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The Miracles of the Kingdom, Part 5: Jesus Came for Sinners

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Nov 30, 1997

Matthew 9:9-17

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If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Matthew chapter 9.  We've said, as we have been studying Matthew 8 and 9, that in Matthew 6 through 7, the Lord Jesus sets forth His doctrine of the Christian life.  He gives us a compendium on His  teaching,  on how believers are to live kingdom life in a fallen world.  In Matthew 8 and 9, His deeds of power are set side by side with His teaching on the  Christian life.  And so together, by His words and deeds, He is shown to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  As we have studied Matthew chapter 8 and the first few verses of Matthew chapter 9, we have seen an ascending series of events in which the power of Christ is emphasized.  If you'll look back at Matthew 8 and scan the first 17 verses, you will remember that there we learned that Christ has power over bodily diseases.  The Lord Jesus' power to heal is dramatically displayed there in several events.  Then, later in the chapter in verses 23 through 27, Jesus' power over the forces of nature is displayed as He actually calms the storm on the Sea of Galilee.  And then from verse 28 to verse 34, the very end of chapter 8, again, Jesus' power is displayed.  He is shown to have power over the forces of evil as He casts out demons.  And so, first He heals bodily diseases, then He shows His power over nature, then He shows His power over the demonic world and the forces of evil, and then in Matthew 9,  verses 1 through 8, we saw that He even has the power over sin.  He has the right, He has the power to forgive sin.  And so Matthew is showing you a series of events which crescendo in a testimony to the power of the Lord Jesus Christ today. 

From Matthew 9, verses 9 through 17, we're going to see that Christ not only has the power to  forgive sins, but that Christ has love for sinners, and the power to transform  their lives.  And so we come to Matthew  chapter 9, where we see Jesus call Matthew into discipleship, where we see Him rebuke the Pharisees, where we see Him answer John's disciples' questions and give us wise words about how we go about fostering  spiritual growth in young believers.  Let's look, then, at God's holy word beginning in Matthew 9 verse 9: 

Matthew 9:9-17 

Our Father, we thank You for the word of truth.  And we pray this day by the Spirit You would search out our hearts by this word.  Draw us to Christ in faith by Your word.  Strengthen us in our current faith in Christ by Your word.  Pierce our hearts.  Rebuke us where we need correction.  Instruct us where we are ignorant.  Cause us, O Lord, to be able to examine ourselves in light of your word.  And, O Lord, enable us not only to embrace the word externally, but to embrace it in our hearts.  For we ask these things in Jesus' name.  Amen.   

 

I. We must never underestimate the power and grace of Christ's effectual call
In this passage we see that our Lord Jesus is one who has genuine love and concern for sinners.  And we see that He has the power to transform their lives.  There are many great lessons in this passage, but I'd like to point you to three or four today as we study  these verses together.  The first one, you'll see in verses 9 and 10.  There we learn the truth that we must never underestimate the power and grace of Christ's effectual call.  No Christian should underestimate the power and grace of the Lord Jesus' effectual calling.  There are at least a couple of types of calling that we see in the gospels.  There is that general gospel call where the Lord Jesus calls all who would hear Him to respond to the call of His gospel, and to come to Him and find rest.  We will look at a passage like that in a few chapters here in Matthew where the Lord Jesus says,  “Come unto me all you who labor, and I will give you rest.”  He extends a general call to all sinners and says, “Come to me.”  But the call we witness in the call of Matthew is a very specific call.  It is an effectual call.  He not only calls Matthew to discipleship, but He effectively calls him.  It is a call which carries with it the power to convert and change the soul.  It's very interesting, isn't it, that Matthew doesn't go looking for Jesus.  Jesus goes looking for Matthew.  And when He calls, Matthew responds.  This is an effectual call, and it demonstrates the Lord Jesus' power and grace. 

