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Feb 18, 2024

Holy Hospital

Passage: Mark 2:13-17

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Gospel of Mark

Keywords: evangelism, matthew, witness, friendship, sinners


In calling Levi to be one of the 12, Jesus added not only the unexpected to his team but criticism to his ministry. But His love for sinners and those who both have given up on religion and have been considered hopeless by others is proof that God is looking for people who know they need a Savior. And following Him will demand that we love...and hang out with...them.


Holy Hospitals

Mark 2:13-17

February 18, 2024


Fellowship Question:  What’s one of your favorite environments or settings in which to spend time with people who don’t go to church?


Quick QUIZ: Would you rather…

  • spend a week in a hospital room or a luxury hotel room?
  • be an orderly for a day in a nursing home…or a waiter for a day in a nice restaurant?
  • pass a summer evening in the park with your friends/family…or spend a summer evening on the street with strangers?

I don’t know about you, but if I’m honest, I have to admit that I really, really prefer nice hotels to even nice hospitals.  I prefer nice-smelling restaurants to stale-smelling nursing homes.  And I prefer a picnic in the park with family/friends to passing time on the streets with strangers. 

And I don’t think wanting to do that is bad.  In fact, I’d say there is something wrong if you prefer sickness to health, obnoxious smells to delicious ones, and strangers on the street to friends and family in the park.

            That’s why today’s passage of scripture bothers me.  It runs counter to most of my natural instincts.  It makes demands on me that I’d rather not have to face when I claim to be a follower of Jesus.  Quite frankly, it points to what I feel like is one of the biggest deficits in my Christian life. 

Read: Mark 2:13-17

13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 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.

15 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. 16 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?”

17 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.”


Remember several weeks ago when we looked at the passage in Mark 1 about Jesus calling Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John from being fishermen on the Sea of Galilee to being “fishers of people” in the sea of humanity?  They accepted that call by walking away from their careers and routines in order to literally follow Jesus.  They exchanged for probably over two years their familiar rhythm of family and fishing life in order to spend almost constant time with Jesus being taught by Him in both word and action. 

            Today’s snapshot is really a continuation of the lifestyle and pattern Jesus was wanting them to not simply observe but adopt and embrace.  It was a lifestyle that was dominated by God’s desires for people, His heart for human beings like us.  But it was a lifestyle that didn’t necessarily come naturally to all of them.  And it probably doesn’t come naturally for many of us. 

            There is a strong cable of continuity between the story Jess preached on last week and todays text.  Last week we saw that the greatest need of even paralyzed people is not physical healing but spiritual healing—getting in right relationship with God through the forgiveness that Christ alone can give us.  Healing is great, but without getting right with God, it is, at best, a temporary Band-Aid on a deadly eternal disease—sin and separation from God.  So, Jesus first addressed the paralyzed man’s need to get right with God and, to prove Jesus had the divine authority to forgive sins, he did a miraculous healing of his paralysis.  (If you missed that message, go back and watch it on our YouTube channel.)

            None of those two miracles (forgiveness and healing) would have happened were it not for some very dedicated, highly motived and extremely determined friends of the paralytic.  He would never have gotten close to Jesus, let alone through the crowd.  He would never have had that conversation with Jesus, probably never have met him face-to-face, never experienced Jesus’ power to forgive His sins and never gotten off his mat the rest of his life on earth.  But the presence of at least 4 faith-filled friends in his life utterly changed his life.  While his faithful (and apparently buff) friends are not Mark’s primary focus in this passage, their loving dedication to his welfare is the link Mark does want us to see with the heart of Jesus towards every human being. 

Following Jesus will demand loving sinners.

Vs. 13--Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them.

This verse simply underlines the importance Jesus placed on getting truth into people’s hearts rather than healing into their bones.  Rather than set up an ‘urgent care clinic’ at the now “Hole-In-The-Roof” Hostel he’d been staying at, Jesus heads to the beach where he can likely find a fishing boat that will double as a pulpit and allow Him to keep teaching people how to connect with God.  His clarity of mission is dominant:  people need to know God’s heart for them and what is keeping them separated from Him.  They need to engage in repentance so they can get things right with God.

It's down there near the water that Jesus has what was probably another encounter with Levi, son of Alphaeus.  We probably know him better as Matthew as in “The Gospel of Matthew.”  Like Peter & Andrew, James & John who Jesus invited to be his disciples in chapter 1, this we probably not Matthew’s first encounter with Jesus.  As a fellow-resident of Capernaum, he had undoubtedly heard Jesus speak before.  He knew about the variety of healings, the people delivered from demons and the leper who had been miraculously cleansed of leprosy. 

