Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Conversion of a Sinner

(This message was preached Wed eve, September 7th, 2016 at Heritage Baptist Church: )

THESIS: To describe a real sinners’ conversion and use that description to help the church to identify the people and places they should be working in evangelistically.

Good Evening!
Tonight I would like to look at Mark 2:13-17.  Please follow along as I read, “And he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alpheus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him. And it came to pass, that as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

I would like take you on a journey of conversion.  The conversion of a man known as Levi.  The first thing I’d like you to consider is the most foundational part of a man – his name.  The name Levi means ‘attached’ and while that is not so helpful on its own, when we understand Levi was the name given by Leah, the unloved wife of Jacob, when she named her 3rd born(Gen. 30:34), we see some significance! “Oh! Now my husband will love me!”  The fact that Alpheus called his son Levi, indicated his Jewish heritage.  Levi was a Jew.  The name Levi – Attached, has an even more profound Jewish connection when we recall that it was the tribe of Levi which was given over to the Priestly duties – the Levites.  Even the term attached would seem to indicate that this tribe was particularly set apart to the duties and service of the Lord.
As I like to do, especially with these Gospel accounts, I look at the other accounts of Levi’s calling, and we find those accounts in Luke 5:27-32, and Matthew 9:9-13.  We find something quite interesting when we read Matthews account of this.  Please listen carefully as I read Matt. 9:9, “And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.”   Did you note the name change?  In Mark and Luke we see this person called Levi, but in Matthew, he is called Matthew. This is that disciple.  You might not realize why such a reference is made, so I’d like to read to you MacArthur’s note on the title to the book in his study Bible.  He states, “Matthew, meaning ‘gift of the Lord’ was the other name of Levi. (Matt. 9:9), the tax collector who left everything to follow Christ (Luke 5:27-8). Matthew was one of the 12 apostles. In his own list of the 12, he explicitly calls himself a tax collector (Matt. 10:3). Nowhere else in Scripture is the name Matthew associated with “tax collector”; the other evangelists always employ his former name, Levi, when speaking of his sinful past.”  Why do we see the evangelists hiding Matthew’s identity this way?  And what benefit is there to Matthew in revealing to us who he was, even to the identity of his past occupation?  The answer is in the conversion of a sinner. 

Matthew was a tax collector.  The AV uses the word publican which is more descriptive to the kind of tax collector he was. Quoting the United Nations of Roma Victrix website, “Taxes were assessed…on entire communities rather than on individuals…Tax farmers (Publicani) were used to collect these taxes from the provincials. Rome, in eliminating its own burden for this process, would put the collection of taxes up for auction every few years. The Publicani would bid for the right to collect in particular regions, and pay the state in advance of this collection. (The terms were typically 5 years) These payments were, in effect, loans to the state and Rome was required to pay interest back to the Publicani…In the end, the collectors would keep anything in excess of what they bid plus the interest due from the treasury; with the risk being that they might not collect as much as they originally bid.”  

 J Dwight Pentecost quotes Shepard in describing the two kinds of tax collector, “The Gabbai, collected regular real estate taxes and income tax and the poll tax; the Mockhes, the duty on imports, exports, toll on roads, bridges, the harbor, the town tax, and a great multiplicity of other variable taxes on an unlimited variety of things, admitting of much abuse...”   Now that we have defined the 2 chief types of tax collectors, the Gabbai and the Mockhes – what type do you suppose Matthew was?  Again, let me quote Shepard, “The taxes in Judea were levied by publicans, who were Jews, and therefore hated the more, as direct officials of the heathen Roman power. Levi occupied the detestable position of a publican of the worst type – a little Mockhes, who himself stood in the Roman custom-house on the highway connecting Damascus and Ptolemais, and by the sea where all boats plied between the domains of Antipas and Philip.” 

I looked extensively at the road maps and I came to the conclusion that Matthew was in a pretty plumb position.  His ‘receipt of custom’ we might call a toll booth was indeed located off the coast of the Sea of Galilee on a major highway.  This highway had interchanges to the Kings highway (which linked Egypt & Syria, including Damascus), as well as the road to Jerusalem and the Way of the Sea – referring to the Mediterranean.  He was in a very traveled place and with the road travel, and the sea trade – he had plenty of business! 

Why did Luke & Mark use Matthew’s old name Levi when describing the account?  I’ll tell you why – shame.  The type of man Matthew had once been – was so completely degraded, they couldn’t in good conscience recognize him for the man he once was, so they used his old name, Levi.  Quoting Shepard one final time, “According to Rabbinism there was no hope for a man like Levi. He was excluded from all religious fellowship.  His money was considered tainted and defiled anyone who accepted it. He could not serve as a witness.”   And why then does Matthew not hide his own name – but in 2 distinct places, Matthew 9:9, and later in Matthew 10:3 clearly identify himself as the tax collector?  That is the question we’ll answer.

