Calling All Sinners
Scripture: Matthew 9:9–13
Calling All SinnersMatthew 9:9-13
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Pastor Randy Smith
For the past few months I have been struggling with a pain in my lower back. It's nothing serious enough to put me on the shelf, but enough of an inconvenience that makes standing in one place for a period of time uncomfortable.
So a few weeks ago, at the suggestion of my wife, I broke down and visited the doctor. The doctor ran a few tests, asked a couple questions and then reported to me his conclusions. "Randy" he said, "You are atypical." I thought to myself, "I came here to talk about my back - I wasn't expecting a psychological evaluation!"
So what do you do with an "atypical" back problem? You get scheduled for x-rays and return for another visit in three weeks. I'm back to where I started. I hope I will soon get some answers because there are few things more frustrating than having a physical ailment and a doctor (or doctors) unable to diagnose the problem and therefore unable to provide a remedy.
Last week I diagnosed the greatest illness that all of us face. Though I am not a doctor, I have the Bible to back up my conclusions. Each one of us suffers from a condition called "sinonitis." That is the fancy word that describes that inward desire to go against the will of God. "Sinonitis" wreaks havoc in our families. It causes us excruciating pain, and it results in debilitating guilt. According to the Bible, "sinonitis" is a terminal disease. The consequences of "sinonitis" leave us spiritually dead and eternally separated from God.
We need a diagnosis of our condition for without it we will never seek a remedy. But we also need a Great Physician to provide that remedy and heal us from this dreadful predicament. And the cure this Great Physician brings is a medicine called forgiveness.
Though the theology of the first century was wrong, it was commonly believed that paralysis was the result of personal sin. And while all people are sinners and should be aware of their sin, a paralyzed person in particular had it thrust before his face continually by the community. They identified themselves as sinners and one particular paralytic, as we saw last week, sought Jesus for forgiveness. You will remember that he was dramatically lowered down through the roof right before the presence of the Savior. Would the Great Physician heal him spiritually? Matthew 9:2 says, "Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, 'Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.'" The man was completely cured. He received forgiveness on the basis of faith.
But we are pressed to ask the question: Will Jesus heal anyone? Will Jesus heal even the greatest sinners and grant them forgiveness? I mean, do we need to clean ourselves up a little bit before we come to Jesus or does Jesus accept us just as we are and then begin to clean us up under His power? How much sin is Jesus willing to forgive? Will the Great Physical accept even the worst of sinners?
This morning we will answer that question. God's Word has given us a test case and the man's name is Matthew. Yet this morning we will not focus on Matthew. We will focus on the Great Physician, Jesus Christ by examining His calling and His equipping and His mission (the three points of our sermon outline).
1. THE CALLING OF JESUS
Let's begin with the calling of Jesus. Verse 9, "As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector's booth; and He said to him, 'Follow Me!' And he got up and followed Him."
Since people do not just leave everything behind and blindly follow another individual, we are led to believe that Matthew (Levi - Mk. 2:14) had some prior knowledge of Jesus. After all, all the citizens were probably aware of this new Man who had virtually turned their town upside-down. Matthew was also aware of his sin (it too was thrust before his face) and naturally took a keen interest in the saving work of Jesus. He was a prime candidate when Jesus said, "Follow Me."
What makes Matthew unique was the fact that he was a tax collector (publican). You know that the Romans occupied Israel at this time. And while they imposed heavy taxation on the Jews, they employed the Jews to do the dirty work, the collecting. The Jews hated being under the yoke of Roman bondage, and they had absolutely no tolerance for their own people who extorted money from them to empower the idolatrous Roman machine. Add to the fact that these tax collectors were notoriously corrupt, vile and greedy, with Roman authority and military might to back them up, and you have just the right recipe for alienation. To the average Jew, tax collectors were not only traitors, they were also deemed spiritually unclean and ranked among unclean animals and heinous criminals. To the townspeople, few if any, were more despised and deemed greater sinners than tax collectors.
Despite Matthew's reputation, Jesus said, "Follow Me!" This is the call that He extends to all people (unlike the "effective call" that the apostle Paul often spoke about). In theological terms we identify this as the general call. The same call still goes out to everyone today. It is not complex. You don't need to know the original Greek to understand it better. It is simply a question of whether or not you are willing to forsake all and follow Jesus. It is simply a question of whether or not you are willing to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Not a partial disciple, but a disciple that wholeheartedly submits to Jesus as Lord with the full devotion of your heart, mind, soul and will. Many reject this call. How would the despised tax collector named Matthew respond?
The end of verse 9 says, "And he [Matthew] got up and followed Him." Since Matthew, the author of this Gospel wrote these words of himself, it seems he recorded a more modest response. Luke's rendering of this account says, "And [Matthew] left everything behind, and got up and began to follow [Jesus]" (Lk. 5:28).
