This is the time of the year when ladies begin to exchange recipes for dishes for their Thanksgiving meal. Ladies’ magazines devote entire issues to the subject. In this morning’s text, there is an unfailing recipe for thanksgiving.
This week many will gather around dining room tables with their families to celebrate Thanksgiving. In this morning’s text Jesus is gathered around a table, not of His own family, but a table full of tax collectors and sinners. But Jesus’ presence at this table of tax collectors transforms it into a table of thanksgiving.
As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. (10) Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. (11) And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (12) When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. (13) But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE MERCY AND NOT SACRIFICE.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Matthew 9:9-13
The context of this story is the calling of the tax collector, Matthew, in verse 9. This is the Gospel of Matthew author’s own account of his calling by Jesus. Matthew was a tax collector. This was one of the worst professions imaginable in the eyes of the Jews. A tax collector was one who, though a Jew himself, collected taxes from his fellow Jews on behalf of the Romans. In addition, to charging the Roman’s tax, he would also charge an extra fee for himself, all under the authority of the Roman government. As you can imagine, he was not a popular man. For these reasons tax collectors were social outcasts who would not be considered “good company” for decent folk. They were ostracized by society.
But in verse 10 we see Jesus sitting at a table in a house with tax collectors and sinners. According to the parallel account in Luke 5:29, this meal event occurred in Matthew’s own house and the scene was a party which he has thrown apparently to introduce his friends to Jesus. Matthew’s first action after beginning to follow Jesus was to throw a party and invite all his friends to meet his Lord. This is a good example for us. When’s the last time you invited friends, family, neighbors, or co-workers over for a meal at your house in order to introduce them to Jesus? Have you ever taken anyone out for a meal, bought their lunch, in order to tell them about Jesus? We need to develop a Matthew ministry!
But not only do we see the crowd around the table, we also see the critics outside the house in verse 11. Nothing was done in secret in the ancient world. Ideas of privacy which we are accustomed to were not present in that day. Open windows and doors were the order of the day. Apparently word had gotten around that Jesus was in a tax collector’s house. A crowd of critics gathered outside and were shocked to see Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. One of them gets the attention of one of Jesus’ disciples and asks the question, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” These Pharisees would never expect such an action from one of their own esteemed Rabbis. It would have made them ceremonially unclean to associate with such sinners. But just as in His previous encounters with diseases, Jesus does not fear contamination. He cannot be contaminated by contact with sinners. Sinners can only be cleansed by contact with Him!
Here we see a clear contrast in the views of Jesus and the Pharisees. The Pharisees see sinners as contaminated and worthy of condemnation. Jesus sees sinners as needy and as candidates for forgiveness. Which of these views best represents your view of sinners? I confess that many times I have the view of the Pharisees when I see the poor, the homeless, the alcoholic, the drug addict, the homosexual, the AIDS victim. We need to see these people like Jesus does, not like the Pharisees.
Jesus heard what the Pharisees had said to His disciples and replied in verse 12, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Jesus is identifying Himself as the Great Physician of the ultimate sickness: sin. In other words, Jesus is saying that if you consider these people to be broken, it is fitting that I be among those who are broken people, not among the perfect people. Jesus is not implying that the Pharisees are well. They are sinners just like the rest of humanity. The problem with the Pharisees is that they are sick and don’t know it. They are like those of whom Christ speaks of in Revelation 3:17 who say, “‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’- and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” This is the condition of much of the world today. They are sick and don’t know it. It’s bad to be sick, but it is worse to be sick and not know it! Because then the sickness will never be treated. People who don’t realize that they are sinners will never call out to a Savior. This is why we must be faithful to declare that the Bible teaches that all humans are sinners before a holy God. Only when they know this will they call out to God for deliverance.
Jesus goes on in verse 13 to confront the Pharisees with a Rabbinic formula: “Go and learn”. This verse shows that Jesus does not consider the Pharisees to be well, but in need themselves of understanding and salvation. Jesus tells the Pharisees to “go and learn” Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” As one commentator put it, “Jesus’ ministry to the ceremonially unacceptable is an act of mercy, and this pleases God more than the Pharisees’ fastidious attention to sacrificial offerings.” (Mounce, 84). These Pharisees were guilty of what Jesus pronounces a woe upon them for in Matthew 23:23-24.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. (24) Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
God values merciful acts over legalistic rigor. So many times we turn our nose up at people we know to be in sin. We say, “That’s not right!” And we are correct in our assessment. But we need to reach out a hand of help instead of pointing a finger of condemnation. I’m not talking about enabling people to continue in their sin, but rather reaching out to them with the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m talking about rescuing the perishing and caring for the dying because Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save! We want to see people saved as long as they look and smell just like us. But we need to be willing to reach the undesirables, the people which no other church is willing to reach.
Jesus’ last words in this context are a powerful description of His purpose in coming into the world. He first states His reason for coming in negative terms, then in positive. He did not come to call the righteous. This is directed at the Pharisees who consider themselves to be righteous and to have no need of a Savior. The problem is that if you consider yourself to be righteous, then you have shut yourself off from the benefits of the Messiah who came to call sinners to repentance. This purpose statement echoes the words of the angel to Joseph announcing the birth of Jesus in Matthew 1:21, “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus said in Matthew 20:28, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” This is Jesus’ own self-understanding of why He came into the world. As the apostle Paul stated his own understanding and experience of the coming of Christ into the world in 1 Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” When people come to understand themselves as sinners and Christ as the Savior of sinners then they are ready, then they have a recipe for true thanksgiving. John Newton said that he knew two things, “I am a great sinner and Jesus is a great Savior.” Knowledge of these two things will produce the appropriate response of thanksgiving.
Likewise, I believe that those tax collectors and sinners who had come to understand why Jesus had come were transformed from sinners to saints. This table of tax collectors and sinners was transformed into a table of thanksgiving.
This table scene reminds me of another table to which all believers are invited to come. Last week we celebrated the Lord’s Supper. This is also a table of sinners saved by God’s amazing grace. This table looks forward to another table, where Christ will drink again of the fruit of the vine in His coming kingdom. There once again will be a table with Jesus and tax collectors and sinners of all kinds. Sinners like you and me. That will be a table of thanksgiving!
What do we learn from this text?
1. God Values Merciful Acts over Legalistic Rigor.
2. Christ Receiveth Sinful Men.
Sinners Jesus will receive;
Sound this word of grace to all
Who the heavenly pathway leave,
All who linger, all who fall.
Sing it o’er and over again;
Christ receiveth sinful men;
Make the message clear and plain:
Christ receiveth sinful men.
Come, and He will give you rest;
Trust Him, for His Word is plain;
He will take the sinfulest;
Christ receiveth sinful men.
Now my heart condemns me not,
Pure before the law I stand;
He who cleansed me from all spot,
Satisfied its last demand.
Christ receiveth sinful men,
Even me with all my sin;
Purged from every spot and stain,
Heaven with Him I enter in.
This is a cause of thanksgiving! Are you looking for a good recipe for thanksgiving? Then, consider yourself as an undeserving sinner and consider the greatness of the mercy of the Savior. This is an unfailing recipe for thanksgiving!