HOW CAN WE BRING WHOLENESS TO OUR NEIGHBORHOOD?
SERIES: JESUS, SAVIOR OF THE LOST
By Ron Ritchie
Three years ago I married a non-Christian couple who lived and worked in
our town, and in time we had the opportunity to meet most of their family
and friends. Since the bride's brother was in the wedding party it seemed
fitting a year later when he asked me to marry him and his fiance. I told
him I would marry them if they were open to the same Christian pre-marital
counseling I had offered his sister and brother-in-law. He agreed, and we
subsequently met at our home on several occasions to go through what the
scriptures say about marriage.
The wedding was held on the grounds of a large estate with about 250 people
in attendance. As I walked through the crowd I realized I had been given
a wonderful opportunity to share with this couple and the audience the good
news of Jesus Christ! The Holy Spirit was involved in that ceremony, and
I had more opportunities than I had time to share the love of Christ at
The best part of this story, however, was yet to come. About a month after
the wedding I received a phone call from the new husband asking my wife
Anne Marie and me to come to their house for a quiet, intimate dinner and
a time to view the videotape of the wedding. When we arrived at the house,
we were met by a wonderful aroma of Italian sauces coming from the kitchen.
Then we discovered that 21 of their relatives had been invited to our "intimate"
dinner! I was asked to sit at the head of the table and give the blessing
before the meal was served. The prayer prompted several of the relatives
to ask me spiritual questions, and we talked about the Lord throughout dinner.
Afterwards, we arranged our chairs in front of a big screen television they
had rented for the occasion to watch me once again present the gospel to
this captive audience. This sparked more questions about Jesus Christ, and
several wanted copies of the videotape.
As Anne Marie and I drove home we rejoiced over the many opportunities the
Lord had given us, and would continue to give us, each time we are willing
to show up and participate in God's wonderful plan of redemption in the
Age of the Spirit. It is a plan of redemption in which God wants to call
people out from among the Gentiles through you and me by the power of the
Holy Spirit (Acts 15:14).
This is but one of a number of experiences that many who are available to
be used by his Holy Spirit can relate as to how God is using them to bring
spiritual wholeness to our neighborhoods. We are not called to address the
emotional and spiritual problems that are weighing down the families in
our neighborhood by merely offering money and programs. God has called us
to be available to allow his sensitive and loving Spirit to flow through
us, bringing wholeness to our neighborhood by introducing people to Jesus
Christ as Lord and Savior.
How do we go about bringing wholeness to our own neighborhood?
I. Have eyes to see those who are sick, Luke 5:27-32
And after that He went out, and noticed a tax-gatherer named Levi, sitting
in the tax office, and He said to him, "Follow Me." And he left
everything behind, and rose and began to follow Him. And Levi gave a big
reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax-gatherers
and other people who were reclining at the table with them. And the Pharisees
and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, "Why do
you eat and drink with the tax-gatherers 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
Our Lord had just taught the Pharisees, and a crowd who had gathered in
a home in Capernaum, that he was the Messiah. As he taught he was able to
prove his claim. A paralytic was lowered through the roof by four friends
whose hope was that Jesus would have compassion on him and heal him. Based
on their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, "Friend, your sins are
forgiven you" (5: 20).
The Pharisees judged Jesus to be a blasphemer, for it was only God who could
forgive sins. Thus, they reasoned that Jesus was declaring himself to be
God, an offense punishable by stoning. Jesus then proved that he was God
incarnate, the Son of Man who had authority on earth to forgive sins, when
he said to the paralytic, "I say to you, rise and take up your stretcher
and go home." According to Matthew 9:8, all were filled with awe except
the scribes and Pharisees, although Christ had demonstrated his authority
over demons, sickness, and sin. In our passage today, he will demonstrate
his authority over the traditions in Judaism that were weighing down the
people of Israel.
Note how the Lord reacted to the crowd that was glorifying God in 5:26.
He did not stay around for personal praise. He did not follow the healed
man home, nor did he stay and argue with the stunned Pharisees and scribes.
Rather, he was motivated by his Father to continue ministering to those
suffering from illness or disability to whom his Father directed him.
All three synoptic gospel writers--Matthew, Mark, and Luke--place the calling
of Levi as the next pearl on the string of redemption stories. This passage
takes place in Capernaum as Jesus walked along the shoreline of the Sea
of Galilee. Capernaum had a Roman garrison and an "IRS" office
because of the heavy flow of commercial goods in and through this seaport.
