You may be aware that it’s Pentecost Sunday. This moment that has been talked about for a long time is really the birth of the church. It’s the moment 2000 years ago, when a group of people… A kind of small group of people, a scared group of people go from being just a sort of closeted group to this whole movement that you, if you’re a follower of Jesus today, are a part of. today, 2000 years later. This thing is still going. And so today on Pentecost, we’re gonna do what the early church did— Baptism. 3000 people joined them that day, now, that may not happen today, we may not have 3000 people flood the doors, but they did celebrate those people that came into the church community through this old process of baptism. They probably used a river, I suggested the Platte River. Apparently, it was not a good idea, That didn’t go down well, but we do have a horse trough, no horses have been here, it is clean. It is somewhat warm. We have a heater, I’m not sure it worked to its full capacity, so it’s… tepid is the word we are looking for. But these guys are students, most of them, they’ll get over it, and what we will do is we’ll celebrate these guys by dunking them in water, depending on how good they have been on what their parents say, We may bring them back up at one point, we may hold them back down a little longer, but baptism has these roots in something incredible, what these guys are doing today is special, but it is not special because of the ceremony, it’s special because that ceremony represents something that has already happened, there was a life change that has happened to them, there’s this moment where they responded to who Jesus is, and now we celebrate that through the ancient ritual of baptism, We celebrate the decision that each one of them has made, and so I’m hoping this becomes this grand tradition here at South when year after year on this Pentecost Sunday, this birth of the church, we celebrate that by welcoming new people into it through this incredible act of baptism, but first we have some teaching to do or I have some teaching to do you have some listening to do, and we’re gonna jump into a new series, going through this book of Luke. Luke is one of the first biographies of Jesus’ life, if you’re unfamiliar with the Bible, that’s fine, you can jump in with us, and Luke is a particular type of story teller who loves his details. He’s the longest of all of the writers of the biographies of Jesus life. I wanna say biography, I don’t mean biography as you probably know, a modern biography really is just about capturing every detail of somebody’s life .An ancient biography was more interested in using that to story-tell. It would pick out particular moments and say, “These are the significant moments”, and Luke does that, but he, more than any of the others, says I’ve gone back to the start, because I want you to know for sure what you believe…
Let me read you the first couple of lines,
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those were the first eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of things that you have been taught”.
Maybe you can already capture from the beginning, this guy talks in some sophisticated language. Some of the other writers are a bit more sort of maybe ‘common’ is the word. Mark, one of the writers, will say, “Jesus did this, and then he did this, and then he did this, and then he did this and this and this”. . And it goes on like that, whereas Luke is more… “Jesus was sitting by the side of the road, and whilst he was there,” whilst and whither and thither. . .. . , that type of language is very sophisticated, a more detailed sort of biography, and he takes everything from the beginning and says, I’m gonna give you the details so that you can know these things you believe, this story that is so good. It almost seems too good to be true. You can know the basis that you’re believing that. I want you to know how it began. He goes back and he searches through Jesus’ earliest moments, the birth, and all of those stories and takes them and gives us the details, we’re gonna follow this guy as he talks about Jesus’ life, but we’re gonna do it in a very particular way. We could go verse by verse, but that would take us years, and so maybe that’s a Bible study that you’d like to do by yourself, if it’s a thing that you’d like to explore. We’re just gonna take one type of story from this Gospel account, from this biography, we’re gonna look at every time Jesus sits at a table with someone.
