Encounters With Christ – Jesus, Friend of Sinners

Grace For The Journey

We have learned something about ourselves,

We have learned something about our sin,

And most importantly

We have learned something about our Savior.

This is the case again today as we look at Matthew 9:9-13.

It is interesting how many times we read in the Bible of Jesus’ sharing a meal with someone.  One could preach a series on that theme, “Dining with Christ.”  It is also 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, and hanging out with people society frowns upon, social misfits and outcasts, people who have committed “horrible sins.”

And Christians are wise to ask themselves whether they identify more with the outcasts or the Pharisees.  R. C. Sproul once said, “We are all recovering Pharisees” and that we need to “get over our tendency to frown only upon certain sins” and I would add “and certain sinners,” as well.

The musical group Casting Crowns wrote a song about this in a song entitled, “Jesus, Friend of Sinners.” The chorus goes:

Oh Jesus, friend of sinners
  Open our eyes to a world

At the end of our pointing fingers
  Let our hearts be led by mercy
Help us reach with open hearts and open doors
  Oh Jesus, friend of sinners,

Break our hearts for what breaks yours

And I pray that God will do just that as we study this passage this morning.  Let’s take a closer look now at these five verses, verses 9 and following, and take them one at a time.

Verse 9 says, “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.”  Here is Matthew, “sitting at the tax office.”  Matthew probably worked inside a sort of booth where he collected a toll from people as they traveled.  He collected taxes for Herod Antipas, the current ruler of Galilee.  There is more than one Herod mentioned in the New Testament.  This is Herod Antipas, the wicked ruler who had married his brother’s wife and later cut off the head of John the Baptist.  He was Matthew’s boss.  That alone put Matthew in an unfavorable light.  Here is a Jewish guy named Matthew, working for a notorious fellow who worked for the Roman Empire.  In an ultimate sense, Matthew himself works for Rome.  He is regarded as something of a traitor, in bed with the oppressive Roman government.

You will recall from our study of Zacchaeus that tax collectors in Jesus’ day were also in a position to abuse their power.  Sitting in his tax collector’s booth, Matthew himself set the value of stuff 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 Herod Antipas.

And the Bible says very straightforwardly in verse 9, “As Jesus passed on from there (the house in Capernaum where He healed the paralyzed fella), He saw a man named Matthew,” and, “He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ So Matthew “arose and followed Him.”  Most of the Bible translations that have headings above this story have something like, “The Calling of Matthew,” or “Jesus Calls Matthew.”  Jesus calls and Matthew follows. It is so simple and so instructive.  When Jesus calls, we follow.

There is a lot of mystery in this.  No one just naturally follows Christ without God first working in his heart.  By way of His Holy Spirit, God does a number on our cold, hard hearts.  He softens our hearts, making them responsive to His call.  It does not happen to everyone.  We note that every time we share the Gospel through evangelism and missions.  We note that some are more responsive than others.  God is already working in that person’s heart.

Jesus calls Matthew and Matthew follows.  That is how it should always be throughout the Christian life.  At the beginning and throughout, Jesus calls and we follow.  We sing that in that chorus,

Where you go, I’ll go
Where you stay, I’ll stay
When you move, I’ll move
I will follow you

When Jesus speaks to us in His word or by way of His Spirit, when Jesus calls, we follow.

Verse 10 says, “Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house (and that’s Matthew’s house as the other Gospel writers report – Matthew, as the Gospel writer here, apparently too humble to say it was his own house), that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples.”

Implicit here is the fact that these other folks had been invited.  Matthew had invited his tax collector friends 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;” it is a Meet & Eat.”  Having a meal with someone in the ancient near east was a relational and intimate event. 

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.

It was not like our relatively quicker dinnertime of 15 or even 20 minutes.  It was an up-close-and-personal sharing of time – with food built around it.  You did not just eat, you dined.  And you did not just chit-chat, you entered into deep conversation, listening carefully, and responding thoughtfully.  When you do dining like that, you really get to know the people with you.

Before COVID-19 if you were eating in at Chick-Fil-A you probably saw a “Family Challenge” poster, which advertised a box referred to as a “Cell Phone Coop.”  Family members are encouraged to put their cell phones into the box at their table and not use the phone while they eat. Rather than being distracted by technology, the family is encouraged to – talk to each other and get to know one another.  Imagine that!  If everyone succeeds in refraining from using the phone, they each get an ice cream.  Now that is pretty ingenious!

Verse 11 states, “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 at Jesus.  They are shocked and enraged at the behavior of Jesus, sitting down with these “Tax collectors and sinners!”  It interesting that tax collectors are so hated as sinners as to be placed in their own special category?  Tax collectors and sinners, which is to say, “and other sinners!”  The Pharisees are beside themselves about Jesus’ sitting down with these unclean, social outcasts.