There were many tax collectors in Palestine, and Jesus had seen several
of them during the year he spent in the small town of Capernaum. Yet the
Spirit led Jesus to notice this man Levi, a local Jewish tax collector.
His name in the other two synoptic gospels is given as Matthew, meaning
"gift of God." This gift of God had become one of the hated tax
collectors, Jews who were hired by the Roman government under the leadership
of Herod Antipas. They needed to speak the three current languages: Hebrew,
Greek, and Aramaic. Once hired they were known as "publicans,"
or public servants, and were considered to be on the lowest rung of the
social ladder because of their unscrupulous methods. The tax collectors
would estimate the worth of merchants' goods that flowed through the three
major cities in Israel, Caesarea, Jericho and Capernaum. Unfortunately,
the estimated tax was usually much higher then the goods were worth, so
in time the tax collectors acquired the reputation of being extortionists.
In Luke 3:12-13, the tax collectors came to John the Baptist to be baptized
and asked, "'Teacher, what should we do?'" And he said them, "Collect
no more than what you have been ordered to."
As a Jew, Levi was regarded by his fellow countrymen as being a publican
and sinner, as well as a renegade or traitor, for he was in the service
of the foreign oppressors. To make matters worse, tax collectors were hated
by their Roman employers as well. So their only friends were fellow tax
collectors and others on the same social scale--thieves, harlots and herdsmen--people
who were similarly hated by both the Jews and Romans.
In the seaport city of Capernaum, Levi was one of many who worked as a hired
hand for the chief tax collector. He was assigned a booth down by the port,
and thus was called a "custom house official" who collected duty
on imports and exports and tolls on roads, bridges and harbors from all
who passed through Capernaum on the Roman roads connecting Damascus to points
north, east, and west.
Although Levi must have heard of Jesus' ministry within the town limits
during that year, he was about to meet Jesus face-to-face. Levi's tax booth
was a picture of his physical, emotional, and spiritual life. Isolated by
the Romans and Jews alike, he was materially rich, but spiritually bankrupt--a
big house filled with fine furnishings; an empty heart filled with the memories
of unkept promises. He worked for a political enemy who held him in contempt
and cut him off from his spiritual family. In the midst of that mine-infested
no-man's land the Lord Jesus walked out of the home where a healing had
taken place and walked into the heart of Levi. With the same gracious invitation
he had offered his first disciples on the shores of Galilee, he called out
to Levi's waiting heart: "Follow me." It is obvious that Levi
was ready, for he left everything that was important to him, and began to
How do you bring wholeness to a neighborhood? First, you have to ask God
to give you eyes to see the people he wants you to minister to. Secondly,
you have to be willing to show up at the party! In response to Jesus' invitation
to him, Levi gave a big reception, and Jesus and his four disciples went
into the house where a great crowd was gathered. It was made up of people
who likewise were hated by the Romans and the Jews: other tax collectors,
harlots, shepherds, extortionists and thieves. This was Levi's social circle.
One of the most exciting things in God's plan of redemption is the fact
that whenever we have the privilege of encouraging someone to follow Jesus,
most new followers have families and friends who also need to hear about
the love the Lord has for them too! The wonderful thing about this story
is that our Lord was willing to show up at the party, for he had declared
on several occasions, "the Son of Man has come to seek and to save
that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). Here was a rich man who was willing
to give a big reception so as to introduce his new Lord and master to his
fellow tax collectors. The "old gang" would first be fed by Levi
and then the main speaker of the evening, "the very source of eternal
life," would be introduced and given opportunity to share his message
I had a similar experience a few years ago. We lived across the street from
John, a Mafia-type individual who was curious about our faith in Christ.
We developed a relationship with him and his "woman," and on several
occasions had them over for a meal. John knew we were followers of the Lord
Jesus, but he also had experienced the love of Christ through us during
some times of crises. One evening when he knew that his "woman"
and my wife were out of town, he invited me over to his house for dinner.
I thought that the Lord had set up a great opportunity to introduce him
to Jesus and to the gift of eternal life. So I looked forward to dinner.
When I arrived, the front door was open so I went into his home and was
immediately confronted with 10 rough-looking characters. They looked like
they had been in the house an hour before I arrived, and the smell of smoke,
wine and drugs was in the air. John told me to make myself at home while
he finished mixing the salad in the kitchen, so I went out to the living
room again and introduced myself to several of the men who were checking
me out. As we waited for the meal to be cooked my friend said in a loud
voice, "Hey, guys, be quiet a minute. I want you guys to meet my Jesus
Christ. Go ahead, Ron. Tell them." Stunned, I looked at him, and said
"Tell them what?" "Tell them about Jesus Christ like you
told me under the street light last week," he replied.
