Message: Radically Affected | Scripture: Matthew 9:9-13 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
If able, please stand with me as I read to you from Matthew 9:9-13. TWoL: 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. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he 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.”
Let’s talk about puberty for a minute. I know it reminds us of a time that most of us would like to forget. But one of the things I do like to think about from that period in my life is how things became more vibrant and enjoyable. One example of this is food. I remember as a young boy, I hated eating. My parents would have to fight me every meal to finish my food, to eat enough protein, to drink a cup of milk. I remember long nights of sitting at a table because I simply refused to eat.
But then I began growing up, and I remember the taste and eating of food going from something I had to endure to something I craved. I remember thinking that raw salmon was perhaps the most detestable thing that a person could eat—this slimy and sometimes smelly substance that looked wholly unappetizing to me. Yet, around the age of 14, I remember my mom saying, “try one piece, and if you don’t like it, you’ll never have to again.”
I’m pretty sure she somewhat regrets saying this to me because since then, I’ve probably eaten enough salmon for three or four people in a lifetime. Overnight, it seems I went from disliking food and wanting to have nothing to do with it to being voracious and having a limitless appetite for it—so much so that I now have to remind myself regularly that I’m not ruled by my stomach.
Now, in all seriousness, our passage speaks even more fundamentally about this kind of reorientation—this kind of irresistible change that takes place in a person’s life when they meet Jesus and become a Christian. It’s a mystery that ought to baffle any person who once knew us before becoming Christian. There should be something evidently and staggeringly different, and this morning, I want to try and explain that difference. Jesus calls it possessing and displaying mercy, but we have to understand how it is that Christians can be merciful—against all odds, against all persecution and criticism—how does a Christian maintain a posture of mercy?
And my answer to that question is because he or she has bathed him or herself—they have matured, so-to-speak—in an affection for majesty. Majesty is the thing that makes the difference because from that majesty comes awe and from that awe, as the majesty surrounds us and pours out on us, comes an indelible, unshakable joy—a radical happiness. And that joy—that happiness—sustains us. It changes our lives. It makes us different.
That’s where our text is leading us—it calls us to kindle—to grow in our Christian, Christlike mercy, but the way we kindle it is by possessing an affection for majesty, and the first question we must answer is how to possess that affection? How might we get a sense of this deep, awe-inspiring, joy-filling majesty that makes us truly merciful—truly different Christians, and the first answer we’re given in this passage is that we’re to …
1) Revel in the Function
Now, these words may seem abstract—that growing in an affection, leading to merciful living involves, first, a revelling or a rejoicing or a celebrating, but this why the context of our passage is so important. Verse 10—as tax collectors and sinners are coming in to dine and recline at table with Jesus—follows Matt 8:23-9:8. Remember last week, we talked about the three events that reveal to us the nature of Christ. He is not merely a prophet, priest, and King, but he is God himself. God over the natural realm. God over the supernatural realm. And God who overcomes our sin.
And it’s these particular truths about Jesus that leads Matthew to think about his own life in Matt 9:9—that he is one of the worst sinners in Israel—a traitor amongst his own people, and yet this Jesus—this prophet, priest, and King—this holy, omnipotent God shows Matthew mercy, looks upon Matthew favourably, and calls Matthew to follow him.
Our verses follow directly after Matthew details for us his reflection and amazement of what has transpired in his own life. How he became enthralled with this God-Man who takes in and makes disciples out of the worst kind of people. And what do you think Matthew does next? Do you think he puts his head down and follows sullenly? Do you think he is distraught by Jesus’s love towards him—as if he should be pitied—as if this were the worst day of his life?
You see, so many people who call themselves “Christian” act this way around others. I hear it all the time—even in my own voice—the topic of hanging out on Sunday morning will come up in a friendly conversation, and I’ll say, “oh, I’m usually busy on Sundays,” and they’ll go, “why?” And I’ll respond, hesitantly, reticently, ashamedly almost, “because I go to church.” Then, they’ll prod further and ask, “oh, what do you believe?” And I’ll respond—with my head hanging even further into my chests, “well, I’m Christian,” hoping, somehow, that they’ll move on from this topic. Do you think this is how Matthew responded?
