A Kingdom of Sinners

Date: 24 April 2022

Sermon Text: Luke 5:1– 6:16

Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong

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If you enter the concourse of the SMU campus in town, you would come across a fitness centre with state of the art equipment. It’s floor-to-ceiling glass walls, so this wonderful gym is clearly visible to anyone passing by. Now, as a student in SMU, I must have walked pass that gym hundreds of times, and on more than a few occasions, I thought to myself, that gym is built for guys like me. Who needs to bulk up, beef up, put on some muscle, that’s the whole purpose of a gym.

But as you can tell, I never did enter the gym, not once in four years. Because the glass walls meant you could clearly see the sort of guys who were in it. And those guys are ripped, biceps the size of my thighs. I’m going, “What are you in the gym for? How heavy are your textbooks? What, in your day-to-day life, are you lifting, that requires that much of strength? Are you preparing for the off-chance scenario that if the world returns to a hunter-gatherer way of life, you will be able to catch the biggest bison?”

I don’t have the answers, but the implicit message was clear. The guys you find in the gym, who occupy the gym, the guys who belong in the gym are those who are strong and fit.

It made me feel like if I ever wanted to enter the gym, I had better look like them first, you know work out first, on my own at home, I guess. Now, of course, had I actually entered, I have no doubt that the student volunteer behind the front desk would welcome me, and tell me that gym is open to one-and-all, to all shapes-and-sizes, and they’re glad I came.

But that’s besides the point. Regardless of what they say, I would not feel like I belonged. Why would I, when everyone else in there looked a particular way, which is different from me?

And friends, I wonder if that isn’t the way that those outside, the unchurched, see the church. That that they see the church as a place where the well-behaved, the held-together, the bible-knowing, the law-abiding, temptation-resisting, sin-overcoming, Jesus-loving, others-serving, tender-hearted, Spirit-filled people of God gather.

And therefore, it is not a place where sinners belong. It’s not a place for the wayward, the sin-struggling, the temptation-succumbing, the religion-skeptical, the doctrine-doubting, the faith-questioning, the broken-hearted, soul-fractured, regret-filled, sad and angry, lonely and empty person who is hanging on to life day-by-day by the thinnest of threads.

On one of our Christmas services, I met a young adult who hasn’t been to church for a number of years. And I asked her, “Ever thought of coming back?” She said, “Maybe, there are some things I need to work on first”.

It’s me thinking: “Maybe I need to work out first before I enter the gym”.

In today’s passage, the Word of Christ to calls out to sinners. His kingdom is a kingdom of Sinners. That is our starting point this morning.

A kingdom of sinners.

The Twelve Apostles

12 In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: 14 Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15 and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

What I want you to notice at the onset about today’s passage is that it opens with Jesus calling Peter, followed by Levi, and ends with Jesus naming the full Twelve. Why Twelve? Because there are twelve tribes in the kingdom of Israel. Jesus is calling together his new kingdom.

He is re-constituting God’s covenant community. He is re-defining the identity of God’s people. And this new community, this new people, this new kingdom, will be a kingdom of sinners.

Why, because everyone he calls, and meets and heals in today’s passage, beginning with Simon is a sinner.

8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Peter, the sinner.

And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

The paralytic with sin.

12 While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 13 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.”

The unclean leper.

27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.

The sinful tax-collector.

The message is clear, Jesus is calling, and healing and fellowshipping with the unclean, the unwanted, sinners. He is constituting a kingdom of sinners.

But not just sinners per se, but sinner who embody certain characteristics.

First, it is a kingdom of Confessing sinners.

A kingdom of confessing sinners.

8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

When Jesus told Peter “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Peter initially protested. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” In other words, “Hey, erm, I don’t advise you on how to build furniture, or on how to preach, maybe you leave the fishing to me?” I’m sure that thought crossed his mind.

But Peter had witnessed one of Jesus’ miracles, when he cured Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever, as Luke recorded for us in the preceding chapter.

Now Simon's mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them. (Luke 4:38-39)

So he knew already that there is more to Jesus than meets the eye.

This guy rebuked a fever. You a scold a fever. Who does that? But it worked. There is authority and power in his word. And Peter saw that.

So he said, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”

And he did. And there came a catch of fish so great, he need help from James and John. And in that moment, Peter had an epiphany that Jesus was uniquely related to God.

And if there is one common response we see in the bible, of people who find themselves in the presence of God, it is that they are struck by a sense of their sinfulness.

And so Peter confessed: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Have you confessed that you are a sinner? Are you a confessing sinner?

There two big messages being communicated by social media to impressionable youths these days.

