We’ve been looking at Matthew chapters 8 and 9. Tremendous truth about the miracles of Jesus Christ, His wonders, His mighty deeds, signs of His messiahship.
This morning we come again to the ninth chapter. We’re going to be examining verses 9 through 17 as a unit. We’ll do it this week and next week, but I just want you to know that we’re going to take it as a total unit, because I feel that it flows together in the logic of the spirit of God in this chapter, Matthew chapter 9.
Now, we’ve entitled this section “Receiving the Sinner, Refusing the Righteous.” Receiving the sinner and refusing the righteous. Frankly, that is the central message of the Christian faith. But it’s amazing how that is misconstrued.
You hear people say, “Well, Christians certainly aren’t perfect.” That knowledge we already have. In fact, it is because we know that that we’re Christians. Or you hear people say, “Well, churches certainly aren’t filled with perfect people.” We know that, too. That’s why we’re here; it is our imperfection that has driven us. Or you hear someone say, “Well, I would never go to the church because it’s full of hypocrites.”
My thought is always, “Come on; we can always use another one.” Everybody in the world has been hypocritical. We’re willing to admit it. We know our faults. You see, most people have the idea that religion is for good people. But the truth is it’s for bad people who know just how bad they are. That’s why they come to God.
Now in our text, from verses 9 through 17 of Matthew 9. There is one of the most definitive, dramatic, insightful, and comprehensive statements our Lord ever made. It gives us a full perspective on His ministry. It gives us the basic rationale of the incarnation. It is one of the most important statements ever recorded in the Bible, and it’s at the end of verse 13.
The Lord says, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Now, that’s the essence of the statement. “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” God has come for bad people, not good people. That is the message of Christianity, the essence of the Gospel, the reason for the incarnation.
Why did Jesus come into the world? Clearly He says it, “To call sinners.” Those who know they have a terminal disease, those who are desperate, those who are hurting, those who are hungry, those who are thirsty, those who are weak, those who are weary, those who are broken, those whose lives are shattered. Sinners who know they’re sinners.
Augustine the world thinks to be a great saint. He said this, “Lord, save me from that wicked man, myself.”
John Knox - affirmed as perhaps the greatest preacher in their history of Scotland, certainly a man that most would think to be a man of great righteousness – said, “In youth, in middle age, and now, after many battles, I find nothing in me but corruption.”
John Wesley wrote, “I am fallen short of the glory of God. My whole heart is altogether corrupt and abominable. And consequently, my whole life, seeing an evil tree, cannot bring forth good fruit.” And his brother, who wrote so many marvelous hymns, in one of them said, “Vile and full of sin I am.”
One of the great ministers of God of times past was a man named Augustus Toplady, who among other things wrote the hymn “Rock of Ages.” Of himself he said this, “Oh that such a wretch as I should ever be tempted to think highly of himself. I that am myself nothing but sin and weakness, in whose flesh naturally dwells no good thing.”
Jesus came to call not the righteous but sinners. Peter said it, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
Paul said it in 1 Timothy. He summed it all up for all of us and said, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to” – what? – “save sinners, of whom I am foremost.” And he undoubtedly had in mind, among other things, the word of our Lord in Matthew that Jesus had said He had come to call sinners.
Now, this is precisely, beloved, the point of our text. This is the point of the passage. Jesus has come to call sinners. Aren’t you glad about that? If He came into the world only for the righteous, there wouldn’t be anybody in His kingdom, because, “There is none righteous, no not one.”
But there are many who think they’re righteous, and He can’t help them because they have no need. You see, that’s why the Gospel has to be negative, because people don’t come to Christ for a solution unless they understand they have a problem. They don’t come for a healing unless they know they have a disease. They don’t come for life unless they know they’re death – they’re in death.
