Jesus calls sinners – Luke 5:12-32

It’s important to know that Jesus calls sinners. You need to know it in case you think you don’t need him, or even that you’re too bad for him.

Last week I shared something of my experience of becoming a Christian. Here’s a snippet more: When it came down the crunch, I hit a blocker. I could see that following Jesus would be good. But to take something I didn’t deserve didn’t feel right. I couldn’t do it.

People often get attracted to Jesus, but in the end feel that it’s not for them. Maybe that’s you. You feel you could never be good enough. Or you might feel you have done such awful things your guilt keeps you away; you can hardly forgive yourself, so why should God forgive you?

Here’s the good news of Luke 5. If you feel so bad that you don’t deserve him, his goodness, or his forgiveness, you are just the sort of person he comes to.

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube delivered at Bromborough Evangelical Church in October 2022. You can find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

Jesus reaches out to you (12-16)

I said last week that we’re in a part of Luke’s gospel that has 7 little sections:

  • Peter called by Jesus (last week)
    • Then two healing miracles
  • Levi called by Jesus
    • Then two disputes
  • The 12 apostles called by Jesus

The idea of Jesus ‘calling’ people (including you) runs through this whole passage. But what kind of people does he call? In v12-16 we see Jesus reaching out to a man with leprosy.

In v12, we’re told the man had an advanced case (literally, ‘total’). The illness would have been distressing, obviously.

  • But under Old Testament law, skin disease meant you were ‘unclean’. You couldn’t go to the temple to worship and you couldn’t mix with family or go to the market.
  • It was social distancing – but permanent.

If you touched someone with a skin disease you’d be unclean too for a period of time. So you wouldn’t touch someone with ‘total’ leprosy, both for fear of being unclean and (worse) catching it.

So everything about v14 is amazing. Read Luke 5:14.

He was healed. Jesus restored him. Instead of uncleanness going from the man to Jesus, the kingdom of heaven’s perfection went from Jesus to the man.

Full restoration

But then something equally special happened:

  • Read Luke 5:15.
  • The man was physically restored, but also then returned to the community, to family, to Israel.

This part of Luke’s gospel is about Jesus calling people to himself. And when you come to Jesus, you come to his people. You’re included, loved, part of God’s family and people. Fully.

Last time we saw Peter saying, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” He felt his sin separate himself from Jesus. But Jesus reached out to Peter and called him.

Here again we see Jesus reaching out for someone. They don’t feel worthy. They’re excluded from society. People didn’t want anything to do with the man. But Jesus reached out for him and cleansed him and included him.

Just as he reaches out for you. Today.

Jesus is ready to forgive you (17-26)

The next event is very well-known. The important point to notice is the connection in the account between healing and forgiveness, and how Jesus is uniquely powerful and authorised for both.

Luke has lined these events up for you in preparation for the next event, the calling of Levi (which we’ll get to shortly). The scene is set for us: Read Luke 5:17.

  • Don’t think that sometimes Jesus could heal that day but couldn’t on other days.
  • Rather, Luke is setting the scene.
  • On the one hand, we have brilliant, respected, honourable Pharisees from all over the country.
  • On the other, a man from Nazareth doing some remarkable things – on whom the Spirit of the Lord rested (Isaiah 61:1)

So we get the well-known incident:

  • The house is crowded out.
  • A man is brought on a stretcher, and the only way they can get him to Jesus is to go up on the roof and cut a hole.
  • Imagine the dust! The mess! The outrage!
  • Whose house was it? Who was going to pay for the repair?

Having landed their friend, what will Jesus do? Obviously, he was expected to heal the man. But he doesn’t. It almost seems like he has no intention.

In fact, Jesus sets up a tension with those brilliant, respected, honourable Pharisees: Read Luke 5:20-21.

This isn’t “oops” from Jesus. He’s deliberately prompted the question.

  • Where do you go for healing? A doctor. (Or maybe a miracle-worker, as many were probably seeing Jesus.)
  • But where do you go for forgiveness? God.

In what Jesus has done he is actually claiming divinity. But so what? Anyone can do that.

How can Jesus show his divinity?

So read Luke 5:22-23.

  • There’s a difference here between what’s easier to say and what’s easier to do.
  • For me, it would be easy to say “Your sins are forgiven” because it’s unprovable. I could wear nice robes, burn some incense, light some candles, get a good religious vibe going – and you might find me more convincing.
  • For me, it would he harder to say “Stand up and walk” because that can be instantly tested: I’d be seen as a powerless fraud.

If Jesus could say “stand up and walk” and have the man walk, then that would be proof of his ability to forgive.

But first, think of his question again: Which is easier for Jesus?

  • The healing would be a doddle. It’s a correction in his creation, like an artist rubbing out some pencil marks.
  • For Jesus to say, “Your sins are forgiven” is enormous.
    • He is the Son of God.
    • He came into the world so that sinners’ sins could be forgiven.
    • But God is just. Every sin is punished.
    • So when Jesus said to that man, “Your sins are forgiven” he was also saying, “And I will die for you.”
  • Forgiveness absorbs offence. If you owe me £500 and I forgive you that debt, I absorb the pain of a £500 loss.
  • When God forgives you your sin, he absorbs the pain of offence and no longer holds it against you.
    • And he absorbs the punishment due to you at Calvary, so that he is just even in his forgiveness.

