Andy Stanley - What Does It Mean To Have Faith?
Today we are actually in part two of Your Not Far. And this is the story that should have never left Rome, it's the story that should have died in Rome but it didn't. It's the story of Jesus of Nazareth as told by Simon Peter. Peter, His most famous apostle and it's dictated to and edited by John Mark, Peter's traveling companion. Now here's something that's kind of cool, sometimes when people start reading the Bible we think, "Oh the B-I-B-L-E". But today we're not reading the Bible and I'll explain what I mean by that in just a second.
For 30 years, over 30 years, but for 30-something years Peter, Jesus's apostle traveled around and told his story over and over and over. And now he's in his 50s, he's imprisoned in Rome and he doesn't know it but he is not gonna leave that city alive, he's been arrested in Nero's Rome, no friend of Nero's, no friend of Christians, right? And he's either in a prison cell or maybe under house arrest, we don't know. But Mark who has traveled with him and heard him tell these stories a thousand times or a hundred times is with him and Mark who is a Greek Christian essentially says to Peter "Look, look, I've heard these stories, I've taken some notes but I need to hear it one more time, we need to document this, your story not just for this generation. This is a story that needs to be documented for every generation. Not for the people in the room but for the one person in the room, to John Mark for the generations that would follow".
And what Peter tells Mark comes to us as the Gospel of Mark; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. This is where the Gospel of Mark comes from, Mark got it from Peter. Now this 1st century document well, you know, this is in the 1st century, Peter died somewhere around '65 or '66, I'm '80. We're not really sure but he died during the life of Nero we know that. This 1st century document would eventually be collected with some of the Apostle Paul's letters and then the other Gospels that would be written and then the Old Testament and would be put together and it would ultimately become the Bible. So here's why I say all that, for the next few minutes and for the next few weeks please don't hear me reading from the Bible and the reason that's important, because for some of you the Bible is just a non-starter, assume somebody says, "Well, the Bible says", you wanna raise your hand and say, "let me tell you what else the Bible says". Right? That maybe some of your conflicts with faith, I completely get that.
So for the next few minutes I'm not reading the Bible because Mark wasn't writing the Bible. Mark in the 1st century was documenting Peter's experience with Jesus. He is sitting with a man and he's traveled with a man who spent years with Jesus and after the crucifixion Peter continued to believe that his rabbi, is we're gonna see in just a minute, was somebody extremely special. Then here's what happened, we know this from church history that Mark takes this document, Peter's account of the life of Jesus and he smuggles it, if he actually had to smuggle it. But he leaves Rome with it, he goes to Alexandria, Egypt and copies are made and they begin to distribute this account of the life of Jesus from the lips of the Apostle Peter who was an eyewitness.
Then again it was collected with the Apostle Paul's letters and then in the 4th century like almost 300 years later it's collected with the Old Testament, the Jewish Scriptures and then it's given a name, the Bible. But for now let's not think about the Bible, let's imagine the Apostle Peter, who's in his 50s, he's about to be executed, he's sitting with his friend John Mark and he's just downloading the story and Marks like, "Okay, just give it to me. Give me everything you got Peter because you are an eyewitness of all the events and conversations of Jesus, the teaching of Jesus and your story is so important".
And here's how Peter begins, Mark writing it down. It's like he doesn't want us to miss the big picture, he says, "The beginning", this is the very beginning of the Gospel of Mark. "The beginning of the good news", as we said last week if Christianity isn't good news to you, perhaps you've never heard Peter's version. "The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah", and then this is amazing, "the Son of God", and we talked about this last time we were together. The Son of God, in other words, get this, 30 something years after the crucifixion of Jesus Peter is still convinced that his rabbi, his friend, was the actual, living, breathing Son of God. We do not believe Jesus was the Son of God because the Bible tells us so. We believe Jesus was the Son of God because of what He did and what He taught in the eyewitnesses that risked their life to document it for us.
