Around 401 A.D. a 16 year old young man was taken captive by barbarian pirates and carried off to Ireland. There he was forced to work on a farm as a day laborer and a shepherd. About six years after being kidnapped, the young man escaped and return home. Upon his return, however, he became burdened to go back to Ireland. He desired to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with his captors. This young man, who later on in history came to be known as Saint Patrick, then traveled back to Ireland, told his former enemies about the person and work of Jesus Christ, and in the process played a major role in the transformation of that particular society.
The Gospel’s scope is very particular. It is intended for and directed at a very specific person. Mark 2:13-17 identifies who that person is. This account begins with Jesus and a crowd of his followers taking a stroll along the Sea of Galilee’s shoreline. Verse 14 reports that during their walk they came upon “Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth.” Levi would have been immediately known to the crowd that was following Jesus. First of all, in being a tax collector, Levi was a known traitor. He was employed by Israel’s foreign overlords, the Roman Empire. It was his job to collect taxes from his countrymen and send them to Caesar. Secondly, Levi was known as an extortionist. In collecting taxes, he also had to make a living. Any additional finances that he was able to secure from his fellow Israelites turned into his income. This was Levi’s reputation. He was a known sinner. And in verse 15 Jesus surprised the crowd by doing the unthinkable. He invited this known sinner to be one of his disciples. The text reports that Levi took advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity and immediately accepted Jesus’ personal invitation.
This is the scope of the Gospel. The Gospel is for known sinners. It is intended for people who the Bible identifies as God’s “enemies” and “children of wrath” (Rom. 5:10; Eph. 2:3). This truth compelled Patrick to return to Ireland in order to tell the Good News to sinners who he personally knew – his former captors. This truth inspires missionaries around the world who desire to see known sinners transformed by the person and work of Jesus Christ. This truth also ought to motivate Christians to walk across the street and share the Gospel with their neighbors.
Levi was blown away by Jesus’ invitation. Out of a deep sense of gratitude, he threw a huge party in Jesus’ honor. At this party, Jesus befriended Levi’s colleagues and friends – other known sinners. To say the least, the religious leaders took exception to Jesus’ attendance and involvement at party. Upon learning of their disgust, Jesus poignantly responded in verse 17 by saying, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” In the first part of his reply, Jesus stated the obvious. Only those who are sick go to the doctor. It is then in the second half of his response that Jesus used this logic to identify himself and his mission. Just as the sick are in need of a doctor, sinners are in need of a savior. With this reasoning, Jesus identified himself as the savior of sinners and, hence, justified his participation at Levi’s party.
Jesus came to save sinners. That was the scope of his mission. But even more specifically, Jesus came to save those who recognize their own sinfulness. Everyone at Levi’s party was well aware of their own reputation. Jesus was well aware of their reputation too. That is why he was there. He was there to save them. Levi’s house that night resembled a hospital, where the sick had come to see the doctor. Jesus arrived that night with the intention to heal them.
This Gospel is for known sinners. But even more specifically, the Gospel is for those who recognize their own sinfulness. Only when an individual comes to terms with his depravity can the Gospel truly begin to take root and exert its influence. Throughout history, God has utilized people who recognized that they are nothing more than sinners who are in desperate need of a savior. The Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 1:15 affirmed his depravity and Jesus’ deliverance when he said, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Saint Patrick too expressed an identical mindset. The first line of his autobiography reads, “I am Patrick, a sinner, most uncultivated and least of all the faithful and despised in the eyes of many.” This is the beginning of the Gospel. With this perspective in place, God is able to transform sinners into saints and, perhaps even, whole societies too while He’s at it!