Verse 6 and following of Romans 5: “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” That is an incredibly amazing statement: “Christ died for the ungodly.” Verse 10: “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God.” Christ died for the ungodly. We were reconciled to God while we were enemies. And then verse 8 says it: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Therein lies the uniqueness of the gospel. Uniqueness of the gospel is this: salvation is offered, and salvation is possible only for the ungodly, and only for sinners, and only for enemies. It’s a stunning statement that Christ died for the ungodly.
With that in mind I want you to see an illustration of this in Luke chapter 5. So let’s go to Luke 5, and we’ll be there for the rest of the afternoon – we wish. I want to show you an illustration of how Christ died for sinners, how God redeems the ungodly.
In Luke chapter 5 we come to verse 27, and we read, “And after that He” – being the Lord Jesus – “went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi” – or Matthew – “sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ And he left everything behind, and got up and began to follow Him.
“And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax collectors and other people who were reclining at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?’ And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’”
Verse 32 sums up the essence of what I read from Romans chapter 5. Salvation is offered by God only to sinners, only to self-confessed wicked people, not those who consider themselves good or good enough. And by the way, that reality is opposite every religion in the world because all religions offer salvation to those who are good. God only saves the self-confessed wretched and wicked. That is an utterly devastating truth that in itself exposes every satanic false religion. Again, all false religion offers salvation deceptively, but offers salvation to those who are good enough to receive it.
The uniqueness of the Christian gospel starts with the fact that there’s only one Savior, and that’s Christ, and there’s no salvation apart from Him, right? Listen to the Word of God. John 14:6, “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father but by Me.’” Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” Or John 20:31, “These have been written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, and believing might have life in His name.”
Or 1 Corinthians 16:22, “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be cursed.” Galatians 1:8, “If anyone preaches any other gospel, he is to be cursed!” Or 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all.” Or 1 John 2:1 and 2, “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” Or 1 John 5:11, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.”
He who has the Son has life, He who does not have the Son of God does not have life. And one text to add to those is in the tenth chapter of Romans, and you have to start at verse 9 to hear the singularity of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord,” – Romans 10:9 – “and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” That’s the exclusivity of salvation based on faith in Christ, in His resurrection, confessing Him as Lord.
“For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness; with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. The Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’ There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; for ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? How will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they’re sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!’ However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah said, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ – then this – “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”
There is no other Savior than Jesus Christ. Christianity’s the only true faith, all the rest are lies. But the second distinctive apart from the identity of Christ as the one Savior is the fact that God only saves those who are unworthy of salvation. That is so counterintuitive. Salvation comes only through the Lord Jesus Christ by faith in Him, and only to those who are unworthy of it.
This last couple of weeks there was a new survey of evangelicals done by LifeWay. This is another survey, they do them every year, and one of the questions on the survey – this is a survey of evangelicals – was, “True or False: God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.” That was the question. Fifty percent of the evangelicals said, “True. True.” Is that true? Then whatever evangelism means, it doesn’t mean what it should mean.
In the Second Vatican Council back in 1960, there was a statement made and affirmed since then by the Roman Catholic Church. I’ll give you words from the pope who came out of the second Vatican Council. This is the statement: “The gospel teaches that those who live in accordance with the Beatitudes and who bear lovingly the sufferings of life will enter God’s kingdom.” End quote. So it’s the good people. Peter Kreeft, Roman Catholic apologist, said this: “The heathen are saved if they live good lives and are sincere.”
I remember reading these words: “I think everybody who loves Christ or knows Christ, whether they are conscious of it or not,” – whatever that means – “whether they come from the Muslim world or the Buddhist world or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they’re members of the body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know they need something. I think they’re saved and are going to be with us in heaven. They need something.”
An apologist who defected after he started out a ministry as a – at least trying to make people convinced he believed in the Word of God, ended up his career by saying this: “When we approach the man of a faith other than our own, it will be with a spirit of expectancy to find out how God has been speaking to him, and what new understanding of grace and love from God we may discover from this encounter. Our first task in approaching another religion is to take off our shoes because the place we are approaching is holy. We may forget that God was there before our arrival.” And then he closed that paragraph with this: “God has more going on by way of redemption than what happened in first century Palestine.”
Raimon Panikkar wrote a book called The Unknown Christ of Hinduism. He said, “The good and bona fide Hindu is saved by Christ and not by Hinduism. But it is through the sacrament of Hinduism through the message of morality and the good life that Christ saves the Hindu.” Bizarre, completely deceptive statements.
