'Why did Jesus come to earth?'
On BBC Radio 4's thought for the day last Thursday Ann Atkin's described what happened after a recent family funeral. She said, "I found myself rather pompously planning my own. I wanted to lighten death. Shakespeare's, No longer mourn for me Or Rosetti's, Better by far you should forget and smile Best of all, Donne's, Death be not proud. But Shaun, my husband, preferred Dylan Thomas: "Do not go gentle into that good night; Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Death is an outrage. We were not made to die. God didn't create us to suffer such pain, to go to work one morning never to return, to kiss our children goodbye lightly, but forever because of where we were in a building or whether we caught our flight. Yes, it happens all the time. But it is monstrous that it should happen even once. If this is the end of the story it is unbearable. We cry out for justice, not only against terrorists but against God Himself...."
The West may recover financially but we won't recover one life. We may find, fight and destroy numerous enemies, but we will never destroy the Last Enemy. "Can no one overcome this most unjust evil of all, death itself? There was a Man with no political power, no military might, no financial forces. He achieved more than NATO ever will. He was killed violently, unfairly, without cause: nothing new there. But three days later He was back. Not just with victory for Himself, but with rescue for us all. John Donne was one of His followers: One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more. Death, thou shalt die." Our question this morning is this "Why did Jesus come?" Please turn with me to Mark 2:13-17. The first answer is this.
1. Jesus came to rescue sinners (Mark 2:13-17)
Jesus came because God loves you so much he couldn't leave you to perish. In this story, just as in the world today, there are two groups of people - the goodies and the baddies. The baddies are made up of people like Levi. Tax collectors were more hated then than they are today. They were reviled as traitors because they worked for the occupying Roman forces. Not only did they cheat their fellow Jews, they worked for the enemy. There was no hope for them. The goodies are the senior religious leaders of the day - the teachers of the law and the Pharisees (2:16). They looked impeccable, whiter than white. And that is why Jesus is so shocking. What does he do? 15. "While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house..." Let the enormity of that sentence sink in. Jesus spends time with the baddies. He goes to their homes. He eats with them. He wants to meet their friends. This is shocking. A Holy God came to earth not to destroy sinners but to rescue them.
When challenged, Jesus says, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners' (2:17). Jesus makes it quite clear he is interested only in people who realise they're wrong, not in people who think they are right. So, the qualification for coming to Jesus is not, 'Are you good enough?' but, 'Are you bad enough?' 'Are you desperate enough to know you need rescuing' 'I've come,' says Jesus, 'on a rescue mission. A rescue mission to bring lost people back to the God and Father who loves them and created them to know him. "I've come to take you home to your father." Jesus assumes that you and I need rescuing. Why did Jesus come? Jesus came to rescue sinners. Second question. From what do we need rescuing?
2. Because our world is terminally sick (2:17)
'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners' (2:17). Jesus assumes here that every single human being is sick and needs rescue. He is assuming that we are all lost, all sinners, all rebels who need rescue, especially if we think we're not. Jesus is being a little sarcastic when he calls the teachers of the law and the Pharisees 'righteous' in verse 17. They are righteous by their own standards but not God's. Actually they are just self-righteous in their pride and very much in need of rescue too. Bt the end of the chapter they are trying to kill Jesus in the name of their religion. (Mk. 3:6). I'd like to show you a clip from the film Good Morning Vietnam which brilliantly captures both the beauty and the tragedy of our condition. What a Wonderful World is a beautiful song that celebrates nature: Trees of green, red roses too, they bloom for me and you; Skies of blue, clouds of white, bright blessed day and dark sacred nights. Nature is marvelled at and I'm sure we've experienced that and felt the same wonder. It's a song that also celebrates friendship, and above all it celebrates falling in love: Friends shake hands saying, 'How do you do?' What they are really saying is, 'I love you.' It's a great song about the fantastic gifts of life:
Falling in love.
But in Good Morning Vietnam the song says one thing but the pictures say another. As we are told 'the roses bloom for me and for you', we see a a bomb going off. As we hear the words 'the colours of the rainbow so pretty in the sky', we see protesters being beaten. And, most poignant of all, the chorus of 'I say to myself, what a wonderful world' is accompanied by images of the little child's sandal. That's the world we live in.
It should be so good and yet there is something desperately wrong. The film's artistry is very clever because it shows us that the world is not the place it ought to be. it should be a wonderful world, but all too often it is spoilt by people. The film is summed up by the Vietnamese girl with whom Robin Williams has fallen in love. She says that so many things do not happen the way you want them to. The Bible actually goes deeper than that. The Bible says that so many things don't happen the way you want them to because of what people are like. It's because we are not the people we should be and that, says Jesus, is why we need him to rescue us. The truth is that we are far more wicked than we're willing to admit and more loved than we ever dreamed. We shall probably never forget the date 11 September 2001. No one can watch the terrifying images of that awful day and not conclude that the people who planned and executed that outrage are wicked and deserve God's wrath.