        

Matthew, we're told here in verses 9 and 10,  was a tax collector.  It would have been his job to collect the tariff that was levied on goods that traveled along the highway from Syria  down to Egypt.  Now being a tax collector in Israel was not considered to be one of the more reputable jobs that a person could have.  But this was not because everyone in Judah at this time was Republican and they didn't like taxes.  Rather, it was that tax collectors were known to be rather unscrupulous and greedy people.  The way they collected their taxes,  and the way they made their own money, was this.  They took a percentage above the amount that was due to the particular official body, in this case the Roman government, and often times, tax collectors would skim a little extra off the top, and they were known to be capable of extortion in their own way.  They were not looked upon as people who were very reputable.  Furthermore,  they were not considered to be very patriotic.  I mean, they were, most of them, were actually full-blooded  Jewish folk, and here they were working as tax collectors for the Roman government, an occupying power.  And the people of Judah  resented that type of activity on the part of its own people.  You can perhaps sense the feelings of a people who would be occupied by a foreign  power.   Taxed by that foreign power, and have people of your own flesh and blood, your own kith and kin, collecting taxes for that  foreign power.  Those would not be people who  would be very popular.  And so tax collectors were grouped, generally, by the religious leaders in Israel, with those people who were sinners.  They were not thought to be particularly moral people. 

Now, note that Christ seeks and  finds and calls Matthew, the tax collector.  He seeks this man out.  Someone who would have been overlooked by the religious leaders of his own day, the Lord Jesus seeks out and he follows Him.  We learn a lot just in those two verses about Matthew.  For one thing we learn that his name means “the gift of God,”  “the gift of the Lord.”  Matthew is indeed a gift of the Lord, because faithful ministers are the Lord's gifts to His people.  And Christ is giving a gift to His people when He calls Matthew as an apostle.  Think how valuable Matthew would have been to the Lord Jesus in His ministry.  He would have been required as a tax collector to be a good record keeper.  And think how well that served Him as he kept careful records of the accounts of the things that the Lord Jesus did.   And he wrote the great Gospel of Matthew.  We have here, by the way, the account of Matthew of his own calling to discipleship here in these verses.  Think also the fact that he would probably have been multi-lingual.  As a tax collector he would have had to spoken at least snippets of many languages.  Think how that would have helped him as he served as a witness to the Lord Jesus Christ.  And it's also very  apparent from this passage that he was a man of modesty and humility.  And that would have been very valuable to the Lord Jesus Christ, because there were some of the Lord's disciples who were not lacking in a sense of self- importance.  Think of John and James and Peter, all of whom were quick to speak and quick to toot their own horns, and quick to try and find the places of honor.  And the Lord Jesus could use a few disciples who were not quick to advance their own cause. 

And there are several evidences right here in this passage of Matthew's modesty and humility.  First of all, do you realize that Matthew is the only one of the disciples who is never recorded to have said anything in the gospels.  All of the other disciples have at least one place where they are said to say certain things in the gospels.  But not Matthew.  Maybe he was a man of few words.  Or maybe this is an example of his humility.  He does not speak out, though he faithfully serves the Lord. 