It seems like it did not take Matthew very long to count the cost. Of course he was aware of his sin and negative reputation in the community. But to forsake his greed and ruthlessness and materialism would only come at the price of forsaking his rather lucrative business. Walking away from that tax collector's booth would have been final. The fishermen could have gone back to their occupation, but in his case, there would have been no opportunity for him to return. Yet following Jesus was his only desire. It appears that forsaking all in exchange for the divine lover of his soul was hardly something he considered a sacrifice.
I hear Him call "come, follow;"
That was all!
My gold grew dim.
My heart went after Him.
I rose and followed,
That was all.
Would you not follow,
If you heard the call?
So we come back to our original question. Is anybody so great a sinner that he or she is beyond the saving grace of Jesus Christ? And the answer is "no." And as a great testimony of God's grace, let's remember that Matthew was not only forgiven, but also used by our Lord to write this Gospel and become one of His twelve disciples. Our Savior welcomes all who come to Him with a repentant heart. He forgives them entirely and enlists them as servants in a thrilling journey called discipleship.
2. THE EQUIPPING OF JESUS
This brings us to our second point, the equipping of Jesus. What was Matthew's response immediately after he gave his life to Jesus Christ? Look at verse 10: "Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the tablein the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples." According to this text, Matthew, overwhelmed with joy from his new relationship with God, scheduled a party at his home (Mk. 2:15; Lk. 5:29) for all his friends to hear the wonderful message.
After coming out of a life of sin at age 24, I surrendered my life to Jesus. I will never forget the joy when I tasted true forgiveness and the passion I had for others to experience the same blessings. Though I didn't stop going to the bars overnight, I shared Jesus with everyone at the bars. Instead of taping CD's for others, I reproduced sermon tapes and passed them out. Instead of throwing beer parties, I invited all of my friends to church. Along with the naivety was an innocence and childlike faith that I am sure pleased the Lord. Motivated by sheer excitement of what I received, I gladly gave. I could not imagine others not experiencing Jesus for themselves.
I believe this is the same spirit we witness with Matthew. His minimal understanding of biblical doctrine was eclipsed by his transformed heart. Maybe he had difficulty turning to chapter and verse, but he had no problem sharing what Jesus personally did for him. He was not ashamed of Jesus, and he was not ashamed to have Jesus meet his friends, friends that he himself identified in the verse as "tax collectors and sinners." These were the social and spiritual misfits of the area. But these were his associates and Matthew knew these people needed Jesus. And as Matthew could testify with his own life, even these people were not beyond the Lord's forgiveness.
So there was Jesus, dining among the most notorious individuals of the town. Beside the tax collectors were the harlots. Beside the robbers were the drunkards. All of them talking to Jesus. All of them listening to our Lord's instruction.
I have always wondered what Jesus told these folks that evening. Maybe it was a story about two sons: One who squandered his father's estate by committing many sins but returned with a repentant heart and was welcomed with loving arms (Lk. 15:11-32). We don't know fully what transpired that evening, but we do know it was a celebration. Luke in his Gospel calls it "a big reception" (Lk. 5:29). Jesus told us in Matthew 5 that even tax collectors have those who love them (Mt. 5:46). This transformed tax collector opened his house to introduce his friends to Jesus, and there is nothing more loving than that!
Isn't it wonderful how the Lord equips us! Nothing should bring us greater joy than the knowledge that our sins have been forgiven and that we have been accepted by God. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit and natural by-product of our salvation. As God blesses us, our expected response will be to tell others both to glorify God and increase our own joy. Joy that is shared, as C.S. Lewis said, is doubly joyous. Regardless of the persecution, financial costs, and energy necessary, Matthew went through great lengths to introduce his friends to Jesus. Are we willing individually to do the same? And as a church can we possibly have any greater desire than to reach our community for Christ? Remove that card and I was a fool to invest 16 hours last week above my typical work load toward the building project.
I received an e-mail this week. It said there are two kinds of Christians. "Sink Christians" view salvation like they would a sink. The water of salvation flows into the sink so that Christians can soak up all the benefits: eternal life, assurance in the present, strength in times of trial. Those who adopt this mindset concentrate solely on what the Bible says God has done and will do for them. "Faucet Christians" view salvation differently. They look at the world as the sink and themselves as the faucet. The blessings of salvation flow to them in order to flow through them out to the wider world. They rightly see that the Bible describes salvation as something that God not only does for them, but also through them (Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals).
I believe we can conclude that Matthew was a "Faucet Christian."
