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St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

Sep 17, 2017

Passage: Matthew 9:9-13

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Sunday, Pentecost


Text: “9As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him. 10And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ 12But when he heard it, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

In Jesus’ Name. Amen. We do care about what people think of us. We want to make a good impression. We want to be well-liked. But how far will we take this? Sometimes our thirst for acceptance can go too far. Our i-phones and androids are of course the modern portals to social approval. If enough people like you, then you will be relieved: “whew! people like me; I’m ok!” We do the same thing on other fronts. I’ve had the privilege of teaching at Concordia University for over 15 years, but professors are evaluated by the students. Your knowledge of the subject-matter may be spot-on, but if the students don’t like you, it could spell the end of your teaching career. So even professors – to some extent – have-to care about impressions (the way they teach, their style of teaching can make or break their careers). We do this in the way we dress and prepare ourselves. When I was a teenager, an older cousin made fun of me. I lived in a relatively small town. She saw me driving. She told me that she saw me pull out my hair brush while I was driving, to brush my hair. I wanted to look good (evidently even when I was driving!). Even today, we are driven to invest in our dress, our appearance, our style, our manner so that we will be liked. If we are not careful, this can easily become a god…it becomes the thing we live for, because what would we do if people don’t like us? We might melt, spontaneously combust, or be consigned to dark torture chamber for the rest of our lives. I don’t think so. It is not as important as we think it is.

Not too long ago I was talking to one of my kids. I told them that in every and any situation, there are always too basic things going on: 1) the actual objective event; and 2) the thoughts going on in our minds about that event. I asked, “which one usually affects us more?” Most often, it is our thoughts. So, some people can be so adversely affected by their thoughts and begin to convince themselves that they are lacking to the extent that we can start to hurt ourselves. And this happens when we think people don’t like us. We can work ourselves up in worry and insecurity. This is why I advocate for the church to rediscover the gift of private confession and absolution; and for the ongoing resource of excellent Christian counselors and therapists. Don’t think it a mere coincidence that both professions – pastors and therapists – are on the decline: computers and medications are becoming the new pastors and therapists in our culture. We are a dying breed.

Jesus of course cared very much about what people thought of Him. He even performed miracles and taught as He did because He cared so much, but the question is “Why did He care?” He did not care for any insecurities within Himself, but He cared so that people would know in Whom they should trust. He cared so that people would know Him and confess Him as Savior and Lord. In so doing, then people would know that in truth, they need no one else. Then all other relationships become healthy…then we just love people no strings attached, instead of “loving” people for what we can get out of them like their approval. The two approaches are as night and day.

At the same time, Jesus did not care what people thought of Him. His priority was to be faithful to the Father and if in that commitment, some people rejected Him and didn’t like Him anymore, then it was “so be it.” Did such rejection affect Him? Of course it did, because He was also a man. It must have made Him sad! In one instance, He mourned over Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not (Matthew 23:37)!” Jesus mourned for their sake because they were rejecting the Savior who loved them. In another instance it was demonstrated – contrary to popular belief – that Jesus did not gain more followers through increasing popularity, but He lost more and more followers through ongoing rejection. After His bread of life discourse recorded in John 6, most of His followers suddenly didn’t like Him as much. The Scriptures record: “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” “But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this?’(vss 60-61).” The Scriptures go on to record, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him (vs 66).” As the cross drew closer, Jesus didn’t have more and more followers, but less and less. Many rejected Him. Many were not impressed by Him. His face-book following was surprisingly unimpressive.

St. Matthew took a different route. He evidently gave up on the popularity thing. He decided to get out of social media and say, “I don’t care what people think about me!” He tossed his i-phone and discovered the freedom that some of us only dream about! He chose a different god and gave up the popularity god. He chose money instead. This of course is another popular false-god of the day: “forget what people think of me, I will just concentrate on getting rich, money, money, money…that will do it…then I’ll be happy.” But it didn’t make him happy. He knew about the huge hole in his soul. He knew something was missing. He knew something was wrong.

Poor Matthew, now both false-gods had let him down. Even as he stopped brushing his hair while driving, the popularity god turned on him. He was a “publican” or a tax-collector. τελωναι = tax-collectors. (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Second Edition. 812): “…subordinates…hired…the higher officials were usu[ally] foreigners, but their underlings were taken fr[om] the native population as a rule. The prevailing system of tax collection afforded the collector many opportunities to exercise his greed and unfairness. Hence they were particularly hated and despised as a class…The strict Jew was further offended by the fact that the tax-collector had to maintain continual contact w[ith] Gentiles in the course of his work; this rendered a Jewish tax-collector ceremonially unclean.” Weedon just cuts to the chase: “[tax-collectors were] viewed by the Jewish populace as a traitor and sell-out to the Romans (Weedon, Celebrating the Saints, CPH, 2016. 172).”   

So much for popularity. No one liked Matthew. He was scum, so much so that “tax-collector and [the publicly-known] sinner were two terms put side-by-side. “[They were] Often coupled together in common scorn and in contrast with the righteous (δικαιοι in 9:13) [Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume I. 72].” He was a total reject.

But again at some point in his life, Matthew had decided to go a different route. He would go with money. “Forget people, I will live for my own pleasure and just have a lot of the green stuff!” It was a disaster. The Scriptures say, “Whoever loves money will never have enough (Ecclesiastes 5:10).” Matthew had discovered that. He must have been miserable. He traded one false god for another and the money-god was a big-fat liar too. It didn’t satisfy his soul. Matthew knew he was a sinner. He didn’t know what to do with himself, he was in a prison in his soul and he must have been desperate to get out of it. He had evidently heard about Jesus. He was probably wondering, “Could this be the Messiah?” But he probably also recoiled: “But how can I ever be saved? I have sold my soul to false gods!”

