140629 Matthew 9:9-13

Last Updated on Monday, 30 June 2014 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Matthew 9:9-13
Theme: A Tale Of Two Conversations

In order to understand and appreciate any piece of literature (including biblical literature) it's helpful to learn as much about the author as possible, but with Matthew this is easier said than done. The book that bears his name is not an autobiography. In fact, the only information Matthew shares about himself, the only time Matthew even mentions himself besides the listing of the names of the twelve disciples (10:3) is in the five verses before us today.

Matthew was a tax collector. Matthew was a tax collector who became a disciple of Jesus. And without telling us a whole lot more about himself, without drawing any attention to himself, he tells us about the day when Jesus changed his life forever. Matthew's personal account of his call to discipleship can be divided into two parts, and following the narrative we might call his story...

A TALE OF TWO CONVERSATIONS

I. A conversation at the tax table
II. A conversation at the dinner table

Matthew's office was located in Capernaum, a town on the north side of the Sea of Galilee.  Because it was situated on a major trade route, Capernaum was a good place to collect taxes, lots of taxes. And people in Matthew's line of work had a reputation for collecting more than their fair share.

Tax collectors were viewed as cheats because they stole from their own people. They were called traitors because they worked for the Romans. Their reputation was so bad that the title "tax collector," became synonymous with the word, "sinner."

This is how the people looked at Matthew when he went to work every day, but he wasn't the only one who worked in Capernaum. The city by the sea also served as the home base for Jesus' Galilean ministry, and it was the place where he did much of his preaching and teaching.

Because Jesus spent so much time there, because Jesus had attracted a following there, there is a good chance that Matthew knew who Jesus was. It's possible that Matthew had heard what this prophet from Nazareth had to say. Who knows? Maybe Matthew was among the crowds who listened to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

Maybe the tax collector's conscience tugged at him when Jesus said: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). Maybe Jesus heaped burning coals on Matthew's head when he said: "Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you" (5:42). Maybe Jesus looked Matthew straight in the eye when he declared: "No one can serve two masters...You cannot serve both God and Money" (6:24).

And maybe Matthew looked at the people standing around him when Jesus warned: "Do not judge or you too will be judged" (7:1). Maybe Matthew took Jesus' words, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (7:7), as a personal invitation. And maybe, just maybe, Matthew thought to himself: "When Jesus pleaded with the people to enter through the narrow gate that leads to heaven (Matthew 7:13,14), was it possible, was there the slightest chance that he was speaking to me?"

We don't know if Matthew was in the crowd when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. We don't know if these two men ever crossed paths before they met at the tax collector's booth, but it would help explain what happened next.

The Lord walked up to Matthew and said: "Follow me" (9:9), and he did. He didn't need an explanation. He didn't ask for more time. Jesus' call was direct, and Matthew's response was immediate. And from that day forward, Matthew was a faithful follower of Jesus.

"Follow me." This one-sided two-word conversation is proof of the power of God's Word. Using only his Word God created light out of darkness. Using the same Word the Holy Spirit ignites the spark of faith in sin-darkened hearts. God's Word has the power to change hearts and lives, and the words of Jesus changed Matthew's life forever. One minute Jesus was standing at his tax table. The next minute Jesus was reclining at his dinner table.

Don't picture a table for two. Picture a house filled with guests. Picture Jesus and his disciples breaking bread with tax collectors and sinners. No one felt awkward. No one felt out of place. Everyone was celebrating with Matthew. Everyone was happy for Matthew...except for the people who crashed the party.

When the Pharisees saw what was going on they couldn't believe it. They couldn't believe that Jesus would associate with "those" people. It wasn't something they would ever do, and it never entered their minds that what Jesus was doing was the right thing to do.

Even though the Pharisees were afraid to criticize Jesus to his face, he wasn't afraid to speak directly to them. When he heard what they were saying about him, he replied: "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" (12,13).

I am a typical male. I don't like going to the doctor. I will procrastinate and put it off hoping that whatever I have will go away by itself. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it doesn't. And if it gets bad enough, I will eventually swallow my pride and go to the doctor. But I will make the call when and only when I recognize that I'm really sick.

