Text: Matthew 9:9-13; Hosea 6:1-6
:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft
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:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Song of Praise: "Come, Ye Sinners" (Indelible Grace/Matthew Smith)
Hymn of Praise: "Friend of Sinners" (Red Mountain Music)
Offering of Music: "Remember Me" (Choir) (Nygard)
Communion Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Sending: "Alleluia, Sing to Jesus" (HYFRYDOL)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
1 “Come, let us return to the LORD. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. 2 “He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, That we may live before Him. 3 “So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; And He will come to us like the rain, Like the spring rain watering the earth. 4 What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? For your loyalty is like a morning cloud and like the dew which goes away early. 5 Therefore I have hewn them in pieces by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth; And the judgments on you are like the light that goes forth. 6 For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. ” (Hosea 6:1-6)
9 As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. 10 Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matthew 9:9-13)
Have you ever heard the church described as a “hospital for sinners?” I’m not sure who coined that phrase, but I’m pretty sure it came from today’s text. I’m going to briefly describe that encounter narrated in today’s text, then we’ll look at the problem that encounter stirred up, then we’ll see one of those times where Jesus refers to the Hebrew scripture and we’ll ponder what he meant by that before finally returning to the implications for our own life and mission together as a church.
…that saved a wretch like me (vv. 9-10)
So by chapter 9 of Matthew, Jesus has been out and about teaching and healing and now has returned (v. 1) to “his own city” of Capernaum, where we noted last week that he had “settled” for a while. Chapter 9 then describes the healing of a paralyzed man (as well as the greater miracle of forgiving his sins!) and then comes to our text for today.
As Jesus “went on from there,” he saw Matthew sitting in the tax collector’s booth. Jesus said, “Follow me,” and Matthew “got up and followed him.” (v. 9) That’s all we are told directly about that exchange. But there is plenty of context we can piece together. As with the exchange with Peter, Andrew, James, and John in last week’s text, we know that Jesus wasn’t just passing through this town, but was “home.” This was where he lived and the word was getting around about him. Crowds were following him and had just witnessed the forgiveness and healing of the paralyzed man.
We also know something about tax collectors. They were absolutely despised by the Jewish people because they were Jewish people who worked for the Romans to collect taxes. Their taxation was enforced by Roman soldiers and they were fully authorized to line their pockets with extra taxes charged at their whim. Both for serving the Romans and for exploiting their own people, they were truly hated. So for Jesus to include a tax collector in his follow-me invitation was unusual to say the least.
But verse 10 is the one that really gives you a glimpse into what Jesus was doing. He wasn’t just calling wicked tax collectors out of their business to a life of following a master Rabbi; he actually was socializing with whole groups of them! In fact, the first thing that Jesus seemed to do with Matthew is ask him to invite his tax collector and other non-religious (the likely meaning of ‘sinner’ here) friends over for dinner.
This scandalized… SCANDALIZED… the Pharisees, who not only despised the tax collectors as most Jews did, but also would have found the non-religious friends as or more undesirable than the tax collectors. And so the confrontation was set.
What is He Doing? (vv. 11-13a)
Becoming aware of this scandalous dinner party, the Pharisees asked the disciples why Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners. They only had one template for religious faithfulness and it was law-keeping and Temple worship. The rest of the world, including non-religious or non-observant among their own people, were to be avoided and shunned. Yet Jesus seemed to turn all of this upside down and backwards. Jesus heard about their questions and responded in two ways, with an analogy and with scripture.
ANALOGY – Jesus first responded with this analogy: “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.” (v. 12) It is from this idea that we understand the church to be a “hospital for sinners.” The point is easy enough to understand: doctors are for sick people. But think of all the ways we complicate that analogy. For one, we have well checks. So, sometimes doctors are for healthy people. And think about hospitals, though I know many of you don’t like to. They would be pretty fascinating places – with all those halls and labs and cafeteria and gift shop and research and doctors and nurses – except for what? …all the sick people? Mix all that together and you get a pretty good picture of what the church often turns into: a place we go for “well checks” periodically just to make sure we have a dose of this or that for our good… and a place where we’d just as soon see other healthy people as deal with real spiritual need. In fact, if you can gloss over or keep out the real spiritual needs, churches can be pretty fun and interesting places to be… sometimes even like a mall or movie theater or restaurant. But do you see how we get off track? Jesus didn’t really stop to explain his analogy; he just laid it out there and moved on: “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.” Except in moving on, I think he did explain further.
SCRIPTURE – Jesus told the Pharisees to “go and learn what this means” and he quoted from the prophet Hosea. He quoted from a passage that had to do with God’s judgment of His people and has everything to do with his previous analogy. In Hosea 6, God’s Word through the prophets and His own mouth has “hewn them” and “slain them” (v. 5) – not literally, but in spiritual judgment. In other words, by the standard of God’s Word, God’s own people have been shown to be sinners. And the sacrifices and burnt offerings of the people – the kind of thing the Pharisees emphasized – are not going to be sufficient to bring healing and life. (v. 6) This same passage uses imagery of God as the Great Physician. You heard it for the Call to Worship and we’ll recite some of it again as our Prayer of Confession and Assurance of Grace:
Come, let us return to the Lord. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, that we may live before Him. (Hosea 6:1-2)Wow, so much there! Sacrifices and burnt offerings will not bring life; only God will! God, who is portrayed here as the Great Physician, who will “heal us” and “bandage us” and “revive us”; God will even resurrect us from death to life. Does that start to ring any bells?! And all that finally comes to v. 6, which Jesus quoted: “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” It is not sacrifice and offerings that delight God, but loyalty and knowledge of God. ‘Loyalty’ is the great Hebrew word hesed, which can be translated as ‘mercy’ or ‘compassion’ or ‘faithfulness.’ Ultimately, it is what God has towards us; and it pleases God to see us mirror that towards others. Jesus follows the Greek translation ‘compassion,’ leaving the Pharisees with two things to grapple with: God is the Great Physician, whose purpose is to show compassion and restore the sick (or sinful); and what pleases God is not legalistic rituals, but compassion for others that flows out of knowledge of God.
Came for What? (v. 13b)
Jesus concludes and aligns his own purpose with what God spoke through by saying “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (v. 13) Why is Jesus calling a tax collector to follow him and having a dinner party with other tax collectors and sinners? It is to demonstrate the very compassion of God and introduce those same dinner companions to the beginnings of a knowledge of God, the Great Physician, who would heal, bandage, revive, and raise them into new life. Oh, if only the Pharisees could glimpse a bit of what God was doing and what God desired!
And that is just where this story connects with our story. There are some key questions we need to ask ourselves:
- Is this church primarily for the healthy or the sick?
- Are you the healthy or the sick?
- What would it mean for God to heal you, bandage you, revive you, and even raise you up? – or do you not need that?
- What does it mean for us to show compassion?
- With whom would Jesus ask us to have a dinner party? – not just generically, but specifically?
- Would you come?
To say all this another way, Jesus asked a very basic spiritual question: Who needs a doctor?
It’s another way of saying, “Follow me.” It’s another way of understanding our belonging to God.
And there are really only two answers to that question: “Not me” and “I do.”
Who needs a doctor? I do. How ‘bout you?