Think about how strange this book is to you, there are so many things in this book that you just can’t… I just can’t compute. It’s a different world, and yet, for thousands of years people have been gathering around tables. We are gonna follow every time Jesus did this, and I think about all the occasions that you have gathered around the table, maybe there’s been moments where you’ve had a lingering conversation, you’ve talked and you said, I will be best friends with these people for the rest of my life, there’s something about them that I love… We’re gonna become close, just based on tonight,
Maybe you’ve had a romantic conversation, you’ve talked to someone one-on-one over a meal and said, “I think were destined to be together forever”. Maybe you’ve had one of those deep sort of conversations where your life has changed significantly, and maybe you’ve just had many of those times when you’ve gathered with friends, and you’ve always had a plan that the conversation will go from the table to a sitting area of some kind and yet you just never moved, and ours later, it feels like the moments have just have gone, it’s just been that joyous encounter, those conversations that have just meant so much. Jesus has these different conversations with people in this book of Luke. Sometimes he sits with enemies, sometimes he sits with friends, sometimes he sits with people that are very different, and sometimes he sits with people that are very similar to him, but what we see time and time again is every time Jesus sits with someone, something life-changing happens, there’s something about his approach to this table that is life-changing, so we’re gonna jump into Luke chapter five in a couple of minutes, but before I do that, let me say this, over the next few months, what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna start with Luke, but we’re gonna move on to Acts because in your Bible that you have in front of you or on your phone or on your iPad screen, those are two books, but in reality, they’re one book, They are written by the same author, Luke. He wrote more of the New Testament than any other author.
When we think about the history of the early church, Luke gives us more words than anybody else, and he gives us this detailed information that tells us what Jesus did, but also what his followers did after him. We get to learn from this master teacher. We get to embrace the things that he did, we get to watch how he lived his every day life, and then we get this challenge of How do I put that into action in my own life? Luke gives us an account of how God has for years been working in the world, This writer, Luke, wants us to know God has done something very significant, Jesus has died and risen again. That is spectacular in itself, and based on that, he’s taken a group of people who look just like you and me and is using them to transform the world around them. This is the central heart of this book, and I want to give you this little passage first to give you a snippet of what you can look for as we go through the series and what you can look for today, just how and who Jesus is trying to reach people.
This is Luke chapter four.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”
. This is how Jesus introduces everything that he’s going to do, and I want to pick out this little verse. . .”Good news to the poor” Who are the poor?… In our understanding, right,? We think of people that don’t have any money, that’s our general definition of poor, and yet in this world, in this first century Jewish world, the poor means so much more than that, the poor is everyone who’s downtrodden, everyone who lives their life on the margins; In this society women were classed as being part of the poor, people with bad jobs, jobs that no one else wanted, were part of the poor; people that couldn’t get by who were struggling with everyday life, people who were rejected, the people on the margins were the poor.
Jesus says right at the beginning what he’s going to do, he says, I’ve come for those people, those are the people that need me… That is why I’m here. I’m gonna bring the life to that group of people that weren’t used to good things, people that felt they were constantly rejected and kept on the outside of society. Jesus uses this word potokus… which simply means downtrodden, the people that feel like people are constantly stepping on them.
If you feel like that, the good news is that Jesus says that he has a message for you. And so for the next couple of chapters from Chapter 4 through to this passage, we’re gonna look at… In chapter 5, verse 27, Jesus does exactly that. He brings good news to the poor, he heals people that need healing. . . . they would have been considered poor. He releases people struggling with mental illness, they would have been considered part of the poor. He lifts up people on the fringes of society, and then we come to this guy to a guy called Levi. And I think our question will be, Does he fit in that group? “After this, Jesus went out and saw a toll collector by the name of Levi sitting at his toll booth” . Some of your Bibles may say tax collector, that’s fine, it’s not a huge difference, toll is just a particular nuance. Follow me, Jesus said to him and Levi, got up and left everything and followed him.
After this, Jesus went out and saw a “toll collector”. What do they do? So you guys understand tolls, right? You have that irritating movement, a moment where you’re driving down 470 and you get to the moment where it crosses I-25, and you’re like, Why am I paying money now to ride on a highway that the government paid for…It feels like I already paid for this, and yet you do… Apparently, some people are very unhappy about this, there was a whole petition to stop unfair 470 tolls to the east of I-25 in the Denver metro area. It got 15 supporters. So apparently, most people aren’t that upset, and if you are upset or you missed your window of opportunity, you could have really put in a good protest, but it’s passed, we’re gonna stick with this toll system forever. The ancient world was not that much different, there were official taxes, like head taxes and things like that, that the Jewish officials would collect, and then there were all these are the little detailed things, things that were a bit arbitrary, you might walk down a particular road and someone would claim a toll, you might have to cross a particular bridge and someone would claim a toll.