Many of the guests at Matthew's party recognized that they were sick. They were sick with sin. They had other people constantly telling them how bad they were. They carried their guilty consciences with them wherever they went. They didn't need a doctor to diagnose their disease. What they needed was the Great Physician to provide the cure. And that is exactly what he did.

Matthew didn't see fit to record any of those conversations at his dinner party, but we can imagine what they might have been like. Imagine Jesus sitting down with one of those tax collectors. He sees how happy Matthew is, and that makes him think about how unhappy he is. He appreciates the fact that Jesus is willing to listen. He pours out his soul to Jesus. He tells Jesus that no matter how much he has or how much he does he just can't get rid of his guilt.

And when he is finished Jesus looks at him and loves him and says: "You're right. You can't do anything to get rid of your guilt, but I can. I didn't come into this world to make good people feel good about themselves. My mission is a rescue mission. I came to rescue people like you. I came to rescue you from your sins. I came to get rid of your guilt. You have my word that your sins are forgiven. Believe me. Trust me. Follow me."

It makes me happy to think about how many times Jesus had a conversation like that, but it makes me sad to know Jesus and his enemies never had a conversation like that. The Pharisees didn't think they needed a doctor because they didn't think they were sick. The Pharisees didn't think they needed a Savior because they believed that they were doing just fine on their own.

Jesus knew what they were thinking, and he knew how wrong their thinking was. That's why he told the Pharisees to go back to their Bibles. That's why he told them to go and learn what God meant when he said: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" (13).

Of all the verses in all of the books of the Old Testament, why did Jesus quote those words from Hosea? What was he trying to say? He was saying that the Pharisees had fallen into the same spiritual trap as their forefathers. They could come up all kinds of laws, but they couldn't obey God's law. They honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from him. Their view of religion had become so distorted, their version of spirituality had become so twisted, that it became more important for them to show off than to show mercy.

One of my seminary professors liked to say that there is a little Pharisee lurking inside each one of us. If you want to put that idea to the test, put yourself in Matthew's house. Sitting at the table between you and Jesus are some of the worst sinners you can possibly imagine. Don't think of tax collectors. Think of people you hear about on the news. Think of people you can't stand, people who have done despicable things, criminals who have committed terrible crimes.

When it becomes apparent that Jesus isn't treating them differently, when you see that Jesus doesn't treat them any differently than he treats you, how does that make you feel? How does that really make you feel?

Whether we admit it or not, whether we realize it or not, we are constantly comparing ourselves with other people. We think to ourselves: "I may not be perfect, but at least I'm not as bad as so-and-so. I may be guilty of _________, but at least I have never done _________."

The goal of this game is to identify people who are worse than us to make us feel better about ourselves, but the game isn't as much fun if we play by God's rules. And this is rule #1. A holy and righteous God says: "If you want to find out how good you are, don't compare yourself to other people. Compare yourself to me."

God treats every person the same because, from his perspective, every person is the same. It doesn't matter if you are a Pharisee or a felon or anything in between. God's Word is clear. All have sinned. All have fallen short of the glory of God. There is no one who does good, not even one.

Isn't that great news? Isn't it wonderful to be told that you are helpless and hopeless? Doesn't it warm your heart to know that you are a filthy, rotten, stinking sinner? It does if you remember the final words of this text. Jesus said: "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (13).

You are a sinner. Jesus came into this world to save sinners. That means Jesus came for you. That means Jesus lived a perfect life for you. That means Jesus gave up his life on the cross for you. That means everything Jesus did he did for you. And just like he called Matthew he calls you. He calls you to repentance. He calls you to forsake everything and follow him. He calls you to live your life for the one who died for you.

It's interesting that a text built around two spiritually significant conversations doesn't include a single word spoken by the man who wrote it. It's not just this text either. There are no words spoken by Matthew recorded in the entire Bible. And perhaps that's by design.

Instead of writing a detailed account of his own life, Matthew has given us something better. Matthew has preserved for us a written record of the words and works of Jesus. He doesn't say it in so many words, but the message of Matthew is clear. This morning the disciple comes to us and says: "Follow me. Follow in my footsteps by following the one who said, 'Follow me.'" Amen.

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