In fact, Julius Schniewind has made a tremendous statement. He says this, “This then is conversion: to accept the death sentence and then the acquittal of God.” What a great statement, “To accept the death sentence and then the acquittal of God.” We have to accept the death sentence, first. Jesus came to expose us as sinners. That’s why His message was so penetrating, so forceful, why it tore off the self-righteousness of men and exposed their evil hearts. That was necessary, that they might see themselves as sinners. You’ll never win a relative to Christ, a friend to Christ, a neighbor or anyone else until they know they need Him.
Now, let me set the context for you as we approach this passage. Matthew is presenting the messiahship or Christ. And He’s trying to prove it every way possible. And in chapter 8 and 9, he verifies the messiahship, lordship of Christ, the saviorhood of Christ, the deity of Christ, the reality that He’s the Son of God, the Messiah. He tries to verify it here marvelously by the miracles that Jesus did. And they are not random miracles; they are categorically selected to show the range of Messiah’s credentials and how they fulfill all the Old Testament expectations.
You have nine miracles, three sets of three, and after each set of three, there is a response given. The first three miracles dealt with disease, sickness, and showed Christ’s power over illness, disease, infirmity of the flesh. The power over the body and its decay. And after those miracles, there was a response. Three would-be disciples came. They were half-hearted, shallow, and superficial, and they said, “We want to follow you,” but when they heard the price, they went away. And so the response was sad.
Then there was the second three miracles. They had not so much to emphasize illness, but rather the first of the second three was His power over the elements of nature, the wind and the sea. The second is power over demons, and the third is power over sin. That’s where we are in chapter 9. Jesus has just forgiven a man’s sin. Totally, comprehensively, and completely.
And Matthew is saying, “The Messiah has power over the physical body. He has power over the natural elements. He has power over the demonic host, and He has power over sin. And therefore He is fitted to bring us the kingdom. And he has just given this tremendous miracle where Jesus forgave a man’s sins. Monumental. And then comes the response. Three miracles and then a response. And the response is divided. There is a positive response, and there is a negative. The positive response comes from a sinner; the negative comes from one who thinks he’s righteous.
But the response is in verses 9 through 17. Then we go back into the miracles again. And so, we want to cover this passage. Now, think with me so you’ll see the transition. Verse 9 is the call of Matthew. That’s the first part of the response, the positive. He sees a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. He said unto him, “Follow me.” And he arose and followed. Positive response.
Then He enters into the dialogue with the Pharisees; negative response. Poles apart, reacting to the same thing, the same miracles.
Think with me now as I help you to see the transition. Jesus. Jesus has just forgiven sins. Matthew makes that point in verses 1 through 8. He has the ability and the power to forgive sin. Now immediately, then, the question comes, “But how much sin can He forgive? Whose sin can He forgive? Whose sin does He not forgive? What are the parameters, the extents, the dimensions of His forgiveness?”
And therein lies the reasons that we find what we find in the following verses. He can forgive sin, yes. Forgives the paralytic. But whose sin can He forgive? How far does it go? And whose sin does He not forgive? And what is the – what is the required response. What is necessary to experience this forgiveness? All of these questions are answered in what follows. It is an incredible passage.
Get the picture: Jesus has been teaching, verses 1 to 8. In probably Peter’s house in Capernaum by the seashore, the meeting is over. The paralytic is healed; he’s gone home with his four friends. Jesus goes out the door; the meeting is dismissed in that house. But typically, Jesus leaves. And the other writers - Mark 2, Luke 5 – describe it for us. He walks along the shore, the northern edge of the lake of Galilee. And following are His disciples, the ones at least that have been called. And behind, the multitude. They never left Him. They were astonished. They were fascinated. They were amazed. The meeting may have been over in the house, but they followed Him.
And He’s walking along the shore with this mass of people around Him. And at that point we come to verse 9. “And as Jesus passed forth from there” – that is from the house, walking along the shores – “He saw a man named Matthew.” By the way, in the other Gospel he’s called Levi. It’s not uncommon for a man to have two names. Thomas was called Didymus. Bartholomew had another name. It may have been like Simon Peter, that he was Simon, but the Lord gave him Peter. And he may have been Levi, and the Lord gave him Matthew because Matthew means “gift of Jehovah.” We really don’t know that, but it’s not uncommon to have two names. So, Levi and Matthew was the same person. But He sees him sitting at the tax office and said unto him, “Follow Me,” and he rose and followed Him.
