Grace For The Journey
Have you seen that old Christmas special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?” I’m talking about the classic, stop motion animated TV special from the 1960s narrated by Burl Ives! There’s a scene in the movie with a bunch of toys located on “The Island of Misfit Toys.” It is an island dedicated to the imperfect and flawed toys cast aside because they “didn’t fit” with the right and proper toys. There is a spotted elephant, a Choo-Choo train with square wheels, a boat that doesn’t stay afloat, and my personal favorite: not a Jack-in-the-Box, but a “Charlie-in-the-Box.” Misfits. Churches should hang a sign above their church doors that reads: “All misfits welcome here!” What are Christians if not those who are imperfect, flawed, and messed-up by sin?
One such “misfit” 2,000 years ago was a tax collector named Matthew, a social outcast who had a powerful encounter with Jesus Christ. The account is recorded in Matthew 9:9-13. We learn several important truths that help us see and relate to those who are in need of meeting Jesus.
The first encouraging truth is . . .
If We Admit We Are Sick Then We Can Become Well.
Verse 9 tells us, “As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ So he arose and followed Him.”
Tax collectors in Jesus’ day were in a position to abuse their power. Sitting in his tax collector’s booth, Matthew himself set the value of items people gave for their taxes. He alone determined the value and worth of each gift given, each toll paid, and that allowed him to inflate the price, skim the profits, and turn the balance over to the Roman authorities.
With remarkable brevity, we are told that Jesus comes by and says, “Follow Me” and Matthew gets up and follows Him. Just like that! Later they are eating supper together in Matthew’s house where verse 10 says, “Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples.”
It’s interesting how many times we read of the Pharisees and others pointing an accusatory finger at Jesus, complaining about His eating with sinners, being with sinners, hanging out with people society frowns upon, social misfits and outcasts, people who have committed “horrible sins.”
Christians are wise to ask themselves
Whether they identify more
With the outcasts or the Pharisees.
RC Sproul once said, “We are all recovering Pharisees” and that we need to “get over our tendency to frown only upon certain sins and certain sinners.”
Implicit here is the fact that these other folks had been invited. Matthew had invited his tax collector buddies and other so-called “sinners” to come see Jesus. Today he would have posted an event on his Facebook page and invited everyone, or he would have group-texted his friends: “Come, Meet & Dine with Jesus.”
Having a meal with someone in the ancient near east was a relational and intimate event. It’s not like our day when so many of us find ourselves as a family with pizza in front of the TV watching a favorite series on Netflix or at a restaurant with everyone not engaged in conversation but in connecting with friends or checking texts. Eating supper with someone in Jesus’ day was an opportunity to experience the soul of another person by spending a long time with that person in intimate, personal, and relational conversation.
Verse 11 says, “And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, ‘Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’” The Pharisees are incensed. They are shocked and enraged at the behavior of Jesus, sitting down with these “tax collectors and sinners!” The Pharisees are beside themselves about Jesus’ sitting down with these unclean, social outcasts. The strict, legalistic behavior of the Pharisees had become merely a rigid, religious system of rule-keeping – totally empty of love and mercy. There was no love among the Pharisees, just laws. Laws without love.
Verse 12 tells us, “When Jesus heard that, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.’” In essence, Jesus says, “Look, you Pharisees seem to feel you have it all together. You’re feeling well. But I didn’t come for those who think they are feeling well. I have come for those who know they are not feeling well! I have come for those who know they are sick. I am the Good Doctor who has come to heal the spiritually sick.” The Pharisees thought they were “well” spiritually. They proudly assumed that their strict, religious behavior made them acceptable to God. They sought God’s approval of their performance. As such they were not healthy, but actually sick. And their main sickness was that of the Tin Man’s in “The Wizard of Oz” – They had no heart.
Only those who realize
Their need for Jesus,
Will come to Jesus.
Jesus declares in verse 13, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Some of the modern translations omit the phrase, “to repentance,” but repentance is implied nonetheless. Jesus ends the conversation with a stinging rebuke: “I did not come to call the righteous [self-righteous], but sinners to repentance.” I think the New Living Translation is best at capturing the sense of Jesus’ statement in verse 13. The NLT has Jesus saying, “For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
In other words,
“The doctor is in
For those who have sinned.”
Have you ever known someone who refused to acknowledge physical sickness? They didn’t want to admit they had a particular condition or diagnosis, so they refused to take their medicine? You can think you are well when you’re actually sick. The same can be true in the spiritual realm. If you don’t admit you are sick, you won’t take your medicine. You won’t think you need it.
The preaching and teaching of Scripture
Is medicine to the soul.
The loving correction of the Bible
In our lives is often like
Being stuck with a needle.
It hurts at first, but we need it.
Jesus’ ministry was directed at those who were honest with themselves, those who were willing to acknowledge their sinfulness.
They had to be
Receptive to the truth
In order to
Receive the truth.
Here the second encouraging truth . . .
No matter how sick we are, we can still be made well!
Unlike physical sicknesses that cannot be cured [COVID-19 presently] or unlike illnesses that do not respond well to conventional treatment – all spiritual sicknesses can be cured by the medicine of the gospel.
No matter how sick you are –
Whether you are
A religious person, an alcoholic,
A drug abuser, a prostitute,
A criminal, no matter your “social disorder”
Of being an outcast or a misfit –
No matter the depth of your spiritual sickness,
The Good Physician can make you well.
He has come for that very purpose.
The medicine of the gospel heals. And when we continue to “take our medicine,” (letting the power of the Gospel do its work in our lives) we grow stronger spiritually. This means we continue to find satisfaction in Christ alone and we are moment-by-moment, day-by-day, grateful for the gospel – gratefully knowing that God always and forever regards us as holy in His sight because we are covered in Christ’s righteousness. We are freed from fear of death and guilt in life.
He is a final encouraging truth from our passage . . .
If we are well then we will want to help those who are sick.
God works through His children (those He has made well) to reach out and help others who are sick. God works through every Christian, using his or her unique backgrounds and experiences, to bring the medicine of the gospel to others.
Jesus called Matthew and then used all of Matthew’s experiences as a tax-collector – a guy who kept records and wrote down facts – the Lord used him as an apostle to keep records of history and write down those facts in what would eventually become the very book in which this narrative is recorded: The Gospel of Matthew.
God can take all of our experiences
And use them for His greater glory.
In fact, God delights in working
Through outcasts and misfits!
As the friend of sinners, Jesus Himself became the “ultimate outcast” for us. As Isaiah prophesied 700 years earlier in Isaiah 53:4-6, “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
Jesus is the ultimate outcast:
He was cast out in separation from the Father for us
He was cast out of the temple for us
He was cast out of the city for us
He was cast out and crucified upon a cross for us
Jesus takes all of our “outcasted-ness” upon Himself in order to make us well. He lived a perfect life, died a substitutionary death, and rose miraculously from the grave that all who are “outcasts” may be “brought in” by faith and have peace with God.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”