I knew what he was saying. Through Anne Marie and me he had seen the love
of Jesus Christ, not as perfect people, but as containers of the living
Christ. I was humbled by that evening. I left the home with my knees shaking
because I had shared the gospel with 11 people who needed to hear. I would
call them 11 tax collectors, those who are unacceptable in our society.
In John's society, however, they were just like him, needing the gospel
of Jesus Christ. What a moment! Depending on the indwelling power of the
Holy Spirit I was able to share of God's love, grace, and mercy to a room
full of publicans, sinners, and wine-bibbers. I do not know the end of the
story, but what a joy to be a page in their book of life within my own neighborhood!
Like all parties of this type, you find those who will rejoice with you,
but then there are the critics. The tax collectors and sinners were rejoicing
with Levi in his home while the Pharisees, who had not been invited, were
there to challenge some basic Jewish theology. These were the same people
who were in the house when the Lord healed the paralytic, and had not yet
In his book, The Christ of the Gospels, Dr. J. W. Sheperd wrote:
The Jews detested these publicans not only on account of their
frequent abuses and tyrannical spirit, but because the very taxes they were
forced to collect by the Roman government were a badge of servitude and
a constant reminder that God had forsaken His people and land in spite of
the Messianic hope, founded on the many promises of the ancient prophets.
The publicans were classed by the people with harlots, usurers, gamblers,
thieves and dishonest herdsmen, who lived hard, lawless lives. They were
just 'licensed robbers' and 'beasts in human shape.' According to rabbinism
there was no hope for a man like Levi. He was excluded from all religious
fellowship. His money was considered tainted and defiled anyone who accepted
it. He could not serve as a witness. The rabbis had no word of help for
the publican, because they expected him by external conformity to the law
to be justified before God.
This kind of thinking by the rabbis resulted in Levi being considered unclean
and unfit to fellowship in Jewish society.
The Pharisees' question was underlined with a challenge: "If Jesus
is really the Messiah, why is he associating with those hopeless sinners
instead of the religious community, namely us?" Jesus heard the question
and answered, "It is not those who are well who need a physician, but
those who are sick. I have not come to call righteous men but sinners to
repentance." The Lord came not as a person who desired to associate
with sinners for the fun of being with them. He came to them and was as
close as a doctor to a patient suffering from a disease. His motive was
not to catch the disease, but to heal the patient. That should be our calling
Matthew 9:13 gives us more insight into what Jesus was saying: "But
go and learn what this means, 'I desire compassion and not sacrifice' (Hosea
6:6) for I did not come to call the righteous [self righteous] but sinners
to repent." The prophet Hosea was calling the adulterous nation of
Israel back to the Lord. It was a nation filled with such abominations as
robbery and murder (6:9, 7:1,7) and these murderers and thieves would still
bring sacrifices to the temple, making them acts of pure mockery. Goodness
with respect to both God and man was what God desired, rather then merely
In the immediate situation our Lord was saying "there is none righteous,
no not one." Those who think they are righteous because they keep the
law are what the Lord called "self-righteous." Thus, he was essentially
saying, "I have called sinners to repent, and that includes you Pharisees
who are willing to see your sin of self-righteousness." The moment
they were willing to confess that sin they would be made righteous in Christ.
However, those Pharisees who refused to repent of their self-righteousness
remained sinners. The apostle Paul proclaimed, "For by grace you have
been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of
God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Ephesians
For several years my wife has poured the love of Christ into the hearts
of a "religious" couple in our neighborhood. As part of our ongoing
relationship with them, they have invited us to a black-tie Christmas party
at a large hotel in the city, an event with food, drink, and dancing to
a live band for about 200 of his friends who come from every walk of life.
I doubt that anyone at that party will be a follower of Jesus Christ, even
though his name may be used in vain a score of times during the evening.
The question is, should we go to such a party? You bet your lobster bib
we'll be there! Why? Because Jesus loves those people and he wants to reach
out to them during this season of redemption in and through people just
like us. Each time I hear his name sworn, it will allow me to tell them
that Jesus is alive and well, that he loves them, and has a wonderful plan
for their lives. What an opportunity!