Now, if you don’t know anything about Matthew, you’re going to learn in this message this morning that Matthew was a modest man. He was truly humble. He reduces his whole conversion to one verse and says absolutely nothing about himself. But he has something very potent in mind. Now, listen to this. The first part of the text shows Jesus receiving the sinner.
And the question comes, “Oh, yes, He healed the paralytic, and He forgave all his sins, but just how far does this forgiveness go? I mean what kind of people can Jesus really forgive?”
And so, Matthew says, in effect, in verse 9, “He forgave me.”
You say, “Is that significant?”
Yeah, it is. You want to hear something that might shock you? Matthew was categorically the vilest person in Capernaum. That’s right. By all the evaluation of the time, Matthew was the most wretched sinner in town. That’s why he uses himself as an illustration. How far does this forgiveness business go? It goes to the extremity.
Matthew calls himself here what Paul tried to take as his title, the chief of sinners.
You say, “Well, now wait a minute, MacArthur. I don’t see that in that verse. It just says He saw a man named Matthew.”
Oh, yeah, but you got to know about him. It tells you a little bit. It says he was sitting at a tax office.
You say, “Well, I have a brother-in-law that works for the IRS, and he’s basically a good guy.”
That might be true. We probably have people in this church who work for the IRS. They don’t tell us who they are, but I’m sure we have them. But this was different.
Let me tell you a little bit about Matthew and why he’s a classic illustration of the Lord’s power to forgive sin. Matthew was a publican – publicani. They were a breed of people who served Rome. Now, when Rome moved in and took over Palestine, they wanted to exact taxes. And individuals living in the land of Palestine would buy franchises from the Roman government which gave them the right to operate the taxation system in a certain district or a certain town.
So, when Matthew bought into the Roman system, he revealed himself as a traitor to the cause of Israel. Now, nothing, in the mind of a Jew, is a heinous as being antinationalistic, anti-Jewish. To hire on to the oppressive conqueror, who has your people in his grasp, would be inconceivable in the Jewish mind. He literally bought his way into the Roman system. He bought a franchise for taxation from Rome. And then Rome then required that he collect a certain amount of taxes. Anything he could get over that he could keep. And the Roman government, in order to keep him happy and on their side would support him in his excesses and his abuses. So, when he did overcharge, and when he did extort the people, he had the Romans behind him.
And so, there was gross oppression and abuse. He just had to pay Rome a certain amount, and everything else He could get was his own. Tax collectors then took bribes from the rich. They extorted from the middle class and the poor. They became hated. They became despised for their lack of nationalism, for being traitors of the worst kind. They had entered into the service of their country’s conqueror. They were amassing fortunes at the expense of their own oppressed countrymen.
And most of the Jews believed that it was wrong anyway to pay taxes. They felt that only God should receive their money. They were looking backwards to an Old Testament theocracy. That’s why the question that the Pharisees asked our Lord was so devastating, when they took a coin and said, “Whose is this?”
He said, “Well, it’s got Caesar’s picture on it.”
“Well, then what do we do with it? Do we give it to Caesar?”
And the reason they wanted Jesus to answer that was because if He said, “Yes,” He would have gone against everything the Jews believed. They believed that God was the only one who should receive anything they had. The Jews believed only in the theocracy. And so, they despised the fact that this was not only extortive and antinationalistic, but it was anti-religion.
They went even further than that. “If you were a tax collector,” Alfred Edersheim says, “in this day you could not attend the synagogue. You were barred from the place. You couldn’t even have religious interactivity with the people. You were listed” – get this – “in a list with unclean beasts out of the Old Testament. You were like a swine. They were forbidden to be a witness in any court of law because they could not be believed. They were known as flagrant liars. They wouldn’t even allow their testimony. They were classified with robbers and murderers.”