But the idea of all religions is that God, whoever they perceive Him to be, will save the good people – right? – the moral people, the devout people, the religious people. This is the most wide spread lie of Satan on the planet, that salvation comes to good people, whatever religion. That is Satan’s lie. It isn’t even true for Judaism at its most devout level. Judaism does not save, not the Judaism that we find characteristic of the scribes and Pharisees.
In Matthew chapter 23 Jesus looked at the scribes and Pharisees and said, “You’re hypocrites. You shut off the kingdom of heaven from people. You don’t enter in yourselves, nor do you allow any others to enter in. Woe to you, hypocrites!” He says it over and over. “Woe to you, blind guides, fools, blind men.” He says “blind men” again. “Woe to you, hypocrites, blind guides. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,” over and over and over and over. And then He closes His diatribe, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?” They were the most religious Jews, and they were on the way to hell, and they were producing other sons of hell.
That is always the lie of false religion, that God lets into heaven the good people. That is not what Jesus said. Go back to the text of Luke chapter 5. “I have not come to call the righteous,” – the good people – “but sinners to repentance.” This has always been the good news, that salvation is not for the people who are good, and the reason is because no one is – what? – good. There’s none righteous, no, not one,” – Romans 3 – “there’s none who understands, there’s none who seeks after God; they’re all gone astray.”
Salvation is not for those who imagine that they’re worthy of it, who imagine they are righteous or pretend to be; salvation is for wicked people. And in Luke chapter 5 I read you a marvelous illustration of that: the shocking, unforgettable story of Levi, or Matthew.
Now let’s go back to the text of Luke 5 as the account begins. We are walking away with Jesus, as we pick it up in verse 27 where I read, from a house in Capernaum where He had healed a man who was a paralytic and forgiven his sins. Now Jesus is walking with His friends along the lakeshore, and He’s followed by a huge crowd that dogged His steps in fascination and wonder. We know that from Mark’s parallel passage. So it is on the way by the Lake of Galilee that the Lord has His next divine appointment: He meets a sinner. In fact, He meets a sinner who would be regarded as the worst of all sinners, the worst possible kind of sinner. His name is Levi. So let’s pick up the story.
“After that He went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi sitting in the tax booth,” – and we need to stop there for a moment. Sometimes in the translation of the New Testament the word is not “tax collector”; might be “publican,” – you’ve seen that word – “publican.” What is so bad about being a tax collector? Please don’t respond, I know there’s – I’m thinking biblically rather than the current IRS.
Matthew calls himself “Matthew.” Mark, who gives you a parallel account, uses “Levi.” That’s not unusual. Many, like today, had two names. The apostle Simon Peter, Bartholomew Nathanael, Thomas Didymus. Matthew means gift of Jehovah; so if he had a choice, Matthew would use that name, and he did. And by the way, Matthew humbly refers to himself only two times in his gospel, only two times: once in telling this story and the other time in giving a list of the apostles. Matthew was extremely humble. He doesn’t say anything in the gospel narratives. He wrote the gospel of Matthew, but prior to that he didn’t say anything that’s recorded. He was a tax gatherer.
Now in the view of the Jews the tax gatherers were the sons of hell. There were lots of reasons why. If you go to the fifteenth chapter of Luke and you look at the opening, “Now all the tax collectors” – all of them – “and the sinners were coming near Jesus to listen to Him. But the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” So it very likely began with the call of Matthew. John the Baptist had attracted some interest from tax collectors and sinners. But this is Jesus, and He comes to this man named Levi, or Matthew, and says, “Follow Me. I want you to be one of My followers.”
Now this poses the question, “Who will the Lord save? Who will the Lord save?” The scribes and the Pharisees were the ones who thought themselves to be religious and thought themselves to be the representatives of God. And you heard what Jesus called them: sons of hell, hypocrites, blind leaders of the blind, snakes. So here is one that they would have deemed the real sinner, the worst of sinners; and I’ll tell you why.
Rome occupied the land of Israel. Rome had conquered Israel and had taken over. There were Roman soldiers everywhere. There was Pilate whom the Jews hated and tried to blackmail on numerous occasions. There was Herod the Idumean who was a petty king who also ruled over the Jews. He was a non-Jew. They hated this because they basically hated the Gentiles. When a Jew went out of the land of Israel into a Gentile area when coming back across the border into Israel he would shake the dust off his feet so he didn’t drag any Gentile dust back into the Holy Land.