I think it is very possible that he knew Jesus even more personally.  After all, being the tax-man for the city, Jesus would likely have had business dealings with him as he paid both his own and his widowed mother’s taxes.  In all likelihood, Levi would have levied a bit of his own charges on top of Rome’s tax just to round out the transaction. 

This, of course, was one reason why most Jews hated tax-collectors.  The system God had set up under the Law of Moses was supposed to be a one-stop shop:  the Temple.  Tithes, offerings and sacrifices were all designed to be given at the Temple for the maintenance of not only the religious but the civil system of the Jews. 

Enter the Romans some one hundred or so years earlier (63 B.C.).  Rome is now the occupier of territory promised to Israel by God.  Nobody likes an occupier.  Nobody likes taxes either.  And nobody likes a traitor—someone you would expect to stand with you against an oppressor who instead joins forces with them and enriches himself at your expense.  Such was the state of Levi.  He was not only getting rich off his own countrymen by force; he was betraying everything a Jew stood for by forming an unholy alliance with a pagan occupier. 

So, most Jewish residents of Capernaum hated Levi. Likely the only supposed friends he could find were other Jews like himself who had jettisoned basic commitment to the dominant culture or creed in the country. There were, as always, some of those folks.  Politically they would have been other traitorous Roman-sympathizing tax-collectors.  Ethically they were probably people who had to a large degree given up on trying to practice the Jewish faith and cultural norms.  They could have been Jews who felt they’d dug such a deep hole of sin that there was no point trying to play the game anymore, people like call girls, loan sharks, cutthroat businessmen, people with a grudge against society.     

  None of these people would have been on any good Jew’s short list for business partner, team member or friend.  Which is why this story is so striking.  Levi was on Jesus’ short list.  Because, God really loves lost sinners.

So Jesus made the ask:  “Follow me.” 

APP:  Have you heard Jesus put that ask to you, “Follow me”?  He’s still doing it…all over the world…to anyone who has the least interest in knowing God and discovering His amazing plan for their life.  May you’ve heard that voice in the restlessness of your soul—that longing to know why you are here, what’s your purpose in life, how to connect with God. 

            Jesus doesn’t care what crowd you run with or how deep the hole is you’ve dug in life with your failures.  He cares about you…and He’s going to ask you to follow Him. 

Levi had probably heard Jesus talk, in the Sermon on the Mount, about the impossibility of trying to serve 2 masters—money and God.  He’d probably been wrestling with God over letting go of his love of money so he could make room in his heart for the love of God. He intuitively knew that what Jesus was offering would radically upend his life.  But that wrestling is what allowed him to walk away from both his financial security and his moral failures.  He’d seen how much people who had been forgiven by Jesus were changed.  And he wanted it for himself. 

            When he made that decision to follow Jesus, the first thing that happened was that Jesus followed him home.  Jesus didn’t ask him to clean the house first…or clean up his life.  He just asked him to open the door, introduce his friends and family, and set the table. There was no condemnation or condescension, just celebration. 

Following Jesus will demand we love sinners.

            Remember, Jesus is teaching his disciples how to fish for people.  How many of them do you think were super-comfortable hanging out at Levi’s house?  (I really want to see the replay of this event in heaven…especially if Simon the Zealot, who was a Rome-hating revolutionary, was on the team at this point.)  Not only were they all going to someone’s house they had probably never been to; when they arrived, virtually every other person at the party was someone they never wanted to be seen with! 

15 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. 

Frankly, I find this rather encouraging. 

Personal:  I’ve been a Christ-follower most of my life (59 of 67 my years).  I’ve been a pastor over 40 years of that time.  Reality is, the longer we’re in Christ the harder we have to work at cultivating relationships with people outside the church. We no longer have kids in public school that puts us around unchurched families.  While I do a lot of networking in the community, it’s mostly the Christian community.  So this “hanging out with the unchurched” takes a lot more intentionality and effort than it ever has in my life.  It's just a lot easier and, dare I say, a lot more comfortable and natural for me to not do what needs to be done to develop relationships like this.

            And, if I’m totally honest, I’ve never been great at what feels like small-talk to me that is probably an essential part of developing meaningful friendships with people without Jesus.  As an introvert, I prefer to be a people-watcher rather than the life of the party.  In so many social settings I just feel awkward.

            That’s why I resonate with this story, particularly from the disciples’ perspective.  I doubt most of the disciples felt ‘at home’ in this setting of Levi’s home and party.  But the beautiful thing was that everyone there felt ‘at home’ with Jesus. 

