Eleventh Sunday After Trinity September 3, 2000


What’s Your Diagnosis?

Mark 2:13-17


456, 380, 388, 49

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted

And he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him. And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. These are the Words.

In Christ Jesus, who heals all our diseases, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

I was reading the newspaper not long ago when I noticed an interesting ad. It was an ad from a nearby clinic, telling the days that certain specialists would be visiting. The “visiting specialist” system makes a lot of sense—especially, say for the inner city clinics. Doctors who are skilled at treating certain diseases can come in one day a week, or one day a month, and help the people who need their specific skills. There are some drawbacks, though. For one thing, you have to be there when the doctor’s available. Also, you have to have a correct diagnosis beforehand; obviously, if you don’t know you’re sick, all the medical skills in the world won’t help you.

We happen to have a visiting specialist with us here in church this morning. He’s the same Doctor who once passed through the little town of Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. On that day, a terribly sick man named Levi took advantage of His visit and was completely cured of his disease. The disease was sin, and the doctor was Jesus Christ, also known as The Great Physician. Today—right now—that same Doctor is available to you for consultation. Can He help you? Well, that depends. It depends on how you answer the question that is our theme for today…


  1. You can be too “healthy” for the Great Physician…
  2. But you can never be too sick!

There are popular doctors and there are unpopular doctors. Some get a bad reputation and, consequently, fewer patients. Others gradually build a good reputation and find themselves with all the patients they can handle. By these standards, Jesus was a very good “Doctor” indeed. Patients literally flocked to see Him! Our text says, “Then Jesus went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them.” One of those who followed Jesus that day was a tax collector named Levi, also called Matthew. We can imagine the peaceful scene that day on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus speaking the word of life to his breathless audience while the gentle waves lapped at the shore. Can you imagine? What a Bible class that must have been!

Later, Jesus sat down to dinner at the home of His newest disciple, Matthew. Others were there: His disciples, and also many of the common people who had been attracted to His teaching. These were folks whom the religious leaders of Israel despised, mostly because they didn’t keep all the minor rules and regulations Jewish law and tradition required. The Pharisees just called them “sinners”. And, as you might expect, the Pharisees got their noses out of joint a little when they saw Jesus associating with these “sinners”. When the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?

Actually, the Pharisees were correct in their diagnosis—these people really were sinners. But they were mistaken about themselves. They considered themselves above the common people, and they would have been oh, so offended if anyone had had the nerve to call them sinners! But Jesus had an answer ready for them. He said, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

AIDS is a frightening disease that has swept the population centers of our country. World-wide, the disease has already claimed the lives of millions of people. Even more frightening, though, experts tell us that there are millions more who are infected with the disease…and don’t know it yet! Naturally, they won’t go see a doctor as long as they think they’re healthy. The Pharisees were infected with the same disease of sin as the people seated around that table with Jesus. Only they didn’t know it. They had incorrectly diagnosed themselves as spiritually “healthy.” They considered themselves righteous, without sin, and therefore without the need for a Savior from sin. They were standing in the presence of the very Son of God, but Jesus couldn’t do them any good as long as they refused to confront their own sin.

WHAT’S YOUR DIAGNOSIS? Are you too “healthy” for the Great Physician? Are you having trouble recognizing the sin in your life, and the need for a Savior? What about those among us who frequently skip worship services on Sunday, who miss the Lord’s Supper for months at a time? Do they consider themselves “healthy” enough the way they are, with no need of the Word and Sacraments? What about those of us who regularly abuse alcohol, quarrel with our family members, or take God’s name in vain? Is there some sinful activity that you are currently involved in that you’re unwilling to give up? Perhaps you think you can you get by without repenting of that sin. Maybe you’re “healthy” enough the way you are…

NO! Let’s not make the mistake of the Pharisees. Let us never turn away our Great Physician by thinking we’re too healthy to need Him. Our corrupt and sinful nature still clings to us, and we need Jesus’ forgiveness for every part of our life! If you don’t think that’s true, Martin Luther once said, then put your hand into your shirt and see if you’re still made of flesh and blood. If you are, then go to Paul’s letter to the Galatians and hear what sort of stuff comes from your sinful flesh: “The works of the flesh are obvious:” Paul says, “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hated, discord, jealously, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.—Gal 5:19 NIV.

Be careful in diagnosing yourself, because you can be too “healthy” for the Great Physician. But if you’ve listened to this sermon so far and come to a correct diagnosis—if you’ve realized exactly how sick with sin you really are—then I’ve got good news for you. You can never be too sick for the Great Physician. There is no sin that’s too great for Jesus to forgive!

To prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt, God gives us the wonderful example of Matthew, the tax collector. In our country, nobody feels any particular affection for the IRS. But being a tax collector for the Romans in those days wasn’t at all like working for the IRS today. A tax collector betrayed the Jewish nation by collaborating with the Romans, and he earned his salary by collecting more money than the Romans demanded. A tax collector was by definition a traitor and a thief. He was the lowest of the low. Sin was his way of life.

Such a man was Matthew. He had sinned, on purpose, times without number. The established church of the day would have nothing to do with him. And yet it was sinful Matthew whom Jesus called to repentance. At a word from Jesus, he closed up shop and left everything to follow the Lord. He probably had a hard time believing it was true. Could there really be forgiveness for a sinner like him? Yes! In Jesus, the Great Physician, even wretched Matthew, the publican, found forgiveness and peace!

What’s your diagnosis? Sick with sin? In desperate need of a doctor? Perhaps you, like Matthew, have thought to yourself, “It’s no use! How could there be forgiveness for a wretched sinner like me?” But rest assured—your Lord Jesus will not turn you away. You can’t be too sick for the Great Physician! No matter what kind of sins you’ve got in your background, Jesus is here today, urging you to bring them to Him for forgiveness. He doesn’t ask you how big or how many those sins are. He doesn’t ask how often you’ve come to Him before. He simply says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.—Mt 11:28-30.

Believe it, because it’s true. There’s absolutely no reason for you to drag the guilt of those sins around with you like a ball and chain. If you feel your sins are great, don’t worry. Paul says, “Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more!” Jesus paid for every one of your sins with the precious blood He shed on the cross. There’s no reason why everyone in this building can’t walk out of this service today with a clean slate, absolutely innocent, and fully accepted by God in Jesus Christ! Once again today, our Savior is opening the gates of heaven to each one of us. Our Great Physician is offering us the complete cure for our disease of sin.

They say that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” While that may be a perfectly valid pitch for preventative medicine, as far as it goes, it certainly doesn’t apply to our message for today. Preventative medicine won’t work in this case; each of us has already got the disease of sin. So let’s turn with confidence to our Great Physician, Jesus. He’s promised to heal us, and He will heal us. He’s one Doctor we don’t want to keep away! AMEN.

—Paul Naumann, Pastor

Sermon Preached August 15, 1999
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA

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