The 2nd Sunday After Trinity June 5, 2005
239, 372, 324, 51
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. 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. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 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.”
Dear friends in Christ:
What is he doing here? That question is often asked, I’m sure, when a person who has led a scandalous life, or who has a drug habit shows up in church on Sunday morning. What is he doing here? Can’t he see that he doesn’t belong? I couldn’t imagine, however, that the same question would be asked if an ambulance pulled up to the hospital with a person who just had a heart attack, or somebody involved in a car accident. We can see that the injured person needs medical attention.
The church is a hospital of sorts. It is where we sinners go for spiritual healing. Sadly though, many Christians see church as a museum for saints where the godly are like wax figures, never changing, only in need of a little dusting now and again. This morning in our study of Jesus’ call to Matthew we will consider that the Lord is inviting sinners, not saints, to be healed I. The Lord’s call goes out to sinners like you and me II. It is in invitation that changes hearts.
Jesus and His followers seemed to be the least likely group of individuals ever assembled who would change the world and its religious outlook. The leader was supposed to be a carpenter’s son from the tiny village of Nazareth. His followers for the most part were common laborers—fishermen by trade. In our text, Jesus calls the least likely of all men to be in this group, a tax collector. In today’s world the IRS, lawyers, and used car salesmen head up the list of occupations that are often vilified in society, though many do not deserve such a treatment. In the days of Jesus one couldn’t be much lower than a tax collector, and often with good reason. The tax collector, first of all, worked for the hated Roman government. They received their wages according to what they could collect—on commission—but many of the tax collectors went overboard and padded their pockets at the people’s expense.
By choosing His disciples in such a manner, Jesus showed that there are no requirements or pre-requisites to becoming a Christian. There is not a certain plateau that one must reach before he is worthy to become a Christian. Whatever your past, no matter how the world views it, is abominable before God. Even if we view some sins as worse than others, or some people worse than others, God’s forgiveness wipes the slate clean. Without Christ you are going to Hell no matter how good or bad you think you are; but with Christ you are going to heaven, despite your past transgressions.
The subject of complete forgiveness is difficult to understand. More than that, it is foolishness to the human mind and natural reasoning. This is why Jesus took so much heat for associating with known sinners. He was not with the prostitutes and the gamblers, the thieves and criminals to join their activities. It was to seek and to save that which was lost. These people after being confronted with the Law of God realized their sin, and that they were lost and needing help.
It is unfortunate that throughout history even unto this day, large segments of people do not feel that they are lost. The Law of God, specifically the Ten Commandments, operates like a hammer with the intent of pounding and crushing. The Law shows exactly how you have transgressed against God by thought, word, and deed. It shows the wrongfulness of pride, the dangers of greed and covetousness, and the ease with which we love someone or something more than God.
Jesus gave that healing salve of forgiveness to those who were sorry for their sin, who knew that they were spiritually sick and in need of healing. The Pharisees and anyone who feels smug and self-righteous is not looking for a doctor because he does not feel spiritually sick.
Jesus is the Physician of the soul. The person who may seem the least likely to attend church really needs to be there. Jesus took criticism for reaching out to the lost, yet would we criticize a doctor for seeing cancer patients? Our mission, which Christ has given us, is to find the spiritually sick and give to them the healing of the Gospel of Jesus by whose blood there is a cleansing of sin. Some would feel that the sum of mission work is to work among disgruntled Lutherans, but the main thrust of mission work is to find the unchurched, to bring to light their sin, and show them the forgiveness won by Christ.
It is clear that the church is a hospital for sinners. What we need to constantly bear in mind is that we are those sinners. Throughout all of time Christians have slipped into the belief that going through the outward motions of worship is enough. In the Old Testament people became complacent and brought their sacrifices without thinking, they brought heir tithes whenever they felt in the mood, and by such actions they felt right with God. King Saul thought he could do God one better. God told him after a battle that he was to destroy all the livestock and people, but Saul spared the best of everything claiming that these were for sacrifices. The prophet Samuel told Saul, “It is better to obey than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). The heart always need to be involved when it comes to obedience of God. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day and the monks during Luther’s time had the same affliction of going through the motions without a heart dedicated to God. Actions do not change the heart. It is the other way around—a changed heart will change actions.
That tendency to merely go through the motions is with us even today. We can get into a rut of coming to church, finding our pew, opening the hymnal, and then tuning out. That person will leave church exactly as he entered, not uplifted at all. With that mindset we spend the week living the way we want to live as long as we go through the motions of going to church. This is very, very easy to do. When this happens we are treating church as a museum for saints in which we put ourselves on display, but in essence we are lifeless. We need to remember that this is a hospital for sinners and we desperately need the message of God’s Word which is presented.
The Gospel exists to change your heart and only the Gospel of Christ has the power to do so. You need to hear again and again the words of your Savior such as: “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” [v.13] The Lord has indeed been merciful to you, not only in what He has given you materially, but for that blessed forgiveness by which your slate has been wiped clean before God. The Lord desires that mercy reflected in our lives. Matthew did not go back to stealing. Zacchaeus, another tax collector, even repaid people more than he had taken from them. That compassion of God upon your soul is a compassion which you are to bestow upon your fellow man.
Again, God forbid that our congregation becomes a museum for saints where a shallow form of Christianity is on display. View our church for what it is: a hospital for sinners. You wouldn’t skip a chemotherapy treatment, or put off heart surgery. Your spiritual health is far more important than your physical health. God has the cure for what ails you and that treatment will continue until we leave this earth and are united with God in heaven. Only then does our spiritual sickness end. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.