9 As 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.
10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (ESV)
Pastor Will Stoll sermon
February 20, 2011
This morning we’re going to continue in the book of Matthew. It’s a great thing to get into God’s Word and just go passage by passage and what we are seeing is that it is relevant to us every week we open it. Today we’re going to start in Matthew 9:9-13:
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. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Now I don’t know how you are, but I like to keep things real comfortable. I like to have habits in my life that are the same. Every Sunday Layla and I get up and we stop at Uncle Harry’s bagel shop and I have the same thing, a maple French toast bagel with honey butter all over it, really good – and a large diet Coke. Same thing all the time. Last week they were out of those maple French toast bagels. It bothered me all week long until this morning when I once again was able to get what I wanted to get. I like to keep things the same; keep things normal and that’s why I have Layla with me. This perfect little girl who always does everything right, “Daddy, do you want me to wear this today? Will this look good? Is my hair pretty?” “Yes, yes, yes.” So I like that.
However, what I find in my life is that I am always in uncomfortable situations. Always out of my comfort zone and always in a sticky situation. So I want to show you this morning how to deal with those and I want to show you how the making of a sticky situation happened in the New Testament. I think all of us hate to pay taxes. Anyone really love paying taxes and wish maybe you could pay a little more? Maybe you feel everything we are doing in this country is so good that you just wish you could contribute even more. I think everyone hates to pay taxes! And it was even worse in First Century Palestine because they were occupied by the Romans who said their soldiers would be there and they were expected to pay their taxes. Just pay the taxes and Rome wouldn’t mind the religious system they followed. So there were three hubs in Israel where you would go to pay your taxes – Jericho, Capernaum and Caesarea. What we learn when we read the Bible – remember Zaccheus, that short little guy who was up in the tree and Jesus told him to come down – he was actually the chief tax collector in Jericho. So below him would have been Publicans. And all these tax collectors, they had to pay Rome for the right to have that job. They would report to Rome, “It looks like you should be getting a million dollars in taxes out of this little area. I’ll give you $800,000.00 and I get to keep the other $200,000.00.” Rome thought that sounded good; saved them the trouble of doing that job themselves. They even gave the tax collector a Roman guard to go with them when they collected so that the people knew the tax collector had the power and authority of Rome behind them. And if the tax collectors could get $1.2 million or $1.3 million – no problem to Rome – they don’t care as long as they get their $800,000.00. The tax collector would get what was left over, whatever it was. So they were viewed by the Jews – because the publicans were Jewish – as traitors. They were on the side of the occupying force of Rome.
And there were taxes for everything! A ground tax if you were growing produce – 10% of that went back to Rome. If you were growing fruit, 20% tax on that. It could be paid with cash or produce. There was a poll tax. For every person in your home, you would be charged a certain amount of money. There was an income tax of 1%. So, Matthew was a publican, a tax collector, and in charge of collecting the tax on exports – if you were exporting anything out of town or importing anything into the town, you were taxed on that. There was a bridge tax for whenever you crossed the bridge. There was a harbor tax so that if you took your boat in or out of the harbor, you were taxed on that. And each town had its own taxes. There was even an axel tax – depending on how many axels your vehicle had. Then they developed a wheel tax. If you had a three-wheeled chariot, there was a tax and if you had a one-wheeled vehicle, there would be a tax. There was even a fish tax when you caught fish.
The talk among the Jewish people often centered around the taxes they had to pay to a horrible, occupying force like Rome. Many thought they shouldn’t have to pay those taxes and if you lied about it, it was okay. Matthew, the publican, was working on the Sabbath all the time because there were always people going in and out of the city and they didn’t observe the Sabbath – and it was his job to collect those taxes. It was a system that absolutely encouraged corruption. Often times the publicans just made up the taxes as he went along. You could get pretty wealthy being a tax collector and the people who were doing this job made a decision that they would trade their reputation and their friends for money. And Matthew made that decision. They endured the hatred of their own countrymen and your only friends would be those who were “sinners,” people living far outside of what would be considered right and the law. Consequently, tax collectors were not allowed to give testimony in court because they were considered to be liars anyway. They were not even allowed to give at the temple or the alms box. A tax collector would be the farthest thing in this day and age from a Pharisee, who was considered respectable and outwardly religious.
Enter Jesus onto this scene. Jesus is like a team captain. Do you remember being on the playground, having to play dodge ball or kickball or football? You get to pick the team – two team captains, ten people – you each get five picks. Any wrong choice could cause your team to lose. And Jesus is the unconventional team captain, making all the wrong choices. He never chooses the social elite. Those were the ones you would think that if you were picking a team to really help in your cause, you would certainly pick the Scribes, the Pharisees, the Rabbis, the teachers of the law. They are educated, brilliant, righteous! And Jesus just kept choosing hopeless sinners.
