“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” — Mark 2:17b
Sermon text from Mar. 4, 2020
Let’s be honest.
The Jesus Christ that we meet in the Bible has a bad habit of hanging around with the wrong people.
Right in the beginning of the fast-moving Gospel of Mark, Jesus calls the tax collector Matthew, to follow him. And then being challenged by the Pharisees about his willingness to eat with “tax collectors and sinners”, Jesus says to them:
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick….”
Here is the question though: Who, besides Matthew, the tax collectors and sinners, are these sick ones?
Is it I, Lord? And if so, how much do we really need Jesus to be our doctor?
Some commentators say that Jesus is just emphasizing that He came for those who really need Him – and that He’s not denying that there are actually healthy and righteous people who don’t need a doctor… 
And you know, if you talk to some modern preachers and preacher-ettes — particularly the ones that seem to get all the airtime — you might get the impression that we aren’t necessarily in desperate need of the Great Physician.
We, rather, are perhaps just a little bit sick… 
I mean, that is something that most everyone can say is true, right? “Yes, I know I have a few little problems… That’s basically it though… Maybe I could use a hand here and there!”
We don’t really have deeply intractable sin and evil within us, we just have certain hang-ups, addictions, “peccadilloes”, foibles!
Just little bad habits…
Maybe we really just need to communicate better, get better advice, love and forgive ourselves and do our best!
And what’s all this biblical criticism of the world or the world’s system? Yes, the world isn’t perfect — we know. Things might even seem to be really bleak from time to time.
But our real problem is usually just a lack of “self-esteem”!
And one might even hear similar messages in the church. Doesn’t the Gospel writer Matthew quote the prophet Isaiah saying that Jesus
“…took up our infirmities (that is “physical or mental weaknesses”)
and bore our diseases…”
It seems God doesn’t want His children to be sick, right?….
He wants them to be healthy, happy, and even wealthy, right?
And doesn’t God want to bless us when we help ourselves by doing what we believe is right?
Men and women who preach this message make millions and millions of dollars.
Maybe they are doing something right?
Maybe you have heard and even been attracted to some of them…
What might Luther have had to say about such worldly messengers though? Speaking about Jesus’s commission to his disciples, before His death, resurrection, and ascension, Luther said that this, more specifically, is what Jesus was telling his disciples:
“… The Holy Spirit will accomplish through you things which pertain to my kingdom far more glorious and powerful than you now imagine. He will do this so that you will not, as you do now, plan and scheme how to become rulers on earth and conquer great kingdoms” (which is all perishing stuff, about which God does not care, and where there has been always more fools than pious men).
“Rather, the Holy Spirit will place you in a government by which you will judge the consciences of all men. That which is greatest in the world—that is, all its wisdom and holiness—will be subject to you. You will judge, convict, and condemn it. Furthermore, no one shall, nor can, escape sin, death, and hell, or get to heaven, who does not hear your word and desire to obey the same.”
“The Holy Spirit will also give you such comfort and courage that you will not be terrified as you now are. You also will not be deathly afraid of the world’s intimidation, anger, and rage against your preaching. Rather, you will confidently continue to convict, regardless of what both world and devil can do, and does do against it, with persecution, murder, and the power of all hell.”
This is the promise concerning the work that the Holy Spirit is to begin in the kingdom of Christ, which is the teaching office of the apostles. This is to be carried out by convicting the world as it finds it, and that is, outside of Christ. It does not exclude anyone great or small, learned, wise or holy, rich or poor.
In short, this is what it means to draw the world’s wrath upon oneself and to pick a fight. This is why one must be struck in the mouth. For the world, which rules here on earth, neither wants, nor can put up with, someone who does not want the world to be right. This is why persecutions must begin because of this. This is why one party must yield to the other, the weaker one to the stronger one…”
The world must, will, bow.
As the book of James says:…. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble…” (4:6)
And yet, how qualified do anyone of us feel to deliver this message? One thinks of the prophet Isaiah, who witnessing the Lord’s glory cried out
“Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
Infected with the virus of sin, we continue to infect others and they us. We…
- Are a polluted fountain!
- Have a spiritual disease that infects us… like leprosy or AIDS!
- Utterly turned in on ourselves!
- Little gods in our own minds, proudly strutting through the world…
We are sinners!
And it’s not even that we are sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners.
Even the Apostle Paul, even while talking about how much he wanted to follow God, cried out: “Wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death?”
A good question. Here, on earth, health, wealth, and status often seem like our greatest need. We need what’s sexy, success and stuff.
In fact, if we love these things instead of simply using them and being thankful for them, receiving them as the gifts of God that we are, we will be lost…
Why? Well, we need to recognize, as the Epistle of 1 John puts it:
“For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 Jn. 2:16).
