My sermon this past Lord’s Day had two main points, both consisting of the exact same words: “Jesus is the Savior of sinners.” But for the first point I stressed the word “sinners”: Jesus is the Savior of sinners. And for the second point, I put the stress on the word “Savior”: Jesus is the Savior of sinners.
Luke 5:27-32 tells us about how the Lord called Levi (another name for Matthew) to be his disciple, and about how Levi then hosted a banquet to introduce Jesus to his fellow tax-collectors and other friends. When the Pharisees grumbled to Jesus’ disciples, asking why they would eat with “tax collectors and sinners” (v.30), Jesus answered them in this way: “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” (vs. 31, 32).
Jesus is not the Savior of the righteous, the moral, and the upright. But he’s the Savior of the unrighteous, the immoral, and the corrupt. He came to save sinners. Just like Levi. Tax collectors were notoriously corrupt and unscrupulous, and hated by their fellow Jews for cooperating with the Roman occupiers. They were considered no better than thieves and robbers.
Yet Jesus passed by the pious and devout, and called this ungodly man to be his disciple. What amazing grace! Even more incredible was that Jesus then ate and drank in the company of the unclean and unrighteous. And why? Because as the Great Physician he came to heal the sick, not the healthy. He came to call sinners into his Kingdom.
The Pharisees were profoundly offended that Jesus consorted with such moral outcasts. But they failed to see that they, too, were sinners. They confused their performance-based self-righteousness with true righteousness. And being blind to their own pride and arrogance, they could not see in Jesus’ friendship with sinners the love and mercy of God. And so the rejected the Savior who could make them well. Spiritually, it’s often the sickest who think they are healthy.
Whether our sins are of the scandalous sort, like Levi and his friends, or whether they are of the more “respectable” kind, like the Pharisees, everyone one of us is a sinner in need of grace. Praise God Jesus came to call to himself sinners, just like us!
But notice that Jesus said he came to call sinners to repentance. If the Pharisees erred in thinking Christ was the Savior of the righteous, many today make the opposite sort of mistake. They think that Jesus came merely to befriend sinners. Because Jesus ate and drank with the ungodly, they wrongly reason, he must be unconcerned about sin, or he doesn’t make moral demands, or his love consists in his uncritical acceptance of our choices and conduct. Nothing could be further from the truth! Jesus is a friend of sinners, but he is always the enemy of sin. Just as Levi left everything to follow Jesus (v.28), meaning he left behind all the evil bound up in his tax-collecting work, so those whom Jesus calls must forsake sin. He calls sinners to repentance and new obedience to his Word.
Jesus came to deliver us from our sins, and to begin a work in us that will culminate in our being raised from the grave as perfectly righteous as he himself is. And even now, by faith in Christ, we who are sinners are clothed with the complete righteousness of the Son of God.
What grace! Jesus is both the Savior of sinners, and the Savior of sinners.
Soli Deo Gloria,