The reason why I think verse 10 follows verse 9 is because I believe Matthew had a lot of devious friends. He was a tax-collector, and it’s likely that as a tax-collector, he knew a lot of other rejects of Israel because Roman gentiles wouldn’t have been his friend. They saw him as a rat—a useful rat, but not one that they cared for beyond the money that he collected for them. And faithful, orthodox, loyal Jews wouldn’t be caught dead with him—to be his friend as a Jew would be social suicide, if they didn’t already hate him. So, the only “friends” that Matthew would have been able to make in that place would have been nasty, unrespectable, temple-neglecting, sin-infested people.
Yet, when Jesus—a highly regarded teacher—fame growing in Israel—both among Jews and Gentiles—he says to Matthew, “Follow me.” I imagine Matthew, literally, leaping off his seat. He would have been nothing short of a mix of emotions: shocked, perplexed, profoundly relieved, and inexpressibly happy. “You called me? Are you really looking at me? Do you know who I am? Do you know what I’ve done? Do you know who my friends are?”
And from there, I imagine he would have run—not sauntering, not thinking about the repercussions, not even caring, anymore, what all of the people glaring at him thought of him—he would’ve run to tell his friends, “Come! Come to my house. I’m throwing a party, and you can meet this well-respected, miracle working, God-displaying Messiah who calls and fellowships with sinners! There’s hope for us yet! He told me to follow him, and I’d guess that he’d let you follow him too! Come, revel in our gathering because Jesus is there.”
Some of you may not know this based upon how my voice sounds now, but as a kid I tried out for the Broadway show, The Lion King, and I wasn’t half bad. In fact, during the auditions, they placed me in a group of kids that were front-runners for the position, and at the end of the 3 hours of singing, acting, and dancing, they gathered the group of us and told us, “the few of you have been selected as our call-backs—those who could be our future Simba’s (for the boys) and Nala’s (for the girls).”
And I remember that as these words came out of the mouth of this woman who I could only assume was heavily involved in the production, I couldn’t wait. She had barely finished her sentence when I ran from the group, bounded up the stairs to where my father was waiting, yelling at him, “Daddy, I got a call back!
This is what it’s supposed to be like when we meet Jesus! When he calls us! When he says, “Follow me!” It’s meant to be a time of great, uncontrollable rejoicing! News that can’t be held in and shared because it’s a celebration! But woe to us who treat knowing Jesus like it’s a chore! Those of us who grumble on Sundays at the thought of having to come to church. Those of us who lament having to bear the testimony of Christ in our day-to-day life, let alone the nightmare of potentially having to open our mouths and talk about it! How far we have fallen from Matthew and his friends—those who knew and were utterly affected by that knowledge that Jesus is here. God with us.
And notice, these tax collectors and sinners reclining at table with Jesus, they do so because that’s who Jesus is. He beckons us in, and he treats us far better than we deserve—as if he was our equal even though he is the divine. There he desires to love us, to sit with us, to know us, and that’s meant to change us. See these sinners. There’s no comment from Matthew about their concern of what others are thinking.
Why? Because joy fills this scene. A deep enthrallment and affection seem to be the preoccupation of those sitting with Christ and his disciples. This is Jesus. This is our King. We are sinners, and yet here he is, and here he lets us be with him. This is a glimpse of unbridled fellowship with God. This is a glimpse of heaven.
How different this must have looked to others who were in the house. Gone were the men and women who would sit on street corners, demand money from passersby. Men and women downcast with shame. No, these were new creations with eyes fixed on Jesus, taking in the sheer wonder of his presence as he showed them an undeserved compassion. What mercy is this, they must have thought, that one like him might look kindly on one like me?
This, dear church, is the essence of Christian life—to be preoccupied with Christ, and yet I know for everyone of us, we do not grasp these verses as we ought. Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it this way, “In this Christian life, there are many problems and difficulties, but more and more it seems to me that most of our problems—indeed, if not all of them—arise from the simple fact that we fail to realize, understand, and appreciate what is the real truth about us as Christian people. We read these things in Scripture without meditating about them. So, we don’t realize that these aren’t abstract truths but these truths are about us. I imagine, if we did that, our lives would be different—changed.”
And here, perhaps, I might offer us some encouragement that we not rush through this life—through its difficulties and trials—so fast that we miss out on what these verses are saying about us as those who have the Messiah. That Jesus, the fulfillment of Scripture, God enfleshed, is here with us, even now, dwelling and abiding in us through his Holy Spirit. We’re to revel in this because it’s to form the basis for everything we are and everything we do, especially as we go out to other sinners and call them to him as he’s done for us.
