Matthew 9:9-13 — What Kind of Church Do You Want to Be? — One That Eliminates People or One That Seeks People?

Posted: November 13, 2015 in Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 9:9-13
The Calling of Matthew

As in our last passage, it was the continuation of the one before, so too, we find that again in this passage, Matthew 9:9-13. After leaving the place where he healed the lame man, he must still be in Capernaum. No other town is mentioned as the place to which he “went on from there.” Capernaum was a fishing town which would have made sense for a tax collector to be there – to collect taxes on the fish caught, to collect customs duties from travelers and so on. It also makes it make sense for Matthew to know who Jesus was since this was Jesus’ hometown. Also, since this is Matthew’s Gospel, in all humility, he was not going to make a huge deal about how he came to follow Christ. With this background, we look at this passage. It reads:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

There are several things that are important to look at here. First, we need to discuss the willingness with which Matthew became a disciple of Jesus and how Jesus knew Matthew would heed his call. Second, we will look at the significance of Jesus having a meal at Matthew’s house. Next, we look at the Pharisees statement and Jesus’ response to it. After that, we too will go and learn what “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Finally, we will look at Jesus’ statement that he has come to call the righteous but the sinners.

First, we want to look at that simple sentence that concludes, “’Follow me’, he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.’ The simplicity of the sentence can often let it slip right past you as you read this passage. With the advantage of over 2,000 years of Christian history, we, of course, take it for granted that Matthew would get up and follow the Son of God. However, think about it! There were no billboards from Heaven with a big giant finger or arrow pointing down at Jesus saying that he was the Son of God. So, there is more to this sentence than meets the eye to us 2,000 plus years removed from the actual event. There is so much packed into this one sentence:

• One, Matthew had to have been familiar with Jesus’ work. They were both from Capernaum. Remember, after Jesus left the Gadarene region, he returned to his city, Capernaum. Matthew has not mentioned leaving yet so we are still in Capernaum. Thus, Matthew and Jesus lived in the same city. Matthew had most assuredly heard of what that Jesus guy was up to. Jesus most assuredly had been creating a buzz around Capernaum. I am sure that people had been hearing of the miracles and of the kingdom of heaven. Matthew had been hearing. Isn’t this the case with many of us? We know of Jesus. In the South, there are churches everywhere. We know about this Jesus thing, but yet many of us stay outside the realm of church. We feel that we don’t belong there. We don’t want this Jesus thing to interrupt our lifestyles. It would require giving up the life that we know.

• Two, Matthew had to be sick of a life that he knew was wrong. He probably remembered the days when he was a young idealistic Jewish boy who probably studied the Torah dutifully like all Jewish children. He remembered that life that was pure and innocent. He was from the tribe of Levi so the people who served as the staff of the Temple: musicians, guards, custodians, or record-keepers. From the way he wrote, we are certain he was Jewish. Matthew was a tax-collector, a profession that was despised in first century Palestine. Rome auctioned off tax territories to various individuals; after the tax-collectors gathered the amount they had bid, any money that was left over they could keep for themselves. Many of them collected as much money as they could in any way that they could in order to become rich very quickly. Tax-collectors were considered to be so dishonest that they could not testify in courts of law. When Jesus called Matthew to follow him, he may have been calling Matthew back to his roots. Matthew probably had heard that Jesus said that he was not permanently condemned. That resounded with Matthew’s heart. He was tired of his empty, meaningless life. He was ready for Jesus. When Jesus said those simple words. That was all it took. He was so ready, so broken inside that all Jesus had to say was “Follow me.” He was so ready to leave his old life behind. He didn’t think. He got up and followed. Are you sick and tired of the same ol’ same ol’ lifestyle that you lead? Do you lead a lifestyle that you know is empty? Work hard all week. Party on the weekend. Maybe this is you. Is that lifestyle giving you deep down personal satisfaction or is there something that is always missing? Can you identify with Matthew in this scene? This is why we encounter people with the gospel. There are so many out there that are hungry for meaning in their lives. Why are we so afraid of sharing the gospel? In this world, people are desperate to find value for their lives and they can find it when you invite them to follow Jesus.

