Episode 1. The Company Jesus Kept
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You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep. So – what company did Jesus Keep and what does it tell us about Him.
Join Berni Dymet, on Christianityworks as he opens God’s word and asks “Who is Jesus?”.
You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep. So that begs the question then, what company did Jesus keep and what does it tell us about Him?
Well, it’s great to be with you again at the beginning of a new series and I really hope you have had a good week. It’s amazing how the year is already slipping by and here we are; well we are heading toward Easter. Can you believe it? And it feels as though we only just had Christmas.
I was thinking about the whole Easter thing and how to approach it this year. I was wondering whether, together, we couldn‘t start earlier this year? I mean the Easter bunnies and the whole chocolate eggs thing aside, it seems to me that the central question of Easter is – who is Jesus; exactly, who is He? What’s He like? If He were to walk into my life or into your life right now, what would He be like? What would it be like to be around Him?
It’s so easy to take someone who lived, well, two thousand years ago and turn Him into a kind of a stained glass window. But if He is going to be relevant; if He’s going to make a difference, well, what’s He like?
So that’s why we are beginning a new series this week called, “Who is Jesus?” And over these next four weeks, as we head towards Easter, we are simply going to take a look at some snap shots – almost like going to a photograph album and looking at pictures of Jesus – but instead of going to a photo album we are going to go to the Bible; God’s Word. So if you have it, grab it and open it up. We are going to begin in Matthew chapter 4 and look at the first snap shot of Jesus.
Where I live – just a few minutes drive from my home – is a wonderful fish market. And early in the morning when you go down there, it’s pretty quiet, later it gets a bit of a bustle. And there’s a huge array of fish and oysters and mussels and shell fish – you wonder where it all comes from. And at Christmastime there are so many prawns or shrimps, if you like, by the truckload. It’s a fantastic place. It’s a place of commerce and food and flavour and you can have a seafood meal down there and it all started on a boat out on the water there.
And when I walk into the fish market where I live, there’s a man just on the left hand side shelling oysters – he’s an older man and I’m pretty sure he’s Greek – big hairy arms and he wears these big thick rubber gloves and there are piles and piles of unshelled oysters. Now I love fish and I love the bustle of the fish market and the people and the characters and the feel and the buzz – I really enjoy that, but here’s a question.
If you or I were God; if you or I were Jesus and we were thinking, “Well, I want to start a church. Something that is not going to be perfect but I want it to be strong; I want it to last for a few thousand years and I need some people.” Is that where we’d start? Is that where we’d go?
Well, Jesus … Jesus was a carpenter and He began His public ministry sometime in His late twenties or early thirties, perhaps, and it lasted for around three and a half years. And He wasn’t one of the recognised religious leaders; He wasn’t wealthy; He wasn’t a king, He was a carpenter and He was walking down by the Sea of Galilee one day and He picks some fishermen to be His followers. Let’s read it. If you’ve got your Bible open it up. We are going to Matthew chapter 4, beginning at verse 18:
As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee He saw two brothers – Simon, who was called Peter and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea, because they were fisherman. And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me and I will make you fish for people,” and immediately they left their nets and they followed Him. And as He went from there, He saw two other brothers; James, the son of Zebedee and his brother, John, in the boat with their dad, Zebedee, mending their nets and He called them and immediately they left the boat and their father and they followed Jesus.
See, as we begin to look at who this Jesus is, today we are going to look as some of the people that He spent His time with. You can actually tell a lot about someone by the people they choose to hang around. And here is Jesus, the Son of God and He comes from Galilee. Now, Galilee wasn’t exactly the nicest part of Israel.
I mean, the religious and political centre was Jerusalem, up in Judah but He was up in the north and there He was in Galilee; the slums and the pits and He’s a carpenter. He made, I don’t know, chairs and coffins and houses, I guess and when the time comes to begin His public ministry, He goes down to the fish market; down to the Sea of Galilee. It’s almost like me going down to my fish market and seeing the Greek guy there with the hairy arms, shelling the oysters.
Jesus goes down to the fish market – this carpenter who made chairs and coffins – and He calls simple fishermen. Now see, the Rabbis in Israel; the teachers, they were the elite and actually if you wanted to be one of their students and one of their followers, you had to go to them and apply and ask and you had to be good enough. But here, Jesus goes out, instead of people coming to Him, Jesus goes out and chooses people and calls people – not theologians.
He didn’t go to the most prodigious Bible school in Jerusalem and pick the top graduates, He goes to the fish market, not elite businessmen, just uneducated fishermen, rough, tough, hard lives – they were into boats and nets and stench and fish and … it was a morning like any other and Jesus was out there walking by the Sea of Galilee and He knows deep in His heart that He’s the Son of God and He’s come for a purpose. These last thirty years of growing and waiting and learning, of walking in sandals and crunching in the gravel – He felt this calling; this beating in His heart.
And He looks out and He goes there to the Sea of Galilee with a tear in His eye, with excitement and trepidation, the time has come for the carpenter to go down to the fish market. Now, in an earthly sense, the odds are stacked against Him and He calls four rough, uneducated bumpkins – Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. Pete, Andy, Jim and Johno.