The Romans exacted taxes from the people they conquered; and they basically ruled the world during the time of the New Testament. They sold tax franchises to Jewish traders, traders to their people, who would then be paid by Rome to take taxes from the people. The year would come to an end, the tax gatherer would pay the government, and whatever the tax gatherer had gotten over that was his take. There were fixed taxes that the Romans set. There were poll taxes – just the kinds of taxes that you paid when you went out and back into the country, bringing something out or something in like a duty on some kind of import or export. There were various land taxes and grain taxes and other products that were taxed by the Romans. But the Romans set a figure for the annual pay that the tax collector had to give the Roman government. Whatever you could get over that you kept.
The people hated paying taxes to Rome, and so in order to get the taxes out of the people you had to have a bunch of thugs around you to make sure that if they didn’t pay their taxes you broke their legs or whatever else. The Jews who took these Roman tax franchises were guilty of larceny and extortion and exploitation. They could basically stop people anytime, anywhere and put a tax on whatever they had in their hands, arbitrarily tax them. They were surrounded by enforcers and the rest of the riff-raff of society – all the people who were unsynagogued, who couldn’t go to the synagogue.
The Jews who did this were the most hated of all Jews. Matthew Levi was such a wretched traitor. He extorted. He took bribes from rich Romans. He abused his own people. He served the pagan idol-worshiping Gentiles. And, of course, the Jews believed that only one God was the true God and all idols were blasphemous. And so here you have a Jew making money by serving idolaters and taking the money from the worshipers of the true God.
As I said, they were barred from the synagogues. They were actually identified with unclean animals. Such stigma was applied to them. They were not allowed to testify in court. They were classed with prostitutes and robbers; and that’s why you see sometimes tax gatherers and the collective word “sinners,” or tax gatherers and prostitutes. All the riff-raff, all the outcasts hung around together with the tax collectors.
There was a general kind of tax collectors. There were two kinds, and this is fascinating history. The general one was called a gabbai, which was G-A-B-B-A-I, a word that basically identified somebody who collected the regular taxes – the ground tax, the income tax, the poll tax, import/export tax – and then beyond that, could extort anything he wanted. We meet one of those in the nineteenth chapter of Luke; his name is Zacchaeus, and he basically extorted money from people and became extremely wealthy. We’ll look at him in a moment.
But there was another kind of tax collector than a gabbai called a mokhes. This was particularly for everything that was bought and sold – every road, every bridge, every harbor, the duties in all the towns. And then they invented taxes on animals pulling carts, and on the number of axils, the number of wheels, the number of pack animals, the number of packs, the number of pedestrians; the roads, the markets, the ships, the packages. They taxed letters that were carried back-and-forth. It was the mokhes who were the criminals, perhaps the worst of the criminals among the tax collectors. By the way, they were so bad that the Talmud allowed the Jews to lie to them to protect themselves. They would say, “A gabbai could never be forgiven. A mokhes could never ever receive favor from God because they were attached to blasphemous Gentile idolaters.”
In the eighteenth chapter of Luke you have this wonderful story where Jesus says, “There were two men” – verse 10 – “who went up into the temple to pray, one was a Pharisee and the other is a tax collector.” Here’s the perfect illustration: “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself,” – and that’s what legalists do; they don’t talk to God, they just talk to themselves because they are god. “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.’” When you’ve gone below swindlers, unjust, and adulterers, you get to the bottom and that’s the tax collector.
“Proudly praying to himself, the Pharisee says, ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’” So whose God going to save? “I tell you this,” – said Jesus, verse 14 – “this man went to his house justified rather than the other.” Who received salvation? The Pharisee? No, the sinner, because God came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Levi would be called by the title “a little mokhes.” These were the worst. The big mokhes would have a lot of little mokhes people working for him at various tax offices. The little guy was the guy who sat and actually took the money. So he was the most hated person in Capernaum and in Galilee and everywhere in Israel.
Jesus noticed him, this little mokhes, sitting in his tax booth extorting money. He noticed him. He said to him, “Follow Me.” That is an explicit command: “Follow Me.” Why would He call him to be one of His disciples? This is scum. This is the worst of the worst. Jesus knew Matthew’s heart. Nobody needed to tell Jesus what was in a man’s heart, He knew what was in the heart; it says it in John 2.