How can we bring wholeness to our neighbors? Ask Christ to give you eyes
to see those who are sick and willing to get well.
II. Have a heart to teach those who are open to hearing, Luke 5:33-39
And they [Pharisees] 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.
These Pharisees had occasion to watch the disciples of John the Baptist
down in the wilderness of Jericho. What they saw was a group of men who
reminded them of their own disciples, men who understood the value of fasting
and prayers in the midst of an oppressed and corrupt society. John's disciples
fasted in repentance for their sins, and the Pharisees may have done the
same. But they saw Jesus' disciples eating and drinking. It seemed to them
a strange way to disciple men who had just come into a relationship with
the Messiah. In reality, Jesus was not opposed to fasting and praying. Had
the Pharisees known who he was they would have realized that he was a man
of prayer and fasting.
According to the Law, the Jewish calendar observed only one fast a year,
the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29-34). The Jews forsook eating and drinking
in order to spend uninterrupted time with God, and to promote faith and
good works. In time, however, they had added to the law and developed a
tradition of setting aside fasts every Monday and Friday. During the days
of the prophet Isaiah, some 700 years earlier, the Jews wanted to know why
God would not accept their fasting and answer their prayers. God answered
them through the prophet, essentially saying that their fasts were an outward
show, but their heart was far from him. He then defined for them the content
of a true fast: "Is this not the fast which I chose, to loosen the
bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed
go free, and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked to cover
him; . . . then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery
will speedily spring forth; and your righteousness will go before you. The
glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call and the Lord
will answer" (Isaiah 58:6f).
Jesus then used an illustration to differentiate between the old, current
Judaism and the new life one can experience in a personal relationship with
And Jesus said to them, "You cannot make the attendants
of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? But the
days will come; and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they
will fast in those days. (5:34-35)
Why would you want to fast at a celebration? You cannot make the attendants
of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? David
Gooding wrote in his book, "According to Luke":
For his disciples, his presence, his forgiveness, their release from spiritual
bondage, and the new vistas he opened up before them, made their joy like
that of a wedding banquet. To have imposed fasting on them at that stage
in their spiritual experience would have been highly incongruous and artificial.
There is no point in fasting just for the sake of fasting.
The Lord Jesus was saying to the Jews that he was the bridegroom, but he
would not always be there. Fasting was for the day when the bridegroom would
be taken away. Proclaiming our Lord's violent death on the cross, Isaiah
53:8 says, "By oppression and judgment he was taken away." This
resulted in days of mourning for his disciples (John16:16-22) until the
joy of the resurrection, the season of Pentecost some 50 days later, and
the giving of the Holy Spirit. Fortunately for the believer today, our bridegroom
is in us and with us, filling our hearts with righteousness, peace and joy
by the Holy Spirit. "For we know we have been saved by grace and not
by works, and we have been born again to a living hope" (I Peter 1:3).
Jesus subsequently gave two parables, illustrations from life experiences
which he used for two reasons. First, the parables were given to men with
open hearts towards the Lord and his ministry so that they might know and
understand the deeper mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. Parables were
the open door to deeper spiritual truth: "It is the glory of God to
conceal a thing; but the glory of kings is to search out a matter,"
says Proverbs. "The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but the
things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever"
(Deut. 29:29). God has revealed himself, and supremely so in his Son. The
Son, therefore, becomes the picture, the parable, where God himself is found
Secondly, as the Jewish leadership became more intent upon killing Jesus
and discouraging his followers, they were also demonstrating the truth of
Isaiah 6:9-10: "You will keep on hearing but will not understand; and
you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; for the heart of this people
has become dull, and with their ears they scarcely hear; and they have closed
their eyes lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their heart
and return and I should heal them." G. Campbell Morgan wrote:
Our Lord did not intend then in the use of the parable to prevent men seeing,
but to help them to see. He did not want to prevent them hearing, but to
quicken their power of hearing. He did not keep men away from the forgiveness
and the mercy of God, but He lured them towards it. . . . He is not hiding,
And He was also telling them a parable: "No one tears a
piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will
both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old."
Jesus used a parable of patching old clothes to illustrate that the mix
of old and new ruins both. The new is ruined because it has been torn to
make a patch for another garment; the old is ruined because it cannot be
matched. In this case the new garment is the new life people can have when
they place their faith in Jesus as Messiah, Son of Man, Lord and Savior.