First of all consider the way Matthew responded to Christ’s command, “Follow Me.”  Mark tells us only that he arose and followed him. Luke adds to this that, “And he left all, rose up, and followed him.”  Think about all the types of taxes he had to exact – the duty on imports, exports, toll on roads, bridges, the harbor, and the town tax – each with their own rates and all the bookkeeping involved.  Since the publican had paid upfront the taxes to Rome – for a 5 year period, he had to keep track of all his activities, so that first of all he would not lose money, and so that he might represent to Rome the actual taxes being taken (in the case that the burden he had previously paid was too great). 

And he left all, rose up and followed him.  You know we say we ought to count the cost – even Christ said the same.  Yet it's only 3 small words – he left all. How much did he take with him?  None of it.  Would you make a 5 year investment and leave all?  We are not told how far into the term Matthew was – but no matter how far – he left all.  And this made a huge splash in the community.  Luke tells us, “And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them”  Think about the conversations at that feast!  Matthew’s friends were publicans, like he was.  They knew what the cost was – and as good friends they surely tried to get him to reconsider this foolishness.  In addition, some of them surely had thought to themselves – What would be so compelling as to cause a man to cast away everything? 

What indeed!  When a man comes to Christ it changes everything!  This man Matthew had rose up left all and followed him.  He left his bookkeeping records.  He left his booth. He left the money collected.  He left it all!  But someone might say, couldn’t he have at least kept some of the money for the ministry of the Lord, after all, wasn’t he following Christ?  Couldn’t it have been put to good use?

But remember how the Publicani were viewed in the eyes of the religious – even their money was tainted. This man wanted nothing to do with his old life – but still we haven’t answered the question, if Matthew wanted to leave it all behind, why does he identify himself in Matthew 9:9 and 10:3 as the tax collector, the publican? 

And publicans weren’t the only parties present.  Bill Luck tells us what Mark means when it states that sinners were present. “These are people about whom the stigma of sin seemed to adhere. Perhaps they were prostitutes like Mary Magdalene or political terrorists like Simon the Zealot. They were recognizably ‘disinherited’

And what about that name change anyway?  Why doesn’t he go by Levi if he plainly wanted to be remembered as a former publican?  You know that Mark references Matthew as an apostle in Mark 3:18.  Yet when referencing his sinful past he uses his other name, Levi.  So Mark knew of Matthews other name and used it in chapter 3 verse 18.  Evidence shows that Luke knew as well (Luke 6:14).  As a matter of fact the name Levi, only shows up 4 times in all 4 gospel accounts; once in our passage in Mark, twice in the parallel passage in Luke, and one other time in Luke referring to another man entirely. 

Dr. MacArthur tells us in his introductory remarks on the gospel of Matthew, this was “evidence of humility on Matthew’s part.”   One thing he didn’t turn away from – the history of his past.  He knew what he was, and he never forgot that he was a sinner saved by Grace! When the sinner is converted he may shrink from the effects his sin takes upon his fellow believers, but he still takes ownership of his sin. A true believer confesses to God the same way that the publican did when he beat his chest and cried, God be merciful to me, a sinner! (Luke 18:13) 
One of the blessings of the Bible software I sometimes use to help me prepare for preaching, is the inclusion of sermons others have preached on the same passage for which I am preparing.  Inevitably, Spurgeon has something to say on the passage!  The sermon that popped up this time was actually more topical in nature, and he had 4 texts as his basis.

The sermon is #1345, and titled, For Whom is the Gospel Meant? I was blessed by it and commend it to you.  His topic being slightly different than mine, it was a blessing, but most of his insight didn’t ‘fit’ with my theme, the conversion of a sinner.  But I did find this comment which was truly fitting to my theme.

This is Spurgeon, "And what are the commands of the gospel? Repent. But who repents save a sinner? Believe. But believing is not according to the law – the law speaks only of doing. Believing has to do with sinners and with the method of salvation by Grace."

When Matthew left all he did a complete 180 turning from all he once trusted in – His revenue, and the money he had to gain from his post. He even repudiated the past by abandoning to his hurt the entire bid he had purchased on that booth.  There was no refund coming from the Romans.  Matthew was soundly converted.