Well, I was so fascinated by this that I continued to read in Edersheim – and by the way, he’s a classic Jewish writer on the times with historical insight – and I found that not only that, but it goes a step further, and this is most fascinating. That’s just the tax collectors in general. But of those, there were two categories.
“Category number one,” says Edersheim, “were the general tax collectors, and their job was to take the regular taxes. And there were three of them. There was the land tax or the ground tax. That’s like property tax. There was the income tax. And then there was the pole tax. Just a registration tax.”
In other words, if you’re alive, you got to pay tax for being alive. If you’re dead, you don’t have to pay. So, you had this pole tax; you had this income tax and land tax. Land tax, one-tenth of your grain, one-fifth of our fruit and wine. Income tax, one percent of your money earned. And the pole tax was a determined figure that varied.
Now, the general tax collector took that. Their title in the Hebrew was gabbai G-A-B-B-A-I. Interesting, huh? That’s what you think today when you send in your tax. Goodbye. So, you won’t forget that term. But the general tax collector was the gabbai, and his job was simply to take those basic, regular taxes, and then he would add surcharges onto that to make his own fortune. But there was another kind of tax collector. This one dealt in the taxes that were other than these very stationary taxes. His job was to collect duty on everything else.
Now, we have the same thing in our society. We have certain land – property tax. We have income tax and things like that. And then we’ve got all the other taxes. Taxes on what you buy, on the food you eat. Taxes you pay every time you fly on an airplane. Taxes that airplanes pay when they land at an airport. Boat taxes. I mean there are taxes on axles on trucks and wheels on trucks and – you know, all of these road taxes, tolls you pay to go across a bridge, whatever, whatever, whatever. Now, that comes under the second category.
Now, these duties were given to a different man who was called a mokhes, M-O-K-H-E-S. He was able to collect tax on all import, all export, everything bought, everything sold, every road, every bridge, every harbor, every town, every everything. And Edersheim says they could invent taxes on anything they wanted. They could put taxes on axles. The more axles you had, the mores taxes you paid – cart axles. Taxes on your wheels. The more wheels you had, if you had a two-wheeled cart, it was cheaper to transport than a four-wheeled car. Pack animals. A three-legged burro was cheaper than a four-legged burro. Slower, but cheaper. Pedestrian taxes. It cost you money to cross a certain road, to cross a certain bridge. Highway taxes, road taxes.
Market taxes. If you wanted to have your little business in the marketplace, you paid the mokhes a tax. Taxes on your ship, your boat, the dock. The fish you caught. They would open every package coming along the road. And they had the right to open every private letter to see if there was a business going on in that letter, they could attach a tax to that. Unlimited.
The gabbai were despised. The mokhes were more despised. They were unlimited in the abuses. They were oppressive, and they were unjust. And Edersheim says they were the ones who sat at the conflux of the roads where Matthew is sitting.
Now, Matthew would have been sitting by the north port of the sea of Galilee, and there probably was collecting taxes on all of that which was going on, on the lake, of industry: fishing and whatever else. He would have been in the strategic point also on the road from Damascus and the orient to the west so that he probably taxed everybody going by east and west. So, he had one of the really wealthy tax franchises that the Romans had let out.
Now, he wasn’t a gabbai; he was a mokhes. He was the more hated of the two, oppressive and unjust. Extortive, robbing people, taxing for everything and having the Romans behind him so that the intimidation and the threat was there.
Edersheim even goes on to say this, and this is most interesting. Of the mokhes, there were two kinds. Two kinds. The first were called the great mokhes. They were the ones who hired somebody to sit at the table and stayed behind the scenes, because they wanted to kind of keep their hands clean on the outside. They wanted to sort of have a good reputation.
And then there were what the Hebrews called the small mokhes. They did it themselves. They actually sat at the table themselves, too cheap to pay somebody else. And too unconcerned about their reputation to care what anybody thought. They did it themselves. It was one thing to be a publican; it was worse to be a mokhes. It was worse to be a mokhes, but far worse to be a little or a small mokhes.