Now the Roman government, the people that ran everything in those days, they were very, very uninterested in doing the difficult work of collecting tolls. That was way beneath them, what they wanted to do was find some people who would do that for them.
So they would put it out to contract, they would say how much total money do you think you could get us and you would say, I think I can raise this much, and then you would pay the Roman government to take that contract, and then you have to do the hard work of getting all of that money back. You had to start raising the money that you’d already spent buying the contract.
So the toll collectors were the people that did that. How would you guess they were perceived by society around them?
Generally, these guys are the lowest of the low… The writer, Joel B. Green, who wrote a commentary on the Book of Luke, says these guys are like snitches. I found Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch. For those of you guys remember, Huggy Bear, he’s considered a snitch in his time or an urban informant. In his language, he’s like, I’m no snitch. And urban informant is different to that. A snitch wears a wire… A snitch is the scum of the information industry. a snitch has no soul. And we still have that language. They write snitches get stitches. We’ve told that to our daughter when she snitches on a younger sister and she’s like, No, they don’t… They get hugs, they get cuddles, they get rewarded. She’s already on the snitch side of things, but there’s this idea that there’s a certain type of people that we dislike, that we think are low characters. That, in Joel B Green’s idea, is that’s exactly what toll collectors of the day were like… They were the worst of the worst, the lowest of the low. They made money by over-charging other people to walk on roads, they were the lowest of the low, nobody wanted them around, they were not invited to nice dinner parties, they were not invited to good conversations around the table, but my question from all of this is. . . . if Jesus says he’s come for the down trodden… Well, is Levi really downtrodden? chances are he’s pretty rich, chances are he’s making his money off good, hard working people. Is he really one of the downtrodden? Jesus is interested in Levi when Levi, by nature, is probably one of the richer people in the area, just based on the way that he can abuse the system.
We know that these tax collectors are despised though, because when John the Baptist is doing his baptism stuff, even tax collectors came to be baptized. There’s this idea to Luke that I can’t believe these people, if they’re coming, surely anyone can come. Luke is baffled that these tax collectors will be coming to John for baptism, the are the worst, the lowest. But when you look at this word downtrodden, this word Patokus, which I just gave you, it has this sort of underlying meaning at its heart, the word means “one who cowers, one who crouches down, one who doesn’t wanna be observed, one who feels despised”. it’s all there in the root of this word, and when you think about how society perceives Levi, maybe he does fit the definition of downtrodden, maybe someone who nobody wants to include. We don’t know anything about Levi’s character. All we know is that generally, as a rule, tax collectors, toll collectors, were sort of manipulating the system, they were potentially stealing money from good, hard working people in order to make themselves rich, but we don’t know that was true with Levi particularly. What we do know though, is whether he is good in his character or bad in his character, he would be despised by everybody around him.
Maybe that is part of the definition, downtrodden, maybe been forced out into the margins is downtrodden, if downtrodden means one who cowers, one who doesn’t want to be seen, one who feels abused, feels attacked, feels left out, and maybe he is included in that, as I try to give you a picture image of this, I thought about a hedgehog, What hedgehogs do is when they feel attacked, when they feel like they’re in danger, they wrap themselves up into a tiny ball, and when you put your hand on them, you find them to be prickly because they’re in a defensive posture. I wonderif you have thought about any of the people that you’ve found in your encounters. . . “Man, this person is just a prickly character” I wonder how much of it is about them being vicious or attacking, or how much is just a defensive posture.
And I wonder if some of Levi’s story is sort of caught up in that and I wonder how he feels he is treated by society and there’s a good chance that Levi feels like he knows what it is to live life on the margins.