And as I suggested earlier this act had a profound effect on the community.  I want you to turn in your Bibles to Luke 19.  I’ll read the account of another tax collector, Zacchaeus. Luke 19:1-10, “And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus – who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” 

First of all let me note to you the passage of time.  When Matthew was converted it was in Capernaum, during Jesus’ earliest Galilean ministry.  The scene in Luke 19 is literally weeks or possibly days before the Triumphal entry and Passion Week.   Probably 18 to 24 months have passed since Matthew left all and followed Christ.  And we read in Luke 19 that Zacchaeus sought to see Jesus.  He certainly had time to think about the reports of one of his own walking away from it all!  Who was this persuasive teacher Jesus?  Some are calling him the Messiah?!  I need to see who this one is.  But he couldn’t – he was too short. Does he let that get in the way?  Not on your life! If Matthew could walk away from possibly 4-5 years of profit at the receipt of custom – this Jesus was someone to see.  Zacchaeus was a chief of the publicani, a rich man.  Indeed!  If Matthew was well to do, consider the wealth of Zacchaeus!   So he put himself in the way – he made every effort to see this Jesus.  And he was not disappointed!  We read of the evidences of his conversion in his standing proclamation to the Lord. 

You see folks, true conversion forces men to consider their ways.  How many other of Matthew’s fellow publicans also left all, if any, we are not told.  But we know this – there was a splash in the community of the publicans, and it absolutely reached the ears of Zacchaeus who lived some 86 miles away.  Matthew’s great feast left many publicans talking for a long time and set Zacchaeus to think about his ways.  You know, by the way, Zacchaeus’ name means ‘pure’ and I can imagine that for some time he wondered about his name and how his lifestyle didn’t fit with a man called Pure. He was a contradiction in terms if any man ever was!  And the Lord opened his heart to repent and believe!

Verse 17 of our passage tells us what Jesus had to say to the charge of eating and drinking with sinners, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

And do you know what folks - we are his ambassadors.  We read such in 2nd Corinthians 5:17-20, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are past away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” 

Matthew witnessed to his friends of his new life in Christ.  And Zacchaeus, hearing of the witness was persuaded to listen to Christ.  He then also testified publically to the change Christ wrought in his heart.

What about you?  Are you prepared to share the changes Christ made in your life with others?  Remember the way you were before Christ.  This is important.

Have you compassion for the lost?  Or are you simply offended when they curse?  Do you look past their obvious sin to look at them as one for whom Christ died? Remember what you were like before Christ, and that should help you see them in a better light.  You were no better than them – indeed there but for the grace of God you might be worse!

Aren’t you glad the grace of God was shared with you?  In the Sermon on the Mount one of the Beatitudes is ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’.  Folks – the mark of true disciples is that we are peacemakers – we have the ministry of reconciliation!  I’m not speaking of the spiritual gift of evangelism – I’m simply tugging at your hearts.  We all have the responsibility to share the work Christ did in our lives.   

Dr. Bill Luck has a challenge for us which I’d like to read to you, “As evangelists we are not permitted to “profile.” Matthew was an easy mark. There are many such today. They are the liberal Democrats in DuPage County, Illinois. They are the illegal immigrants in Arizona. They are the Tea Partiers in Washington DC. They are the AIDS patients in the Bible Belt. They are the Palestinians in Israel. They are the Jews in Iran. They are the ex-con in any town. And the question is, are you able to see beyond the social limits of a man and see a potential citizen of the Kingdom of God – a potential co-laboring evangelist?”  

Matthew’s testimony reached the ears of his fellow tax collector, Zacchaeus – 86 miles away!  And the fruit was nearly 2 years later.  Yet think what a joy it was for Matthew to see his brother in crime, become a brother in Christ!   

This alone ought to encourage us!  I’d like to close by reading a familiar hymn about the conversion of a sinner – and I ask you to think back on your own conversion – and pray this week – that you will not sit passively by waiting for a ‘sinner’ to cross your path – but go and share the blessing which was once shared with you!

When I saw the cleansing fountain Open wide for all my sin,
I obeyed the Spirit’s wooing, When He said, “Wilt thou be clean?”

Though the way seems straight and narrow, All I claimed was swept away;
My ambitions, plans and wishes, At my feet in ashes lay.

Then God’s fire upon the altar Of my heart was set aflame;
I shall never cease to praise Him Glory, glory to His name!

Blessèd be the name of Jesus! I’m so glad He took me in;
He’s forgiven my transgressions, He has cleansed my heart from sin.

RefrainI will praise Him! I will praise Him! Praise the Lamb for sinners slain;
Give Him glory, all ye people, For His blood can wash away each stain.

Do you believe it? Go!  Share your testimony people!

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