You know what Matthew was? Matthew was the little mokhes of Capernaum. The worst man in the city. As far as the people were concerned, he was the most wretched human being in their town. They hated him. They paid him because they were afraid not to. Do you know what the rabbi said? “For a little mokhes, repentance is well nigh impossible.” If there’s one sinner who could never be forgiven, it would be a little mokhes. That’d be it.
And here he was, the little mokhes of Capernaum, sitting at his table, doing his thing. And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” And he did. And you can imagine the gasps. Matthew. Now, we think of Matthew as a wonderful – I mean I’m rethinking my son’s name. You know? We always thought of Matthew as a wonderful – Matthew was the worst. Now, he got better.
I don’t have that problem with John. He’s always good in the Bible. That’s why my son’s name is John Matthew. I just want to keep the perspective. But Matthew, you see, he doesn’t talk about himself or about any of his potential, or about how honored he is to be an apostle. He doesn’t say a word about himself because he knows the kind of man he is.
Now, I believe – I believe that Matthew was a man under conviction. I believe you have his conversion in verse 9; you just don’t have all the details. You see, we think Jesus went along the shore, and when he called the disciples, “Follow Me,” and they just jumped up and followed him.
And they said, “I don’t know what we’re getting into, guys, but it looks like a good deal.”
No. You see, Jesus had ministered and ministered and ministered and ministered all over that area. They knew who He was. They knew everything He taught. They knew everything He did. They knew His wonders and His miracles and His signs. They heard what He said. They knew He was come for the forgiveness of sins. They knew exactly what they were getting into, and they were ready. Their hearts were prepared. And Matthew was a man under conviction. And Matthew was a man who I believe must with all of his heart have wanted the forgiveness, but the system told him he could never have it.
And so, he wasn’t up at the house, seeking Jesus like the paralytic; he was down there getting his money because that’s all he was consigned to do. He recognized his sin. And I believe that’s the reason he got up so fast and followed. There isn’t even a big discussion. He doesn’t say, “Well, now, what’s this going to involve? I’ve got a lot of interest here.”
In fact, Luke adds a little statement. It says, “He forsook all.” Matthew doesn’t say that. He won’t say that; he’s too humble. He’s not going to talk about what he left. I mean if you were a fisherman, and Jesus said, “Follow me,” you could follow, and you could always go back to the fish. Right? I mean they’re always going to be there. But if you’re a tax collector, and you get up and say, “Goodbye, I’m leaving,” you can’t ever go back, because the next day, Rome is going to have somebody in your place, and it’s all over.
So, the price that Matthew paid was far greater than much of the others paid. And he walked away, and Luke says, “He forsook all of it.” He didn’t say, “Well, I’m coming, Lord, but, hey, I can finance this whole operation if you just let me grab these bags.” He didn’t say that. He just followed. The Lord didn’t need that. Matthew knew about the Lord. His home base had been the city of Capernaum, and all you have to do is go to Capernaum to see what it’s like. It is a tiny, little place. Miracle upon miracle upon miracle had happened there. He knew. That’s why he followed so fast.
I believe deep down in his heart, he must have hoped for forgiveness. He must have longed for what Jesus offered him. And that’s why he ran. You know, true conversion is like that. When you really see someone converted, they’re not fighting, trying to drag on the garbage of the past; they can’t unload it fast enough. And he was that way.
Jesus fixed that look of love on him, searched the depths of the inmost part of his soul, turned him instantly into a man of God. And he didn’t need to think about it. When he heard, “Follow Me,” he was up and gone.
Edersheim says, “He said not a word, for his soul was in the speechless surprise of unexpected grace.” Oh, I love that. His soul was in the speechless surprise of unexpected grace. He was redeemed at that spot. Far from being depressed about what he left, he couldn’t run fast enough to get to Jesus.
Amy Carmichael, in a very lovely little poem, wrote, “I heard 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 him call?”