• Three, Jesus issued a command. He said, “Follow me.” He did not say “Will you follow me?” He made an affirmative statement. It was an expectation not a request. He is after all the Son of God. He knew Matthew’s heart was ready. It demonstrates that Jesus knew who Matthew was and what he did. He didn’t say, “Matthew, if you do this and this and stop doing that, you can follow me.” He knew the heart. He knew that Matthew had done bad things. He knew. He said “Follow me.” Implied in that is that Matthew must leave the tax collectors booth. He must leave the old life behind. “Follow me” means I accept you as long as you get up. Make the move. You are no longer there. You are with Christ. Are you ready to follow Jesus? Now is the time. He is standing in front of you making an affirmative statement. Jesus knows everything that you have done and ever will do. He is ready to accept you and change you from the inside out. There is nothing so bad that you have done that it cannot be forgiven and redeemed at the foot of the cross. All of us are sinners in need of grace. Even the best Christian that you know has a sin history that has been covered by the grace of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross as the sacrifice for our sins. Follow Jesus. He will accept you as long as you get up and follow Him. Repent of our sins and follow Jesus. It does not mean that you are perfect. None of us are. When we accept Christ into our lives, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us and change us. When we mature in Christ, we become more and more like Him through the action of the Holy Spirit in our souls. We are changed. Are you ready to leave that empty life behind? Are you ready to find meaning and joy through Jesus?
After Jesus calls Matthew to follow him, Matthew was apparently so grateful, so thankful for Jesus seeing him for what he wanted to be instead of what he was, Matthew must have invited him to dinner at his house. This was so completely radical at this time in Jewish history. The Jewish Scriptures clearly stated that one should not fellowship with sinners (Ps 1:1; 119:63; Prov 13:20; 14:7; 28:7), but these references warn against being influenced by sinners. Jesus is eating with sinners, but even though he is the one influencing them (9:9, 13; Lk 15:1), his ministry looks bad. Early Jewish literature indicates that, for all Judaism’s emphasis on mercy and repentance, Jesus’ act of actively pursuing sinners was virtually unheard of; it is thus not surprising that it appeared scandalous. However, Jesus did not care about his personal reputation. He was doing his Father’s will and that was the most important thing to him – reaching lost souls. Jesus came to call sinners-to invite them to God’s final banquet (Mt 22:3, 14), a foretaste of which the present table fellowship with them may have represented. Let us be a people that are like Jesu rather than like the Pharisees. If a homeless man walked into your church, would you be suspicious of him or would you welcome him? Do you carry the gospel outside your cocoon of church friends? Does your church expect people to come to them? Or does you church go out in the community and encounter people where they live? Do you not associate with people who appear to be living lifestyles in opposition to the gospel? How are they going to know Jesus if you do not share the gospel with the least savory people. The girls at Nikitas need to know Jesus. The guys at the bar at Demetries need to know Jesus. The guys and gals at Chiefs Wings & Firewater deep into the night on a Friday night need to know Jesus. We should not pick and choose who gets to hear the good news. Jesus never did. It was His purpose to come to save the lost and it should be ours too.
Next, Jesus says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Jesus quoted the prophet Hosea in order to demonstrate how empty the Pharisees’ adherence to the letter of the Law was. He had used this same quotation in another controversy with the Pharisees, with essentially the same import. But, by citing Hosea, Jesus was saying more than that—He was making it clear that the Law and the Prophets intended something far deeper than restricted behavior from the very outset—and that Jesus was not merely a revisionist. So, what does it mean, when God says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice…”?
He wanted His people to keep His Law, not just because of the alternative of punishment, but because He is good, just, loving, and merciful, worthy of friendship and allegiance. God called Abraham His friend (Isaiah 41:8), because Abraham believed God and did what God commanded, in awe before God’s majesty. In this age of grace, He still wants the same thing, goodness and mercy, justice and neighbor-love, all the products of a heart that is a friend to God. C. H. Toy was right: God wants people to learn how to have a heart like His. And He sends His Spirit to us to create that new heart. (Rom. 8:14). The Law was a framework for grace, for friendship, for peace between God and man for the building of a people who would ultimately harbor the Son. Their rejection of the Son was the last straw (Matt. 21:33-42) in a long-term relationship that had gone wrong at almost every turn. The Pharisees did not understand Hosea 6:6 rightly for the same reason that they did not understand the Law rightly. Jesus accused them, through the Hosea quotation, of the most extreme hypocrisy, adherence to form while omitting the substance, feigning allegiance to the Lord while practicing idolatry in their hearts. We are challenged today to hear the words of Jesus in Matt. 9:13, to go and learn what this means, “I want mercy, not sacrifice.” Jesus intends for us to understand this. He wants us to realize the capacity to be friends with God, through Himself. He wants us to ignore appearances and seek the reality, to avoid formalities and seek the substance, to be faithful and avoid hypocrisy. He has rich blessings in store for those who make the effort. It begins with seeking the Kingdom, and then all the other things will be added, as He promised. (Matt. 6:33).
Finally, Jesus says, “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew here shows us that the morally and socially rejected sometimes humble themselves more readily than religious people. Sometimes we spend too much time trying to convert a few resistant sinners in the church while neglecting more sinners afraid to set foot in a church. Sometimes the latter have developed less resistance to the gospel; sometimes they are outside the church precisely because of the words or behavior of some within the church. Jesus’ example should encourage us to engage all people with the gospel, regardless of their moral background. We are encouraged to take the gospel outside the walls of the church – to do what Jesus wanted, to reach sinners and bring them the good word of repentance, the good word of a renewed life.

The ironic thing is that we condemn the Jews of Jesus day when we often do the same today. We often see our churches today that would not welcome a homeless person, a person of a different race, a recovering drug addict, a former adulterer, someone who has been in prison. Isn’t ironic too that when a Christ follower has a moral failing, they run away from the church because they fear judgment of others. Isn’t it when we have failed that we need our brothers and sisters in Christ the most. Let us all remember that we all still commit sins on a daily basis. Some sins are just more public than others but we all sin. Let us reach out to those who have failed and love them and guide them to repentance. Help to help them back to the cross where they can lay their sin down and walk away from it. The Holy Spirit will work on us daily to cause revulsion over our sins. We can mature and move beyond those sins that bring us down. I know from a personal fact that I do not want to be the man I was before in met Christ 15 years ago. I know too that I know that I don’t want to be the man I was 10 years ago, and 5 years ago. I want to continue maturing in Christ daily. Let us be a people that helps people mature in Christ. Let us be a people that do not banish others for having public sins while we commit sins privately. Just think how judgmental we would be toward Jesus if He came back incognito to our churches. Would Jesus be welcomed or judged? He didn’t have a standard job, he roamed from town to town, he hung out with the so-called low life people of his day, he spoke of the lowest being exalted, the exalted being laid low. If Jesus were alive today, what church (his church, His bride) would he go to? Is the church today calling, reaching out to the lost into their midst? What kind of church are we? What kind of Christ follower are you and I? Are we dining with the sinner to teach them about the kingdom of God or are we standing outside criticizing their lifestyle and writing them off? Let us be like Jesus and not like the Pharisees! There is a world out there that will follow Jesus if we just meet them where they are and tell them of our Savior on a personal one on one level. Matthew listened when Jesus said, “Follow me!”

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