Then he jumps into the story he says this, "Jesus went into Galilee proclaiming the good news of God", to which we would say, "Well, Peter, what is the good news of God? Because most of us were raised to believe the good news of God is Jesus died for your sins, you go to heaven when you die if you put your faith in Jesus". Peter's like, "No, no, that's one way later", that he wasn't talking about any of that, none of that had happened. "Let me tell you what Jesus message was everywhere we went. Everywhere we went he had one theme and everything He talked about was associated with this theme. And the theme was simply this, Jesus would say, The time has come'".
The time has come, the waiting is over, something's been missing but what's been missing is now here and everything that came before in the pagan world and everything that came before in the Jewish world was all preparation for what God is doing in history in this moment. The Kingdom, the time has come. The Kingdom of God is near. The Kingdom of God, the best way to understand that is God's Kingship, God's rule, God's authority. The Kingship of God is near because the King is in town. And then Jesus would say in the appropriate response to the fact that the time has come and God is doing something new. The appropriate response is to repent and believe this good news. And to repent in this context meant turn your life in the direction of this, face it and embrace it because I'm introducing a new way of living not simply a new way of dying, a new way of living, a new way of relating.
I want you to understand the way God sees you, the way God sees the world and God wanted you to know so much that He sent me as His representative. The Kingdom of God has come because the King is in town. So repent, face it and embrace this new way of living to which we might say, "Well, Peter I'm not ready for that". And Peter would say, "Well, I'm just getting started, hang on. You shouldn't repent and you shouldn't believe until you hear the whole story". Now the 1st century response to this was amazing. In fact in the book of Mark the word crowd appears in every single chapter I think except two. Peter says, "As we began to teach and as Jesus began to teach, the people were amazed at His teaching because He taught them as one who had authority not as the teachers of the law. and news about Him spread quickly and the whole, throughout the whole region of Galilee".
So we introduced this map last time, we're gonna come back to this throughout our time together. Because the way the Apostle Peter tells us the story, it has everything to do with Geography. So the region of Galilee is this whole region up here, Jerusalem's down here, this is the Jordan River, this is the Dead Sea, Sea of Galilee. And so Jesus begins His public ministry in the vicinity of Galilee and Peter was a Galilean and He said throughout the whole region of Galilee, word spread that something fantastic and amazing has come. So picking up where we left off last time. Peter immediately introduces us or confronts us with these three very disturbing and paradigm-shifting narratives and when you piece them together it becomes very clear Peter wants us to know how disruptive Jesus's ministry was and how disruptive Jesus's teaching was. Disruptive in the sense that everybody kind of had a worldview; there was a pagan worldview, a Roman worldview, a Greek worldview, a Jewish worldview.
And Jesus steps onto the pages of history and He introduces a new way of thinking just about everything. So very quickly at the beginning of His gospel account, He gives us these three narratives that just give us a glimpse of just how different this kingdom was gonna be. And I'm gonna give you the summary of each of these stories real quick. The first thing we discover is that Jesus would ignore certain religious protocol. Secondly He's gonna claim to have the power to forgive sin and then third and where were gonna end today is that Peter recognizes that Jesus was uncomfortably comfortable with unrepentant sinners. In other words what Jesus did right up front and Peter saw this was that Jesus came along and removed three obstacles to God, three obstacles to God. And then the strangest thing happened, a few 100 years later, the church unfortunately, took these three obstacles that Jesus had removed and put them back into the equation.
In fact, one of these three may be your obstacle to God. Perhaps the reason you got bumped out of a church with some kind of really ridiculous religious thing that you thought yourself, "That doesn't have anything to do with anything, that's certainly not something I could ever make myself believe. They want me to act a certain way or dress a certain way or date a certain way or not marry a certain way". I don't know what your thing was. But there was just something that was just purely religious and you thought to yourself if God is that small and that petty I don't want to have anything to do with it. So maybe the reason you have walked away from faith or never even thought about addressing faith to begin with was just certain religious protocol that doesn't make any difference and Peter would say, "Hang with me, you're not gonna believe what He did".