Jesus is making His choices and He goes and finds Matthew – whose name really is Levi. Now let’s take a look at who Levi was. Levi probably was a Levite, and many scholars believe he was actually a renegade priest, growing up in a Levite family understanding the law. He would have been fluent in Hebrew and he actually has 99 quotes in his gospel from the Old Testament, more than all the other gospels combined. But at one point, he says, “This system of religion is phony! It’s fake! What am I doing with my life? I might as well try to make some money so when I’m old I can at least retire in Galilee by the sea – because there is nothing real going on here.” He was a brilliant man. If you were a tax collector you had to be able to speak Greek, Aramaic and Latin – and he was also fluent in Hebrew. He wondered what he could do with his intelligence and decided to just sell it for money. Then Jesus enters the scene and Levi begins to hear about Jesus. He hears that the religious crowd hates Him, which probably makes him feel pretty good. If a man is known by his enemies, then he’ll probably like this Jesus! He hears that this Jesus can make lame people walk and blind people see and He casts out demons. Levi realizes that this Man is fulfilling all the Old Testament prophesies. With Mark, Luke and John, you never hear the phrase that it “might be fulfilled as the prophets said.” You see that phrase 38 times in the book of Matthew. Then he hears that Jesus accepts sinners; that He receives publicans – unbelievable! He heard about it, but it didn’t make sense, so he kind of put it out of his mind. Until one day Jesus walked up to where Levi is sitting and says, “Follow Me.” I love the way that Matthew described it, because it is different from Mark and Luke. Mark and Luke say, “Jesus saw a publican.” Matthew doesn’t say that. In Matthew 9:9 it says that Jesus saw a man. He would say, “Jesus looked at me like no one ever looked at me before. He didn’t have that disgust in His eyes – He loved me. He didn’t see what I was doing, He saw me! He looked past my reputation and I knew He was God, so I followed Him.”
Jesus looks past reputation. Reputation isn’t always true. Look at Jesus’ reputation. He was called a glutton and a drunkard; the Pharisees said He was born out of wedlock. Jesus doesn’t see what you’ve done; He doesn’t see murder; He doesn’t see theft; the lies; the marriages – all the things that have happened in your past. He only sees you, and He says, “Follow Me.”
Can you imagine Matthew being introduced to the other disciples? They probably thought, “Yeah, we know Matthew. He cost me 50 dinari when I caught a fish.” Luke thought, “He cost me a home in the Golan Heights. I would have had a lot more if it hadn’t been for Matthew.” They knew Matthew and they had given up on him. But not Jesus. Don’t you ever give up on your friends! There are people in your life that you might think are so far from God – but Jesus never gives up. “Follow Me” implies action. There are three things that are going to happen if you follow Jesus. There is a willingness to go right now! Matthew left. He didn’t wait until it was convenient so he could finish up what he was doing, then in a couple of months when tax season was over, he would catch up. No, he left right then. And he wrote a book of the Bible that has been read the world over. His name, Matthew, stands today. Kings, princes, extremely rich men have died and their names have died with them. But as long as the world stands, Matthew the publican will be known by the world, because he left right then.
There’s a willingness also to leave everything for Jesus. Matthew left his job, his income, his social position. He left everything. If you were a fisherman and left your nets for Jesus, you could go back to your profession. Peter did after the crucifixion, and had to be brought back by Jesus. But a tax collector – you don’t go back. He left everything except his quill. He took his pen and his pad of paper with him and he began to write down everything that happened. Matthew knew a shorthand that was required in that day for tax collectors, so Matthew records things that no other gospel writer sets down. He records two miracles that only he writes about. One of them was when Peter caught a fish with the tax money in its mouth. He records ten parables that are not written elsewhere. Nine sermons, six incidences – the wise men we only know about from Matthew. Herod and his murdering of the babies under two, we find out from Matthew. The soldiers at the tomb we know nothing about, except that Matthew tells us they “fell down as dead.” It is Matthew who records this from Jesus, “Come unto Me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Matthew tells us that Jesus said, “And, lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age.” Matthew records the last words of Jesus on the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani” meaning, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” You see, God doesn’t throw away your past. God orchestrated your past and He wants to use your past for His plan in the future. Matthew was trained in writing and God used that. He grew up in a family where He understood the Old Testament, and God used that. He grew up in a hypocritical system, and God used that holy discontent. Matthew used the word “Hypocrite” in his gospel more times than it appears in the rest of the entire Bible. God wants to use who you were for His plan for you in the future.
