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“The Truth They Needed”

One of the Pharisee’s biggest peeves with Jesus was his habit of associating with sinners; so they were particularly annoyed when he attended a party in his honor at the house of Levi the tax collector (i.e. Matthew, Luke 5:27ff). John MacArthur writes:

img   That a rabbi would be willing to fraternize at a party with such people was utterly repugnant to the Pharisees. It was diametrically opposed to all their doctrines about separation and ceremonial uncleanness. Here was yet another pet issue of the Pharisees, and Jesus was openly violating their standards, knowing full well that they were watching him closely. From their perspective, it must have seemed as if He was deliberately flaunting His contempt for their system.
   Because He was. Remember an important fact we stressed in the previous chapter; all the friction that has taken place out in the open thus far between Jesus and Israel’s religious elite has been entirely at His instigation. As far as we know from Scripture, they had not yet voiced a single unprovoked criticism or public accusation against him.
   Even now, the Pharisees were not yet bold enough to complain to Jesus directly. They sought out His disciples and murmured their protest to them. Again, all three Synoptics stress that the Pharisees took their grievances to the disciples. It was a craven attempt to blindside Jesus by provoking a debate with His followers instead. I like the way Luke says it; “The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples” (Luke 5:30 NASB).
   But Jesus overheard (Matthew 9:12; Mark 2:17), and He answered the Pharisees directly, with a single statement that became the definitive motto for His interaction with the self-righteous Sanhedrin and their ilk: “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17 NASB). For sinners and tax collectors seeking relief fro the burden of their sin, Jesus had nothing but good news. To the self-righteous religious experts, He had nothing to say at all.
   Harsh? By postmodern standards, this was a terribly strident thing to say. And (as many people today would quickly point out) there was virtually no possibility that a comment like this would help sway the Pharisees to Jesus’ point of view. It was likelier to increase their hostility against Him.
   And yet it was the right thing say at this moment. It was the truth they needed to hear. The fact that they were not “open” to it did not alter Jesus’ commitment to speaking the truth—without toning it down, without bending it to fit His audience’s tastes and preferences, without setting the facts of the gospel aside to speak to their “felt needs” instead.

—John MacArthur, The Jesus You Can’t Ignore (Thomas Nelson, 2009), 105–106.

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