Now, that does something for you and me. As we look at who Jesus is and we look at Him from our here and now, we can look at Him and say, “You know, He’s not a stained glass window; He’s not a religion. He’s real; He’s alive; He’s relevant, here and now.” He goes to the fish market to find people to follow Him. Does Jesus still have a purpose today? Does Jesus still want to find fishers of people today?
Instead of the Sea of Galilee, He’s going to go the local fish market or the hair dressing salon or the office building or the shopping centre or the factory with that same – that same dream burning in His heart. Looking for a Pete or an Andy or a Jim or a Johno or a Sue or a Melissa or a Jenny or a Helen to come and follow Him.
Cleansing the Leper
Well, let’s have a look at another story. I remember when I was growing up, I was kind of looking at this whole church and religion thing and it all seemed so weird to me. I mean, men in funny gowns and bishops in funny hats and incense every now and then and songs that didn’t make sense to me and sermons that bored me, people in pews that didn’t seem to be enjoying the experience or their own lives, for that matter. Does it sound vaguely familiar? And I remember thinking, “If I were ever to sign up to something like that, it would have to be real. It has to make my heart sing – it has to rock me to the core. It has to be real.”
I’m a baby boomer – we don’t much like authority and institutions and stained glass windows and rituals and shams. We want to experience reality and now so many in my generation are still pulling on their Levi’s, hoping to find that reality. But you know what I mean? Don’t give me some trite ritualistic religiosity that doesn’t make a difference. I want something that works.
I was talking to a man recently – in his forties – he married young – many of us baby boomers did. He was divorced and remarried and his wife fell pregnant and they lost the baby. They had been going to church on and off – it was a hang over from their upbringing – but it didn‘t really work for them. Who knows why we do the things we do but they went anyway. So they went to see their minister after their last baby and they were gutted. The response? The response from the minister, “This is God’s punishment for divorce and remarriage. You and your wife should now live together as brother and sister.”
Now I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t work for me. There is one of three options. The first option is that is what Jesus would have said, lump it or leave it. The second option is that church doesn’t much care about Jesus – it’s about religion and rules, not about Jesus. Or third – Jesus, Jesus would have had a different angle. These people were treated by the church like lepers.
Well, let’s go and visit some lepers in the first century, in Israel. Back then leprosy had no cure; the lepers were ostracised, they were thought to be highly infectious. So lepers were religious and social outcasts. They lived in shanty towns, often outside the city walls – so they lived outside the protection of the community. They were kind of like ‘non people’. They were incurable, infectious and from a religious perspective, they were unclean.
When they came into the city, they had to maintain a distance of so many paces between themselves and any one who wasn’t a leper. And if someone who wasn’t a leper came close they had to shout out “Unclean, unclean”. If they wanted to worship in the synagogue, they had to arrive much earlier than everyone else and sit out back in a room on their own and they had to leave after everyone else had left. They really couldn’t participate in the life of their synagogue or their community. So these lepers were just outcasts. And a leper comes to Jesus and he is desperate. You can read this in Mark chapter 1, beginning at verse 40 and he says:
Lord, if You are willing You can make me clean.
Here is this leper who is segregated through the Old Testament law. He’s emotionally and spiritually and physically sick. What will Jesus do? This person is a leper. This person is unclean – to the religious institution, we shouldn’t go anywhere near him.
A bit like my friend who had lost the baby, after divorce and remarriage. This religious institution said, “You are unclean.” So what will Jesus do? This is what it says:
Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched the leper and He said “I am willing, be made clean. And the leper was healed.”
See, because of his circumstances, religious law made him an outcast and yet, Jesus comes along and reaches out with compassion in His heart and touches the leper. It was against the law for Him to touch the leper. Touching the leper made Him unclean – touching the leper exposed Him, potentially to the disease.
And then Jesus says, “Look, don’t tell anyone – just go and tell the religious leaders.” Yea, right! This guy told the whole world; he was over the moon. The crowds flocked to see Jesus who had cleansed this leper. So much so, He couldn’t enter the towns and cities – He had to teach out on the hill-tops and in the fields.
WOW – that’s a surprise! It’s called “grace” – people are attracted to grace. It’s something, by and large, you don’t find in religion. But then Jesus isn’t a religion. My hunch is that religion is something that people invent. No, no, Jesus is the Son of God and it says:
When the leper came to Him, He was moved with compassion and He stretched out His hand and touched the leper and said, “I am willing.”
What does that tell you about God?
Dinner with a Sinner
Well, today on the programme, we are looking just at different stories; different pictures; almost going through a photo album, looking at Jesus. Maybe even going through Jesus’ own “face book” page or “youtube” page or “my space” page – just having a look at Him. It’s great to be doing that because we are starting a series today called ’Who is Jesus?’ and we’re just answering that by looking at these little vignettes; these little stories of who Jesus is.