Well, Matthew saw this meal not as a grim resignation saddened by the new reality that he was required to sacrifice for Jesus. To him it was a celebration. However, the Pharisees saw it in quite another light. Let's move to our third point: "The Mission of Jesus."
3. THE MISSION OF JESUS
Verse 11, "When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, 'Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?'"
The Pharisees never would have entered this celebration (Tohar. 7:6), so their comments were either based on observation from outside the house or conversation they received after the incident. It is also interesting to notice that theses cowards did not approach Jesus directly, they asked His disciples to explain why Jesus was partaking in the festivities. And let's also note that this was not a question but really an accusation. For sharing a meal back then was considered one of the closest forms of fellowship. In other words, "Why is your holy Teacher being intimate with "tax collectors and sinners" (cf. Mt. 11:19; Lk. 15:2)? After all, let's remember Jesus said, "That unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 5:20). To them, Jesus was not committing a very righteous act. They were confused, moreover, they were outraged! Jesus was turning everything they believed upside-down!
I like the way John MacArthur put it, "They could see no defects in themselves and no good in those who were not like them. They were so pleased with themselves that they considered their enemies to be God's enemies. They were so convinced of their own doctrinal rightness that any belief or standard contrary to their own was by definition heretical and ungodly. They were so convinced of their own moral and spiritual righteousness that anyone who questioned their holiness questioned God's. The only thing Jesus could do that was worse than snubbing them, the religious and moral elite, was to befriend tax-gatherers and sinners, the religious and moral dregs. And He did both" (Matthew 8-15, p. 63-64).
Rather than have His disciples answer, Jesus speaks for Himself. Verse 12, "But when Jesus heard this, He said, 'It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.'"
On one level, this was a rebuke of the Pharisees' ministry. If they were as healthy as they so believed, why were they not assisting those whom they deemed sick? What good is it for a doctor to go through medical school and only attend to healthy people? What good is it for a doctor to diagnoses a disease and then leave the patient to get worse without any medication? The Pharisees needed to realize that their actions were both illogical and unloving!
On another lever, this was a rebuke to the Pharisee's personal hearts. In God's eyes they suffered from the greater sickness. Filled with pride and self-righteousness and judgmentalism and false teaching, they were guilty of greater sins. We will see Jesus deliver a rather lengthy rebuke to these guys when we get to chapter 23 unlike anything He spoke to the so-called greater sinners of the day. The Pharisees also needed a doctor even more than the tax collectors, but they were too blind to acknowledge their need and too stiff-necked to see their need met in Jesus.
Jesus continues, verse 13, "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire compassion, and not sacrifice.'"
If I can put Jesus' words in my own words: "Go and learn; go back to the Word of God and study what the Scripture teaches. Look up this verse that I just provided you from Hosea 6:6. Read about Gomer, the prostitute and her husband who loved her despite her sin and unfaithfulness. Understand how that is a picture of a loving Husband in heaven who accepts sinners and displays compassion on them. You folks read the prophets, but are among the very people whom God through Hosea the prophet condemned. Of course sacrifice is important, but unbiblical sacrifice means nothing and even biblical sacrifice done out of a defective heart brings My Father in heaven absolutely no pleasure (Isa. 1:10-17; Am. 5:21-24). You please seek to honor God with your lips. These people honor God with their hearts. And unless you are willing to demonstrate the compassion of God, you are unable to be accepted in His kingdom. For those furthest from giving mercy are those furthest from receiving it."
Jesus continues in verse 13, "For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Luke's account provides the entire response: "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" (Lk. 5:32).
I am back to where we started. Every person on the planet is a sinner. But only those who acknowledge their sinfulness and flee to Jesus Christ for the remedy may be forgiven. Those who already believe they are righteous (like the Pharisees) find no need for a Savior. But those who recognize their sin and willingly seek to repent (like the tax collectors), Jesus forgives and accepts.
That is the mission of Jesus. That is why He came, not to congratulate the self-deceived and so-called righteous people. He came to call sinners to repentance. Jesus Christ identifies Himself with people who identify their own sinfulness and identify themselves with fellow sinners. The Pharisees did neither.
Last week we saw God forgive a paralytic. This week we asked the question: "Does He forgive even the worst of sinners?" And the answer is, "Yes!" God forgives those who acknowledge their sin. As that first Beatitude teaches, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 5:3). We come to Christ as a repentant sinner. We stay with Christ as a repentant sinner. Even on our deathbed we are still as indebted to Christ's blood as when we first believed. It is a message of grace all along the way.
This morning we saw Jesus rebuke the self-righteous, but demonstrate no hesitation in having fellowship with sinners. Don't keep away from Christ because you feel impure and unworthy. Be like Matthew and run to Him for forgiveness right now! For the people who recognize their sinful condition and want to repent are the very people He came to seek and save.