Or maybe your challenge is this; perhaps you just can't come to grips with the fact that your sin could actually be forgiven. That God would actually forgive your sin and you believe He might forgive everybody else's sin but if people knew what you've done or haven't done or what you promised to do and never followed through on, whatever your thing is, it may be impossible for you to say, "Look, I kind of believe the story but I'm just telling you, I don't know that I could ever have actual peace with God". Peter would say, "I'm so glad you read my story". And the third thing, this whole being uncomfortably comfortable.
See, one of the things maybe you thought is that you know what? I think it's interesting and I think it's good for everybody else but as a friend of mine said years ago, he said, "Andy, I would stand in the back of church and think of myself, I'm not as disciplined as these people. I'll never be that good. I mean, if I'm ever gonna be a church person I'm ever gonna be a Jesus follower which is really the issue then I've got to clean up my act because I will never ever, ever live up to the standard these people are living with. So before I ever decide to follow Jesus I have some work to do". And Peter's like, "I am so glad you're following me on my journey because we were stunned, we were shocked at how comfortable Jesus was not just with sinners but with people who hadn't even left their sin". His point was Jesus had come to reverse the order of things, that Jesus was the King who came to reverse the order of things.
So we continued and he said, "So here's what happened, so He traveled throughout Galilee preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons and a man with leprosy came to Him". Now, in those days, in ancient times, leprosy wasn't something that was diagnosed the way we diagnose it. So almost any kind of skin rash or skin disease scared people to death and they immediately just put him in the category of you have leprosy, you have to go over there and live with those people until you're clean. People with leprosy in this day and age, there was a sense in which they hung.
Imagine this, they hung between heaven and earth. In fact, some of you would say this is how you feel about your life right now. They were unable to die but they were unable to participate in life, they were unable to die and they were unable to participate in life. They watched the world go on around them and they couldn't participate, they watched their children grow up from afar, they watched their husband or their wife become their ex-husband or their ex-wife and raised their kids and raised other people's kids, they watched people prosper, they watched the world change but they couldn't participate. They hung between heaven and earth, they were shunned and no one ever touched them.
And this leper comes to Jesus and he drops to his knees and he begs Him and he says this and this is so important. He says to Jesus, "If you are willing, you can make me clean". If you are willing you can make me clean. And in spite of what you may have heard about faith and Christianity or faith and religion in the past, you need to know this; that kind of faith that this gentleman expressed is perfect faith. Perfect faith is this; confident Jesus can, hoping Jesus will. Confident Jesus can, hopeful that He will. He said, "I believe you can cleanse me of my leprosy I don't know if you will", that's perfect faith. And Jesus reaction to this man was shocking.
In fact, it was so shocking that later on scribes would actually change a word in Mark's text to try to protect Jesus reputation because what Peter told Mark, Mark's like, "Were you sure"? Peter's like, "Yeah, I was there". The word he used was so shocking that later scribes tried to change it but in our oldest manuscripts, our oldest Greek manuscripts, here's what Jesus said. In fact in your English translation you may have a translation that says this, the text says that, "Jesus was indignant". That this man falls to his knees and begged Him says, "If you're willing I know you can make me clean". And Jesus was indignant. In fact there was all this emotion, almost this anger but He wasn't angry at the leper, He was angry at the situation. Neither the disease... He was angry that the fact that neither the disease nor the social taboo associated with this disease should exist, this just shouldn't be.