We’re not to miss this, brothers and sisters. What does it mean to be Christian and to display mercy? It means, first and foremost, being captivated, affectionately so, by majesty—to the degree that all that matters is Jesus, and what he thinks of you—not what the world—not what your own sin thinks of you. And here’s the warning that we hear bringing us into our second point—that as you fix your affections on Christ and revel in his presence, make sure to check your heart and …
2) Reject Useless Formalities
Following this scene of bliss and revelry, we’re confronted with Pharisees who, as they see sinners having a good time, and as they see Jesus allowing it, their hearts become cold and judgmental. Why? Because Jesus hasn’t required these great and terrible sinners to observe the formalities and difficult sacrifices that they, Pharisees, were required to observe and that they, Pharisees, require those who follow them to observe. And they feel it’s unfair.
They’ve spent their entire lives creating this dividing line of those who are good people from those who are bad people, and in their eyes, they, themselves, are good people. In their eyes, Jesus should be on their side. He should be amongst those who ostracize those who buck at their traditions of sacrifice, piety, and loyalty. But here, Jesus is getting all this fame and notoriety, being recognized as someone worthy to be followed—someone who people think is good—by mixing himself with bad people, and this is bad business because it upsets the establishment that the Pharisees and scribes have worked so hard to cultivate.
Now, every Pharisee in that day would have admitted to the fact that they were sinners. But you see, there was a difference in their eyes between sinners with a little ‘s’ and Sinners with a big ‘S’. Sinners with the little ‘s’, like them, were, ultimately, good people—pardonable people—people who God would accept because they atoned for their sins. They offered their sacrifices. And more than all of that, they didn’t do the really terrible things that Sinners with the big ‘S’ did.
They followed the rules diligently. They didn’t murder. They didn’t commit adultery. They weren’t unjustifiably violent. They gave their offerings. They fasted. They prayed their prayers—everyone knew that about them. So, their way was the way. If you were going to be a teacher in Israel. If you were to have the respect of the masses—if you were to have the respect and favour of God—then you had better act like them and require the things that they required.
Yet, notice how Jesus responds to them—what a peculiar response this is: when he heard their complaint, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” What is he saying here? Well, I hope you know he’s answering their complaint metaphorically. He’s not telling them that he’s dining with these sinners because they’re physically ill. He’s telling them that he’s dining with sinners because they know that they’re spiritually sick—because they know that they’re sinners. Full stop. In the minds and hearts of Matthew’s friends, there isn’t this dividing line between little and big sinners. To them, if they have sin, they need a Saviour. It’s that simple, but the Pharisees don’t understand.
They don’t see it because this dividing line—this distinction between good people and bad people in their eyes is the basis for their security. By measuring up to their own dividing line—by following their self-prescribed formalities and traditions—they justify themselves. And the reason why they need to be justified in their own eyes—why they need others to affirm them in their dividing line—is so that by their faithfulness to their own standard, they might be able to say, “God owes me. God will save me because I’ve earned it—because I’m better than those traitors, murderers, and adulterers.” By their faithfulness, they wouldn’t have to exercise mercy.
But Jesus is trying to tell them that they, just like traitors, murderers, and adulterers, need a Saviour too because no one’s dividing line is ever going to be faithful enough. In the 1950’s, there was this Senator here in the States named Joe McCarthy. Many of you may know that name. He was known for his obsession with hunting down and imprisoning communists, often implicating non-communists as communists because he simply didn’t like them.
So, many people didn’t like him, and they tried to remove him from office. Yet, their strategy for doing so never involved his biggest vice. Everyone knew he was a serial sexual harasser. He would walk up to his secretaries and pinch them in their private areas for fun, and he would say all these inappropriate jokes just to see if he could get them to squirm. But he was faithful to his wife, and those who wanted to bring him down never thought to implicate him for his sexual harassment. Why? Because back then sexual harassment was commonplace. It was a little sin. Being unfaithful to your wife was a big sin. Sexual harassment wasn’t bad enough to get you kicked out of office, but adultery was.
Yet, today, as the New Yorker astutely points out, those things are reversed. Sexual harassment will get you kicked out faster than you can say, “sorry,” but adultery or sex outside of marriage is no one’s business. It’s not enough to indict you out of office.