I guess, for Matthew, he couldn’t understand why anybody wouldn’t follow when Jesus offered forgiveness. Matthew lost a career and gained a destiny. He lost his security and gained an undreamed adventure. He lost material things and gained a spiritual fortune. And Matthew understood the Spirit of the Lord. He knew He had come to save sinners, and he knew that he was the worst, the unforgiveable, the worst man in his town. That’s how far it goes; that’s how deep it reaches.
Well, he was so overwhelmed that he decided to throw a banquet. That’s right, it was the banquet attended by the most rotten people in the history of banquets, because the only people Matthew knew were crummy, rotten, wretched, vile people. Because no one else would come near him. They despised him. So, the only people he knew were people like himself: prostitutes, murderers, robbers, thieves, irreligious, godless, and other tax collectors. Perhaps the local gabbai and of his sort in other districts that he knew.
Now, Matthews Gospel doesn’t tell us about the details of the banquet, because Matthew, again, in his humility, won’t talk about that. But like so many new believers, the first thought he had was to win his friends to Christ. So, as we read Mark 2 and Luke 5, we find that he calls this banquet in his own house. And Jesus is the honored guest. He’s got the whole thing set up. He invites all the wretched, rotten, vile people in Capernaum, and they’re all in one building. And Jesus is the honored guest.
Now, some supercilious people might say, “Well, He shouldn’t go to those evil people.” And that’s exactly what the Pharisees thought. But that’s not the way Jesus operated. There is a right way to fellowship with sinners. Do you understand that? You know what Jesus became known as? Matthew 11:19 indicates that his name among the people was “the friend of publicans and sinners.” And this probably started out that reputation right here. But he became known as the friend of publicans and sinners. I can’t think of a better title, can you? The friend of publicans and sinners. That’s how they got to know him.
Now, sinners, hamartōloi, is almost a technical term for people who wouldn’t even touch the law of God or the traditions of the scribes and Pharisees. They were the vilest, the most wretched, and the worst people of all. Verse 10, “And it came to pass, as Jesus sat eating in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples.” What a crowd. All the worst people. Can you get the picture of what – this is so devastating to the Jewish system of self-righteousness that it shocks them. It just knocks them out. They can’t handle this, “I mean if this really God, why isn’t He having a dinner for us?”
And the answer is because He came to save sinners. And if you’re not willing to admit that, He has nothing to say to you. So, they come in verse 11. And they linger outside – the Pharisees. They wait till the banquet’s over. And as the disciples come out, they don’t confront Jesus head on, they corner the disciples. Verse 11, “And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto His disciples, ‘Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?”
Now, this is not just an honest question, “Why – Why is He doing this? Could you please tell us?” It’s not that. What they’re really saying is a stinging rebuke. It is the venting of their bitterness, “Shame on you. I mean fraternizing with Master or a Teacher who hangs around with such riff-raff.” I mean this is vindictive. This is hateful, “True religious people, pious people, righteous men like we are, we shun such vile sinners.” That’s what they’re saying.
Well, there’s a lot of people, I think, in the Church today who would hate to think of it, but that’s how they act. Our world begins and ends with people who are in the family. And all we can do is stand and criticize the ones who are outside, not reach out and help them. You need to think about that. They don’t need your criticism; they need your help. They don’t need to be kept at a distance; they need your mercy, your love.
And so, they say, “What kind of a leader have you got who hangs around with the scum?”
Verse 12. Jesus overheard the conversation, apparently. “And when He heard it, He said, ‘They that are well need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go and learn what it meaneth. I will have mercy and not sacrifice, for I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Now, listen; in the statement in verse 12 and 13, Jesus defends His disciples following Him. And He has a threefold argument – powerful argument. The first one is from human logic. The second one is from Scripture. The third one is from His own divine authority.
First of all, human logic, the analogy. Verse 12, “When Jesus heard, He said unto them, “They that are well need not a physician, but they that are sick.” The Greek order emphasizes “need not.” Well people don’t need a physician; sick people do. And what He’s doing is indicting the Pharisees. He’s saying, “You are the ones who are saying they are the sickest. Then by your own affirmation, they most need the physician.”