Furthermore, if you look at verse 10, Matthew tells you that after he had been called by Christ, that Jesus went to a table in the house.  And many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples.  Now Matthew tells this about Christ, but he doesn't tell you whose house, and he doesn't tell you whose party.  Now you're cheating if you're looking at the NIV, because the NIV says that it's at Matthew's house.  But that's not in the text.  It's right.  But it's not in the text.  Luke and Mark tell you that this is Matthew's house and Matthew's party.  Think of the humility of this man.  Our Lord Himself in his house.  He hosts a gathering so that all his friends can meet the One who is the Master of His soul.  And he doesn't even bother to tell you it's his house and his party.  He just tells you in passing, “And, by the way, the Lord went to this house and He went to this party and He met these tax collectors and sinners and He gathered with them around the table.”  Matthew's humility is seen in the fact that he doesn't draw attention to himself.  In fact, he turns the focus away from himself and towards Christ.  Furthermore, think of this.  This is the most important event in Matthew's life.  And yet He is so sparing in his description of it.  Why, if Matthew were alive today, and if he were like some modern day Christians, he'd be doing the talk show circuit, after this.  He'd be on ‘Larry King Live’ and he'd have a new biography coming out by one of the major Christian publishing houses, and he'd be doing book signings,  How I met the Lord and Savior,   My Adventures with the Lord Jesus Christ,  From Tax Collector to Apostle.  There may even be movies and radio shows about this man.  But not Matthew.  We're told by Luke in luke chapter 5:28 that he left everything.  Matthew doesn't tell you that.  It's interesting isn't it, that the other disciples, we're told from time to time during their work with the Lord, went to back to their professions, fishing, and otherwise.  Never again, Matthew, though.  When he left the job of tax collecting,  he left everything.  And he never went back to it again. 

And this Matthew who is called by the Lord Jesus Christ immediately invites his friends into his home where they can meet his Master.  Matthew, because he has been saved, because he has found Christ, wants his friends to find Christ as well.  And this passage reminds us again that with Christ nothing is impossible.  Christ can take a tax collector and can turn him into an apostle.  Christ goes after one who was looked down upon by his own society, who was considered to be an outcast, who was considered to be unpatriotic, who was considered to be a sinner, and He calls him to the important task of disciple and apostle.  The Lord Jesus Christ can transform our lives.  We must never underestimate the power of grace to change someone.  Matthew may have been on the periphery of his society with regard to their religious instincts and sensibilities, but he was brought to Christ and used dramatically in His service as he writes the gospel. 

Notice also, that Matthew, even though he left everything, found more than he left behind.  You see, when you become a follower of Christ, you're always blessed.  That doesn't necessarily mean blessed tangibly and materially.  It doesn't necessarily mean that you get richer, or that you stay as wealthy as you are, or that you have the temporal things that you had before.  Matthew would have had a very comfortable living, and by leaving that job of tax collector, he would have probably consigned himself to a relatively poor economic situation for the rest of his life.  Nevertheless, none of you know the name of the richest man of the world in Matthew's time.  None of us even know his name.  He was rich in the eyes of the world, but we don't even know his name.  In our homes,  Matthew is a household name.  Though he left his career, the Lord blessed him in such a way as he followed Him  to cause him to have honor among the people of the Lord.  And Matthew will be praised in eternity for his faithfulness in following the Lord Jesus Christ.  Christ' disciples always find contentment and blessing which alludes others.  There are all sorts of people out there who are seeking to find satisfaction and contentment, and they look for it in all sorts of things.  And they look for it in things.  They look for it in money.  They look for it in prestige, in temporal blessings, and they never ever find it.  But when the Lord Jesus' disciples leave all and follow Him, He always gives them contentment and blessing.  That's the first thing that we learn.  We must never underestimate the power and grace of the Lord Jesus' call.  And we see it in the call of Matthew.   

II. We must remember the purpose of Christ's mission:  Jesus Came for Sinners
But there's something else we learn in verses 11 through 13.  There we learn the purpose of  Christ's mission.  The purpose of Christ's coming.  He tells us in His own words, “I came for sinners.”  Jesus came for sinners.  That's His message.         
    

Now the Pharisees are scandalized by the fact that the Lord Jesus is spending time with these tax collectors in the house of Matthew.  And they bring a charge against Jesus' disciples.  They don't go to Jesus,  by the way, they go to the disciples.  Their aim is to cause the disciples to question Jesus' judgment, and their logic would go something like this:  “Well, you disciples who esteem this man so highly.  You follow Him as your master, as your rabbi.  Why would He be violating the teaching of the first Psalm which says that the man is blessed who does not sit and stand with sinners?  Why, this man is not only standing with sinners,  He's reclining with sinners at the dinner table.  What kind of man is this man that you're following?  Why would you want to follow Him?”  Notice that these Pharisees don't go to Christ to rebuke Him, they go to His more immature disciples hoping to cause those disciples to question Jesus' character, to question His judgment, to question the rightness of His actions.  They hope to cause His disciples to doubt Him.  Perhaps they even hope that His disciples will fall away from Him and return to following in their teaching.