Jesus lived around the area of Capernaum in Galilee; Matthew worked there. And Jesus, when He saw him, wasn’t just familiar with who he was – maybe He was, maybe He wasn’t – but He could read his heart. And what He saw was a broken heart, a penitent heart, and a heart of faith. Jesus knew that Matthew had been exposed to His ministry in that area, and that Matthew not only recognized who He was, but that Matthew recognized his own wretchedness. And it wasn’t just the social stigma of being a tax collector, it was the deeper wretchedness before God, the hopelessness of the one that I just read you about who pounds on his chest and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
And it says in verse 28, “He left everything behind, and got up and began to follow Him.” This is the end of his career, and he steps into following Jesus and can’t ever go back, can’t ever go back, because somebody else will snap up his tax franchise very fast.
Very different than the fishermen who were called; they could always go back to fishing. But Matthew could never go back. The obedience of Matthew to the call of Christ was a greater act of faith and devotion than those fishermen. They could go back, and they did go back – or at least they tried to go back, but the Lord rerouted the fish; but they couldn’t catch them. But for Matthew there was no return.
Listen, this is transformation. We don’t hear the story of Matthew’s faith. We don’t hear the story of Matthew’s penitent heart. But we don’t need to. Jesus said, “Follow Me,” and he left everything behind and got up and began to follow Him. He became a follower of Jesus, the most wretched sinner in the eyes of that society.
This is real transformation; he turned his back on everything: decisive break, regenerated; new mind, new will, new heart. He hadn’t sought out Jesus like the paralytic had in the previous incident, but Jesus knew his heart was broken. He was penitent, and he was forgiven by the Lord, something that the perverted apostate system of Judaism would never have offered to a tax collector. When Jesus called him, his response is immediate.
Matthew Levi, traitor, extortioner, robber, outcast, crime boss, became the apostle and the evangelist of Jesus Christ who wrote the first gospel. He must have been absolutely speechless. He lost a temporal career in what was deemed unjust and unrighteous crime, he gained an eternal destiny. He lost material possessions, he gained a spiritual future. He lost earthly security, he gained heavenly inheritance. He lost sinful companions, and gained the Holy Son of God. He understands that Jesus came to save sinners. He doesn’t say anything here, and it's probably because he was speechless.
Now how do we know this really happened? Because verses 31 and 32 is the commentary on what had just happened: “And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’” Here was one who was sick and knew he was sick, here was one who was a sinner who desired to repent, and the commentary in those two verses indicates what happened in his soul.
Levi’s response was joy. Verse 29: “Levi gave a big reception for Jesus in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax collectors and other” – fill in the blank: scum – “who were reclining at the table with them.” With the joy of his salvation, lighting a fire in his heart, Matthew’s desire was to do what: immediately tell everybody he knew. It was a pretty bad crowd. The joy of his conversion, his desire was to introduce everyone to the Savior; and he knew that if the Savior would save him, He could save them.
A big reception. A big reception. That means he had a big house. That means he was good at extorting money. Lavish banquet. And he spent his money in honor of Jesus Christ, and he did this to bring all of his sinful friends into the place where Jesus could influence them. So all the little mokhes and the big mokhes and the gabbai and all the unholy scum around Galilee showed up. They were sinners, and they’re called “other” by Luke: thieves and thugs and enforcers and drunks and prostitutes, the riff-raff of society. Imagine, they are personally dining with the Son of God.
If you know anything about the ancient Middle East, when you sat down and reclined at dinner with someone that was an evening of fellowship; and in doing that very thing, you affirmed your friendship. Jesus was affirming His friendship with them. It says they were reclining at the table together, Jesus with them. That is why Jesus became hatefully labeled, Matthew 11:19, as the friend of tax gatherers and sinners. And as I say, it may have started right here with this evangelistic farewell dinner as Matthew was leaving his old life behind.
For a moment, turn to Luke 18; and I want to remind you of this – I just read it to you – verse 14. It was the tax collector beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner,” who went home justified, not the Pharisee. That takes you into chapter 19 and this incredible story of Zacchaeus.
“Jesus entered Jericho, was passing through. There was a man called by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.’” I mean, this is absolutely outrageous behavior, outrageous. He’s going to go and recline at a meal with a tax collector who is filthy rich because he’s extorted money from people in the service of blaspheming idolatrous Rome.
“Well, he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. And when they saw it, they all began to grumble, ‘Oh, He’s gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I’ll give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.’” Well I can tell you he had if he was going to be able to give back four times as much.
“And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, for he, too, is a son of Abraham.’ – and then this wonderful statement – ‘For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was’ – what? – ‘lost.’” I mean, you could boil down the whole hostility of Jesus’ life to His attitude toward the wretched people. That’s why they hated Him. That’s why they killed Him, because He called the righteous people whitewashed tombs, and He was at home with sinners.