And the text says and Peter says that, "Jesus reached out his hand and", I'm just reading Peter's mind for you within that context and Peter was thinking, "Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, don't don't touch him. If you touch him Jesus, you become ceremonially unclean. Jesus, if you become ceremonial uncleaned, you know what we have to do? We have to make a six or seven day journey all the way to the temple and get you all cleaned up before we can come back. So look, if you're gonna do something for this guy just say something but don't touch him". And "He reached out his hand". Peter said, "I'll never forget this. And He touched the man", because this is so big. Because Jesus was not constrained by the purity laws. Peter would never forget this, Jesus chose to meet needs while ignoring ritual and political correctness because in that culture, ritual, religious, political it all blended together and Jesus ignores political and ritual correctness and He touches this leper which was dangerous.
But I bet Peter smiled and he said to Mark but it was so refreshing. And Jesus said to him, "'I am willing. Be clean!' And immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. And then Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning", there's a lot of emotion in this Greek term, a strong warning. "See that you don't tell anyone about this, don't tell anyone about this". And the leper went out and told everyone about this, every single one of them, right? But that was later. Here's what I do want you to do, "I want you to go, I want you to go".
Now here is the tension we find throughout Jesus ministry and Peter's gonna highlight this over and over but he wants us to see it up front. Peter doesn't want us to miss this He says, "I want you to go and I want you to show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing as a testimony to them", because according to what we call the Old Testament or the Jewish people would call the law and the prophets, Moses commanded that if somebody who had leprosy wanted to reintroduce to society they had to make this long trip if they lived in this area of the world to Jerusalem to the temple to find a priest, the priest would check them out declare them cleansed and clean and in some cases give them a bill of health and say, "Hey, you can take this back to your community. You have permission to reenter society".
And they had to make a gratitude offering to God at the temple. But that same passage also says anyone who touches somebody who's unclean also has to make that journey and give a sin-offering because they've been contaminated by something they should not have touched. So Jesus breaks with Moses, because He doesn't go to the temple, He sends this other fella to the temple and Peter's like, "Will never forget this, it's like, Wait a minute, you're telling him he has to keep the law of Moses and yet according to law of Moses, Leviticus five you have touched something unclean Jesus, we should go with him". And Jesus said, "We're not going". Because this, don't miss this, this was a time of transition. This was a time of transition, the old was slowly, this is why reading the Gospels can be so confusing at times, things were slowly changing, the old was passing away, the Kingdom of God had come because the King had arrived.
And when word spread about this healing so many people showed up that Jesus and His guys, at this point it's just Peter, Andrew, James and John, the five of them, they couldn't even enter the towns or the villages and yet Peter says, "I'll never forget it. Everywhere we went the people still came to us from everywhere". And then Peter moves us along to the next part of the journey. He says, "Jesus, eventually we ran out of supplies". He didn't say that, I'm thinking that why they had to go to town, they just ran out of groceries it's like, "We got to go to town, yeah, but there's all those people, yeah but we can't starve". They eventually go back to the major city of Capernaum probably for supplies and people here that He's in town and again they just begin to surround Jesus and Jesus goes into a large home and He begins to teach the people in Capernaum.
And Peter says, "They gathered from all over the place in such large numbers that there was no room left in the house on even outside the door and He preached the Word to them". And what did He preach? Here's what He preached, "The time has come, the time has come my Jewish brothers and sisters. This is what you've been waiting for, this is what your ancestors have been waiting for. The time has come, the Kingdom of God has come near. Now repent". That is, face it and embrace it, face it and embrace it. Embrace this new way of thinking, this new way of living, this new way of prioritizing, this new way of seeing yourself, of seeing God your Father and seeing the people around you.
And while He was preaching and teaching in this house, you may remember this story from childhood if you grew up in church, "Some men came bringing to Him a paralyzed man carried by the four of them", since they got this cot, they got each one each corner and they're outside the crowd and everybody's going, "Shh, shh" 'cause they're trying to listen through the walls and the doors to hear Jesus teach and they're thinking what do we do? And you remember what they did? They went home, no. Remember what they did? This is like a famous story Peter. Peter was there for this, Peter said, "We couldn't believe it. Jesus is teaching and preaching and teaching and preaching you could hear a pin drop and then we heard something else drop and then we looked up there were stuff dropping from the ceiling and then there's all this noise and Jesus finally had to stop because since the textiles", Peter says, "Since they could not get him in to see Jesus because of the crowd they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through and then lowered the mat the man was lying on".