On the one hand, they have a point.  Let’s be fair.  I mean, there were Old Testament purity laws, dietary commands, and Bible verses that taught separation from sinners. Psalm 1:1 for example says. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.”  What is Jesus doing if not “walking, standing, and sitting” among sinners?”

But . . .

The Pharisees had taken these laws and verses

About contamination and separation to extremes

That were not intended by the Lord.  

The biblical teachings were more about

Personal holiness and making sure that one

Was always the influencer rather than

The one being influenced.

You can be wrongly influenced by someone else’s sinful behavior or you can be the one who influences that person for good.  And perhaps even more importantly . . .

The strict legalistic moral behavior of the Pharisees

Had become merely a rigid, religious system of rule-keeping –

Totally empty of love. There was no love among the Pharisees!

Just laws . . . Laws without love.

Jesus addresses the wrong-headed, empty-hearted behavior of the Pharisees in these verse 12, “When Jesus heard that, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.’”  That is such a great statement, isn’t it?!

I mean, we understand this right away, don’t we?  Jesus is like, “Look, you Pharisees seem to feel you have it all together.  You are feeling well.  But I did not come for those who think they are feeling well.  I have come for those who know they are not well.  I have come for those who know they are sick. I am the Good Doctor who has come to heal the spiritually sick.”

Maybe at this point Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:1-2. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because [He] has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound … to comfort all who mourn.”  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 they thought they were.  They were actually sick.  And their main sickness was that of the Tin Man’s in “The Wizard of Oz” – They had no heart.

So . . .

Only those who realize their need

For Jesus, will come to Jesus.

That is a sermon in a statement: Only those who realize their need for Jesus, will come to Jesus.

Hospitals are only for folks who are sick.  You cannot stay in a hospital if you are not sick, right?  It is not a place for just anyone to stay.  You have to be admitted, and you are admitted only when it has been determined that you are sick.  A church admits those who are sick, not those who are well.  If you do not think you’re sick, then you really don’t belong, do you?  Something to think about!

Jesus continues 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.”

Jesus is like, “Let me give you guys some homework.” He says, “Go and learn what this means.”  By the way, Jesus could have slammed them, but He doesn’t.  Jesus does not shame them, but honors them by just telling them to do a little homework, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’”  That phrase is from the Old Testament Book of Hosea chapter 6. Verse 6.  You can check it out later for your homework, too!  It is a verse where the Prophet speaks to a people who had become complacent with religious laws and ritual, but displeased God because of their lack of love.

Then Jesus ends verse 13 with the phrase, “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.  I think the New Living Translation is best at capturing the sense of Jesus’ statement in verse 13, “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 sin.”  And, “The doctor’s away – for those who think they’re okay!”

Given our Lord’s metaphor of His being the Good Doctor to those who know they are sick, let me share with you three keys to becoming spiritually well . . .

These are implications that surface from this passage . . .

1) You Can Think You Are Well When You Are Actually Sick.

Have you known anyone like that where that was true for physical sickness?  Maybe that describes some of you!  You do not want to admit when you are sick.  If you do not admit you are sick, you will not go to the doctor or take your medicine.  You do not think you need it.  The preaching and teaching of Scripture is medicine to the soul.  The loving correction of others in your life is like being stuck with a needle.  It hurts at first, but you need it.  You can think you are well when you are actually sick.  I said earlier, “Only those who realize their need for Jesus, will come to Jesus.”  This truth leads us to the second key to becoming spiritually well . . .

2) If You Admit You Are Sick Then You Can Become Well.

Jesus’ ministry was directed at those who were open, those who were willing to acknowledge their sinfulness.  They had to be receptive to the truth in order to receive the truth.

A pastor once shared what he likes to say to folks who ask what he does for a living.  You know how it is when you are traveling, for example, like on an airplane and chatting up with the person next to you.  He replies, “I am a teacher.” Then, when asked, “What do you teach?” he would say, “I teach people about Jesus if they want to listen.”  That puts the ball back in the other person’s court and they are more likely to move the conversation forward.  Jesus’ ministry was directed at those who were open, those who were willing to acknowledge their sinfulness.  We ca not become well until we admit we are sick.  But if we admit we are sick, then we can become well! 

We must admit we are, in fact, sinners.  Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” so we are all social outcasts, aren’t we?  We are all sinners, all of us messed up in one way or other.  Romans 3:10, “There is none righteous, no not one.”  And here is something really encouraging . . .

No matter how sick we are,

We can still be made well!

Unlike physical sickness where some diseases simply cannot be cured, or illnesses that do not respond well to treatment, especially given a particular aggravated stage of the illness . . . All spiritual sicknesses can be cured by the medicine of God’s grace through Jesus Christ!

