I am Poor and Needy (Luke 5:27-32)
Topic: Luke Passage: Luke 5:27–5:32
I am Poor and Needy
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
August 7th, 2016
I. What Sounds Good?
Do these situations sound pretty good to you? Hitting the home run that secures the championship for your softball team. Writing a book and having a big crowd turn out at your first book signing. Having a newly married couple compliment your marriage and eagerly seek your advice about their marriage. Receiving an award for your new small business from the local chamber of commerce. How do those sound to you?
How about these? Do these sound good to you? Being a paraplegic who needs help with all the basics, including bathing and using the toilet. Never learning how to read and needing to ask others for help with even the simplest signs and documents. Feeling like your marriage is falling apart and having to reach out to someone else for advice/help. Failing at a business venture and having to borrow money from friends and relatives. How do those sound to you?
I think it is safe to say that no one wants to be in any of those latter situations. But why not? Why not? Well, there are many things that make those circumstances very unattractive, right? But one that is common to all of those examples, one reality that scares us, one reality that repels us, is the fact that in all those situations we are...needy.
Needy. Do any of us want to be needy? Do any of us want to be thought of as needy? If you are needy in our society, does it, from the culture's perspective, make you a hero or a 'zero'?
This morning, I want God to help us, both you and me, to see neediness in a whole new light. My prayer is that we would have the eyes to see that any situation in which we are reminded that we are desperately needy is a good situation, for just that reason. Doesn't mean it's not a hard situation, but if it reminds us of our neediness, that's good. You see, here's my premise:
God's word teaches us that being needy is not a disgrace, but a reality to be embraced.
My hope is that all of us will leave here this morning with this confession on our lips: “I am needy”. And my hope is that we will embrace that truth as a good, good thing. So let's look at God's word together this morning and see if it supports my premise. Turn over to Luke 5.
II. The Passage: “Need of a Physician” (5:27-32)
This morning, I want to look with you at Luke 5:27-32. Listen as I read and think about what this passage teaches us about being needy. Luke 5, starting in verses 27...
After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.”  And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.  And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them.  And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”  And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
There are so many things we could talk about in light of this passage. But I'd like to camp on three ideas that I believe are central to the main point of this short account. And all of them are connected to this idea of being needy. For example, think with me about this first point...
1. Embracing My Neediness Lifts and Opens the Hands of My Heart
You may have picked up on the fact that verses 31 and 32 convey the main point of this story. They are the point of the blade that Luke is hoping will pierce the hearts of his readers. You see, in those verses Jesus is correcting the perspective of his critics. They have classified, they have separated the party guests into two camps: the holy and the unholy; the clean and the unclean. This is why they are surprised the supposedly holy Jesus is apparently aligning himself with unholy people.
But Jesus wants them to see that, yes, there are two camps of people present, but in reality, the two categories of people at this party are doctor and sick people. That's it. Doctor and sick people. How sick? Sick, sick. Extremely ill.
And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
In Levi's home that day there were spiritually sick people in need of a divine doctor's care. In Levi's house there were sinners in need of God's grace. It was a party of needy, needy people. And I believe the host of the party understood this. If Levi (also known as Matthew) did not see himself as a needy person, he would have never followed Jesus in the first place. Right? Remember, it says in verse 28 that Levi left “everything” to follow Jesus.
But think about this: as a tax collector, Levi would not have been considered “poor and needy”. In terms of socio-economics, there were many “poor and needy” people in Israel at this time. The whole Old Testament has lots to tell us about the “poor and needy” and God's concern for the “poor and needy” and the concern the Israelites were to have for the “poor and needy”. But that wasn't Levi. He had means. Ill-gotten means, but he had means.
But I believe Levi had come to understand what King David understood. Levi acknowledged what David acknowledged four different times throughout the Psalms. Just listen:
As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God! (Psalm 40:17)
But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay! (Psalm 70:5)
Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. (Psalm 86:1)
For I am poor and needy, and my heart is stricken within me. (Psalm 109:22)
Do you see what David is saying. He is not making a statement about his socio-economic position. He is making a statement about his situational and spiritual desperation. But he is using economic language about lack to describe his own desperate situation. We do this same thing when we talk about someone being “morally bankrupt”. Economic language.
Jesus did this when he announced in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) Paul did the same thing when he wrote this to the Corinthians: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (II Cor. 8:9) In an incomparable way, the poverty of Jesus, that is, the suffering of Jesus, has brought eternal wealth to our spiritual poverty.
And as many of us saw in out study of the Revelation, Jesus, through John, spoke to the Laodicean church about how their confidence in material wealth, in stuff, was blinding them to their spiritual condition: For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. (Rev. 3:17). Is that you/me?
You see, the whole point of what Jesus is saying both in Revelation 3 and in Luke 5, is that sin sickens our souls by deceiving us about our neediness. We'll unpack that deception in our next two points. But in light of this first point, it's enough to say that we cannot move forward spiritually unless we, like David, like Levi, unless we acknowledge that we are sick; that we are needy. This is the “repentance” to which Jesus calls us according to verse 32.
And when we do this, the hands of our heart are open and ready to receive what needy people like us need. And that brings us to our second point this morning.
2. Embracing My Neediness Brings Me to Jesus' Table
Did you hear the Good News, did you hear the gospel being announced in this passage? It's right there in those main verses, in 31 and 32. The bad news is that we are “the sick”. That's us. But the good news is right there in that same sentence: God has provided a Physician.