Now I really wish Peter had given us more detail, like number one; was the homeowner there? Okay, that's what I always wanna know, okay? Like, "Get off my roof", but you're a kid you're throwing beer cans at him or something I don't know. I mean this is like a mess, okay? This was an expensive home. One of the gospel says it was a tile roof, they're pulling off the tiles and digging through all the support for the tile, so I'd like to know that. I wanna know how long it took him and was Jesus like getting stuff in His hair and worse and then there's these little ray is of light, you know, you can just picture this took a while. But Peter doesn't give us the detail, Peter's like, I don't want you to miss the point of the story.
So they dig this hole, I mean through the roof, it's a big hole and they let this guy down, ceilings weren't so high, you know, in those days. He's laying there beside Jesus and you know the sun's in everybody's eyes 'cause they've been in this dark part of this house. And Peter says, "When Jesus saw their faith", this is so important, how do you see faith? "When Jesus saw their faith", how do you see faith? It's the same thing that we saw with the leper, they were confident Jesus can, they were confident Jesus can, they're hoping Jesus will. They're confident Jesus can, they're hoping Jesus will. They're confident Jesus can, they're hoping Jesus will. That's the difference between faith and hope. Christian faith is confident God can, hoping that God will. And he's laying there and there's, you know, you could hear a pin drop now and there's guys looking down, you know.
And Peter says, "I'll never forget this. And He said to the paralyzed man", Peter's like we're ready for another healing, right? But Peter chose this account because there's a twist. "He said to the paralyzed man, 'Child, your sins are forgiven.'" And the crowd groans because mere mortals can't forgive sin. And the paralyzed man groans because that's not exactly what he dropped in for, is it? He's looking at Jesus like, "Well, that's great my sins are forgiven, that's not really why we're here". Right? The implications of what Jesus said were not lost on His audience, this was stunning.
"Forgiveness? Wait, wait, you're announcing this man's sins are forgiven and there's no sacrifice that's been made? You're announcing this man's sins are forgiven and there's no priest involved? You're announcing this man's sins are forgiven and there's no trip to the temple? You're announcing, in fact, oh my goodness, Jesus, okay, do you think you're greater than the temple? Do you think you can just walk in here and replace hundreds of years of tradition? Do you think"? Look, you know, they didn't have apps for anything. but we got a whole system for forgiveness. "I mean we got a way that you're forgiving and you think with just a word you can counter man, with just a word you can contradict, with just a word you can replace everything Moses put in place in terms of how we know we have peace with God"? And we know that's what they were thinking because of what Peter tells us happened next.
Some of the men in the room, the religious leaders, "Teachers of the law were sitting there and they're thinking to themselves", they didn't say it out loud. "They're thinking to themselves, 'Why does this man talk like that? He's blaspheming, He's blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God'"? I mean, they'd have no category for this, Peter had no category for this, none of the guys had a category for this. And then it's silent again. Peter's like, "I'll never forget. Jesus just looked right at him and He said, 'Why are you thinking these things'"? And Peter doesn't say this, so I'm filling in the gaps but I bet I know what Peter was thinking then, "Note to self: He can heal lepers, He can cast out demons and He can read minds, we need to be very careful around this guy".
Jesus smiles and He says, "Which is easier to say", this is such a big deal. "Which is easier to say to this paralyzed man, 'Your sins are forgiven,' which He'd already said or 'Get up and take your mat and walk'? This is not a trick question, this isn't even a difficult question but you guys have to answer it which is easier to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' which bothers you, you feel like I'm blaspheming or is it easier to say, 'Pick up your mat and walk out of this room?' Which is easier to say"?