This guy may not fit into the classic definition of poor, but he probably feels pretty rejected by those around him, and so that makes what Jesus does rather fascinating. After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector, named Levi, sitting at his tax booth. Follow me, Jesus said to Levi and Levi got up, left everything, and followed him. He makes, on the surface, this incredibly rash decision in a moment, as he gets up and leaves everything he’s ever known, leaves his income supply, all of those different things and says, I’m going to follow this itinerant rabbi who is wandering around the countryside, teaching people. It seems like an audacious decision to make, but when we know something about the history, know something about what Levi can expect from life, it starts to make sense because Levi, as we’ve touched on already, as a guy who probably knows his place in the first century the Jewish education system said this, We’re gonna educate every male Jewish child, and around the age of 11, we’re gonna start to say, you don’t quite fit the academic standard, so you go and find an uncle, find your father, find someone who can teach you a trade and learn that trade, and then they do the same at about 16, 17 years old. If you’ve done high school sports, it’s exactly the same process, it’s that vicious moment when you have to tell the students you don’t make it, you’re cut… You’re done, you can go and play JV, but you’re not Varsity. This is this moment that Levi would have gone through with all other Jewish boys, and they would take the cream of the crop up to 30 and educate them, and then they will become Rabbis themselves and go out and gather their own followers.
Levi knows by nature of the fact that he’s doing this job, no Rabbi is going to come and say “Follow me”. You’re never be gonna be included in the elite of society, and yet here is Jesus, this guy who was becoming something of a celebrity in his local area, walking up to the tax booth and saying, Levi, come follow me, you can be involved in what I’m doing. Come learn from me, yes, listen to my teaching, but actually watch my action, watch how I act in the world around me, take all of that in, and then you go and do the same… And this Levi character, he seems pretty intuitive in how he’s gonna go about that. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. What’s the first thing that Levi has intuited from Jesus? The first thing he has learned by watching him is that Jesus cares about those on the margins. Jesus is interested in those on the fringes, and Levi’s first action as he sits down with Jesus is to say, ‘You on the outside, come in, there’s more room at this table. I’m gonna bring you in.”
Levi takes his table and he makes it available. He takes his circle of influence, he takes the group that he has influence over and says, I’m gonna bring them in to what Jesus is already doing, and if those of you that have followed Jesus for a while, you may be familiar with the language of kingdom. What is a kingdom? When you think about it, a kingdom is the area that you have influence or rulership over, and the truth is that you… Each one of you, you have a kingdom, maybe not in the normal sense, but you have this circle of influence, this group of people that you have influence over, and coming into what Jesus is doing is really at its heart saying, I’m gonna dethrone myself from that, I’m gonna take myself from the center. And I’m going to place Jesus there. When Levi sits at his table and says, I’m gonna invite those on the margins, he takes his table and he makes it available, he copies what he has seen Jesus do already. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them, but the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belong to their sect complained to His disciples, Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners? So any time you see this little line here, the teachers of the law, it’s talking about a group of people called scribes, this group of people whose job, their entire existence was to go through the detailed law that Jewish people already had and get all of the possible details out of it. They are going to get to the very core of the very heart of the minute details that you have to follow to stay in check. You know some people like this, they’re the people that when you play Monopoly, have some really detailed rules about how you have to play, and they’re like, No, I’m gonna insist… We used to play that like that way when I was a kid, and we have to play that way now. I know because I have a bunch of family and friends that are watching online that are like, Yeah, you… You are that guy, you are the guy that always ruins the fun with these detailed little rules. That’s who these guys are, they wanna know why Jesus will bring in those from the margins. Why does he care about them? And the question I have for us is, Why are they so upset? What about this process? What about Jesus simply sitting and having a meal with someone bothers them so much? because I’ll sit and eat with pretty much anyone. If you guys are paying for a meal, just let me know because I’ll be there, I’m pretty shameless. And I’ll even pay for some of you guys as well. I just enjoy the process of sitting down and eating, and yet these guys above it by a meal I where they so bothered..