Now I don't know what kind of relationship you have with your doctor. I don't know what kinds of experiences you have had with doctors in general. I would guess many people think about their relationship with their doctor as being clinical. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
But I say that because I want us to see the difference here. This doctor, this physician goes to a “great feast” with us; he reclines with and eats with soul-sick people like us. Isn't that astonishing? Levi must have understood this, at least in some way. He clearly doesn't see any problem with hosting a big party for Jesus and then inviting fellow tax collectors and others who were labeled “sinners” by the religious elite. If Levi was invited, all must be welcome.
You see, I believe Levi understood that Jesus was exactly what a needy man like him needed. As we mentioned earlier, he was willing to walk out on his job, leaving money on the table, and most likely upsetting his Roman employers, he was willing to do all this in order to be with Jesus. And that stunning reversal brings us back to the reality of sin's deception.
Hebrews 3:13 speaks of “the deceitfulness of sin”. And when we stop and think about what God has revealed in His word, we realize that sin's deception and our neediness are closely connected. How? Well, I think we can say at it's core, sin is blindness to our true needs.
You see, sin itself doesn't make us needy. As finite creatures created in the image of God we are inherently needy. Being needy is precisely what we were designed to be. We were made to need God. Do you believe that? But sin is a distortion of that truth in two key ways: it redefines our needs and makes our neediness surmountable. We'll talk more about those ideas in just a minute.
But I don't want you to miss the point here: Jesus meets our greatest need by directing and connecting our neediness to God. When Jesus took our sins away on the cross, he did not take away our neediness. He met our need for forgiveness, but restored us to a relationship with God in which our needs could be and should be met. And part of what it means to grow as a follower of Jesus is learning how to identify sin's deception about our needs AND how our needs can be met in God, not the weak, useless, empty, fading things of this world.
But none of this easy, is it? That brings us to our final point. I think we are also reminded here that...
3. Embracing My Neediness is a Real and Regular Struggle
When we look back at Luke 5:27-32, you may realize that we have talked very little about the Pharisees and scribes, and their role in this story.
There may be some who would question our classification of characters in this story. They might say, “Well, yes there is the doctor, and the sick patients. But there are also people outside the doctor's office. People just going about their business. Those are the Pharisees and scribes.” But while there is some truth to that description, I think we need to stick with the earlier description: “the two categories of people at this party are doctor and sick people”.
Levi's house was a kind of microcosm of the world. And in the house of the world, there is only the Great Physician and those in need. The difference between the Pharisees and many of the other party guests was simple: they didn't see themselves as needy.
Remember what we said about “the deceitfulness of sin”? Sin redefines our needs and makes our neediness surmountable. For the Pharisees and scribes, the ultimate need was to keep God's law and therefore be righteous before God. And they believed through their traditions and diligence they could do that very thing. They wouldn't disagree with the statement that “we were made to need God”. They would simply argue that need was met through observing the Law of Moses and the traditions.
But throughout His ministry, Jesus wanted these kinds of religious leaders to accept, to embrace the fact they were far, far sicker than they were willing to admit. The Law was a good thing. But God was ultimately using it, not as a ladder, but as a thermometer. He wanted them to know how sick they really were. And if they would embrace their true neediness, they would embrace Jesus and the other soul-sick sinners to whom He came.
Now, as much as we fight it, oftentimes, we are more like the Pharisees and scribes than we care to admit. What do I mean by that? I mean we struggle, I struggle to embrace my neediness. Too often we think in terms of the world's appraisal of neediness: “No, let's not invite him. He's too needy.” “Stop being so needy. Get your life together.” “Let's go down and help the needy in that bad section of town. THEM...over there.”
We only want to be competent, capable, confident, and commended, don't we? To have it together. We want to be the person that is sought out for help, not the person who needs help. We want to look stable, not admit our hearts are prone to wander. When the world says, “Just do it”, we are desperate to respond with “I did”, not “I can't”. Strength not weakness. And like the Pharisees, we want systems and routines and programs and realistic goals through which our achievements will make us feel satisfied, satisified we really do have it together.
But God...God wants us to embrace our neediness.
Through Jesus, God is calling you to repentance. And repentance means admitting we have deceived ourselves about our neediness; that we have sought to meet our needs in all the wrong ways, in all the wrong places, with all the wrong people. Repentance means we admit we have wrongly believed that we are strong, when we are actually weak; that we are right, when we are actually wrong; that we are good, when we are actually evil; that we are well, when we are actually sick.
The 16th century reformer Martin Luther spoke about this reality in connection to prayer. He wrote:
“But where there is to be a true prayer, there must be earnestness. Men must feel their distress, and such distress as presses them and compels them to call and cry out...For we all have enough that we lack, but the great want is that we do not feel nor see it.” (Martin Luther, Large Catechism, 5:26)
If we strive to be comfortable, by any means possible, we will not feel or see our true neediness. We must embrace discomfort. It can give us eyes to see the truth.
III. Embracing Your Neediness
Do you remember what we talked about at the beginning of this study? I shared with you my premise. Here it is again: God's word teaches us that being needy is not a disgrace, but a reality to be embraced. I also shared that my hope was that all of us would leave here this morning with this confession on our lips: “I am needy”. Can you honestly make that confession? Courage and comfort can take us there.
The courage to admit we are desperately needy is directly tied to the comfort that God can and will meet our needs. And all of that is a gift of God's grace. Did Levi go out and seek Jesus and attempt to earn an invitation to be Christ's disciple? No, he was there at the tax booth, minding his own business, and Jesus broke in. That is the hope of the gospel!
And that is our hope today. Would you pray today and tomorrow and the next day that God would break in and help you see your neediness, and how He can meet those needs in Jesus? Brothers and sisters, friends, this is where we must start, for this is the only starting place that leads to life.