I’m really hesitant to say this because some are going to misunderstand, but here goes: I hope you come to love Jesus, but give up on religion. Because Jesus sees people with the eyes of a doctor, while religion sees people with the eyes of a judge.
There’s a whole backstory about what drew me toward Jesus but away from religion. We’ll get to that, but first let’s go all the way back to an encounter between Jesus, a local guy who everyone had good reason to judge, and a bunch of religious folks.
The story is found in the New Testament book of Mark, chapter 2. Mark was a young guy who started out strong but flaked out when things got tough. Another follower of Jesus named Peter, who had blown it in his own past reached out to Mark and helped him find his way back. They became tight friends. And eventually, Peter sat down and told the whole story of his time with Jesus, while Mark wrote it all down. That’s how we got the book of Mark that you find in the Bible today. It’s the punchiest of the four biographies about Jesus and the most action-packed. Today’s story is no exception.
Here’s how it goes. Jesus is up in the hilly rural north country of Israel at a small lakeshore village. He’s been teaching huge crowds of people about God, using the sloped banks of the lakeshore like a natural amphitheater, sometimes even going out in a small boat so that his voice can echo up to all the people who have come to hear him.
Something about this guy strikes the average person as different and attractive.
- It’s not that he’s wearing the hippest clothes: Jesus was actually poor. He doesn’t so much as rent a home, no less own one.
- It isn’t that he’s got a made-for-TV celebrity’s face: we read elsewhere that there was nothing particularly physically attractive about Jesus.
- So what is it? Why did so many everyday people find themselves drawn to this passing-through, plainly-dressed teacher?
I think it has something to do with how he saw people. They picked up on this, and that’s what drew so many to Jesus.
Here’s how it plays out one day: after teaching the crowds down by the lakeshore, Jesus is walking through this rural town and he comes to a crossroad, an intersection. At that intersection sits a table and a guy named Levi, with a couple of armed Roman soldiers standing by and watching. He’s there to collect taxes.
No one likes paying taxes, right? But this was more than a tollbooth. This was an armed rip-off. Levi got a contract with the Roman government to take in a set amount of taxes per year.
- How much he charged people passing through, Rome didn’t care.
- How much this guy kept for himself every year, Rome didn’t care.
Levi was like the guys we keep hearing about who get caught with tons of hand sanitizer and N95 masks at jacked-up prices in the middle of a pandemic. That’s Levi. That’s how much the locals hate this guy—for good reason. But the armed Roman soldiers had his back. There was nothing you could do. Levi picked a number, and you had to cough it up.
All the merchants of Levi’s day hated him. Everyone knew he was a cheat, essentially stealing from you to enrich himself. Tax collectors back then were considered so disreputable, so dishonest, that they weren’t allowed to be witnesses in court. You just couldn’t trust them to tell the truth.
Mark implies that somehow before Jesus approaches, Levi has heard something about him. Maybe he snuck into the back of that lakeside crowd, just close enough to hear but without being ratted out.
Because here’s the plot twist; here’s what no one saw coming. Mark writes…
As [Jesus] walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. [for Jewish families, that’s how you would identify yourself, by who your father was] “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him.
Nobody expected this. They all saw Levi with the eyes of a judge. Jesus saw this man with the eyes of a doctor. So when Jesus comes along and says, “You, come with me. Follow me. Learn from me,” Levi walks away from the cash pile.
Those first few hours of hanging around Jesus turn into several days, and Levi begins changing inside. He starts telling the only people who have anything to do with him about his experience with Jesus: other tax collectors, con artists, prostitutes—everyone who people looked at with the eyes of a judge, Levi tells about how Jesus seems to look at people with the eyes of a doctor.
So they get curious. Religion has been nothing but bad for them. They don’t fit in and they know it. Religious folks make sure they feel that. They’re not welcome.
But this Jesus sounds different. So Levi decides to throw a big dinner party with all of his irreligious friends, inviting Jesus as the guest of honor. Here’s how Mark tells it:
“Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) The religion scholars and Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company and lit into his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with such scum?’” (Mark 2:15-16).
Ever meet a religious person like that? Yeah, unfortunately, I have, too. Can I ask you a question? I wish we were together so I could hear your answer. I’d really like to hear it. Here’s the question: What would you say to religious folks who questioned why Jesus would hang around morally corrupt people? What would you say?
I’m guessing more than one of you are saying or thinking something you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying in church. I get it. So does Jesus. Listen to what Jesus said back at those who lit into his followers. Mark writes…
When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
Jesus asks, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting the sin-sick, not the spiritually-fit.”
It’s all about how Jesus sees people—how he sees you and me and everybody else—with the eyes of a doctor, not the eyes of a judge. That capture isn’t original to me. I heard it from Don Sunukjian. It’s so spot on!
Because to be clear, Jesus could have gone after Levi for being the rotten cheat he was. Jesus was sinless, while Levi was without question trapped in sin. At that dinner party, Jesus could have blasted every prostitute and their clients and the con artists and liars and thieves and whatever other corruption they were into. He was without sin, seated among the self-acknowledged worst sinners in town—yet instead of seeing them with the eyes of a judge (which again, he could have), he looked into their souls with the eyes of a doctor. He came to heal, so that we don’t have to be judged.
Quick personal story: I volunteered in our local hospital from 7th through 12th grades, working in a bunch of different areas. Then I worked full-time in that hospital while I started college, and at the same time became an EMT in my hometown fire department.
So I got used to being around sick people, and people whose health had been damaged: stroke victims, my neighbor thrashing around with cirrhosis of the liver after decades of hard drinking, helping do gastric lavage for someone who had swallowed a bunch of pills to end his life but then changed his mind and walked into the E.R.
