He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
III. Jesus Defends His Reaction: Sinners need help. (v. 17)
a. Sinners are in need
b. Jesus’ mission was to save needy sinners
Jesus went on to say, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” In this final statement Jesus reveals that not only was he sympathetic toward these sinners, but His entire mission on earth was to save sinners. This is why He came, this is why He was ministering, and this is why He would ultimately die on the cross. As He said in 10:45, “…Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The salvation of sinners was His mission.
The self-righteous scribes hated this. They did not understand what Jesus was doing primarily because they did not understand the true nature of sin. They thought that they were able to attain the necessary righteousness for a relationship with God in and of themselves. They thought of themselves as righteous and they looked down on anyone who did not live up to their own standards as being sinners. This is why these individuals hated these “sinners” so much, and this is why they criticized Jesus for associating with these “sinners.” Their attitude was the result of a prideful heart.
Jesus lets it be known that He is not interested in self-righteous individuals such as this. He came to call sinners – those who recognize their need, recognize His sufficiency, and repent and believe in Him. These are the people that He came to save. They are the ones who recognize Him for who He is – the Messiah. He did not come to call those whom he sarcastically refers to as the “righteous.” That is, those who think that they are better than sinners, who trust in their own good works, and see no need to repent and believe. These are people who do not who Jesus truly is because they do not truly understand the need that He came to meet.
This is why a conflict arose between Jesus and these self-righteous scribes. They thought that they were righteous, and that they did not need to be saved from their sins. Because of this misguided attitude they couldn’t imagine a Messiah who lived sinners. They wanted a Messiah who punished sinners mercilessly and rewarded those who lived up to their own standards. Jesus, on the other hand, knew that all men are sinners and in need of redemption. Lovingly, He came to provide that redemption. He is the Messiah who loves sinners. He is not interested in those who attempt to live up to some outwardly higher standard. He is only interested in those who will recognize their sin and lovingly accept Him as the Savior.
Clearly Jesus had a much different attitude toward sinners than the scribes did. They question is, what kind of attitude do you have toward sinners? Do you recognize your own sinfulness and rejoice that Jesus still loves you? Or, are you pleased with the way that you live up to your standards and wish that Jesus would punish those who are not living up to those standards?
Jesus came into this world and loved sinners. He came not to make sinners feel better about their sin, but to be utterly crushed as a sacrifice for sinners (Isaiah 53:5). This was the plan of the God before the foundation of the world, and it screams out the fact that God loves sinners! And if God-against whom sinners have rebelled-loves sinner and seeks their salvation then we too should love sinners and seek their salvation. We should long to see them repent and be rescued from the bondage of their sins; we should hate the sin that has ensnared them; and we should fervently pray that God would rescue them. Our heart on this matter should be consistent with the Heart of God.