That simple faith, rather than all the works required in the law and current
traditions developed by the Pharisees, would produce new hearts for the
believers. These new hearts would express themselves with the joy, love,
life and celebration, but certainly not fasting, that takes place at a wedding.
The old garment was and is Judaism and its traditions, while the new is
life lived in the Spirit and by the power of the Spirit. Once we come into
a relationship with the Lord Jesus, God the Father makes us "adequate
servants of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the
letter kills but the Spirit gives life" (II Cor. 3:6) To tear a new
piece of cloth from a new garment and try to patch an old piece of cloth
is like trying to mix traditionalism with the freedom of the Spirit which
a new believer has in Christ. It cannot be done.
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new
wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled out, and the skins will
be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after
drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, 'The old is good enough.'"
Wineskins were made of tanned sheep or goat skins. The hair was cut close
to the skin, and then it was turned inside out, with the neck opening as
the spout. If old skins were used for new wine, the fermentation process
would burst the skins, resulting in a loss of both wine and skin. New wine
must be put into new wineskins. The new is the life of Christ poured into
the sinner who has repented; now his life is full of newness, joy, and freedom.
Again, the old wine is legalism and tradition. Joyless fasting is not in
line with the salvation Jesus was bringing. The Pharisees' argument was
that the old was good enough, so they rejected the new, fresh, life-giving
teaching of Jesus. On the other hand, Matthew and many of his friends were
open to hearing the good news of salvation.
The Lord was not attacking the pure law of God as given through Moses, but
rather the Jewish traditionalism that covered the Law so that the Jews could
hardly find the truth. Dwight Pentecost writes, ". . . if men would
taste His wine, that is, if they would accept what He was offering them,
they would not want the old. However, the Pharisees, having tasted the
old, were satisfied with it, they had no desire for what He was offering
Jesus taught those who were willing to listen: Rejoice in the bridegroom,
your long-awaited Messiah is in your midst; there will be enough time for
fasting when he is taken away to the cross. Rejoice, for he has good news:
The old Judaism and its traditionalism is over and the new freedom in Jesus
the Messiah has arrived. The two different cloths cannot be sewn together.
The new wine and old wine will not mix; legalism and freedom in Christ will
not mix. You cannot have both, so choose one or the other; the issue is
the difference between death and life.
Unfortunately, when we look at verse 39, we see that the Pharisees chose
the old. They were continually saying, "We like the old way and we
do not want the new wine. We are used to the old wine. We do not want to
change." Making that kind of choice results in destruction because
old wine produces death.
While vacationing in southern France in October, Anne Marie and I were invited
by a French friend to have appetizers with his wife and her parents who
lived in the immediate neighborhood. It was clearly understood that it was
only for the appetizer between 7-8 p.m., not for dinner afterwards. These
people were going through the formality of being hospitable because we were
related to a friend, so they were putting up with us for an hour. After
some formal introductions and an initial period of coldness, the food and
drink were placed on the table and the conversation began to flow. They
all had been raised Catholic, but now were agnostics. They loved a different
god, not Jesus, and they were very interested in reincarnation. They had
heard that there were many Christians in the United States, and contrasted
us with the current French philosophy, which they expressed in the words,
"We are a nation running towards Sodom and Gomorrah."
I looked at my watch and it was 8 p.m. We knew that our time was up; we
had been dismissed before we even arrived. Then something wonderful happened.
The daughter said that her mother (who had been listening to the conversation
from the kitchen) wanted us to stay for dinner. For the next four and a
half hours my wife and I talked about God and Jesus Christ, the Common Market,
and 1992! They wanted to know my opinion about what was happening in Europe
and Russia, which led us into the topic of prophecy. With my wife interpreting
my English into French we swept back the dishes, and I arranged the salt
shakers and water glasses to help illustrate, beginning in Daniel, through
Matthew 24, and ending up in Revelation, God's great plan of redemption
that can only be experienced in Jesus Christ. At 12:30 a.m. they expressed
the desire to have some written material on this prophecy. After three kisses
on both cheeks per person and six kisses from their little daughter, we
finally began walking towards our car. The father gave me his address and
phone number and said, "I wish you lived in this neighborhood. I have
so many questions. Please send the books."
How can we bring spiritual health to our neighborhoods? Ask Jesus to give
us eyes to notice the sick and dying, and hearts to be willing to teach
the plan of salvation to open hearts.
Catalog No. 4129
Ron R. Ritchie
November 12, 1989
Copyright © 1989 Discovery
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