I don’t know how Jesus handled the off-color jokes that might have been flying about.  He probably told funnier clean jokes.  I don’t know how Jesus handled the course conversations of people who obviously could care less about being the outcasts of their society.  Somehow his conversation made them hungry for more.  I wonder what he did with the possible flirtatious looks of some of the women working the night shift.  I can imagine that those women knew by his responses to them that this was a man who cared very differently for them than any other man they knew. 

            Jesus was teaching his disciples to love people the way God does.  He was showing them that the love of God would require them to go where they usually didn’t, to hang out with those they usually wouldn’t choose to, and to have conversations that may not have come naturally. 

APP:  If I’m going to follow Jesus where he’s at work, I’m going to need to do the same.  I’m going to need to choose to be with people I don’t normally hang-out with.  I’m going to have to hone my clean-joke repertoire.  I’m going to have to develop some social skills that don’t come naturally to me.  And I’m going to have to change my schedule and commitments. 

Following Jesus demands that I love lost sinners. 

APP:  How about YOU?  What are you going to have to develop, change and commit to? 

            While we don’t have the instant video replay of how Jesus handled all the things I just mentioned, we do know how he handled the criticism he got for just being in that setting…and for choosing Levi. 

16 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?”

Implicit in this question ostensibly about Jesus is criticism of the disciples, right?  After all, they were doing just what Jesus was being criticized for. 

Which disciples do you think they hit up first with this question?  Levi the tax collector?  I doubt it.  Simon the Zealot?  Probably. 

Whoever they spoke with apparently did the right thing:  took those criticisms and complaints to Jesus rather than taking them personally. 

17 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.”

Q:  What would you say to a person who said, “I’m waiting to get over my cancer before I go see the doctor”???  You might want to send them to a different kind of doctor—the local shrink.

            That makes about as much sense as the person who says, “As soon as I get my life cleaned up, I’ll come to Jesus.” 

“As soon as I get rid of this drug or alcohol addiction, I’ll come to church.” 

“As soon as I figure out life, I’ll think about getting to know the Creator and Sustainer of my life.” 

            The irony of Jesus’ statement was that there is not a single person on the planet who isn’t a ‘sinner’ in need of His saving.  None of us are spiritually ‘healthy.’  We’re all sick!  We’re all sinners, just to minimally-varying but no less desperate degrees.  The Pharisees considered themselves ‘religious’ or spiritually healthy.  What they failed to recognize is that religion can never make you spiritually well.  Only the personal touch of God in Christ.  Only recognizing that a.) you are spiritually sick, and b.) Jesus is the divine Doctor you need, will bring you close enough to Christ to do any good. 

            The Pharisees knew the word of God in Psalm 14 which says,  The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
They have all turned aside, They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good, No, not one.

But they mistakenly thought that all their rule-keeping somehow made them acceptable to God.  It never has and never will.  That’s the problem with “religion”—it’s a lie that leads to pride and arrogance and hell.  Only those who are willing to face the fact that we are all sinners separated from God by our sin and lost apart from God coming to us to touch and heal us will ever escape that trap.

Nothing has changed in 2,000 years.  THE hardest people to reach with the Good News about Jesus are not the person caught in an addiction or the one who knows he’s angry and hateful and abusive towards those he loves.  It’s the person who thinks they are good, that they are treating everyone around them perfectly, that they are better than their neighbor or coworker.  

ILL: This was the family I grew up in.  My parents lived the first 50 years of their lives as ‘good’ people.  They didn’t drink or smoke or gamble or curse or cheat on their taxes or gossip about their neighbors.  They were ‘good’ people by anyone’s measurement…and they were religious.  They were raised religious.  They were married by a pastor.  They took their kids to church.  They served in the community.  And they thought they were ‘well’ spiritually…until they met Jesus and realized they were sinners who needed a Savior and Jesus was the only One who could save them. 

APP:  Have you come to that place yet where you realize that…

  • God doesn’t ‘grade on the curve’ but measures you against His absolute, holy, sinless perfection?
  • Even your best efforts over a lifetime will never wipe away your sins of the past let alone the ones you continue to commit?
  • You need Jesus to rescue you from not just your sin but God’s right, just and righteous judgment of your sin?

You have put your FAITH in Him, asked Him to help you turn from your sinful selfishness and take charge of your life?  [Call to faith in Jesus.]

Here’s the irony:  people who know they are sick and know a caring, competent doctors don’t wait for the disease to run its course.  They go to the doctor!  That’s why sinners needing saving loved meeting Jesus. 

            Which brings us full circle to the story of last week.  If we’re going to be people who help at all those around us who need Jesus just as much as we do, these two stories (Levi and the paralytic’s friends) have a lot to teach us about what we need to embrace.  So, let’s end today by seeing what we are going to have to do if we’re going to learn as they did from Jesus and be of any use to needy sinners around us. 


