Theme: Hope for the Outcast
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
The second thing is that this story gives us a pattern for our evangelism. When Jesus went to Matthew’s house with these disreputable people, outside there were the Pharisees and the other reputable people. They were the people who lived in the nice houses and had the good jobs and were highly respected, and they looked in and they said, “Is he in there?” Then they got his disciples and said to them, “What is your master doing associating with these people?” Jesus had an interesting response to him. He said that those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick. Then Jesus said to the Pharisees in v. 13, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”
He’s quoting from Hosea 6:6. God is rebuking the people of his day. They thought they were good people, and were being obedient and holy so that God should be blessing them. As a matter of fact, they were even profuse in their repentance, except it was a false repentance. But God tells them that he desires mercy and not sacrifice. They were coming with their sacrifices, but their hearts were not right. They thought they were good people, but it was all outward formality.
In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders are looking down on him because he’s associating with sinners, and he tells them to go and learn what the Lord meant when he said through Hosea, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” You may say that you want to serve God, and that’s why you’re in church, and why you give money, and do all sorts of other things. All that is good, but you can do that without a trace of the character of Jesus Christ. Unbelievers can come to church and do those things. But only those who are touched by the Spirit of Christ have a heart of mercy toward those who are outcasts and need mercy. You say, “Well, I would rather deal with those who are nice. I don’t think I have the gift of reaching out to people who are not nice.” However, if you have the character of Jesus Christ you will, because that’s what Jesus Christ did.
It is much easier to reach the outcast than it is the up and up. If you show some interest toward the person who is despised and rejected by others, they’re generally delighted that somebody would do that for them. That opens up a door for fruitful evangelism. I suppose one of the reasons why we have not had great evangelism in our churches and why the church of Jesus Christ in this country is not really growing or strong is that we’ve become a middle-class church or a church of the socially prominent, and we have forgotten the pattern of the Lord.
When John Perkins, for example, talks about Jesus’ evangelism, he says that Jesus makes the poor a priority. I’ve always been a bit uneasy with that, not because it isn’t true but because it isn’t comprehensive enough. It is not just that Jesus dealt with the poor. Jesus dealt with all the outcasts because they were outcasts. His Father chose to work with those people who were generally regarded as nobodies. If we’re going to follow the Lord Jesus Christ in that, we have to reach out to such people.
Why is it that we don’t do it? Why do we find it so hard to do? There’s a very clear answer to that. We don’t do it because we don’t think that we are like them. Or to put it in other terms, we really don’t think that we are sinners. We’re not tax collectors. We’re not publicans. Where have you heard that in the Bible? You’ve heard it in the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went up to the temple to pray. Remember what the Pharisee prayed? He said, “Oh God, I thank you that I am not like these other people, especially not like this tax collector here. I’m not a sinner like him.” We really do think that. We don’t want to get involved with certain people because of their sins, but fail to realize that in the sight of God we are great sinners too. If we understood that we were sinners it would not be difficult for us to go to those such people.
The third application is that there is hope for the outcast. I don’t know your heart, or what you’re laboring under, but many people have experienced rejection of one kind or another, and you may be one. Maybe you’ve been rejected by your family. Maybe you’ve done something that has caused the rejection. Maybe you’ve disgraced yourself in their eyes in some way. Maybe your father has said, “You’re not welcome in this house anymore.” Your mother said, “You’ve broken my heart. Don’t come back.” Maybe you’ve disgraced yourself at work or with your children. Whatever your situation there is here is hope for you, because the gospel of Jesus Christ is for people like you. Indeed, it is people exactly like you whom Jesus calls.
Not only does Jesus invite you; he commands you. He tells you to follow him just as he said to Matthew the tax collector. You say, “But I’m unworthy.” Of course you’re unworthy. That’s exactly the point. He’s saying, “Follow me.” And what you have to do is what Matthew did. You have to get up and follow him.
In the final day there is going to be a great banquet, which is going to be exactly like this banquet Matthew was hosting. Referring to this dinner where all of the tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Jesus, Dick Lucas said, “There’s a little microcosm of the church.” When we gather together at the communion table to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are all sinners saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the same Jesus who had mercy on sinners like Matthew.
But you know it’s not just in the church that we see it. This is a picture of heaven as well, because the time is coming when there is going to be a great banquet, which Matthew himself records in his Gospel. Jesus says that at that banquet those who sit down with the Lord are not going to be the prominent people, the religious people, the great figures of our time, those we all look up to and say, “Oh, aren’t they important. Wouldn’t it do loads for the kingdom of God if we could just bring them in?” It’s not going to be like that. He says, that the great and influential people of the world have rejected it. They are going their own way. They are making their money. They’re building their reputations.
Who’s going to be at that banquet? Jesus says that it’s going to be the people he’s brought in from the highways and the byways. What does that mean? It means that God is bringing people from all walks of life, including those from places and backgrounds that polite society disparages and avoids. It’s not going to be a sad assembly, because in that day those who have been called by Jesus Christ from all the counting tables in the world are going to be enriched not by earthly riches but by the righteousness of Christ. And they’re going to be clothed not with the garments of this world, but with the perfection of our blessed Lord himself.
That’s what Jesus calls you to. When he tells you to follow him he calls you not to an easy way, because now we live in a world in which his cross is opposed and his kingdom is resisted on every hand. When he calls you to follow him, he calls you to a way of hardship during this life. But he also calls you to the banquet. And I say to you, “Come.”
What is the second application from this story? Explain what Jesus meant by his quoting from Hosea 6:6.
Why do we find it difficult to reach out to certain people who are not like us? When we fail to minister to them, what does that reveal about our own hearts?
What is the third application observed from Matthew’s call?
Application: Given what we learned about how Jesus sought out and called Matthew to salvation, are there any changes you need to make concerning how you treat other people who are outcasts in some way?