.
Let's suppose that on your way to work each morning, you usually stop at a Starbucks. You tend to get to the store at the same time each morning, and you usually see a young girl who gets there about the same time you do. On many mornings you find yourselves standing next to each other in line. In fact, you both order the same thing—double espresso with skim milk.
She seems to be into the gothic culture—black hair, black clothes, knee-high jackboots, black fingernails, black lipstick, piercings in the nose, lips, ears, and eyebrows, and scattered tattoos. She usually has a backpack that she has to take off to get her money, and sometimes it seems hard for her to hold the backpack, get the money, and pay for the coffee all at the same time.
She doesn't make too much eye contact with others. You wonder whether you should strike up a conversation with her—maybe offer to hold her backpack while she pays. You're not sure what to do with the whole gothic bit, and you don't know whether she'd give you a dark look and not say anything.
Should you try to be friendly? Maybe find out what brings you both to the same Starbucks each morning? See if she ever tries any of the other specialty coffees? Move toward greeting her each morning? Learn about other parts of her life? Yes! By all means! Move into her world. Make a comment one day about how the barista probably already knows both of your orders as soon as you walk in the door. Offer to hold her backpack while she pays. A couple of days later, tell her your name and ask for hers. If she misses a few days, tell her you hope she wasn't sick the next time you see her.
Why move into her world? Because with the eyes of a doctor, you see a hurt that God can heal.You see an anger and alienation. Maybe it's because of sexual abuse from a stepfather, a brother, or an old boyfriend. But you see the heaviness, the sadness. With the eyes of a doctor, you see a hurt that God can heal.
There's a man at work who everyone shakes his head at. He's been divorced a couple of times, and both of his ex-wives are suing him for past child support. He's a deadbeat dad—way behind on his support, sending them just a little bit every so often. He's been living with another woman and her small child, but a couple of weeks ago, he slapped her around pretty hard. She called the cops, he spent a couple nights in jail, and she kicked him out and now has a restraining order against him. He's currently living in one of the cheap motels that rents by the month.
Every day at lunch, he goes out by himself to get a hamburger or a burrito, always coming back with mustard or chili on his shirt. Nobody talks very much to him, because he's too quick to complain about how everybody's taking advantage of him, everybody's pushing his buttons, everybody's squeezing him dry. Who wants to listen to that?
You've often wondered about being nice and offering to go to lunch with him. You know you like the same fast food he does—Burger King and Taco Bell and Subway. And you know Subway has a sale going on—three foot-long sandwiches for $10. You couldn't possibly eat that much, but it seems like a shame not to take advantage of such a bargain.
Should you invite him along one day? Yes! By all means! Move into his world. Go to lunch with him. When you get to Subway and you both sit down with your sandwiches and chips and drinks, ask him if he's watched any of the baseball playoffs. Who's he rooting for in the World Series? Mention that it's been just about the worst umpiring you've ever seen.
Why move into his world? Because with the eyes of a doctor, you see a hurt that God can heal. You see a bitterness at life, failing at relationships, blaming others instead of knowing how to change himself. You sense his fear of the future—no money, a criminal record on the books—and his desperation over being all alone in the world. With the eyes of a doctor, you see a hurt that God can heal.
Your company has a co-ed softball team that competes in the city league, and they're looking for a couple of extra players. You like softball. You like the feel of connecting on a pitch, running down a fly ball, making a clothesline throw on one hop to home plate to nail a runner trying to score. The first game is next Tuesday, and they're pushing you to join them.
But you're not sure. You like softball, but you don't know about playing with the people in the office. You went to a company picnic a couple of months ago, where there was a pickup softball game, and some of the guys were drinking a lot of beer, getting pretty raunchy in their comments about some of the women on the other team. Some of the wives of your coworkers were loud-mouthed, and they flirted with other husbands. The parents yelled mean things at their children but did nothing to control them. And in the parking lot, one of the married men from the office who had come to the picnic by himself was behind his pickup truck going at it pretty heavy with one of the single moms in the office. Do you want to deal with all that every week? Should you join the team? Yes! By all means! Move into their world. Get to the park, hit those balls, and run those bases. Bring some Cokes to put in with their beers. When one of the women on the other team lines it into a gap between center and left for a stand-up double, instead of questioning her sexual preference, shout out, "Great hit! Did you play in college?" Buy a cheap glove for the single mom's kid, ask if he wants to be batboy, have him sit beside you on the bench, and teach him the strategies of the game.