I also volunteered in a couple of mass-casualty exercises as a victim. A bunch of people would meet offsite away from the hospital to each be assigned an emergency medical problem. When everyone was prepped and ready, the director would call the Emergency Room to announce that a mass casualty role play was about to begin: the scenario in one case was that the bleachers had collapsed at a local high school football game, with multiple unknown injuries.
- I was taped up so that I appeared to be impaled on an object penetrating my abdomen.
- Another was a mass-shooting exercise where I was fitted with a device that gave the appearance of a sucking chest wound. I died in that simulation. No joke: the medical staff apparently didn’t act quickly enough or correctly, and so a supervisor stepped in to stop them and announced, “He’s dead. He just died.” All of a sudden it wasn’t so much fun to be part of that exercise.
Here’s why I’m telling you this: when we were rolled into the E.R. in the midst of a mass casualty exercise, the only thing we needed at that point was people who looked at us with the eyes of a doctor, not a judge. It didn’t matter how we got messed up.
The guy who swallowed a bunch of pills but then changed his mind? Sure, he would need other guidance once his stomach was emptied. But in that moment of crisis, the only thing he needed was someone to see him with the eyes of a doctor, not the eyes of a judge.
And because Jesus saw Levi with the eyes of a doctor, not the eyes of a judge, Levi was moved to change. Religion with its rules didn’t win Levi over: the Great Physician with his healing addressed what was so broken within that man.
It’s no secret that in our country today, the number of young people claiming no religious affiliation is on the rise. They’re sick of hypocrisy. They’re sick of the bad marriage between politics and Christianity. They’re sick of religious people who reject science on any number of matters. So they’re checking out. And who can blame them?! When Christians come across as hateful, ignorant fear-mongers, we’re looking at people with the eyes of a judge, not the eyes of a doctor. And that’s just. Not. Jesus.
- Religion…is for the pretend perfect, those who scrutinize others with the eyes of a judge. Jesus is for the rest of us.
- Religion weighs people down. Jesus lifts people up.
- Religion is more about rules. Jesus is more about relationship.
- Religion is big on appearance. Jesus is big on bringing us into God’s presence.
I grew up in a religious family. Attended church every week. But I walked away from it all when I was in high school because of the hypocrisy. I decided to just live for me.
A few years later, I found a couple of friends who looked a lot more like the Jesus we see hanging around Levi and his friends. They looked a lot less…like the hypocrites and the stereotypes. And when I hit a dark patch, they were there for me.
I know that they could have judged me or condemned me. They would have been right to judge some of my choices. But instead, they loved me. They listened. They welcomed me, like Jesus welcomed Levi. They saw me with the eyes of a doctor, not the eyes of a judge.
And I won’t pretend that I immediately started believing in a Jesus I can’t see or hear. What did happen is I got a modern-language Bible and started reading the Jesus parts. Like Levi, I started to get attracted to what I saw, like in today’s encounter. I discovered that Jesus never condemnedirreligious people who did bad stuff. The ones he did condemn were the religiously “stiff.”
Jesus didn’t touch politics with a ten-foot pole. Instead, he talked about another kingdom that he was inviting people into. He describes it as a kingdom where a father runs to his long-lost rebellious son and throws his arms around him and kisses him, then throws the mother of all parties and invites all the neighbors.
That Jesus is the real Jesus. Whether it was a sex worker or a swindler or a sleaze … Jesus reached out to them. It never embarrassed Him or made Him feel uncomfortable to go to and hang with them. That Jesus, I’m all in with. And I invite you to follow Him, too. I hope you come to love Jesus, but give up…on religion. Because Jesus sees you with the eyes of a doctor.
“Healthy people don’t need a doctor,” Jesus says—”sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
I know I’m a sinner. I’ve come to believe that Jesus is the Savior, the one who can make us right with God.
How does that happen? For me, it boiled down to two prayers. The first prayer was when I first started checking Jesus out. Religion had burned me, but I wanted to know if Jesus is real. So I prayed something like this:
God, if you exist, and I don’t know if you do,
And if you can hear me, and I don’t know if you can, I want to know you.
Please guide me as I seek out the evidence for who you are, from the life of Jesus.
The Bible says you promise that I will find you when I seek you with all my heart.
So help me to do that.
Help me to seek you, until I find you.
That was the kind of first prayer that got me started on the journey of coming to love Jesus, but walk away from religion.
The second prayer came a few months later, after I examined the evidence and became deeply convinced that Jesus is amazing, attractive, and alive. When that faith came, I prayed something like this:
Jesus, I need you in my life.
I have sinned against you in my thoughts, my words, and my actions. Forgive me.
Come into my life as Savior, and cleanse me of sin.
Come in as Lord, and lead me from this point on.
And I will serve you, as you give me strength, all the days of my life.
I have never regretted praying that prayer. I commend it to you. I commend Jesus to you. Not religion, but Jesus. He’s waiting for you, just as fully as he was waiting for Levi to say yes to his invitation back then.
Can I take a moment to pray for you? I invite you to receive this:
God, thank you for sending Jesus.
Thank you for how he saw Levi, and Levi’s friends, with eyes like a doctor rather than as their judge.
That gives us hope.
Hang around us, too, we ask.
Make yourself at home.
We need you. So many are scared, angry, confused, frustrated, all over the map emotionally.
We need your peace.
We need hope.
So we’re asking you for it.
Please come to each one listening, and meet them in a personal and powerful way.
Hear our prayer, Lord. Amen.
If you’re new to yChurch, welcome! We’d love to hear from you by way of the contact form on the church website. Just drop a line and introduce yourself: we want to know how we can help you today.
And if you’re blessed by this message, please share it on your social media. All we want to do is hold out the hope that’s available in Jesus—and see people with the eyes of a doctor, not the eyes of a judge.
God bless you today!