You have to look better and you have to feel better.

You have to look better. You need this hair gel, that make up, this beach bod, these braces, that pair of shoes, this new look. You need to look better.

And you have to feel better. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are not good enough. Build up your self-esteem. Maintain a positive self-image. Don’t live by someone else’s standards. Believe in yourself. You have to feel better.

And as a result, so many people go through lives so anxious about their appearance but sp assured of their goodness. We have been taught by the world to measure our looks against the likes Bratt Pitt, but to measure our morality against the likes of Hitler. So everyone complains about their looks, but no one complains about their character.

As if it’s only possible to have an ugly face, but not an ugly soul.

And that’s simply not true. And the reality is that we are all sinners, we know that if there is a perfectly holy God, whose very being demands absolute perfection, we would not be able to bear his presence. And like Peter we would all beg him to depart.

But that is who Jesus has come to call. Sinner who know they’re sinners. The admission and confession of our sinfulness, far from disqualifying us, is in fact a necessary condition to be called into his kingdom.

And the reason why confessing sinners do not become condemned sinners is because Jesus has come to forgive sinners. His kingdom is a kingdom of forgiven sinners.

A kingdom of forgiven sinners.

17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. 18 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, 19 but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. 20 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” 21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 25 And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. 26 And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

A man, lying paralysed on a bed, literally breaks through the roof of a building just to see Jesus, and Jesus says, “your sins are forgiven you”.

“Well, thanks, but erm, did you really think my friends carried me all the way here and lowered me down the roof because I had problems with my conscience? I don’t know if you’re notice, but the reason I’m on a bed, isn’t because I’m sleepy. I can’t walk.”

I came to see you, in order to be healed of my paralysis. If I wanted to have my sins forgiven, I would have gone to the temple.

Which is precisely the point that Jesus intends to make. Sins up till then, could only be forgiven by God on the strength of an atoning ritual performed in accordance with levitical system in the temple at Jerusalem.

Jesus bypasses all of that and simply says, “you are forgiven”. Forgiveness is now no longer based in Jerusalem, no longer bound to rituals, it’s rather found in Jesus Christ. Jesus forgives sinners.

Jesus sees the deformity of the man’s physical body, and heals instead the deformity of his soul. Simply by saying “your sins are forgiven”. And it works.

To prove it works, he says to the man, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And the man does exactly that. Immediately. Jesus proves an invisible act of grace, by performing a visible act of healing. Jesus can truly forgive a person.

You see, one of the reasons we are afraid of acknowledging that we are sinners is because it leads to guilt and shame, and that is no fun. As John Calvin said, “the torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul.”

Our conscience, if it’s alive and well, will not give us peace the moment we acknowledge that we are sinners. Which is why when confronted of our wrongs, our first instinct is to justify ourselves, to point blame away from us, to focus on our good works instead, all to avoid coming to that awful conclusion, and voicing that humble confession: “I am a sinner”.

It’s a terrible realization to live with.

But the good news of the kingdom is that confessing sinners do not become condemned sinners, but forgiven ones.

In Christ, confessing sinners are forgiven sinners.

And as a result, the kingdom of Christ, is a kingdom of positive sinners.

A kingdom of positive sinners.

33 And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” 34 And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?

The Pharisees are telling Jesus. The traditionally religious fast, they deprive themselves of things. That’s the traditional hallmark of spirituality. You guys however, eat and drink. What’s that about?

And Jesus reply is this: “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?

In other words, the reason for fasting is to seek God’s presence and favour and liberation. When God shows up, you rejoice. To remain fasting is to miss the point. And because I’m here, bringing the good news of liberation for mankind, fasting gives way to feasting.

Because Jesus has arrived onto the scene of human history, everything takes on a different complexion, as different as grape juice will taste compared to fine wine.

Prior to 2020, positive in popular usage is always taken as a good thing. You meet someone, you go, that guy is a positive person, let’s hang out. In the recent years, you go, are you a positive person, “yes, ART positive”. Alamak, let’s not meet.

Here, I’m using positive and negative, in a mathematical sense. Addition and subtraction. And the question is this: Is your Christianity characterized more by the absence of things or by the presence of things? Do you normally think in terms of what you lose out on, as a Christian, as opposed to what you have gained? Do you normally think in terms of what you cannot do, rather than what you ought to do.

In other words, do you practice a negative Christianity or a positive Christianity?

Jesus uses two Sabbath incidents to make the point. Here are the two epidodes:

6 On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. 2 But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” 3 And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” 5 And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
6 On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. 7 And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that