Pastor Gary Wong June 21, 2020
9 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. 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Do you go to your doctor and get an annual check-up? Many people get a physical every year; they eat right and exercise and do whatever they can to get healthy and stay healthy. These people actually like going to the doctor. Others avoid doctors like the plague. Now, it’s not as though these people don’t like or trust doctors. Sometimes they don’t get a check-up because they don’t think they need one. They don’t think that there’s anything wrong with them or they refuse to recognize the signs or symptoms of a serious illness. Because they don’t get a check-up, they might not discover that they’ve been really sick a long time until it’s too late.
We know that going to a doctor is a good idea, but getting to see one isn’t always so easy. With our busy lives, it’s difficult to find time to fit a doctor’s appointment into our hectic schedule. And even when you want to see the doctor, it sometimes seems as though your doctor doesn’t have the time to see you. Wouldn’t it be great if doctors actually made house calls—or better yet, that your doctor would come to you wherever you are, right when you needed him? Well, that’s exactly what happened to me. I was sitting at work one day when along came a man who has to be the greatest doctor ever. He took one look at me, diagnosed my condition, and provided just the right medicine that I needed to get me on the road to good health! I’m telling you, it was a miracle. How do I know that our encounter was a miracle? In the first place, I didn’t think that I was sick (I was wrong). Secondly, I didn’t call him; he came calling on me!
Here’s what happened. By the way, I should probably tell you who I am. My name is Matthew, although most people in my hometown knew me as Levi, son of Alphaeus. I suppose that I was like most every other Jewish boy growing up along the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee. Many of my friends followed in their father’s footsteps and work as fishermen. I chose a different career path, one which caused me to lose just about every friend I ever had. I wanted a stable job that would provide a good income and one where I would have the respect of my fellow citizens. What kind of job meets those requirements? Government work! Unfortunately, the government in my day was run by the Romans. And the only openings they had for locals like me were in the Roman Revenue Service. So I became a tax collector. Now you know why I didn’t have any friends. My fellow Jews hated me because they considered me a traitor for working with the Romans. Secondly, tax collectors had terrible reputations, which were often well deserved. Now, no one likes to pay taxes. But to add insult to injury, many tax collectors illegally charged exorbitant rates—much, much more than what the government demanded—and then pocketed the extra profit. Since I was working for that government, I decided that I would do what everybody else was doing. I figured that I deserved those extra denarii because of all of the abuse I was getting. So you can see why my fellow Jews hated me. In fact, the only friends I had were my fellow tax collectors who were just as despised as I was.
Now, it’s one thing to avoid going to the doctor. It’s quite another thing to avoid paying your taxes. The first thing is rather easy to do; but I made it so that it was virtually impossible to avoid the latter. You see, my tax collector’s booth was located right in the middle of a major highway. This road was the major international trade route that ran between Damascus and the Mediterranean coast; it also passed right through Capernaum. So anyone who wanted to use that road had to pass by my toll booth; and I wouldn’t let anyone pass unless he paid his taxes. That’s where I was sitting when this fantastic physician came by on that unforgettable day. Who was this miracle worker? It was none other than our Savior, Jesus Christ! Now, this wasn’t the first time I had heard of Jesus of Nazareth. Remember—I grew up around Capernaum, which isn’t very far from where Jesus grew up. Jesus also had made Capernaum his base of operations. From there he had called many of his disciples such as Peter and his brother Andrew as well as James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Even though I had heard of Jesus, I had never heard him speak in the synagogue in Capernaum. Since I was considered a morally bankrupt tax collector, I was “discouraged” from attending the synagogue. But that didn’t prevent me from hearing about Jesus. As Jesus went from town to town and village to village throughout Galilee, word about his preaching and miracles spread throughout the region. People who paid their taxes at my toll booth said that Jesus taught about the kingdom of God with authority and not like all the other teachers of the law. They said that Jesus’ message was that the kingdom of God is near, and that our loving and merciful God wants all people to be in his kingdom. God’s mercy extends to even the worst sinner who repents—even someone like me!
So when Jesus showed up at my booth, I was ready. I was eager to listen to Jesus. God’s law had exposed my sin-sick heart. It showed me that I was suffering from a terminal disease, and that all the money in the world could not buy a cure. Sin is a sickness with which all of us were born. There is no vaccine that can prevent a person from suffering sin’s consequences. Because all of us are sinners, all of us deserve to die. The only one who could cure us of our malady is God. God promised to send a Savior who would redeem the world from sin. And there he was, standing right in front of me! Jesus is that promised Savior. He is the Word made flesh. As Jesus had declared in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor…Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18,21).