Why move into their world? Because with the eyes of a doctor, you see their hurts that God can heal. You see that the machismo and the raunchiness merely disguise insecurity and failure. You see marriages where there's no love and children that don't have the security of boundaries. You see the single mom's loneliness and vulnerability that puts her at risk of being deeply hurt. With the eyes of a doctor, you see the hurts that God can heal.
The eyes of a judge or the eyes of a doctor
In life we can have the eyes of a judge or we can have the eyes of a doctor. The eyes of a judge see a gothic girl, a deadbeat dad, and a foul-mouthed team, leave us thinking, Why have anything to do with them? The eyes of a doctor see the hurts that God can heal.
Do we shun the disreputable—those whose lifestyles are questionable? Do we shut ourselves off from them and have nothing to do with their world? Do we leave them to their anger and despair, their ignorance, their loneliness, their vulnerability? Or do we move into their world—talk with them, laugh with them, eat with them, play with them, be their friend. Do we look at them with the eyes of a judge, seeing choices that God should punish, or do we look at them with the eyes of a doctor, seeing hurts that God can heal? These are the kinds of questions Mark 2:13-14 forces us to ask. In our passage, we see Jesus moving into the world of someone considered disreputable—someone whose lifestyle was questionable to other people. The man's name is Levi. He's a tax collector. But Jesus invites this disreputable man to be part of his group.
Through his example Jesus is saying to us, "Move into their world as I do, with the eyes of a doctor, seeing the hurts that God can heal."
Let's look a little deeper at the story. After teaching a crowd of people, Jesus is walking along and sees Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," Jesus tells him, and Levi gets up and follows him.
Jesus has just come out of the city of Capernaum, which is on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. This means that this particular toll station was the one that intercepts all traffic and commerce coming across the border into King Herod's territory. A lot of traffic came that way, because this was the road that connected to Rome in one direction and Egypt in another direction. Levi's job was to collect the tolls—so much per wagon cart, so much per mule—and the import taxes of anyone transporting goods—so much for grain, so much for garments, so much for fish. There would have been a couple of other guys working the tax station with Levi and a couple of soldiers standing by to make sure everybody cooperated.
The taxation process in the New Testament world was oppressive. There were no posted toll costs or tax rates. If you were a merchant, and you rolled into the station with your goods, you had no clue what it was going to cost you to pass through. Levi just came out, counted your carts, poked around in your sacks, checked out all your goods, and then told you how much you had to pay. And you can bet that like all tax collectors in Rome, he was setting the cost high enough so he could send the right amount to King Herod, while also lining his pockets with a little extra cash. But despite the corruption, if you were a merchant, you were at his mercy. After all, the soldiers were there to enforce whatever Levi said—and he was probably giving them some money on the side to help him out.
All this to say, all the merchants of Jesus' day hated Levi. You can be certain that all the townspeople knew that he was a cheat—no better than a common thief. Nobody wanted anything to do with him. Tax collectors like Levi were so disreputable, so notorious for their dishonesty, that they weren't allowed to be witnesses in a court. You just couldn't trust their testimony. It's safe to say that Levi didn't get asked to speak at too many Career Days at the local elementary school.
And this is why it was so surprising when Jesus came along and moved into Levi's world—even inviting him to be one of his disciples!
Jesus had been in the area long enough for Levi to know who he was. Levi had probably heard Jesus teach on several occasions. And the text indicates that something about Jesus poked deep into Levi's heart. Levi sensed that God had something better for him. So, when Jesus comes along one day and says, "Levi, come with me," he says to the others collectors at the station, "Guys, cover me, will ya? I'm gonna be gone for a few hours." And just like that, he joins Jesus' band of followers.