Jesus Christ’s brother, James, also socks us right in the face:
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (Jas. 4:4)
The immediate context of this passage? Humanity’s unbridled passions, greed, and pride:
You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (4:2-3)
Again, there is still a deep rot within us… even as Christians we most certainly do not fear, love, and trust in our God as we should… we rather, inevitably so, find ourselves following in the train of our first parents, Adam and Eve.
Not sure if that is true for you? Again, the evidence that you, too, are a sinner is your death….
As Christians, we should know that God really does desire to bless His children.
That said, the popular views of the day, always emphasizing the glories of the world rather than its curses and crosses, misses the boat entirely…
Some are critical of the season of Lent and things like Ash Wednesday for just this reason. A little fasting – giving up this or that?
A little smudge of ash? What good is such an external show of humility — which one might also be tempted to take pride in — that sinful pride that is killing us in the first place?!
Look at my ashes man…
None of this, these critics feel, really addresses the true problem!
We can’t cover our problem by “getting our Ash in chapel”
…as a creative advertisement I saw put it…
So, what’s the diagnosis doc? What’s the diagnosis… Jesus?
Again, as we’ve discussed… things are almost always far worse than we have imagined…
This is why He has come. And that is why He doesn’t reveal to you all the bad at once!
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
And the point of true fasting acknowledges this: we, even as believers, have a sinful nature that needs to learn its place. That needs to be starved and driven to desperation…
That it too, might be subject to the Word of God.
We need to rely and depend on God’s spiritual nourishment, not just earthly food…
The true message of the ashes on Ash Wednesday tells us a similar story: the Christian life is one of perpetual repentance, as – because of our baptism – the old man must die daily, and the new man rise again…
And, as the Apostle Paul reminds us:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
The outer man, the old Adam, the old nature…. not just our body but our sin-sick soul…
must be taken for a walk, corralled, starved, tied up, chained, threatened, thrashed, killed, etc.
In short, drowned where he belongs in baptism so that it does not have the energy to drown out, and if it could, even displace, the new creation and life that God makes in His Christians through the death and resurrection of Christ.
“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other…”
Do you, unlike the Pharisees, realize that you are sick?
That you yourself carry a sinful nature?
If so, who is there to turn too?
There is only one who can give us the power we need to successfully fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil….
To keep the faith.
About a year ago, I helped an Asian exchange student who came into our library with a very specific paper in mind that we wanted to write.
He wanted to compare the goal, or mission of Islam’s leader, Mohammad, with that of Jesus.
We had a surprisingly difficult time, even using Google, finding nice summaries of what both men had said about this. And I won’t bore you with all the librarian tricks I used to eventually nail down some good stuff for him (and, hereafter, get me thinking about the overwhelming significance of the simple task the student had latched onto).
I will tell you this though: there is one very big difference between the two men… While muslims may indeed tout the mercy and compassion of the prophet, they are not going to say that he – or the God he serves – is the friend of sinners….
Jesus came specifically for sinners… as sinners.
He’s here to heal even us who can’t seem to ever fully get our acts together!
Just like a good doctor, He’s not shrinking back from those who have even the most perilous and frightening diseases of the world, the flesh, and the devil so that He might treat them….
And… you get to do that too.
How to share it?
Just remember what it is all about…
“For God so loved the world, or better, For God loved the world in this way: that He gave His only Begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish…die… but have eternal life….”
Not long ago… I went sledding with my boys….
The three year old could not walk up the steep hill.
One son said he wouldn’t help him.
Another said he couldn’t help him.
Only father was both good and strong enough to help.
Likewise, only the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is both good and strong enough to help us, to save us, from our desperate condition of the bondage to sin, death, and the devil.
No other God does this!
So thank God Jesus is God.
 We can also see in the first few chapters of Mark that the ideas of sickness, illness, and sin, are all related. At the same time, I note that a good number of commentators seem to feel that Jesus isn’t necessarily saying that the Pharisees are sick and that they don’t recognize it.
According to them, Jesus just wants to communicate how He primarily came for the people who need Him most, the sick and sinners — not those who are already healthy and righteous…
Those whole and righteous people, these commentators maintain, truly exist. The 14th century theologian John Wycliffe would have agreed. Reflecting the medical practices of his time, he said: “Whole men have no need to [for] a leech, but they that have evil…”]
 [Maybe just a little bit of a leech is what we need!]
 Nevermind that some of the most prominent advocates of these positions also say that Jesus Christ Himself was not perfect but committed sins just as we do!
What is this, if not rebellion? What is this, if not missing the mark?