There is a willingness to bring everything to Jesus. Matthew brought his friends to Jesus. In verse 9, Jesus calls for Matthew to follow Him – and in the very next verse, 10, Jesus is having dinner at Matthew’s house! It was just natural; he brought his closest companions, tax collectors and sinners like himself, and he brought them to Jesus. Now Matthew’s only qualification for coming to Jesus was that he was a sinner. His friends were sinners, and the problem was that the Pharisees and Scribes – the religious crowd – came, too. Here’s the problem. In that day, eating a meal with someone – unlike today – meant that you were in agreement with their lifestyle. It was a very intimate time because tables were not like we have them today. They were low, requiring you to sit on the ground and kind of reclining or lounging together around this low table. It spoke of togetherness, of agreement in life choices. The Pharisees asked a pretty natural question, “Why would You sit around, lay around, hang out with sinners? Why would You do that?” Pretty good question. Do you know Jesus’ answer? He said, “There’s something more important than your customs here. Something more important than what other people think is going on here.” He makes two statements: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” In other words, “Doctors need to be around sick people; I’m the doctor; I’m not doing this just because I want to hobnob with sinners – I’m a doctor and these are My patients.” The only people Jesus calls are people who know they need a doctor.
Glenn Shibley of Orlando, Florida was found dead in his yard. He was 83 years old, and according to the local news, he and his wife were laying together in the yard when their son-in-law came upon them. The wife, Harriet, was injured and Glenn was dead. Apparently he had fallen three days earlier in the yard and he couldn’t get up. He told his wife not to call for help, that he would manage. It rained every night, so she put a tarp over him and brought him clean water. But on the third day, she fell herself and could not get up. Some of us are like that old, stubborn guy who says, “I can handle it. I’m okay.” Jesus says, “If you are righteous and think you are okay without Me, what can I do for you? It is the people who know they need a doctor, those are the people I’m coming for. Those are the people I’m trying to help. Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.
The Great Physician came for us. Matthew, when he talks about this list, you never hear Matthew speak – in the entire New Testament, he never speaks himself, but you get a sense of who he was and how he felt by how he wrote. The other gospel writers list the disciples in roughly the same order. But when Matthew lists the disciples, he doesn’t give any titles except one, when he says, “Matthew, the publican.” Years after he had left being a tax collector, he refers to himself in this way, as if he is saying, “I still can’t believe that Jesus called me. I was just this traitor, yet Jesus called me.” It has a sense of disbelief even until the day he writes this. Jesus calls sinners.
If you are sitting out there today, feeling like you are far beyond God’s reach, you are the exact person He came to reach. It was sarcastic for Jesus to say, “I haven’t come to save the righteous.” These Pharisees only acted righteous, they thought they were righteous, but they weren’t. Then Jesus says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” This comes right out of the book of Hosea, who says this to sinful Israel, living a life outside of God’s will, doing all the wrong things – yet they have kept up this religious, sacrificial system in the temple, still killing bulls and goats thinking that will make everything okay. God is saying, “I don’t want any of that stuff! Please!” The Pharisees were keeping the law, yet they hated people they felt were outside of God – hated sinners. Jesus is reminding them the sinners are who He came for.
In a marriage, a man is supposed to be faithful to his wife and a wife is to be faithful to her husband. Imagine a husband who gives his wife all kinds of beautiful gifts, yet is having an extramarital affair. He says, “I love my wife so much.” No woman in her right mind is going to be okay with that. She is going to know by his actions that he doesn’t love her at all. God understands that, too. God looks at us and says, “Okay, I see you on Sunday; you come to church all dressed up; you sing; maybe lift your hands – but Monday through Saturday, where is your mercy? I see your sacrifice, but where is your mercy for the lost? For people who don’t even know they’re lost? Where is that?” God calls it “hypocrisy.”
This morning we need to understand that we need to live missionaly. Matthew got this on day one. “I’m following Jesus and my mission is to reach the people around me who need Him; people God has put me with.” Missional living. God did not call us to live a monastic kind of a lifestyle. God didn’t call us to be separate from the world in that we don’t ever hang around with lost people. He didn’t call us to be worldly, either. We have different value. We know heaven is our home. We are looking toward a different city, different country. We don’t go after position or worldly pleasure. We don’t go after power and money because we have something far greater than that as soon as we die. Yet, we are to empathize with the anxiety and pain of those around us while we are here. We are to serve them. The question is, how do you do that?