 

But the Lord Jesus overhears their words to the disciples, and He responds to them with a devastating rebuke.  And in that rebuke He says basically three things.  He says, “You Pharisees don't understand sin.  You don't understand the law.  And you don't understand the prophets.”  That's a pretty sweeping condemnation of people who claim to be pastors and theologians.  But that's precisely what the Lord Jesus says.  Look very closely with me at verse 12.  First He says, “It is not the healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.”  Jesus is saying, ‘Well look.  It is precisely those who are ill who need a doctor.  It is precisely sinners who need a Savior.  If the Savior comes, where would you expect him to be but with sinners?  How would the sinners be saved if the Savior doesn't go to the sinners?  How is it going to be that they hear the words of grace?  How is it going to be that their hearts are bound up?  How is it going to be that they are drawn away from wickedness and into grace and salvation if the Savior doesn't go to them?’  And so that's His first word to the Pharisees.  The Pharisees pretended like they had this incredibly high view of sin and holiness and they just couldn't believe that Jesus would associate with these sinners.  And the Lord Jesus basically says, you don't understand sin.  Because if you understood sin and what it does to people, and if you understood sin and its consequences, eternal damnation, you would be doing everything that you could do to make sure that as few people as possible are going to come under the strictures and punishment of God's wrath.  You would desire sinners to be brought to the Savior.  You would not be standing over against them separating  yourselves from them. 

Notice also that He goes on to say that they have misunderstood the law.  He points them to Hosea and He says, you go study this.  You go study what Hosea says, “I desire compassion not sacrifice.”  Jesus is saying that the great thrust of the Old Testament is mercy and compassion.  Those moral reflections of how our Creator God is.  And that the ritual law is not to take priority over our showing mercy and compassion to others.  In other words,  Jesus is saying, when the ritual ceremonial law conflicts with the demands of mercy and compassion, it is that ritual law which must suffer, for mercy and compassion is a reflection of the very heart of God.  The ritual law, to be sure, given by God in the Old Covenant, but that ritual law serves a limited purpose.  And our obedience and adherence to it is not to circumvent and certainly not to oppose our responsibility to show mercy and compassion.  And so He says, then, you don't understand the law.  You not only don't understand sin, you don't understand the law.  The whole of the Old Testament teaches you that we're to be compassionate  towards those who are wicked. 

And finally, He tells them that they don't understand the prophets.  He says, “I came not to call the righteous but to sinners.”  He points to them to the work that the prophets had said would be the work of the Messiah.  The Messiah would come to bind up the broken hearted.  The Messiah would come to call the sheep of Israel who had gone astray.  The Messiah would come to pay for the sins of His wandering people.  And that's precisely what Jesus had come for.  For the redemption of sinners.  And these Pharisees didn't understand it.  And so the Lord Jesus responds rebuking the Pharisees for their question and emphasizing what His mission is.  He came for sinners.  When we ourselves began to cease to think of  ourselves as sinners, and we begin to think of the sins of others more than our own, we are showing the signs of being affected by the spirit of the Pharisees. 

When we began to think of  ourselves as without fault and only others as those who are sinful, then we are showing a heart of Pharisees.  J. C. Ryle says, “Sinners we are in the day we first come to Christ.  Poor, needy sinners we continue to be as long as we live, drawing all the grace we have every hour out of Christ's fullness.  Sinners we shall find ourselves in the hour of our death.  And we shall die as much indebted to Christ's blood as in the day when we first believed.” That is a truth that none of us need to forget. 

