Summary: Sermon explores our attitudes toward sinners. Clip from movie "Simon Birch" used as illustration.
Loving & Accepting What God Loves & Accepts
Our text this morning is Matt 9:9-13
“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.
10While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. 11When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and `sinners’?" 12On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13But go and learn what this means: `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." NIV
In our text we found Jesus developing some new friendships—friendships with people you would not normally expect a rabbi to associate with.
First, he met Matthew. It is not easy for us to feel the contempt most Jews felt for tax collectors. I’m not saying that IRS agents are particularly popular in America. But a tax collector like Matthew was far more despised than an IRS agent. He was considered a traitor and a crook. Good church-going Jews viewed tax collectors as extortionists and apostates and would have nothing to do with them.
Rome had control of Judea at that time. They hired local Jews to do their dirty work of collecting the taxes. And these tax collectors often cheated and overcharged their fellow Jews and then pocketed the money. They were known and hated for their unscrupulous behavior.
Jesus is walking down the road and he sees one of these despised tax collectors. Most religious people would have just walked a big circle around him and gone on about their business. But notice in the story who initiates the friendship. Matthew doesn’t fall on his face before Jesus and cry out for mercy. Jesus walks up to him. I think scripture only gives us a summary of the conversation. But the gist of the conversation was Jesus inviting Matthew to follow him.
Every time I read something like this in scripture I think of how easy it is to just walk past people who may be more ready for God than we could imagine. One of the greatest enemies of evangelism is the assumption that everybody who would serve God is serving Him. That’s an easy mindset to fall into. When you think about it, it is very prideful. For me to think I would choose to serve God but “they” wouldn’t has to be prideful. What makes me any better than them? What makes them any worse candidates for God’s mercy than me? When we stop and think it through we know that we’re no better than the Matthews and other tax collectors. By the grace of God I am what I am. And that same grace can change others as well.
This Matthew became one of Jesus twelve disciples. He is the person God inspired to write this book that carries his name. Matthew is an outstanding example of what the grace of God can do in a life. I wonder what Matthews will intersect our lives during the next few weeks. Will I initiate the conversation the way Jesus did here? Will I take a personal interest in a Matthew?
I wonder how many people in Jesus’ day would have ever expected a man like Matthew to hear Jesus call and respond the way he did. He got up from his moneymaking booth and did exactly what Jesus told him to do. When Luke tells this story in chapter 5 of his gospel he adds one comment that Matthew has left out. Luke 5:21 “And Levi (which was another name referring to the same person-Matthew), left everything, and followed him.” What an amazing act of repentance. I some times worry about people whose response to Jesus is to say a little prayer and then leave nothing! Their life is not changed at all by their religious experience. It’s a very different thing than what happened in Matthew’s life. Jesus said, “Follow me” and Matthew got up, left everything, and followed him.
Is there anything you haven’t left that needs to be left? Matthew’s spiritual journey began with a radical turn around that cost him something but gained him everything. He didn’t just get religious. He became a follower of Jesus. He became a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And he immediately told his friends about it. I find two things in this man, Matthew, which new converts would do well to follow. First his commitment to Christ was whole hearted from the word go. Second, he was not ashamed to tell his peers where he stood. He apparently did it in a gracious way because they all came to his party. Some of God’s best evangelists haven’t been saved very long and may still have a lot of rough edges. But they have the relationships that many of us don’t have. A sinner will usually hear the testimony of one of his old drinking buddies much quicker than he will go listen to a preacher in some church. If you are young in the Lord, don’t let that keep you from telling others what Jesus has done for you. You don’t have to know all the theological answers. You just have to know the Lord and tell what great things He has done for you.