Theme: Those Whom Jesus Calls
This week’s lessons show us the depth of the mercy and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, who continues to call, not those who believe they are righteous, but sinners into his kingdom.
Scripture: Matthew 9:9-13
Have you ever noticed as you read through the Gospels that whenever the word tax collector appears, usually it is coupled with the word sinners? Imagine what it would feel like if for whatever profession you are in, the word sinners was always connected with it. Well that’s the way it was with Matthew. You see, what I’m trying to say by that is if you were talking about people in that day who were at the very bottom of the scale of social acceptability it was certainly the tax collectors. And Matthew was right in there fighting for the bottom position.
Now that’s important because what the story teaches us is that it is precisely people like that whom Jesus came to save. I’m going to apply that later, but let’s just think of it in terms of his coming to save such people. We think, “Well, it’s wonderful that Jesus would come to save people but certainly if he thinks at all like we do he must want to save the very best. After all, he has work to do. He needs the very best possible people to do it.” But that isn’t what Jesus says. When they begin to challenge him in his choice of Matthew and his association with people of that type, Jesus explains it by likening himself to a doctor. It’s not the doctor’s business to associate with those who are healthy but, rather, to associate with the sick. The point is obvious, isn’t it? He came to save such people.
Not only did he come to save such people in that day, but it is precisely people like that whom Jesus saves today. Again, I think of what Dick Lucas was saying in his sermon I referred to earlier when he directed us to 1 Corinthians 1, where the Apostle Paul, writing to the Christians in that Greek city, reminds them of the kind of people they were when God called them. He says all you have to do is look around among yourselves to see the kind of people God calls into his kingdom. He doesn’t call many wise people, many mighty people, or many great people. Rather, he calls the humble and the people who are nothing to do his work. It is not those who are wise by the world’s standards, nor the influential, nor those of noble birth. It is those whom the world considers foolish, despised, and of no account.
Someone might disparage you as not being wise or influential or noble, and you can still have achieved things in life that people value. But if someone tells you that you don’t even count and that you are nothing, that is about as low as you can regard someone. Yet Paul told the Corinthians that is the kind of people Jesus calls.
That’s what happened in this story. Jesus reached out and called Mathew, and after he had called Matthew, Jesus associated with people just like him. And he has gone on doing that through all these centuries even to our own time. We have a tendency to push that off because we don’t want to think of ourselves that way, but actually we need to realize that that is true of us as well.
Years ago in Washington, D.C., for the National Prayer Breakfast the speaker on that occasion was Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. He gave a great address, which was printed and distributed. I’ve had it for years, and I mention it now because of the way Bishop Sheen began his address. Jimmy Carter was president at the time, and he was there at the prayer breakfast, sitting next to Bishop Sheen. This is how his address began: “Mr. President, Mrs. Carter, and fellow sinners…” When the laughter died down, he continued, “I read not very long ago, Mr. President that in a brief address you gave at the Baptist Church in Plains you quoted Scripture to the effect that we were all sinners and begged God to have mercy on our souls. So I trust you’ll understand that I also include you in my greetings to fellow sinners.”
Now that, I say, is telling it as it is. And then he goes on to say the reason he chose to begin his address that way is that he’d been to many of these prayer breakfasts before and he had had the impression as he’d listen to the speakers that we were more or less telling God that if he only understood what good people we are he would bless us and bless our country. He was aware of the fact that what we needed to do was to be aware that we are sinners and confess that sin, if we would have God’s blessing.
You see, the very fact that Jesus operates this way should humble us. If we, by the grace of God, have come to know of his salvation through Jesus Christ it is not because we are wise, noble, or strong, but because compared to others we are nothing, and God can use us to bring glory to his name. I don’t mean to say by this that God does not also sometimes choose the other. I guess he does it just to show that he is sovereign in his electing choices. But it does tell us that it is not many mighty, not many wise, not many noble, but he chooses those regarded as nothing so that the glory will go to him. You see, then, that if anything is accomplished as we live as Christians it is because of the power of God and not because of any ability that is in us.
This is the kind of person Jesus saved. Jesus came not only to associate with Matthew, but to save him. I think this is a point in which we have to take this story and link it up, as Matthew undoubtedly intended us to do, with the story that goes immediately before. You recall from our last study that it was the story of the healing of the paralytic, and the important thing in that story was that Jesus gave the paralytic forgiveness of his sins. The healing hinges upon that. Here was a man who very desperately needed physical healing, but when Jesus addressed him he didn’t say, “Son, be healed.” He said, rather, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” That was the priority and the most important thing. And after that of course, the healing came along as well.
What is the main reason why Jesus’ calling of Matthew is included?
What kinds of people does God generally call to become citizens of his kingdom? What kinds does he tend to pass over, and why?
Application: How should we think of ourselves, in regard to both the Lord’s call of us and to how we compare ourselves with other Christians?
For Further Study: Matthew was apparently happy as a tax collector, until Jesus came and called him to something far greater. To see how God reordered Paul’s plans in 2 Corinthians, download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “When God Reschedules Plans.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)