God is a sovereign Ruler, in charge of everything. God sends missionaries, and you are the missionary God is sending as a missionary – to the gym! When you go to the gym today, God is sending you as a missionary. When you go to the bread store, God is sending you there as a missionary. When you go to the neighborhood bar-b-que, God is sending you there as a missionary. When you go to work, you’re going as a missionary. When you go to the classroom, you are going as a missionary. So, how do we do this? There are three things that I want you to remember today and they come right out of the Bible.
First of all, we have to learn to pray. In Colossians 4:2-4, Paul talks about this when he says:
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.
He is saying, “Talk to God about the lost before you talk to the lost about God.” We have to be praying every day that God gives us opportunity, opens the door, for us to speak His Word. Pray first. If you are going to live missionaly at the gym, at the store, at the restaurant, in the classroom as a missionary, you pray every day, “Lord, help me to have eyes to see these people as You do.” Pray. Are you doing that right now? If you are not, you probably not living missionaly. But you also have to do that with power, which is in prayer. It comes from God. The first thing you have to do is pray. Paul says, “If Paul needed it, you need it” and so do I.
The second thing we have to do is learn to live. Verse 5 says:
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.
If we are going to learn to live, we need to be all things to all people, without compromising truth and holiness. What does that take? It takes creativity, thought, tactfulness, a feel for the moment – when the sticky situation arises. Learn to live because sticky situations happen all the time. There you are at the gym and someone lets out the name of Christ in a profane way. Most of us would say, “Oh, I wish he hadn’t done that. I feel kind of weird about that. I don’t know what to say. I’ll wait and if it happens again, I’ll say something. Wish that hadn’t happened, though, because it just makes me feel weird. I don’t want to make this a weird thing, but I don’t know what to do.” If someone you are talking to says, “Hey, let’s go out and have a few drinks at Hooters.” Again, “I don’t know what to say. I feel kind of weird.”
What do you do in a sticky situation? A situation you really want to run away from? I have to tell you, sticky situations are God’s opportunities. It is good when this happens – it isn’t bad! You don’t have to run in and say, “I have to tell you about Jesus!” Just wait for the opportunity, the sticky situation – it is a great opportunity. Somebody says “Jesus Christ” in a profane way – what an opportunity. Not an opportunity for you to shake your finger in their face. You are dealing with an unbeliever, they are going to act like an unbeliever. You don’t even need to say, “You really offended me by the way you said that.” You could say, “Jesus Christ. I met Him as my Savior about 20 years ago. Have I ever told you about that?” What an opportunity.
A friend says, “I want to go to this club,” and invites you to go along. You feel wrong about going there and you could say, “You know, as a man, I kind of have a hard time keeping my eyes in the right place. I love my wife and want to honor her, so – I’m a believer, you know, a Christian, so would you mind if we went to Chili’s instead?” It’s an opportunity for you to declare who you really are. Here’s the thing. Jesus said you are either going to shine your light, or you are going to hide it. The sticky situation gives you the opportunity to shine the light! Don’t run away from it, this is good. Be honest about who you are. They are! The world is! No wonder Christians are called hypocrites. We aren’t honest. We just hold back on saying anything about what we do believe. How hypocritical. But do it in love. What a great opportunity to say, “I really like hanging out with you, but as a Christian, I just can’t go there. What about we do this instead?” What a great opportunity for you to be honest about who you are. And when you do this, your children are watching. They are learning how to handle themselves. Other believers are watching.
Something might happen at work and other believers may see how you handle a sticky situation, and they can follow your lead in their own situations. It’s an important lesson to learn. To do this, you need wisdom. There are three ways to get wisdom.
The first is through meditating on God’s Word. Psalm 1:1 says:
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
How do you avoid that? Verse 2:
But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.
So daily you have to get into God’s Word to know how to do this. Every situation is different. The second thing is prayer. James 1:5 says:
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, Who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
God will give you wisdom when you ask for it in prayer. Number three, good counselors. Ask friends, “How do you handle this situation?” Ask people who are living a godly life. I like Colossians 4:5 where it says, “the way you act toward outsiders.” It says there that we are to be wise toward outsiders. What does this imply? That you are supposed to be hanging around outsiders; that you are to have people in your life who are not yet believers. That’s a good thing. Some people in here are not believers yet. That’s okay, we want you to come to this church and hear more about Jesus. That’s okay. But all of us need to have people in our lives who are outside of Christ.
