Call the Sinner (Matthew 9)
- Order of Service: Divine Service 3
- Hymns: LSB #559, 609, 563, 740, 537, 506
[Jesus] said, "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)
Jesus gives this sermon to the Pharisees in St. Matthew's house. He preaches against their accusations: "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (v11). After calling Matthew to be a disciple, Jesus ate at his house. The Pharisees were disgusted. Jesus hung out with the wrong crowd. Jesus was supposed to be ABOVE them. Not AMONG them.
But Jesus came to earth to be among sinners. If He wanted to stay away from sinners, He never would have left Heaven. He would have stayed among His holy angels. He never would have come down to earth. Every person on earth would be consigned to Hell. No Christmas. No Easter. No salvation. If Jesus had not come to be among sinners.
Matthew was a sinner. A tax collector. The lowest of the low. The scum of the earth. Reminder of the oppressive Roman Empire. Greedy and covetous, his pockets couldn't hold all the money he wanted. Even when he filled his pockets, he found new pockets to put money in. He was never satisfied. He never had enough. He always wanted just a little more. There was no end to his covetousness.
The Small Catechism tells us about covetousness:
- We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor's inheritance or house, or get it in any way that only APPEARS right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.
Covetousness goes beyond stealing. It's "legal" stealing. It's taking advantage of the rules for your own gain. Tax collectors crafted it into an art form. But covetousness doesn't only apply to tax collectors. Not only to sinners. But especially to the pious. Coveting has been the "pet sin" of the pious ever since Adam and Eve, as the Large Catechism tells us (I 300):
- This last commandment therefore is given not for rogues in the eyes of the world, but just for the most pious, who wish to be praised and be called honest and upright people, since they have not offended against the former commandments, as especially the Jews claimed to be, and even now many great noblemen, gentlemen, and princes. For the other common masses belong yet farther down, under the Seventh Commandment, as those who are not much concerned whether they acquire their possessions with honor and right.
Christians aren't immune from covetousness. Several have voiced concerns about our fundraising efforts. Why? It was pounded over and over again from this very pulpit: "Lutherans pay their own bills. Lutherans don't fundraise." In the past, there was always someone who could write a check at the end of the year to cover the budget shortage. Those people are no longer here. People covet the "good ole days" when we didn't have to do these things.
I wish the pastors who preached the "no fundraising" policy from this pulpit would have preached both sides. Lutherans pay their own bills and not anyone else's. Be financial isolationists. Those who have been vocal about our fundraising point back to these old sermons. But they are also the ones at St. Ann's chicken dinner, the Methodist salad luncheon, Christ Lutheran's ice cream social, etc. Why do we pay their bills also? Because it's a boost to our pride. Our sinful nature tempts us to stand in line and accept the food with a smile that says, "I can support my church AND YOURS!" Covetousness plain and simple. Sinners the entire lot of us.
And STILL Jesus comes among us with His presence. He died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Including our covetousness. He sacrificed His body and blood for sinners. He comes among us to give us a foretaste of the eternal feast to come. Forgiveness you and I don't deserve. A feast you and I don't deserve. But a feast of forgiveness He freely gives to everyone who believes and follows Him.
St. Matthew's story shows us God's great grace. He calls the sinners to come near Him. Not the religious elitists. Those who come before Him, saying, "I, a poor, miserable sinner." And that's what we are! Poor, miserable sinners. But sinners saved by God's amazing grace. We have been called to Him. To leave our rebellious house. To feast upon His sweet Word, as we do every Sunday (Ezekiel 2:8-3:3).
We have our sins. Our covetousness. But Jesus comes among us as the Great Physician. He comes not for the well, but for the sick (v12). For you and me. The covetous. Coveting money and possessions. Coveting time and talents. Coveting days gone by. He administers His sweet medicine of forgiveness to heal the sinsick soul (LSB #748).
He died a rebel's death. Jesus Christ died for rebels. Like Ezekiel's scroll, these are words seem like lamentation and mourning and woe. But they are sweet as honey to a poor, miserable sinner. Do not be like rebellious Israel, stopping up your ears (Ezekiel 2:8; 3:7, 11). Hear that Jesus died for you. Hear that He rose from the dead for you. His forgiveness is for you. Not just "THEM" out there. He forgives YOU all your sins. Jesus calls YOU to repent of your sins.
This sweet message of repentance and forgiveness should ring in your ears. This is St. Matthew's story. Jesus calls him to follow. Matthew follows, but he brings his friends along. Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners because Matthew wants to share the message of repentance and forgiveness with them. Jesus calls sinners to witness to His desire for mercy and not sacrifice (v13).
We must show mercy and not boast in OUR sacrifice. Mercy towards those who need our help. In our covetousness, we boast of our personal sacrifice. But St. Paul says, "But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14). Jesus does not call for you to boast in your sacrifice. Jesus calls us to boast in HIS sacrifice. A sacrifice that shows His mercy toward us sinners. Mercy He shows by being among us.
You can't show mercy without being among the people you're being merciful to. Mercy requires a person standing beside you. Receiving your mercy. And Jesus calls us to imitate His example of mercy. He came into the world to show mercy to everyone. The Pharisees would not accept His mercy. But the tax collectors and sinners eagerly received it. A few weeks ago, we had the church discipline reading from Matthew 18. As a final commandment in this process, the Church is required to treat those removed from their midst as a tax collector (Matthew 18:17). How does the Church treat tax collectors? The same way her Lord treats them. Granting them mercy. Not covering over or minimizing the issue(s) at hand. Showing mercy in the willingness to forgive those who repent. Encouragement for the unrepentant to allow the Holy Spirit to change their heart. To not close their hearts to Him. To believe in Jesus' great mercy. The greatest mercy you can show someone is to show them Jesus as their merciful Savior who died to forgive their sins. Who rose to open the gates of Heaven for them.
The Pharisees refused to see themselves as sinners in need of a Savior. They saw themselves as righteous all by themselves. So Jesus doesn't call them. Jesus calls sinners like Matthew. Sinners who earnestly desire the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of our covetous hearts. Healing our hearts of our covetousness. Showing mercy for His sake and not ours. Amen.