DUNCAN/Jesus came for sinners
Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 9:9-17. Here we see Jesus call Matthew into discipleship, we see Him rebuke the Pharisees, 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 us then observe three things about this passage. First, we must never underestimate the power and grace of Christ’s effectual call. Second, we must remember the purpose of Christ’s mission: Jesus came for sinners. And third, we must be careful of asserting man-made patterns of righteousness (however helpful) on others.
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. The first one, you’ll see in verses 9 and 10. Verses 9 and 10 say, “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. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.” 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. Tax collectors were known to be rather unscrupulous and greedy people.
Note that Christ seeks and finds and calls Matthew, the tax collector. 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. 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.
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. 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. They bring a charge against Jesus’ disciples. 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 that they do not understand sin, the law, or 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.
First, He says in verse 12, “It is not the healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.” 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 that they don’t understand sin. Because if they did, they would desire sinners to be brought to the Savior. They would not be standing over against them separating themselves from them. Notice also that He goes on to say that they have misunderstood the law. He points them to Hosea when he says, “I desire compassion not sacrifice.” Jesus is saying that the great thrust of the Old Testament is mercy and compassion. And finally, He tells them that they don’t understand the prophets. He says in verse 13, “I came not to call the righteous but 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.
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. John’s disciples come to Jesus after the Pharisees have asked him the question. 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, a man who had great respect for you, and a man that you apparently have great respect for, ordered us to fast two days a week. We never see your disciples fasting. Why is it your disciples don’t fast?’
Jesus gives a subtle rebuke to John’s disciples. The Lord Jesus reminds John’s disciples that there is no command for that kind of fast in the Old Testament. The only fast commanded in the Old Testament is connected with the Day of Atonement in the book of Leviticus. 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, He is not going to bind his young disciples’s consciences to what they 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.
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. 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.”
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.