But imagine for a moment that this room was a public gallery, and that all over the walls were the scenes of your life. Each day is on the walls: 23 September 1997, 23 September 1998, 23 September 1999, 23 September 2000 - 23 September 2001 - each year, each month, each day. An exhaustive, complete and true account of everything you've ever said, ever thought or ever done. There will be lots to celebrate: loving relationships, real achievements, acts of kindness, moments of generosity and selflessness, a flourishing career. But there will also be things that we'd want to keep out of the public gaze, as people wandered around. Which parts of the wall would you most want to cover up? Which day? Maybe it is buried so deep inside you that nobody knows, not your closest friend or even your spouse. Each day is on the wall; nothing is hidden. If my life was on the walls it would be a nightmare. I couldn't stay in this room. So what's the problem?
Please turn to Mark chapter 7 and we'll read verses 18-23. The issue in this chapter is what makes someone unclean in God's eyes; what makes us unacceptable to God. The Pharisees are blaming external things - you are unacceptable because of what you touch, where you go, what you eat. And the danger this week is that we can be feel such revulsion toward those who perpetrated these terrorist acts that we exonerate ourselves and like the pharisees, become self righteous. Jesus says the problem is much closer to home. The problem, says Jesus in verse 21, is our hearts. That's what makes us unclean. If we were to trace all the evil in the world back to its source, the place we'd end up is in the human heart. In here. For it is out of our hearts that come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly (v. 21). That's what makes us unclean. This is where the fits of rage, jealousy, selfish ambition, factions and envy all come from. Do you see why we can't automatically do what we know is the right thing? Why it is so hard? Because I've got a heart problem. Why is it so hard to keep good relationships working with each other? Why do we hurt the people we love most? Why don't we automatically love each other? Why aren't people in the office naturally co-operative? Someone put it like this: "The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart." Tragically, when many are faced with Jesus diagnosis they go into denial mode. You have very probably seen the film Titanic. Most of the passengers are blind to how serious their situation is. They are having the party of their lives. They believe the hype, the ship is unsinkable.
There is nothing to worry about. Don't be so silly. The Titanic cannot sink. Even the captain refuses to believe the truth. But the shipbuilder who designed the boat knows the truth. He knows that the ship will sink and that there aren't enough lifeboats. He knows the situation is deadly serious. The NATO Coalition has chosen a name for its campaign against world terrorism. Its called "Operation Infinite Justice." Yesterday Donald Rumsfold admitted the name will be changed because it might offend Muslims who believe only God can bring infinite justice. But its not just Muslims who believe that. Jesus teaches the same here. Jesus says we should do anything and everything to avoid the infinite justice that will befall all who refuse to admit their need and be rescued. Read Mark 9:43-48. Why did Jesus come? Jesus came to rescue sinners. Why do we need rescuing? Because our world is sick and headed for a Christ-less eternity.
3. What must we do to be rescued? (Mark 2:14)
The word "follow" means "to walk the same road"
3.1 An Imperative Command
Notice Jesus takes the initiative. The word "follow" reflects Jesus initiative and is in the imperative mode. Jesus was issuing a command. Jesus was not saying, "Would you like to follow me" This was no invitation as if he was doing Jesus a favour. It was a command from the King to be obeyed. Levi stood up immediately and followed Jesus. An imperative command.
3.2 An Irrevocable Claim
Not only is the verb in the imperative, a command, It is also in the present tense. That means Jesus was commanding the beginning of an action and its habitual continuance. Jesus was saying "Start following me, and continue as a habit of life to follow me." This gives the lie to the superficial appeals sometimes made, when people are invited to make a decision for Christ. Jesus was not calling Levi to make a decision to come forward at the end of the service, but to a lifelong path of discipleship. To walk the same road that Jesus was walking meant the road of self sacrifice, the road of separation, of altruism, of suffering, of holiness but is is also the road home. The road to rescue. Of all the disciples Levi probably gave up the most. He, of all of them, literally left everything to follow Jesus. Peter and Andrew, James and John could at least go back to fishing. There were always fish to catch, and always the old trade to fall back on. But Levi burnt his boats completely, With that one action, in one moment of time he had put himself out of a job forever. He could never go back to being a tax collector. The Jews would never employ a quisling. The Romans wouldn't give him a second chance. Levi was a man who staked everything on Christ. He suddenly knew that the little villa by the sea at Joppa and the cash stowed away in the hollowed out bricks at the back of his home simply weren't worth anything compared to being wanted - for himself.
The old Levi was good for nothing. He was dead to the world even while he lived. The new Levi, aptly re-named Matthew, meaning gift of the Lord, was as different to the old Levi as if he had died and been born all over again. In fact that's what had happened to him. And that is what happens to us when we hear God's voice in Jesus Christ and respond to the gift of grace. An imperative command, an irrevocable claim.
3.3 An Irresistible Call
Jesus didn't just say "Follow me". What he actually said was "Follow with me". Matthew was not being called simply to become a follower. Jesus was welcoming Matthew to be his companion and co-worker. It was to be a side by side walk down the same road. At last someone accepted him for who he was. To know that God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to rescue us and wants us to be with him is surely irresistible. Such love. An imperative command, an irrevocable claim, an irresistible call. Why did Jesus come? Because we are more wicked than we ever realised but more loved than we ever dreamed. Lets pray.