One of the things I really hate doing each year is my tax return. It’s not that I begrudge the Government it’s taxes and most times I get a refund from the Tax man, it’s just the effort of working through my affairs – I don’t know – it’s just not something that I really enjoy doing.
Now we live in a system in this twenty first century which by and large, well, it’s a fair tax system. We may argue that we pay too much tax or that the balance across society isn’t quite equitable, but at least it’s applied even – handedly and consistently. So as much as tax may or may not be your favourite part of life, we live with it.
But how would you feel if the people collecting the tax were dishonest? I mean if they were able to just increase tax and we had no recourse – if they took bribes to reduce our tax or if they applied one standard to you and another to me – my hunch is, we wouldn’t be very happy with that sort of a system at all.
Well, let’s go back and have a look at a tax collector in the first century. See, in the first century in Israel, the Romans occupied Israel – they occupied most of the known world – they were the dominant world power. And Israel, these chosen people of God, were, I guess, slaves and captives to the Roman Empire – to Caesar. And they had a brutal army and they ruled with an iron fist. And so, the Jews had to put up with the excesses and the armies of the Roman Empire.
The Jews, of course, well, they weren’t exactly enamoured with this – they didn’t really enjoy this. And the Romans appointed Jewish tax collectors – they were almost like franchise operators – they owned the local MacDonald’s franchise or they owned the local Gloria Jean’s Coffee franchise.
But unlike those franchisees, they were dishonest. And they would sit at toll gates and as people passed through with their trade; they would collect tax on whatever was being shipped through. But by and large, these Jewish tax collectors who were appointed by the Roman occupying force were a corrupt bunch. They were betraying their own people.
See, firstly they were enforcing Roman rule and taking money from the Jews; from God’s chosen people and giving it to the Roman Empire – that’s the first thing. And the second thing is they were lining their own pockets. You see, they would put commission on top of the tax and often they were very corrupt and they would put very high commissions on top of the tax. So, have you got the picture? These people, as far as God’s chosen people, the Israelites were concerned; these Jewish tax collectors were the scum of the earth.
Jesus, on the other hand – Jesus is wandering around healing people. And He’s like a rock star – He is like Bono or any of the stars you would like to think – you see, because He is healing lepers and blind people and He’s preaching with power and authority – not like the religious leaders – He’s up there and crowds are flocking to Him – thousands of people.
Remember, their cities weren’t big like our cities are and so when five or ten thousand people turned up there was a substantial proportion of the population. Jesus; this Rabbi; this teacher, calls some fishermen to be His disciples but then, then He does something that no one would have predicted or imagined in their wildest dreams – He calls a tax collector, a man by the name of Levi. Come with me in the Bible to Matthew chapter 9, beginning at verse 9:
As Jesus was walking along He saw a man called Matthew or Levi sitting at the tax booth and He said to him “Follow me” and the guy got up and followed Him. And as He sat at the dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with Him and His disciples. When the religious leaders, the Pharisees saw this, they said to Jesus disciples “Why is it that your teacher eats with tax collectors and sinners?” But when Jesus heard this, He said “Those who are well have no need of a physician, those who are sick do. Go and learn what this means. I desire mercy not sacrifice for I have, come not to call the righteous but to call the sinners.”
Uh, uh! So here’s Jesus coming into a town; He’s walking along; He’s being followed by crowds and He sees this tax collector in his tax booth and He says to this guy, “Come and follow Me”. And then He goes and has dinner at Levi’s house with lots of other tax collectors; lots of other ‘scums of the earth’. This is the Son of God; this is the Messiah; this is the guy that healed all those people; this is the Man whom God sent – God’s own Son – to die on a cross for you and me and rise again.
Jesus was hanging out with tax collectors – not the good; not the righteous; not the religious leaders – the tax collectors. And so the religious leaders started a smear campaign. They called Him a glutton and a drunkard and ultimately, they crucified Him because of what He did. How does Jesus respond to what they say – to these religious leaders? He says, “I haven’t come for all those who have got it right. I have come for people just like this.”
See, these religious leaders would demonise the tax collectors and perpetuate this stereo-type of this “scum of the earth” tax collector.
Those who are well, don’t need a doctor”, said Jesus. But those who are sick, well they do. I have come exactly for these people.
See, religion is about throwing stones; religion is about criticising – Jesus was about building bridges and touching lives and … oh, WOW.
He never watered down what was wrong – He didn’t say it was ok. He dealt with those things directly and honestly when He had to. But He reached out to them – He touched them.
I want to cry sometimes when church throws rocks at people. Is that what Jesus is like? Is that what Jesus did to these tax collectors? It wasn’t like that. It wasn’t about issues and dogma and doctrine – it was about people and lives.
I love that about Jesus. That’s who Jesus is.
As He was walking along He saw Matthew, the tax collector, in his tax booth and said “Follow Me,” and then He went and sat down and had dinner with all the tax collectors.
Who is this Jesus? Is He some religious icon? Is He some stained glass window? Is He some rule book? Or is He the Son of God who would sit down with the lowliest of lowly – with the scum of the earth – with the tax collectors, with the prostitutes – and just be their God.
Who is Jesus?