Learn to pray, learn to live, learn to talk. Look at Colossians 4:6:
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
What he is saying is that we are in charge of making Jesus appetizing to lost people. Did you know that? Seasoned with salt – have you ever had food not seasoned? There are a lot of ways to prepare chicken. You have had some chicken in your life that has been just unbelievably good, right? Then one time my wife made “chicken nasty.” It was bad – and both of us felt that way! There are ways to make food good or bad. And some of us have a way of making Jesus “taste” terrible to people. We need to make Him appetizing. How do you do that?
Every day, get up, open God’s Word and ask, “Why do I love Jesus?” Open up this book and you will find out why. The best advertisement is a satisfied customer. And the more satisfied we are in our relationship with Jesus, the more appealing He is to everyone around us. Now, don’t miss this word in the verse – “everyone.” Every person in your life needs individual attention. Every person is different; every situation is different. I gave you just a couple of brief examples, but there are thousands of examples in this crowd of the people in your lives and how to handle those situations – and every one of them is different. You need to look at every situation as unique. Jesus never evangelized two people the same way. If He did, we would have evangelization programs with a rigid outline. But He didn’t do that – it was always different. So are the people in your life. Let God lead you as to how to answer each person.
Here’s the challenge for you today: Prayer, Care and Share. Prayer – I want to encourage you to do something that the former pastor of this church, Bufe Karraker, did. He had a list of ten. Ten people in his life he was always trying to reach. Ten men. And when one of them got saved, he added another to that list. My challenge to you today is to make a list of five to ten people who are lost and you need to reach for Jesus Christ. Think of who those people will be. By the way, in your sermon-based small groups this week, you’ll talk about this. If you don’t belong to a sermon-based small group, look into joining one. Or just do this yourself. Make that list of ten and pray for these people by name. Just pray that God will open their heart and make them receptive to the gospel and to you when you present it. It might involve you leaving your comfort zone. Some of you may not have ten people in your life who are lost right now. You need to leave that comfort zone and go find those people.
Share. Yesterday Katie and I went to the play area at McDonald’s and we sat there for an hour while Reilly played and while Abbey was nursing. We met four or five people and invited several of them to church. Anywhere you go there are opportunities. Just talk. A lot of us just don’t open up and talk to people; we’re just in the mindset of “you don’t bother me, I won’t bother you.” Open up and talk to people. That’s prayer.
Care is the next thing we need to do. Care means building friendships. Building long-term friendships. Jim Westgate was talking to me the other day and he said, “I know the guy who lives across the street. We’ve been friends for 20 years.” I asked, “What do you do together?” What do you do together when you are friends? Well, you eat together; you work together – Jim goes across the street and they help with yard work; you suffer together – when one of you is sick or hurting, you suffer together; you meet each other’s needs. Have a friendship with several people who don’t know Jesus yet. It’s okay.
There’s an interesting statistic that I want to show you up on the screens here – people were asked, “What was it that influenced you to receive Christ?” As you can see, 78% said a friend or relative invited them to receive Christ, and they did. 6% said it was a pastor; 5% said Sunday school; 3% a church service; 3% walked in off the street; 2% a special need; personal invitation, 2%; television evangelism was ½ of 1%. 78% said it was a friend or relative! This is how you live missionaly – by building these friendships; long-term friendships with people. By the way, do you know the question they will be asking? Because they know us as Christians, they are going to ask, “Will you still be my friend if I don’t receive Jesus? The first time I reject that offer, you’re going to drop me, huh? Because you are trying to get one more notch in your belt, right?” If they are right, shame on us! Seriously – shame on us. But I hope they are wrong. Hope that we are going to love them and love them and love them.
In our sermon meeting this week we were talking about this and two of the guys in that meeting are Dan Chengrian, our high school pastor, and Tod Harris, one of our assistant pastors who is involved in recovery and small groups. Dan said, “Hey, Tod, thank you that you didn’t give up on me.” It was years ago that Tod led Dan to the Lord, but after years of friendship. Tod was just waiting until the Lord drew Dan in. And one day the bottom fell out of Dan’s life and he acknowledged that he needed Jesus.
Live like Matthew. Think about when Jesus called you, He looked beyond everything you have ever done and He saw you and He wants to use your past today to shape your future. Look around you, make that list of people who need Christ and begin to pray for them. This is life. This is God’s plan for you and I hope you will take part in it. Will you pray with me?
Father, as You look at this crowd, You see so much more than I do. You see them. You don’t see their profession or their acts in life. You see them. You know their past; and You want to use that. I pray, Lord, that we would all decide to make this list of ten and begin to pray and begin to love them, and begin to share with them what You mean to us. Father, we love You so much and thank You for giving us this missional life, so that we can leave this place and go out right now as Your missionaries. We pray these things in Jesus’ Name. Amen.