It is in his gospel, however, that we have his calling recorded. It is amazing to read. He did not use his Hebrew name “Levi,” or mention his lineage through Alphaeus. He did not call himself a Jew…but at the beginning of the next chapter (chapter 10) where he lists the 12, he refers to himself as “the tax-collector.” He was overwhelmed. What happened to him was beyond words. He must have lived his life beside himself. He had convinced himself that he was hopeless: other people hated him and he hated himself. How could anyone love him? And then here He came: Jesus came walking by.

Jesus was around Pharisees, the separated ones, the ones who strove for legal righteousness. They were the experts of the Law. They showed off their religious purity with long robes and Scripture literally attached to their bodies. They were the holy ones on steroids. They were following Jesus. What a sight: Messiah was coming and He was followed by the spiritual elite. “And who am I?” Matthew must have thought. “I am nothing. Only worthy of condemnation.” He was like the tax-collector in Luke 18 who could not even look up to heaven, but pounded on his chest and cried out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Jesus saw him.

How do we even begin to see the grace – the supreme love and mercy – in this scene?! Jesus saw him and spoke two words, “Follow me!” And the rest was history. That was all Matthew needed to hear. From the The Bible miniseries is this picture of St. Matthew when he was being called by Jesus…his face says that he is beside himself to realize that Jesus is forgiving him, giving him a new life, and calling him…tears are flooding his eyes, he is realizing that Jesus wants him! “My God, it is really true, this Savior has come for sinners! Even ME!”

ἁκολούθει/Follow! The Lord commands Matthew. This is amazing! Doesn’t Jesus know that He is calling a scum-bag to be one of his disciples? Yes, Jesus knows! Doesn’t Jesus know that Matthew is a desperate sinner? Yes, Jesus knows! And Jesus called him! “The man who had devoted himself to acquiring money at the expense of his own people got up and walked away from his table, his money, his old life (Weedon, 172).” He walked away from that false god that had betrayed him and made him filled with desperation in his soul. Jesus said, “You are exactly the kind of disciple I’m looking for!” And in that split second everything changed in Matthew’s life.

And to think what the Lord did in this man’s life. Matthew [whose new name means “gift of Lord”] knew that his entire new life was a gift. It was completely based on grace, pure love, pure mercy. And he gladly went forth living for the Lord. He was martyred for the faith. He gave up his life for Jesus Christ, but before that happened, imagine what this ex-tax-collector was permitted to do by the grace of God: he wrote a gospel that is the first book in the New Testament. In his gospel he demonstrates that Christ is greater than Moses; he taught the spiritual meaning of the Law, he revealed Scripture on the Lord’s infancy (such details as the Magi, the slaughter of innocents, and the flight into Egypt), he wrote the fullest version of The Beatitudes and The Lord’s Prayer. He demonstrates powerfully how the Lord Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. He recorded the Great Commission that guides the mission of the Christian Church on earth to this day! (Weedon, 172-173) He went from scum to shining light for the Lord! This is the power of the grace of God.

And the Pharisees were beside themselves. They were fuming. How could this be? Jesus did not only call Matthew, but called other tax-collectors and other public sinners (like prostitutes). The Pharisees could not believe what they were seeing and hearing. Matthew has everyone over to his place and holds a feast. All the sinners who came knew that this was not an occasion to live in sin, but to hear Christ who was calling them to a new life. They came because they were given hope and a future. They came because they saw that Messiah loved them and would make their lives full of meaning with God in the center. They came and again, it drove the Pharisees nuts. The sinners were as the text says, “reclining together”…they were sitting on the couches with Jesus; and Jesus was identifying Himself with all the social rejects, granting this great symbol of fellowship to take place. Just understand, none of this meant that the Lord was condoning sinful lives, no, but instead He was calling sinners to follow Him and He loved them so that they would no longer fear God, but know that they too could have a new life! So Jesus loved them like He loves you.

But when the Pharisees complained, Jesus had to speak up and He did. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:12-13).”

People have many images and pictures of Christ, but here Jesus informs us of one that must be one of the most important to those who know Him: He is physician; He is doctor. He is HEALER. But if you don’t think you have a problem, you will never seek a doctor, and that’s the problem with being “well” or in the original simply “strong” (being in full possession of one’s powers and therefore – included – healthy). If one believes this of themselves, they have no need. They don’t need a doctor. So Jesus speaks truth…those who are this way, don’t need a doctor. They – so they think – don’t need Jesus.

The only ones who will seek Christ are those who know they are sick…this is a word that means “badly…they are REALLY sick and suffer severely (like Matthew once did). And for these, Jesus is full of compassion and mercy, so He told the Pharisees: “You don’t get it, you think it is only about trying to be righteous by keeping the Law, so that you can think you are strong and accomplished, no, not at all, it is rather about hesed, or steadfast love…this is what I have for sinners, and you Pharisees who claim to know the Word, this is what you should have towards those who suffer. Turn around! Repent! I don’t want your legalistic sacrifice, I want mercy (as Jesus quoted the prophet Hosea).”

And this is true for us too dear Christians. God is not calling you to somehow work off all your insecurities by chasing that false god and this false god…but by hearing Jesus’ call. He loves you. He makes you complete and whole through His life lived for you; through His blood shed for you, and through His resurrection that conquers the desperate dying you sense within yourself. These things have been covered, these things have been conquered! Your life is brand-new. You’re like St. Matthew now. Just picture it: You hear Jesus’ call: “Follow me!” And His words are so powerful, so inviting, so grace-filled, that you find yourself standing up, and walking away from the old life. It is time now to hold a feast…so come to His table and feast, it is a feast for sinners who are now forgiven; it for sinners who have become disciples who know the joy of the Lord! It is a feast for YOU!