Do you understand this is what makes Christianity distinct? Every other religion in the world promises a relationship to God to the good people. That is Satan’s most ubiquitous lie. Jesus promises salvation and gives it only to those who are self-confessed, wretched sinners.
In 1 Timothy 1 you have this remarkable testimony by Paul. Verse 12: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am” – what? – “chief.” Do you see how distinct this is from religion?
Now back to Luke 5. So the Pharisees are furious, verse 30: “The scribes began grumbling, complaining.” It’s actually an onomatopoetic word, gogguzō: “Rah, rah, rah, rah, rah, rah.” Sounds like it means. “And so they went to His disciples and they said,” – in verse 30 – ‘Why do You eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?’”
They never got over the fact that He condemned them and they were the most religious, and He provided salvation and fellowship for those who were the most wretched. They had morality, but they didn’t have holiness. They were concerned with externals. They were concerned with what people could see. They were moral, but they didn’t know what holy was. When they pushed their morality on people they were making them – listen – sons of hell, not sons of heaven. Jesus was making bad people holy, the Pharisees were making bad people worse.
This is a stinging rebuke: “Jesus answers and said to them, ‘It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick.’” Very simple, obvious analogy: it is not those who are well or think they’re well; those who are sick who need a physician.
All through His ministry this conflict raged and raged and raged. Their enemies, the Pharisees and scribes thought, had to be God’s enemies. So Jesus, since He was part of the riff-raff, He had to be an enemy of God as well. He had to be the devil’s agent. Oh, what He was doing, they said, was done by the power of Satan. They were the righteous, and Jesus and His lowlife friends were the wicked; and it was so obvious that they needed to kill Jesus for God’s sake, because the righteous work would be to kill this man who was such a lover of lowlife sinners.
And again, I just point out to you that this is the uniqueness of the gospel. He came to save the lost. He came to save those who were self-confessed sinners. The Pharisees, religious people, any of them – they’re into self-righteousness, proud of their religiosity into external ritual sacraments, ceremony, holding tightly to tradition, loving the approval of men, really good at carrying out ritual, making a show in the flesh.
But the story really can’t end there, because this is leads to really a fascinating response. Go back to verse 33: “They said to Him, ‘The disciples of John often fast and offer prayers, the disciples of the Pharisees also do the same, but Yours eat and drink. What’s wrong with you people? You are having a party. Don’t You get it? We fast.’ – like the guy in the eighteenth chapter, right? “I fast, I tithe.” – ‘We fast. What’s wrong with You? You don’t get it. Religion is about fasting, and it’s about praying, it’s about all those duties. And all You do is eat and drink. You’re having a party. Don’t You know that religion is very severe, very serious, very demanding? Must be some self-sacrifice.’”
Jesus responded this way: “You cannot make the attendants of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you?” What a simple, profound answer. “You don’t fast at a wedding, do you?” This is really a parable He’s telling them. He’s saying to them again in verse 36 a parable, an illustration: “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it in an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it’ll be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.”
What is He talking about? They’re saying to the disciples of Jesus, “Look, look, look; you have to, you have to fast, you have to pray; you can’t let go of these standards. You have to hold onto this.” They would, I suppose, say, “Well okay, maybe we grant you that there’s an element of grace in salvation, but it has to be partnered up with law. You have to do these things.” And Jesus says, “First of all, this is a time for celebration, because though you don’t know it, the Bridegroom is here. The Son of God is here,” analogically speaking. And then He gives a deathblow to any compatibility between salvation God’s way and salvation any other way. It’s just a powerful, powerful couplet of illustrations.
“No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment, puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old.” Simply: you can’t stitch the gospel of grace into old Judaism. You can’t make the gospel a patch in a works system. Jesus did not come to merge Judaism with Christianity. He did not come to patch the old system. Jesus is saying, “This is completely separate from the apostate Judaism of that time, which continues even into this time.” The gospel of repentance and the gospel of grace to self-confessed sinners cannot be mixed with any religion of ritual or good works. The old garment here is the Judaism of that age. Here is gospel uniqueness. Grace cannot be merged with law; it’s new.
And then He gives that second illustration about putting new wine in old wineskins; and all that will do will be burst the wineskins and the new wine will spill. He uses the word “new” in that little section seven times, seven times. You can’t merge the new into the old. No mixture of the gospel and any works religion is possible since all works system are from hell. He says, “It’s hard for you to take that,” and He says that in the language of verse 39: “You’ve been drinking the old wine so long you’re not wishing for new. You say the old is good enough.” They clung to their Judaism.