When Jesus came to my booth, he simply said, “Follow me” (Matt. 9:9). And follow him I did. I immediately left everything behind and followed my Savior. I left behind everything associated with my old way of life. That’s why I prefer to go by my new name, Matthew, which means “gift of God.” I realized that the love of Jesus is purely a gift of God’s grace. Jesus and his Word have completely changed my attitude and priorities. My heart is no longer dominated by my selfish desires, the world, or any of the temptations that the devil might toss my way; rather, my heart is now filled with the love of Christ. The good news of my Savior moves me to show love to God and my fellow human beings, regardless of race, age, color, or gender.
One of the first things that I did after Jesus had called me to follow him was to host a huge banquet. Jesus, of course, was the guest of honor. Jesus’ disciples also honored me by breaking bread at my table. I was so happy that I wanted and did invite all of my friends and anyone else to come to my house for dinner. That guest list was rather short, considering that my only friends were my fellow tax collectors. However, there were others who weren’t ashamed to be associated with tax collectors. These other guests were the not-so-nice people of my day: adulterers, robbers, thieves, cheats, and the like. These social outcasts were labeled as “sinners.”
There were other people who had learned about the party at my house, but didn’t accept my invitation. Who were these people? They were Pharisees—specifically they were self-proclaimed teachers of the law. Basically, these men took it upon themselves to be the moral watchdogs of my day. Now, they did hold the Mosaic Law in high esteem. Unfortunately, they often got carried away in their legalism. If they judged that a person wasn’t following the law closely enough, they condemned that person as unworthy of salvation and wouldn’t have anything to do with him. Anyway, those Pharisees saw Jesus reaching out to me at my tax booth. They then followed us to my house. They, of course, had no intention of going in and joining the celebration. They wouldn’t sully themselves by dipping their bread in bowls with the likes of tax collectors and “sinners.” Rather, they were only there to level a charge against Jesus. Standing at a safe distance from my house, they asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
When Jesus heard their question, he rebuked these self-righteous hypocrites: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick… For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (9:12, 13). Wow! With these brief statements, Jesus put those Pharisees in their place; but more importantly he got to the heart of the biggest problem that has plagued mankind. Those Pharisees mistakenly thought that because they were following the law that they were right with God. They mistakenly thought that they were the spiritually healthy ones (unlike those “sinners”) and that they didn’t need a doctor. Well, Jesus flat out told them that they were wrong.
Folks, I’m happy to have this opportunity to talk with you so that you don’t make the same mistake as those Pharisees. We are not right with God simply because we go to church or pray the Lord’s Prayer. God isn’t satisfied with mere outward appearances. Rather, God looks at the attitude in our hearts, and he is pleased with those people who humbly confess that they are sinners. It is only when we recognize that we are spiritually sick and in need of a Savior that we can then be spiritually healed. That is God’s good and gracious will. That is the reason that God sent us his Son. God’s Word calls sinners to repent and to believe that Jesus is our Savior. Because of Jesus, we are forgiven. Through faith in Jesus, we are healed.
Friends, I’m not ashamed to tell you that I am a sinner. And if you’re honest, you’ll admit that you have the same sickness. But that is no reason to despair. Jesus, the great Physician, has cured us of the deadly disease of sin. Through faith in him, we have the gift of eternal life. By the power of the gospel, let’s worship and serve the Lord and serve our fellow man. Let’s give unsparingly of our time, talent, and treasures to the Lord. I can assure you that the work of his kingdom will not be too taxing, and that it will reap eternal rewards. Through Jesus and his Word, let’s get healthy and stay healthy. Amen.
“By Grace I’m Saved” (CW 384)
Text: Christian L. Scheidt, 1709-61, abr.; tr. Composite
By grace I’m saved, grace free and boundless;
My soul, believe and doubt it not.
Why waver at this word of promise?
Has Scripture ever falsehood taught?
So then this word must true remain;
By grace you, too, shall heav’n obtain.
By grace God’s Son, our only Savior,
Came down to earth to bear our sin.
Was it because of your own merit
That Jesus died your soul to win?
No it was grace, and grace alone,
That brought him from his heav’nly home.
By grace! Oh, mark this word of promise
When you are by your sins oppressed,
When Satan plagues your troubled conscience,
And when your heart is seeking rest.
What reason cannot comprehend
God by his grace to you did send.