One of the fun things about our church being located where it is means that there are all kinds of fascinating and famous people that are in this neighborhood from time to time. I remember the day Will and I walked right past Sarah Jessica Parker on 3rd St. Or the time Shauna and I saw Tyra Banks at the St. Regis. Or when Doc Rivers, the current coach of the 76ers, was walking right past Epic when I was coming out. Or Will and I coming across Russell Westbrook on Market St.
You probably remember all those years when the Warriors were playing the Cavaliers in the Finals? Knowing that the Cavs were staying very close to Epic Church, I knew if we waited, we’d see Lebron James come out to get on the bus. So here he is on May 31, 2018.
No surprise to see a ton of people there surrounding him. This is how it works with really famous people. Crowds flock to where they are or even where they might be. Celebrities like Lebron are highly sought after. They’re the ones people pay good money to see. They need security because of the crowds who are constantly pressing in on them.
Now how crazy would it be if rather than me going to see Lebron, he came to see me. He came to search for me. He was waiting for me to walk through the doors of Epic Church. And he wanted me to follow him around for the next 3 years. That would be crazy.
Today we keep following the movements of Jesus through the Gospel of Mark. Jesus, like Lebron, started attracting crowds. People came to see him, to hear him, and maybe even to be healed by him. He had a following. But He doesn’t just wait around for people to come find Him. He actually takes initiative and starts coming after people…all kinds of people. This is what we’re going to see today in a message I’m calling, “Here Comes the Seeker”.
What if, before you started seeking Jesus, He started seeking you?
Mark 2:13-17 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. 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.”
A large crowd came seeking Jesus and yet this is a story all about how Jesus came seeking Levi or Matthew. Yes, the same Matthew who wrote the gospel of Matthew. I love that Jesus has something to give the crowds and yet, he has something for the individual. This is what I think is happening each time we gather in this space. I’m confident that God has something for us collectively and something for you personally.
When you’re simply part of the crowd, the stakes don’t seem as high and the attention doesn’t seem as personal. Let’s be honest – it’s easier to not respond to something when you’re one of many. But when you are personally addressed with the challenge, it demands a response from you. So, yes, Jesus is saying something to the Epic Church community collectively today. But he’s also addressing every individual in this room. You, follow me. And you, follow me. And you, follow me.
Levi was a tax collector. He was a friend of Rome. Tax collectors were untrustworthy. They extorted however much money they wanted to take from you. As a tax collector, Levi would have been excommunicated from the synagogue. Now just think about that for a second – Jesus comes seeking someone who isn’t even allowed to worship in the synagogue.
Jesus makes room for the outcast, but he doesn’t water down the invitation.
He once again makes his instructions very clear and simple. I did not say that his call is easy, but it is so clear. “Follow me.” “Levi, you’re invited to follow me. I know who you are. I know what you do. I know what people think about you. I know who you can become if you follow me.”
Your past doesn’t have to dictate your future.
How do you think it made the other disciples feel when Jesus included Levi? This is someone who’s probably taken from them before. This guy represents the worst of the worst in society. Why in the world would Jesus think this is a good idea? Because this is exactly who he came to earth for.
Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
Had the disciples forgotten who they were when Jesus called them? Have we?
To follow Jesus, Levi had to leave many things behind. And the same is true for us. In fact here’s how I said it in my September 19 message:
To fully follow Jesus, you will have to leave something that’s familiar to you.
Levi had to do this too. But he doesn’t leave his previous relationships behind. He mixes his two worlds by throwing a dinner. He invites Jesus and his disciples. He invites many tax collectors and sinners.
The Pharisees, those who were all about the law, separated themselves from common people. So they ask the disciples, “Why does he (Jesus) eat with tax collectors and sinners?” They rightly understood one thing about what this meant, but they had made wrong assumptions about whether this was okay for Jesus to do.
In their eyes, it was scandalous for Jesus to have dinner with these kinds of people and here’s why. In a Semitic society table fellowship was one of the most intimate expressions of friendship. This is why the religious leaders could not understand how Jesus could be a religious person and dine with “bad” characters. But they wrongly assumed who Jesus was and what He had come to earth to do. One commentator says it this way:
The mission of Jesus was to call sinners to full acceptance in the kingdom of God. Therefore for Jesus to refuse to associate with sinners would have been as foolish as for a doctor not to associate with the sick.
This is who Jesus is. He came for sinners. He’s still coming for sinners. When Jesus says that He hasn’t come to call the righteous…He means that those who are self-righteous have no use for him in the same way that someone who thinks they’re physically healthy has no use for a doctor.
If full acceptance of people is what Jesus offers, why do we so often withhold acceptance?
If Jesus accepts the people you want to cancel, who needs to change?
It’s quite common to have people ask questions about acceptance. “Does the church or does Jesus accept people who are _____________?” And the answer to that question is “Yes”. Though Jesus accepts everyone, He’s going to tell everyone the same thing – “Follow Me.”
Jesus meets us where we are, but He doesn’t leave us where we are.
There’s a great multi-series show about the life of Christ that’s called The Chosen. I fully encourage you to get the app and start watching – it’s free. Today I want you to see the scene we’ve been reading about. Levi will be called Matthew, his other name.
“Get used to different.” “Where are we going?” “We’re going to a dinner party.” “I’m not welcome at dinner parties.” “Well, that’s going to change tonight – you’re the host.”
Matthew or Levi decides to follow Jesus. And then he thinks, “If me…then anyone.” Jesus is building a bigger table than some of us are comfortable with. And he wants to call us to the table. Then he wants us to bring others to the table.
How do you get the people in your life and Jesus to the same table?
Start talking to Jesus about the people in your life. Start talking to the people in your life about Jesus – through invitation to Epic or watching a message that impacted you.
It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to receive communion together as a church. But what better time to do it than on a day where we’re talking about the table Jesus has invited us to. Communion is a time to remember what Jesus has done for us. To take the bread that represents his body and to drink the cup that represents his blood that was poured out for us. It paints this beautiful picture of full acceptance. And it’s a reminder that we owe Him our very lives.
Table Fellowship – one of the most intimate expressions of friendship
I’m going to pray for us. The band will start singing. If you’re a Christian, come up to one of the stations and take the elements back to your seat. Once everyone has done this, I will come back up and lead us through communion.
Prayer. Band. Congregation comes to receive elements.
Mark 14:22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
Mark 14:23-24 Then he took a cup, and when he head given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them.