The analogy is simple. A physician can be expected to go among sick people. And so, a forgiver should be expected to go among sinful people. His defense is simple. He went to the people who had the deepest need. If the eyes of the Pharisees – and get this – “If you’re so perceptive as to see them as sinners, if your diagnosis is so accurate, where is your passion? Where is your concern? Are you a doctor who diagnoses but has no desire to cure?” What an indictment of their self-righteousness. What an indictment of their judgmental spirit that was spoken of in Matthew 7. What an indictment of their condemning attitude, these pious critics. They so freely have defined them all as sinners, but are utterly indifferent.
In Matthew 23, the Lord says to them, “You make sure that you carry out the ritual of tithing a mint and anise and a cumin,” the smallest little seeds there are. If you’ve got ten little of those deals, you make sure you give one to the Lord. “You tithe all that stuff, but you have omitted the weightier matters of the law, like justice and mercy.” Where’s your mercy? Where’s your compassion? Where’s your love? Where’s your care? You’ve made the diagnosis, and you’ve condemned yourself because you’ve stopped there.
And the same is true with us. We say, “Oh, so-and-so’s a terrible sinner. Why, those neighbors of mine, they’re awful people. Sinful.” And you just stand on your own porch and damn them as sinners, or do you care? Is there mercy there is the issue.
Jesus is saying, “I did not come to invite people who are so self-satisfied that they are convinced of their own goodness, that they are convinced they don’t need anybody’s help. Rather I have come to invite people who are desperate and conscious of their sin and need for a Savior.”
The scribes and Pharisees would have made lousy doctors. They were more concerned with the preservation of their own holiness than with helping someone else. They’d be like a doctor who would say, “Oh, I’d love to come over and cure you, but I might get our sickness.” Some doctor he’d be. Or, “Well, I certainly will give you a diagnosis, but I don’t have time to bother with a cure.”
But Jesus comes along and expresses the fullness of the statement of Exodus 15:26, where God said, “I am the Lord that healeth thee.” Jesus came right down and got in the room and ate with them. He got as close to them as you can get. And rather than being contaminated by them, He made them pure and white as snow. He was the divine iatros, the divine Physician.
The argument from analogy is potent. If they’re sick, they need a doctor. And, boy, what an indictment, “You don’t think you’re sick, and you’re the sickest of all.” The second is an argument from Scripture. Verse 13. And here He pins them to the wall with their own Scripture, “Go and learn” – and by the way, that little statement, “Go and learn,” is from the rabbinic writings. You see it many, many times in the rabbinical writings. The rabbis used to use it as an exhortation or a rebuke to persons who didn’t really know what they should have known. “Go and learn,” He says. Go back to the books and come again when you’ve gotten the information and learn what your own text says. And He quote Hosea 6:6, “‘I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.’” In other words, God says, “I am not concerned with ritual; I’m concerned with a merciful heart.”
Here they were; they cranked out all the little ritual, but they had no mercy or compassion or love for a sinner. And in Hosea, you remember, God said to His people, “You’ve committed harlotries; you’ve committed adulteries; you’ve gone into idolatry. You’ve left Me; you’ve forsaken Me. And still you crank out your little religious ritual.”
And so, he says to them in Hosea 6:6, “It is not sacrifice that I want from you; it is mercy. In other words, it’s your hearts I’m after.” “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,” is the same thing in the Beatitudes. God is indicting the Pharisees, saying, “You’ll never get the mercy of God, because you show no mercy, which indicates your hearts aren’t right.”
Well, Jesus shows the self-deluded religionists they were far worse than the Publicans and the sinners. And He says, “Go and learn,” and you better learn what your own text says. Now listen to this; God had instituted the sacrificial system. God had ordered Israel to offer those sacrifices. But they were only pleasing to God when they were the expression of a broken spirit and a broken and a contrite heart. And when the heart wasn’t right, the ritual was an abomination to God. And He’s saying that to them here, “I want mercy. You say you’re righteous because you do the ritual. I say you’re vile because you show no mercy, and that’s the real indicator. You don’t have the heart of God.” God is never pleased with rituals separated from personal righteousness.