Now this is really important for what's going on here, it's a little background. In ancient times, in pagan cultures and in Jewish cultures. In ancient times there was an assumption about a correlation between sickness and behavior or sickness as the Jews would call it and Christians would call it sickness and sin. That if a person was sick or sick a long time or born blind or born with some kind of ailment that clearly in their way of thinking someone had sin, that sin always results in sickness. Even in pagan times, if you had an illness or you had a child that had a problem it's because you had not pleased the gods, you had not offered enough sacrifices to the gods. So there was this correlation and many assumed that sickness was a direct consequence of personal sin, that there was a one-to-one correlation. In other words, something's wrong with you because you did something wrong, this is the way they thought.
Now Jesus, so you know, completely rejects that view. In fact He addresses it in the Gospels He addressed he says, "No, I don't think people are sick because somebody said or they sinned". But He held to the Genesis view, this is so important. The Genesis view was that on the heels of sin, sickness and death entered the human experience. That sin opened the door for sickness and death. So there is a relationship but it's not a one-to-one correlation. This is why sometimes the wicked prosper and sometimes why the righteous get sick and die. It doesn't make any sense to us and we can't make, you know, rhyme or reason out of it because when sin entered the world, right on the tail of sin came sickness and death and Jesus understands that which means what He says next. The implications of what He says next for Peter and this guys, this was like a point of no return.
Here's what Jesus said according to Peter, recorded by Mark. "But I want you to know", because I've heard that He's asked this question, which is easier to say, your sins are forgiven or you know, pick up your mat and walk? "But I want you to know with certainty that the Son of Man", and this is a messianic term. Now he's adopted a messianic term for Himself which is equally as offensive. "But I want you to know the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins". But how could anyone substantiate the claim to be able to forgive sin? There's only one way, by physically reversing the consequence of sin, by putting sin back in the box. So He smiles I think and He says to the man, "I tell you, get up and take your mat and go home". And again you can hear a pin drop because if He could reverse the consequences of sin with a word then perhaps He could forgive sin with a word as well. And sure enough, the man picked up his mat and he walked out and Peter says, "Mark, make sure you get this right. In full view of them all". This is Peter's way of saying fact, check me. I was not the only person who saw this with my own eyes and the crowds response, "We have never, we have never seen anything like this".
Now we'll get back to the story in a minute but I want to ask you a question. We talked about this about four or five minutes ago, do you ever wonder if God can or would forgive you? And here's what I mean by that. Do you think it's possible that God could be able to look at you if you believe in a personal God? By the way Peter believed in a personal God and you may struggle with that idea which I get, a personal God that like knows your name and knows the details of your life, that's hard to believe sometimes. Peter would say, "I'm in", but he had a unique experience, right? But here's the question, do you wonder sometime, if God really could or what? I mean, He's, you know, Jesus died for all the sins of the mankind, okay, I got that. There's sort of this categorical, you know, forgiveness. But do you ever wonder if if God really could and would forgive you?
And I mean by that, that when God looks at you, if God looks at you, when God hears your prayers, is it possible that God could look at you and not look at you through the filter of what you've done or what you haven't done or what you promised to do and didn't do or what you promised you'd never did and you did it over and over and over? Is it possible that God could actually forgive and remove your sin so it's no longer in the equation? Is it possible that you could have actual peace with God? Peter who knew Jesus would say, "Yes", "And why are you so sure Peter"?
Peter would say, "Because I heard it a thousand times, the time has come". "Once upon a time, we didn't know if we could have peace with God. Once upon a time, we just kept killing animals over and over and over and something in the back of our mind told us, I don't think this is how you have peace with God. I think this is just how you kill animals. And I know we got to go through a routine and and we feel better when we make our way to the temple or when we go to synagogue and kind of do our thing but could this really have anything to do with changing the way that God sees us"? And Jesus says, "The time has come for you to be able to know. The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent".