So when Jesus reaches out for you, he does so at enormous cost to himself. He does that because he loves you.

Jesus welcomes sinners

What a saviour, who is prepared to do that for you! He even welcomes sinners! Of course he does.

People generally have a completely wrong idea of Christianity. There’s a general idea that Christians are good people trying to be good enough for heaven. The truth that all Christians are self-confessed sinners forgiven by God almost always comes as news to people.

Maybe you have come to Jesus and asked for forgiveness. But, for some reason, your riddled with guilt. That thing in your past still nags at you. You wonder if you’re even a “real Christian”

  • Know this: Jesus doesn’t forgive 90%, or 99%.
  • When he forgave you, he absorbed 100% of the offence and the punishment. You’re forgiven.
  • A man who had no guilt in him took all your guilt and was willingly punished to death for you.
  • That man is now raised to life, and has reached out to you and called you.
  • You’re adopted by God the Father, included in Christ, welcomed in his church, indwelt by the Spirit of God.

It’s time to leave that guilt at the cross of Christ, and do what Levi did:

Jesus brings you joy (27-32)

The calling of Levi is a big moment. It’s not a healing. Read Luke 5:27-28.

More literally, he said simply “Follow me.” What’s the big deal?

  • Tax collectors were Jews working for the occupying forces, the Roman empire.
  • If the Romans said “tax 10 coins per person” then all you had to do was give the Romans what they asked for.
  • You could tax your countrymen whatever you felt you could get away with. And they did.
  • Tax collectors got rich by fleecing their own countrymen in support of the enemy occupiers.
  • Cash rich, they were morally bankrupt.

It was a necessary job that you could actually do without being exploitative, but you’d be a rare beast! The job attracted the worst people.

So there’s Levi, sitting in his sinner’s seat sinning. And Jesus called him.

  • “Levi got up, left everything and followed him.”
  • It seems out of the blue, but as we saw with Peter it won’t have been. Everyone knew about Jesus, what he was doing and saying. We saw that in v15.
  • So here’s a perfect example of repentance: Realisation and reorientation.
    • He realised that Jesus is worth dropping everything to follow.
    • Levi also realised that his sin must be left behind to follow Jesus.
    • So he reoriented himself, abandoned his sin, and followed Jesus.

We often link repentance with sorrow – and that’s very often the case. You’re ashamed or distressed at what you’ve done and the offence you’ve caused God. You grieve it. There are plenty of biblical examples of that (e.g. Ezra, Daniel, Peter)

Repentance + Joy?

But in Luke’s gospel we often see another thing linked with repentance: Feasting and celebration!

  • Read Luke 5:29.
  • Yes, repentance is turning from sin (as Levi did).
  • But it’s also turning to Jesus: And he is great joy, and to know him is something to celebrate and share!

But the brilliant, respected, and honourable Pharisees wouldn’t be seen dead with the sort of people that Jesus was now with! Read Luke 5:30.

  • Your bible might translate that as “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
  • In their eyes, there were the religious elite (Pharisees etc), then true Israelites trying to keep God’s laws, and then there were “sinners” – scallies and low-lifes who were Jewish by birth, but lawless by nature. Atheists, even.
  • So really two groups: People teaching or living under God’s laws verses people with no regard for God’s laws (Jewish sinners and Gentiles).

And the Pharisees knew which side they were on. And, given Jesus’ teaching and miracles, surely Jesus would be on the same ‘side’ as them. So they were offended, confused, indignant that Jesus and his disciples would actually go to a feast with people on the ‘wrong side’ of society: Tax collectors, sinners, drug dealer, smack-heads and low-life scum.

A key question

So Jesus drives the question home to the Pharisees, and because Luke has written it down the question comes to you too: Read Luke 5:31-32.

  • The question is this: Which side are you on?
  • Are you ‘righteous’? You don’t need Jesus, or forgiveness, because you’re basically good (mostly), and better than really bad people. You might be very religious (so were the Pharisees, but they were on the ‘wrong side’).
  • Or are you a ‘sinner’? You know you’ve done wrong, you don’t deserve heaven, and your only hope with God is for him to forgive you. You know you need repentance.

Do you feel unworthy to come? Too guilty? Too old? Maybe too young? Peter was separated form God by his sinful nature, but Jesus called him in. The leper was separated from God’s people by illness, but Jesus called him into community. The paralysed man was separated from everything by his disability, and Jesus forgave his sin and made him walk. Levi was separated from God and God’s people by a sinful life and lifestyle, but repented of it all and rejoiced in Jesus. They were all on the ‘wrong side’ of something, all excluded, but Jesus crossed over and called them. As he calls you.

The Pharisees saw two groups: Good and bad.

And Jesus reached out to the bad ones to bring healing, forgiveness, transformation, and belonging.

Christians (and whole churches) can actually behave too much like those Pharisees: In trying to separate ourselves from sin we separate from sinners, and stop taking the Good News of Jesus out. That’s a sin to be repented of.

Jesus’ touch brings the excluded in 

He brings transformation and forgiveness. His people need to be as welcoming as he is.

What shall separate the people of this area from the love of Christ?

  • Shall money, schooling, sexual orientation, skin colour, ethnicity, or past crimes?
  • Welcoming sinners is not the same as condoning sin.
  • Jesus calls sinners to repentance. He places no barriers to repentance and neither must we.

To all here today, the risen Christ says, “Follow me.”