  • Being really useful to people without Christ only comes when Jesus is undisputed Lord of our lives. Levi was useless to his neighbors and friends until he surrendered to Jesus’ call on His life, “Follow me.”  That meant everything from his career to his cash took a back seat to his relationship with God.  He could have declined the offer to be one of the 12 Apostles.  But he would never have had anywhere near the influence on others for the Kingdom if he had.  The same is true for us!
  • Being useful to lost people comes as we learn to leverage friendships for Christ. Levi had a home.  He probably had servants.  He had food.  He definitely had friends.  And he knew how to throw a party his pals liked.  He leveraged all of that to simply invite people to experience Jesus as he had.  We simply need to do what we do best with the people we know and invite Jesus into those experiences. 
    • You go to the athletic club? Let people there know by your conversation and priorities what Jesus is doing in your life.
    • You work a job 9-5? Just talk to people about how Jesus has and is changing you and what He means to you.
    • You go out to coffee with friends? Just include what Jesus is doing in your life in your debrief of how life is going when they ask. 

It’s not phony or preachy.  It’s like talking about your family or friends.  It takes work to keep quiet about the most important person in your life.

Dessert proverb:  In the desert, the worst form of murder is not telling someone else where the oasis is.

            Lastly, what was Jesus probably wanting his disciples to learn about leading others to Him from the story of the paralytic Jesse preached on last week?  Let me leave you with a few to chew on.  Bringing others to Jesus will require…

  • Determination & tenacity: There will be obstacles… always.  But we will need to be less like the crowd that actually kept others from getting close to Jesus and more like the paralytic’s friends who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. 
    • The streets were chocked with people? They found another route. 
    • You couldn’t get near the door much less Jesus? Use the roof. 
    • The roof is between us and Jesus? Tear it apart and lower our friend with ropes. 

Where there’s a will, there IS a way!  Most of us simply usually lake the will. 

  • Creativity: these guys were definitely creative.  They had to figure out a plan against all odds.  They had to find tools to tear apart the roof…and ropes to let their friend down with.  APP:  Reaching people with the Gospel today will take great creativity.  Try using your social media accounts to talk about what Jesus is doing with you and watch what happens.  Try posting a 10-second video on Instagram about what God is up to in your life and see what happens. 
  • Teamwork: One friend could not have gotten this paralytic to Jesus.  It took a team.  Research indicates that it takes, on average, 7 different people to tell someone about the Good News of Jesus before they respond.  You’re not alone, ever, in calling people to Jesus.  I can guarantee you that anyone God is calling has other people God is using in their lives to speak and show truth to them.  APP: Invite them to watch a movie or listen to a podcast that has helped you see Jesus more.  Invite them to hang out with some of your Jesus-centered friends.  Include them in your family and let them see how Jesus transforms the most important relationships in life.  There is power in teams when it comes to introducing people to Jesus. 
  • Faith: Have faith that God is going to do a work in their lives…because He will, if we’ll just get them close to Jesus.  But faith will propel us beyond what we can see, enabling us to keep going where people of little faith would have quit.
  • Hospitality: both these stories drip with the power of using food and home to introduce people to Jesus.  While we don’t know for sure who it was that got the roof torn off their house by the friends of the paralytic, I think it is highly likely that it was Peter’s house that took the hit.  We know Jesus spent time there.  We know he healed Peter’s mother-in-law.  We know Jesus was living with someone in Capernaum who wanted Him there.  Peter’s home is a natural fit.  But his hospitality would cost  It meant strangers and sick people coming into his house.  It means people crowding his space and changing his plans for a nice quiet evening at home.  It meant home repairs when the roof was taken apart and all the dust, dirt and inconvenience that entailed.  (I have a lot of empathy for Him on that score!)  Our homes and apartments, our kitchens and dining room tables are some of the best tools we have to reach people for Christ. 

So, when you go home today, how about talking with God and your family about how to grow in these critical elements of helping others meet the Jesus that has transformed you? 

  • Making Jesus the undisputed Lord of our lives.
  • Leveraging friendships
  • Determination and tenacity in the face of obstacles.
  • Creativity…Teamwork…Faith…Hospitality

APP:  We just heard about an opportunity we are ALL going to have this summer to combine a lot of these things—the Summer Family Days at Sister Haven and Mother Teresa Haven the end of June.  Involvement will stretch and grow some or all of these qualities in our lives.  And we’ll get to see up-close and first-hand just how Jesus intended us to become ‘fishermen of people’ in this ‘holy hospital’ called the church.