I think some people just think they go through a certain Christian routine, go to church and do certain things and God is pleased. He is never pleased with a routine that is separated from personal holiness. Without a change of heart, without a deep sense of sin, sacrifices were dead ritual, loathsome, hateful to God.
Listen to what the prophet Amos said, “I hate, I despise your feast days. I will not take delight in your solemn assemblies. Though you offer me burnt offerings and meal offerings, I won’t accept them. Neither will I regard the peace offering of your fat beasts. Take away from me the noise of your songs. I will not hear the melody of your harps. But let justice run down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream,” Amos 5.
He says, “I ordained all those things, but I hate them because your hearts aren’t right. I want justice, and I want righteousness.”
Thirdly, He has argued from logic and analogy; He’s argued from the Old Testament Scripture, and lastly, He argues from His own authority, “For I am not come to call the righteous but sinners.” The last two words “two repentance” are not in this text in the better manuscripts, but appear in one of the other Gospels, so, they do fit the situation. But in our text, He says, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Do you know what it says in Luke 18:9? It says, “The Pharisees believed they were righteous.” So, He accepts their self-evaluation. He says, “You say you’re righteous. I accept that as your self-evaluation. I have nothing to say to you. I have come to call sinners.”
That’s the whole issue. Logic says it, Scripture says it, and Jesus affirms it. Could these Pharisees really be righteous when they had no mercy for sinners, when they were blind to the word of their own prophet, when they were raging at a merciful physician who reached to those who so deeply needed help? Jesus was right on target.
By the way, the word “call” is often used. Kaleō is a technical term for inviting a guest to a home, to a meal, to a lodging.
In Matthew 22, verses 1 to 10, the Lord gives a picture that fits this so well. Let me just briefly remind you – don’t turn to it – just remind you of it. You remember the Lord pictures His kingdom like a banquet, and He sends out invitations. But all the people who are invited refuse to come. That’s the picture of Israel. And then He says, “You go out into the highways and byways, and you find the poor, and the lame, and the crippled, and the blind and bring them in.
You see, the kingdom is for the hungry and the thirsty; they shall be filled. The kingdom is for the hurting and the mourning and the meek and the sinful. That’s what He’s saying.
“I call you,” he says, “but your pious, cold-hearted self-righteousness causes you to refuse my invitation. So, I invite those who know they need Me.” This is the theme, beloved, of the Gospel, that Jesus came to save sinners; that is the ringing, recurring, constant theme. And until you know you’re a sinner, the Lord has nothing to offer you.
Matthew, he knew, and he arose and followed Jesus. And the rest is a glorious history, isn’t it? Matthew became a saint of God who penned this incomparable Gospel and entered into a spiritual inheritance that goes on forever. Jesus receives sinners. Well, Matthew was the little mokhes of Capernaum. And Jerry McAuley was the dregs of human society, and those are just the kind of people the Lord can save. That’s the message of this passage. He saves sinners. I’m one. I hope you know you’re one. If you do, you’re within the range of the Great Physician. Let’s bow in prayer.
We’re grateful again, this morning, Lord, You’ve spoken to us through Your Holy Spirit and Your Word. We thank You so much for the fact that You saw us in our sin and loved us anyway, that You cared for us when we were not worth caring for, that You’ve redeemed us to Yourself by the blood of Your Son. Thank You, Father, for that great gift.
And, Lord, I pray, too, for those here this morning who may not ever have invited Jesus Christ into their life, who’ve never seen themselves as vile sinners. May they know it this day and may they come You and hear You say, “Follow Me,” and may they arise and follow. May no one, Father, here leave without a sense of sinfulness and without a calling upon You or a thanking You for forgiveness already received. We pray these things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, amen.
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