That is, turn in my direction and accept what I say about you and accept what I say about your sin. Repent and believe this good news. For some of you the best news you could possibly get from here to here is that Jesus because of His love for you and because of the Father's love for you has forgiven and erased your sin. And when He sees you, He doesn't see that and you may struggle for the rest of your life forgiving yourself, that's a whole another thing. But the first step to forgiving yourself is to recognize and accept the fact that your Heavenly Father no longer holds your sin against you and at some point you'll come to the point where you realize you know what? If God who created me doesn't hold my sin against me who am I to hold my sin against my self? With this account, Peter does something else, he sets up the ongoing conflict that we're gonna see between Jesus and religious leaders.
When He claimed to be able to forgive sin and when He basically replaced the entire temple institution this made Him an enemy and word would reach Jerusalem in no time. And in a further, in a further episode of a future episode we're gonna find some of the leaders from Jerusalem making their way to Galilee to hear what in the world is this guy teaching but that's later. Now Peter rushes us to this third narrative, they're up in the area of Capernaum, there's all these little fishing villages along here. One of the fishing villages is where Peter, Andrew, James and John are from but this is where they have to go, you know, to Costco and the grocery store and the drugstore, okay that's kind of the big city but it wasn't even that large of a city.
So in this next incident they're actually within walking distance from their own home and they're walking along the lake where they have fished for years. And these are small villages everybody knows everybody and everybody knows everybody's business and nobody travels more than maybe 25 miles from home and that's on occasion when they go to Jerusalem or go maybe to the Mediterranean Sea if they're fishermen and they decide to do something different. But most people never travel more than about 20 to 25 miles from home, these are his people. And he says what happened next and I'm sure just Peter just looked up with Mark and said, "I know Mark you've heard me teach this so many times but this, oh my goodness! We were walking along the edge of the sea and we saw, we walked up on Levi, the son of Alphaeus"...
Now let me stop and say something really interesting about this. How in the world would Mark know the name of Levi's father? Levi the son of Alphaeus. I mean Mark's like Greek there in Rome, how'd he know that? Because Peter told him and how would Peter know? Well, these this is my community, these are my people, everybody knows everybody. By the way the name Levi is one of the most popular names in 1st and 2nd and 3rd century Judaism. In fact even going back earlier than that so you can't just say Levi because it's like which Levi? "Oh yeah, Levi son of Alphaeus. Go ahead and put that in there Mark because after all when my people who read this they're gonna know exactly who I'm talking about because these things really happen, these are actual people with actual relationships". "He saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collectors "booth".
The tax collector was a customs officer up there in this major city on the lake and as you know if you grew up in church these folks were basically crooks, they work for the government and they could collect really as much tax as they could get. And as long as the government, the local government in this case could got their share, it didn't really matter, there was no fixed amount and there was really no way to keep up with what they did or what they kept for themselves. So consequently any Jewish man who dropped into this role in life was despised by the people in the community and despised even in some cases by their own family. And to make it worse, Levi in this case, is working for a very unpopular governor, the governor was Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas just recently had had John the Baptist executed and people love John the Baptist, he was like a folk hero to the people.
So they hate the governor and they hate anybody that works for the governor and they certainly hate a Jewish man that's working for the governor that everybody hates. So Levi is not in a good standing with his community and Peter knows him. In fact it's very likely that Peter had haggled with Levi over customs dues and over transit fees before in the past because it's a small community. And now Peter is no longer just a fisherman, Peter is a disciple of a very popular rabbi and remember the whole region, the whole region now has heard of Jesus and knows what He's up to and Peter is one of His guys; Peter, Andrew, James and John. And they're walking by and they see Levi, we know him as Matthew. And Jesus stops and stares and Peter thinks, "Yeah, I know really. Oh! Really it's just disgusting, it's embarrassing. I know his dad, his dad's such a great guy but we don't know what happened to Levi, you know". And to finish out this trilogy of disruption Peter said, "We couldn't believe it. Jesus walks over to him and says, 'Follow me.'"