Why is it that great men like J. Gresham Machen, in the last hours of their lives, think about the greatness of their Savior and the greatness of their sin.  Machen's last words, sent in a telegram to John Murray - they had been having a Bible study together and discussing some points of the doctrine of Christ - and Machen's last words in a telegram to John Murray were “Thank God for the active obedience of Christ.  No hope without it.”  Now how could such a godly man who had devoted the whole of  his life to teaching the Bible, to defending the word from the attack of liberals against it, who had preached the gospel to thousands, how could those be his last words?  Because he understood this truth: That Jesus came for sinners.  Just like Paul could say, “Jesus came for sinners  and I am the chief of them.”  This is an explicitly Christian attitude, and it's one that the text reminds us is important for us, and we must sense the overwhelming joy of that message that Jesus came for sinners.  ‘I came for sinners,’ He said.  That's His message to you.  There's no sin, there's no sin so deep that it puts us beyond the pale of His reach.  There is no sin which disqualifies us from His attention.  There is no sin which separates us from the ability of His power and grace and love to reach us and transform us. 

Now there may be some of you today saying, “Well, now that's fine for all these nice, respectable people here at First Presbyterian Church, but you don't know me.  And you don't happen to know the fact that I had an abortion.  My parents don't even know that I had an abortion.  I've hid this from everyone thatI know.  And I've had an abortion.  How can you say that Christ can come to me and forgive me?”   He says, “I came for sinners.”  

And you may be saying, “Well, that's fine for all these respectable, well-dressed, clean-shaven folks around here.  But I've had a child out of wedlock, and I'm looked down upon by all who know that I've had that happen to me.  They know what I've done.  I'm beyond the reach of this love.  I'm beyond the reach of this forgiveness.  And here's Christ saying, “I came for sinners.”  

Or you may be saying, “That's fine for other people, but you don't understand,  I've struggled with homosexuality.  I've lived the lifestyle that your Bible calls perverse.  I've done it for the last  decade.  How can you say  that this word is for me?”  “I came for sinners.”  

And you say, “But you don't  understand, I've committed adultery.  I've been unfaithful to my wife.  I've been unfaithful to my husband.  Surely, I'm beyond the reach of this particular love.”   “I came for sinners.”  

And you can rack up all the socially disrespected and unrespectable sins that you want.  And the Lord Jesus Christ is going to come back and He's going to say, “I came for sinners.”  You can translate that, “I came for you.”  Anyone who has a sense of their need, anyone who has a sense of their sin, anyone who has a sense that they need the forgiveness, the Lord Jesus Christ is saying, “I came for you.”  Embrace Him.  He is the One who reclined with sinners, those that no one else would touch, those that everyone else looked down upon.  He would draw near to them, because He wanted them to be transformed, He wanted them to experience His grace and His love, He wanted them to be remade in His own image.  We must remember the purpose of Christ's mission:  Jesus came for sinners.  And my friends, if we have Jesus' heart, we'll have the same heart that He had for sinners.  We should not be selective in our indignation against sin.  We all have our own sins that we consider respectable, and we all have our list of sins that we consider unrespectable.  The Lord Jesus Christ is saying to us, ‘I want you, My disciples, to have the same heart that I have for those who have gone astray, because I want them to be  brought back, and I want them to sit at my table, and I want them to gather with all the people of God and praise My holy name.” 