. Really, to understand this, we have to understand how important a meal was to an Eastern culture to To sit down with someone over a meal like this was to share intimacy, to be involved in what they were doing and to suggest that they too were involved with you, that you are connected on some level in other Eastern cultures, that would be the language of. . . . you’ve shared my salt, once you’ve shared my salt, you can no longer betray me in any particular way. For those of us that are Western people, it’s so important to understand, when Jesus sits at that table, the Last Supper, before he’s crucified, and He says to them, one of you that is eating with me, one of you will betray me- – – to an Eastern person that’s got this horror of weight, you’re sitting and sharing bread with him and you were about to betray him? The horror doesn’t compute to a Western world, but to an Eastern World, once you’ve shared bread, you never go back on that, that’s why in many eastern cultures, even today, you might go out selling something on the streets and someone will be eating and you’ll stop at the door and he say, Oh, come in, have a bite to eat. There’s something sacred about the act of sharing food together that was ingrained in the society.
So when we read that Jesus is pulling in those that are sinners, those that are outside, eating with tax collectors and sinners, eating with the dregs of society and by nature of eating with them, you’re saying they’re included in what you’re doing. You’re saying that they’re okay, that they’re not outcasts. You’re pulling them in from the margins. To this group of people that is a horror. How can you do that? And yet this is Jesus response. “It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance”. Jesus’ response is, I’m here for those on the edge, for those on the fringe, for those that you never thought to include, for those that didn’t get an invite, for those that didn’t wake up early, for those that feel like they get left behind somewhere in the process, for those that fall out, life is sort of passing them by and they don’t know how to keep up, that’s who I came for. Luke and Acts, this one big story, has these two big surprises in it. The first huge surprise is that Jesus died and rose again.
In their minds, Jesus wasn’t supposed to die, he was supposed to come as a conquering King he was supposed to overthrow the rule and he was supposed to make everything good again, and yet he dies and even more surprisingly comes back to life again. This is the one big surprise that Luke has to deal with, but the other big surprise is this, Jesus would start to include the outsider, Jesus would start to care and bring in those that were on the fringe, and this didn’t stop with him, this continued with his followers that would continue the tradition. After his going, these were people that were reaching out to the outsiders constantly, but it caused a ton of confusion. This is Acts chapter 10, next book in the series, when Peter said, “surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized” . He’s talking about a group of non-Jewish people that had said that they now believed in Jesus, they have had this experience where God has done something, they have experienced transformation. In the Bible’s language, the Spirit now lives inside of them, they are part of what is going on because God has said yes to them in some way, but the whole question is, what do we do to show that?… And Peter is like, Well, we dunk them in water, we baptize them just like we baptized everybody else. These people that are on the outside, God has already spoken, he has said that they are included, and now we’re gonna show that publicly, we’re gonna do this thing that says, No, they are in as well, they are no longer on the margins, they are now in the center…
Surely, no one can stand in the way of them being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. So we order that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. There’s this moment, they’re like, Wow, the outsiders have been brought in, what can we do to stand in the way? God has said, he’s bringing in people from the fringes, from the margins… We can’t stop that. It’s already happened. Luke deals with a surprise that Jesus died and rose again, but the baffling surprise that the outsides were now involved in what God is doing… So they said, It is my judgment therefore that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. They open the flood gates and the whole thing changes from that moment, it starts with the outside of Jewish, the downtrodden, the poor, the people that aren’t included, and he continues to the people that aren’t even Jewish, and it gets bigger and bigger and bigger and the table expands and expands and expands.