To which filling in a few gaps I think Peter would say, "Wait, wait, before you answer Jesus. Come, listen, we really got to talk about this. Okay, look. Okay, you know the paralyzed guy that you healed? Okay, remember you said, 'Your sins are forgiven,' okay? No offense to paralyzed people but how much sin can a paralyzed man commit? I mean, let's just be honest, okay? And you forgave him of his sin but we don't even know what he'd done. Everybody knows what Levi has done, he does it every single day in public. Okay, remember you touched the leper? Fine touching a leper give that what gave us well cringed you know, but we got through that. Rubbing shoulders with a tax collector I'm telling you this will cause irreversible damage to your reputation and irreversible damage to our movement. This is gonna offend the patriotic sensibilities of the working class and it's gonna offend the religious sensibilities of the religious class. Jesus, I know you're Jesus but this is a lose-lose if he follows us, okay? Besides, all right? Besides, we already have like the perfect small group. Okay, Jesus, everybody in our little small group is just like me and they like me and you know what? And I like all of them but nobody likes Levi, so why would we invite him into our group"?
And then maybe he thought this, I'm making all this part up, maybe he thought, "Wait a minute, this is probably just a trick or a trap or this is just a test because there's no way he's gonna leave this job to come follow us. I mean, he's making bank. I mean, he's like, I mean he's already ruined his reputation, what does he have to lose by staying here? He's not gonna follow us I bet this is some kind of test". And then to our utter amazement and disgust Levi got right up and followed Him.
It's interesting, I don't know if this is significant I think it is that in the rest of the Gospel of Mark, Peter's account of the life of Jesus, he doesn't record anybody else being singly called to be a disciple or of an apostle. The only ones he's called by name are Peter, Andrew, James and John and Levi in terms of the story. I don't think he wants us to miss the contrast and the contrast is this and maybe for some of you this is why you're here, maybe this is why you're watching or listening today. The Kingdom of God had come near. And everybody, everybody had been invited to participate in it. Even folks like Levi who had betrayed their people out of greed and Peter will confess later, "And yeah even people like me".
Peter, who betrayed his Savior out of fear. And even people like me, people like me, I'm the preacher's kid, you know that means? Before I committed sins I had already memorized the verses about those sins. I mean, I knew and know the Bible backwards and forwards. If anybody is without excuse you were looking at the guy who is without excuse. And the fact that I would sin, the fact that I would betray, the fact that I would lie, the fact that I would walk away, the fact that I would know better and then do it anyway, the fact that I wouldn't do it I knew, the fact that I would sin, I'm telling you, I am without excuse.
So Peter, Andrew, James and John, Levi and me and people like you, people like you, people like you, people like you, people like you who dot, dot, dot. You know your story, don't you? And Peter stood there that day and Andrew and James and John and they just don't have a category for this, is everybody invited to participate in this brand-new kingdom, like this brand-new King? Is so unsettling. So new, this is new way, this Jesus way would continue to collide with Peter's way. But as we're gonna see throughout this story, Peter's way was passing away, why? Because the time has come, the time has come.
The Kingdom of God, a new way of viewing ourselves and viewing the world is near and this new way would continue to collide with Peter's way, Peter's fear, Peter's insecurity and Peter's prejudice and it continues to collide with my fear and my insecurities and my prejudice and when you decide to follow Jesus it will collide with your fear and your insecurities and your prejudice but it is the better way, it is the way forward. So, Peter, Andrew, James and John have a decision to make, "Do we walk away, save our reputation? Let them start a new group? There goes Jesus and Levi, see ya". Or do we repent and believe this good news"?
This good news that God accepts sinners and invites them into His brand-new kind of Kingdom. And what happened next? Whoa! What happens next? Peter must have laughed and laughed and laughed and Mark already knew this story but he's just getting it done. They must have laughed together when they thought about what happened next. And we're gonna pick up what happened next, next week in part three of You're Not Far, so don't miss it.