The gospel of grace stands alone. Galatians 5:4, we read, “For you have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” Did you get that? The Christian gospel stands alone uniquely. The way of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is incompatible with any other religious system. Faith and faith alone.
But it’s hard for people to give up their religion – isn’t it? – because it’s very hard to give up your self-righteousness. That’s what verse 39 means: “You’ve been drinking the old wine of self-righteousness so long you don’t have any appetite for the new. You say, ‘Well, the old has been good enough, and we think it’s still good enough.’” And what happened? The Pharisees and the leaders of Israel looked at Jesus and said, “We don’t want Your new wine, we don’t want Your gospel of grace, we want our self-righteousness,” and they killed Him to stop Him from preaching that message.
Christianity is not compatible with any other religion, and all other gospels are false and damning. If 50 percent of evangelicals think God accepts worship from Judaism and Islam, that will tell you whatever evangelicalism is, it doesn’t even know the truth of the gospel.
And I say to you, dear friend, there’s no salvation in religion, there’s only salvation when you realize you’re not worth saving. And it’s all an act of mercy: when you come to the end of yourself and you beat on your own chest and say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner, and save me,” when you cry out for grace, when you come with nothing in your hand.
They loved their Judaism. Oh, they loved their old traditional wine. They cultivated a taste for it, and the taste had taken over. They loved it. They loved their religion because it was self-satisfying to think that they could achieve a relationship to God. That is the devil’s lie. The only people reconciled to God are those who are self-confessed sinners who in desperation cry out to Him, “Save me! Be gracious to me, O God. Save me; I cannot save myself.”
The Judaism of Jesus’ time was very satisfying stuff. False religion always is, right? It’s all over the world; very satisfying. How sad. How sad.
Perhaps some words recorded by Matthew would be a good place to close. Teaching of Jesus in chapter 13: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure,” verse 44. “The kingdom of heaven” – salvation – “is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
These two parables are so simple, and yet so profound. If you want true salvation, if you want to be part of the kingdom of heaven, you have to sell all your old self-righteous religion. You have to become a poor prisoner, blind and oppressed. You have to have a Beatitude attitude, that you’re spiritually bankrupt, you’re poor, you’re empty, you’re hungering and thirsting for what you know you don’t have.
I’ve shown you, as you probably have been shown a number of times, that the treasure is Christ and salvation, the pearl is Christ and salvation, and it will be given to those who let go of everything else. Again, borrowing those words of Paul: “If you hold onto any works you’ve nullified grace.” And so I call on you to let go of any supposed sense of your goodness, your righteousness, and realize that your righteousness in God’s eyes is filthy rags. But that’s exactly where you need to be, because that’s when you can receive the salvation He offers only to sinners.
Our Father, we thank You for the truth of Your precious Word. There’s really no mistaking its realities. Thank You for opening our hearts and minds to understand it so that it is that which we most love. We love You. We love Your truth. We love Your people. We love Your church. We love because You first loved us. And You loved us when we were unlovely. You made us sons when we were enemies. You granted us the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith when we were wretched sinners. And it was all of grace. It always is grace upon grace upon grace, so that we are what we are by Your grace. We have nothing to boast of. No one’s salvation is a result of any moral achievement, any religious ritual, any human goodness. The best of that all rolled together is filthy rags.
And so we thank You that one day You noticed us like You noticed Levi, and You saw our hearts broken over sin and longing for forgiveness, and You said, “Follow Me,” and we left everything. We sold everything to buy the pearl, to buy the treasure, the priceless treasure of eternal salvation. And now we will through all of our lives and even through eternity praise and glorify You for such abounding grace. And, Lord, I would ask that You would save sinners even this day, even now, that You would notice them, and You would see the penitent heart, the broken heart, and You would bring redemption to that heart, and that You would cover that sinner with Your righteousness.
We thank You that we have had the very righteousness that You posses imputed to us, credited to us, by grace through faith in Christ, that it’s His righteousness that covers us. And that’s why we are here worshiping You, out of gratitude; and we’re seeing that not only have we had Your righteousness imputed to us, credited to our account as if we were righteous, but You are gradually making us more righteous, as You sanctify us and move us into the image of Your dear Son. Thank You for these precious people. Accomplish Your great work in every heart; and we’ll thank You, in the Savior’s name. Amen.
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