III. We must be careful of asserting man-made patterns of righteousness (however helpful) on others

We learn another thing here in verses 14 and 15.  We learn that we must be careful of asserting man-made patterns of righteousness, however helpful they are, we must be careful of asserting man-made patterns of righteousness on others.  John's disciples come to Jesus after the Pharisees have asked him the question.  They put the question directly to Jesus.  To their credit they don't go to Jesus' disciples.  They go straight to Jesus and they say, ‘Lord, help us understand something.  We're fasting, but your disciples are feasting.  Help us understand something.  John, John, a man who had great  respect for you, and a man that you very apparently have great respect for, he ordered us to fast two days a week.  We never see your disciples fasting.  Why is it that we fast and the Pharisees follow these strict regulations for fasting, and surely these are signs of spirituality, the signs of mourning for sin?  And yet, Your disciples don't fast?’  Let me just say in passing, that it is possible that His answer does not mean that His disciples never fast when He's around.  It may well be that His disciples are following those commands that we learned about in Matthew chapter 6.  And you remember one of the commands that He gave about fasting was you were to fast in such a way that nobody knows that you are fasting.  And it may be that His disciples were fasting and that John's disciples never even knew it, because they didn't go through outward motions and signs to draw attention to themselves. 

But whatever the case is, the Lord Jesus responds to John's disciples and He said, ‘Let me give you the answer and it's very simple.  The reason My disciples don't follow the two day fast like John has commanded, and these various other fasts that the Pharisees commanded, is because I'm here.  That's why they don't fast.  I'm here.  You see, I am the Messiah.  I am the bridegroom.  I am the bridegroom of Israel, and you don't fast at a wedding.  You feast at a wedding.  It is a time of joy.  It's a time of triumph.  It's a time of hope.  It's a time of blessing.  You don't mourn, and fasting is mourning for sin.  But when the wedding is on, you feast.  You celebrate.  And that's why My disciples don't fast.  Because I'm here.  I'm the bridegroom.  And they're my attendants.  They're my groomsmen.  And that's why they don't fast.’  It would be crazy to fast while the Messiah of Israel is in  your presence.  This is no time for fasting. 

You see, Jesus gives a subtle rebuke to John's disciples.  John was a rigorous man.  We know that he took Nazarite vows.  He did not drink, he abstained from certain types of foods, he lived in the wilderness a very aesthetic kind of life, and he demanded a very rigorous  spirituality of his disciples.  But the Lord Jesus reminds John's disciples that there is no command for that in the Old Testament.  You know the only fast commanded in the Old Testament is connected with the day of atonement in the Book of Leviticus.  It's the only fast commanded.  There is much fasting described in the Old Testament, but it was left up to the liberty of the believer's conscience as to when and how to do it.  And so the Lord Jesus reminds John's disciples that though it may be a good idea to fast two days a week, I'm not going to bind my young disciples consciences to what you think is helpful.  You see, we must not impose our way of doing things on others when we have no biblical warrant.  No matter how useful and helpful a particular practice may be to us, if we have no biblical warrant where the bible is silent, we must not impose our conscience, and that's precisely what John's disciples were doing.  They were attempting to impose John's practices on Jesus' disciples.  And Jesus reminds them that you can't do that.  The new wine that He is bringing,  the new cloth and garment that He is bringing cannot be constrained by the old man-made regulations and rituals, certainly of the Pharisees but not even John's disciples.  No man-made regulations can foster the spirituality that will be fostered by the work of the Holy Spirit in the message that the Lord Jesus is bringing. 

Notice, also He's reminding us here again that when He is present, there is joy.  Our joy is connected with His presence.  With Him we rejoice.  Apart from Him we mourn.  The Lord Jesus Christ teaches us again, that our joy, our contentment, our satisfaction, our pleasure in this life is linked to fellowship with Him even in these words.  We don't have time to carrying on through the passage any further this day.  But here we see the love of Christ.  And if you don't know that love of Christ, and if you think you're beyond the reach of that love of Christ, I would invite you to look  again at His words, because He says, I came for sinners.”  And if you are a believer today and you've tasted of this love, refresh yourself in this love again.  Remember that this is a love unspeakable.  It's a love which is above the brim and which has no bottom.  Let us look to Him in prayer.

Our father, we thank you for the love of Christ.  Teach us to know that love for Christ's sake.  Amen.

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