There is always room for more at this table, and one of the things I love about this is how I saw this work out in my parent’s life, in my family life, My parents had that interesting house, the door was always open. Especially on Saturday, they never locked it really. at night… Yes, but in the day, it was just open and during Saturday, particularly, this sort of rag-tag bunch of maybe misfits with wander through the door at different times of the day, people that just weren’t included in most people’s invitation, they would wander in and if my parents were busy, they would stand and make themselves a cup of tea in very English fashion. Then they would sit at the table and maybe chat with some other people that were there, and this would happen over and over again though, there were always people just coming and going, and then occasionally those people would stay for dinner, there would just be more people than could fit at the table. So my parents had this moment, when they would say, Okay, we need to do something here, and the table would be gathered up, The table would be gathered up, and my dad would say to my brother and me to go down to the shed at the bottom of the yard, and I want you to go and grab this piece of wood that had been there for like time memorial; no one really knew why it was there, but he’d send my brother and me down and we would have to carry this huge thing, and put it over the top of the table. And my brother and I would know at this point that this meant that there may not be enough food for us, but then this was the way that we would go about making room for more. Now, the interesting thing with this is that the table never looked quite as good at this point, but it was better, if that makes sense, it may not have been as neat, it may not have been as organized, everything may not be in the proper place, but there was this moment where now, suddenly there was room for more. I saw this in my parent’s life over and over again, I saw people that the church itself often rejected, people that the church had said to them, you seem like you’re demon possessed or something, you seem like an outsider, you seem broken, I’m not sure you can be fixed. And I saw my parents invite these people, and I saw people that tried to commit suicide, that my parents sat with. My parents in some real sense, helped rescue people. I saw people that wouldn’t be alive today if my parents hadn’t had this open door and this table that could expand to make room for more. I saw the mirror, their own Rabbi Jesus, I saw the mirror, the way that he had made room for the outcast, that he had made room for those on the margins. I saw them operate their table as a church, but a church that functioned the way that it was supposed to function, that didn’t have a no entry sign for anybody; that said, Anybody is welcome here, this table is open to everybody.
This is a passage from a book from a lady called Sarah Massey. And she writes, this is a tribute to one of her friends, another author who passed away, and this is how she described this person’s character. . . . it was she who pulled up more chairs to the table and scooted over to make room, who made us laugh and made us think, who was bold and courageous and kind, who would not be budged from her conviction that this Gospel is good news for everyone, who moved to the margins because she knew that this is the center of God’s story. I don’t know exactly what Jesus is doing when he sits with Levi and the other tax collectors, I don’t know if he’s moving from the center to the margins or he’s making the margins the center, and I don’t know that it really matters, but what I do know is that Jesus saw a group of people for whom there was no good news and said, I have good news for you. This is a brief summary of the Book of Acts and Luke that the writer Daryl Buck gives, ” Jesus is the Lord of all; so the gospel, the message and work of Jesus, well it can go to all that is, in a nutshell, what Luke and Acts is about. Jesus is looking for anybody, it seems, that is willing to have him… How does all this connect with what we’re about to do in this horse trough over here, this ancient sort of ritual of baptism? What we see is this group of outsiders as God acknowledges that they are accepted and included by giving them His Spirit, but literally coming to dwell inside, and that’s what we as followers of Jesus believe happens. There’s this moment when you accept Jesus, when He comes to dwell inside you, and it was shown in baptism, but there’s something else going on as well, it happened through the Spirit, it was shown through baptism, but it started at a table… It started at a table where Jesus sat with someone on the fringes of society, and just by sitting with him, included them in what he was doing, I saw this on a friend’s wall and it just captivated me, “Our tables will become our churches”. That is the dream of building a bigger table, this table that constantly expands when we are doing that, when we are nearing what Jesus did.
So my question for you as we move towards baptism is this. . . . is your table available? How fixed is your circle, how willing are you for Jesus to take it and mess with it, how willing are you to find those that are outsiders, that are on the margins that nobody else is inviting, how willing are you for them to end up at your table or is your table too fixed?… There may not be a giant piece of wood down at the bottom of your yard behind a shed, but there has to be a plan to say, How can I make room for more? Because at this table of Jesus, there is always room for more. Is your table available? And who will you make room for? Will you make room at your table?
God is good. He loves us very much indeed and He longs to welcome us to sit wit him at His table.