The first few hours of following Jesus turned into a few days, and soon Levi's heart was changed. He was having conversations with some of his fellow tax collectors and with the few other people who would have anything to do with him. He was talking to prostitutes, adulterers, extortionists—people who were also looked upon as disreputable sinners—telling them what it had been like to spend the last few days with Jesus. When some of them asked if it would be okay for them to come along the next day to hear Jesus, Levi would have convinced them that Jesus wouldn't mind. And just like that, some of Levi's friends began following Jesus.
After several days the text tells us that Levi decided to throw a party for Jesus at his house. He invited all his friends. That way Levi's friends could have Jesus to themselves. Now Jesus has not only invited this disreputable man to be his disciple, he actually commits to attending a party with a whole crowd of disreputable people!
Why does Jesus make such a socially risky move? He has the eyes of a doctor. He sees their hurts that only God can heal. Verses 15-17:
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
The Pharisees objected to Jesus eating with such disreputable people. To them it implied acceptance of the sinners' lifestyle. Why was he partying with them? they wondered. And it was a party going on at Levi's house—no doubt about it! The words used in the text to describe the gathering are not the normal words for simply sitting at a table and having a nice meal. They are party words of that time—words that say they were all having a grand ole' time! But as far as the Pharisees were concerned, Jesus was with the wrong people in the wrong place.
The Pharisees were a strict group in Israel who tried to follow the Old Testament laws to the nth degree—all in an effort to stay separated from any evil influence. There may have been some good in their motives, but the way they carried them out put unreasonable demands on those who would listen to them. They added things to the Old Testament law that were never there, and when people didn't measure up to their standards, they judged them, lumping them together—and dismissing them—as sinners.
You can imagine how horrifying it was for the Pharisees to see Jesus go into a house filled with sinners. Even worse, they could hear laughter coming from the house. So when the party finally broke up and Jesus and his disciples were coming out of the house, some of the Pharisees confronted Jesus' disciples, saying, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners? Why is he associating with such disreputable people?" They were not asking for information. They were saying this in an accusatory manner, insisting he should not be doing what he was doing.
The text tells us that Jesus overheard their question and gave them the answer that becomes our pattern of behavior for today: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Jesus is saying that it makes as much sense for us to stay away from sinners as it does for a doctor to stay away from the sick. A doctor must go out among the sick in order to bring healing, just as we go out among the sinners to proclaim an even deeper healing that comes from God.
So, yes! By all means! Move into their world with the eyes of a doctor, seeing the hurts that God can heal.
Talk to the gothic girl. Strike up a small friendship. As Christmas draws closer, buy her a present—one of the new thermoses Starbucks is selling. Have lunch with the deadbeat dad. If there's an unmarried pregnant girl in one of your crowded classes, save a seat. Strike up a conversation with the older woman on the prowl for another man. Engage with the man who has just lost his license for drunk driving. If your coworkers invite you, join the softball team. Go with them to the karaoke clubs and the tail-gate parties. Attend the company New Year's Eve party. Stay sober, but sit and talk and laugh. Go to the high school reunions. Tell stories about whose houses you used to TP or about how your team won the district championship that year. Marvel that Mr. Brewer is still teaching algebra. Go to the Friday night poker parties, setting a $20 limit for the evening. Take some chips and dip and decide whether you want to drink what they're drinking or bring your own. When you get home, air out your clothes on the patio from the cigar smoke. Go win a lot or take an IOU. When they start talking about women, brag about your wife and tell them she's the best thing that ever happened to you. Tell them at the end of the night that you'd love to play again with them next Friday night—except that you and your wife are going on a couples' retreat with your church.
Move into their world and connect if they're willing. Be a friend, and let God take it from there. Move into their world with the eyes of a doctor, seeing the hurts that God can heal.
To see an outline of Sunukjian's sermon,click here.
For your reflection:
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? _____________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ___________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? _______________________
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? ______________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ___________________________________________