No matter how sick you are – whether you are a sick religious person, a sick alcoholic, a sick drug abuser, a prostitute, a criminal, no matter your social disorder of being among the riff-raff, an outcast, a misfit, no matter the depth of your spiritual sickness, the Good Physician can make you well.  He has come for that very purpose.

JC Ryle pleads for us to understand the truth of this teaching . . .

That it is precisely those who are sick

For whom Christ came and

That our first order of business,

Then, is to acknowledge our weakness,

Admitting we are sick so that

We may become well.

In JC Ryle’s words, “We are not to keep away from Christ, as many ignorantly do, because we feel bad, and wicked, and unworthy.  We are to remember that sinners are those He came into the world to save, and that if we feel ourselves such, it is well. Happy is he who really comprehends that one principal qualification for coming to Christ is a deep sense of sin!”

We must have that – a deep sense of our own sin – in order to come to Christ and in order to enjoy the benefits of the Gospel every day of our Christian lives.

The medicine of the Gospel heals us when we apply the Gospel to our day-to-day experiences.  We continue to find satisfaction in Christ alone.  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.  There is no fear in death and no guilt in life.

Unlike the Pharisees . . .

We Christians do not seek God’s approval

Based upon our meager efforts

Or our pitiful performance.  

Rather, we already have God’s approval

Because we have it as those who are

“In Christ,” hidden “in Him.”

God accepts us based upon the

Performance of His Son Jesus in our place.

3) If You Are Well Then You Will Help Those Who Are Sick.

God works through His children – through those He has made well – to reach out and help others who are sin-sick.  God works through every Christian, using his or her unique backgrounds and experiences, to help those who are in need of our Savior.

Recently I was sharing with someone how God has used every job I ever had in shaping me for the future calling of minister.  Even things I did before I was really living for the Lord, all of those experiences God continues to use in my life.

I like that Jesus calls Matthew and then uses all of Matthew’s experiences as a tax-collector, a guy who kept records and wrote down facts, the Lord uses him as an apostle to keep records of history and write down those facts in what would eventually become this very gospel we are reading, “The Gospel of Matthew.”

God can use all of our experiences for His greater glory.  You get around other folks in this church family and you serve through this Body of Christ, and it is such an encouragement to see how God works in and through you to bless others.

4) If You Are Well Then You Will Help Those Who Are Sick.

You have to be open to those who are sick.  You have to love the sick.  You have to love others in their sickness like Jesus loves you in your sickness.  Are we as open to sinners as Jesus was open?  Are “Tax collectors and sinners” as welcome in God’s house as they were in Matthew’s house?  Are the social outcasts welcome, welcome to sit down with Jesus and everyone else?  I know we all know the right answers to those question. 

Remember the Christmas special on TV, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?  I am talking about the classic, stop motion animated TV Christmas special from the 1960s narrated by Burl Ives.  There’s a scene where there are a bunch of toys on “Misfit Island,” an island dedicated to the goofed-up, imperfect, and flawed toys cast aside because they didn’t fit with the right and proper toys. There was a spotted elephant, a Choo-Choo train with square wheels, a boat that doesn’t stay afloat, and the classic one, instead of a Jack-in-the-Box, a Charlie-in-the-Box.  There was something flawed in each of them so they were cast out, outcasts, misfits, on misfit island.

Every church should have a sign above their doors that reads: “All misfit toys welcome here!”  What are we if not those who are imperfect, flawed, and goofed-up by sin?

New Testament scholar Craig Keener really makes the point that many churches are unwilling to reach out and love the outcasts the way Jesus does.  He writes, “Although we make exceptions today for former sinners if they are of prominent status, many churches are embarrassed to embrace a recovering drug addict or prostitute who comes seeking help.  Likewise, Christians who struggled with homosexual or lesbian behavior in the past find this one of the few sins they dare confide to no one.  Some churches are even reticent to allow an unemployed person or someone who was divorced in the distant past to train for a position of leadership.  Even when our churches define sin and forgiveness the Bible’s way, we sometimes define status in unbiblical ways.”  I am afraid that is too true, too uncomfortably true.

The thing is – it is Jesus who became an outcast for us.  As the friend of sinners, Jesus became the “ultimate outcast” for us.  He took our sickness upon Himself.  He is the one who makes the sinner without sin.  And He is the one who takes our takes our punishment.  He takes all of the stuff of our sin-sicknesses upon Himself.  He is our substitute, taking the punishment we deserve for our sin.  He takes all of our “outcasted-ness” upon Himself in order to make us well.  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, separated from the Father for us, cast out of the temple for us, cast out of the city for us, and crucified on a cross for us.

Hear again from Casting Crowns:

Oh Jesus, friend of sinners
Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers
Let our hearts be led by mercy
Help us reach with open hearts and open doors
Oh Jesus, friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks yours

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

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.”

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