And here’s the thing, standards and formalities that make you righteous and secure in your own eyes will always fall short because your love for your own sin will always move the line so that you can keep your sin—so that you don’t have to change. This is how the heart operates. But Jesus comes to sinners, even sinners like you and me, when we were blind to our own sinfulness—when we were traitorous, blasphemous, justified in our own eyes, outcasts to everyone and everything—and he calls us—yes, even us—to reject useless formalities and standards, to show us our wicked hearts, and to usher us in and follow him in joyous freedom from the bondage of sin.
And the way that we do that isn’t by separating ourselves from those who are bad in our own eyes or by requiring them to do as we do but by fixing our own eyes, our fellowship, our attention, our affection on him who alone is good, and who alone can show us a mercy that we desperately need. If we, ourselves, are to be counted as Christians—if we desire a place in the kingdom of heaven, we need to relinquish the throne of our hearts to its rightful King, and it hurts to admit, I know, but we are not him, and we have no claim to his crown.
But for those who come to him—for those who humble themselves, he willingly and happily reclines at table with them. He comes like a physician to heal and restore them, and he offers his healing hand—he supplies his royal services—to all who respond to his call and admit their need. The throne, the crown, the fruit of the kingdom, and all of its joys are his, but he intends to bring us in and to share it all with us, if we might only confess that none of those things are worthwhile without him. If only he becomes our greatest treasure and highest hope because he, alone, is able to supply the mercy, and he alone can satisfy the standard—not ours, but God’s, and this is touching on our third and final point: kindle your mercy with an affection for majesty by responding to the festivities.
3) Respond to the Festivities
When Christ confronts us with our desperation in our sin and presents himself as the solution, we must respond. And we already know how the friends of Matthew respond—the tax-collectors and sinners, as they bask in Christ’s underserved fellowship, but how does Jesus call the Pharisees to respond as they take in the festivities around them? He says, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
What does he mean by this? Well, firstly, he means that this won’t be easy. Go and learn, he says. It’ll require deep consideration and discussion. You won’t understand it immediately because you’ve been so caught up in yourselves, and Christianity requires thought. But go, secondly, look in Scripture, and he quotes to them from Hosea 6:6—a book that is all about God’s pursuing love and mercy over his bride, Israel, even as she has prostituted herself again-and-again and bore evil children from other men—from other nations.
And their evil shows up not only in their love and pursuit of things other than God, but in the fact that whenever they went to God, their worship and sacrifice to him was empty. Their hearts would be far from him when sacrifice was meant to bring them closer to him. It was meant to bring change into their lives, knowing it wasn’t the sacrifice that brought mercy and forgiveness, but God.
Yet they would only do it because they had to do it—because they willed themselves to do it out of obligation. And whenever you do something because you have to do it—like a gun pointed at your head, it always only results in a superficial change. And what’s worse is that when you do something because you have to, you will always come out of it feeling like you are now owed something for it. This is what sacrifice to the people of God—to pharisees—had become. It was both an obligation and a bargaining chip.
Perhaps, some of us don’t realize how close to home this is, but let’s examine ourselves and consider our sacrifices. Do you think God owes you? Timothy Keller puts it this way, “You can know that you think God owes you if you’re always feeling upset, you’re always feeling grumpy, you’re always feeling anxious like your life isn’t going the way it ought to. Maybe you come to church, maybe you come all the time, maybe you study your Bible, but you’re always angry to some degree, which you don’t openly admit because to do so would be to say you’re mad at God—that he isn’t doing enough for you—that he isn’t enough for you. You know what that’s a sign of? Phariseeism, self-justification, the old sinner’s belief that God owes you.”
See, when you pressure the will—when you feel forced to do something, you don’t change the thing that really needs to be changed: the desires of your heart. And Jesus is telling us that finding our worth in our sacrifices—doing what we do because we have to do it is never going to cut it because our hearts are constrained and not resting—they aren’t finding its purest joy and deepest affection where they need to be. We’ll remain workaholics, we’ll strive to grow our reputations, we’ll seek to appease our fear of man until we love something more—until new affections expel and take the place of the old.
What, says Christ, must be the thing that takes place of the old, sinful idols of the heart? What is the solution to our anxiety, our anger, our feeling that God owes us? It’s mercy. Mercy has to grip us to our core! How? Well, dear Pharisee, look to the law that you think saves you. The law says to love the Lord your God with all your heart. Do we do that to perfection? Of course, we don’t. And the law says love your neighbour as yourself. Are we blameless in this? Absolutely not.
Yet how is it that we’re still here? How can we sit in this sanctuary today? Scripture says that if one of these laws are broken, the entirety of God’s wrath rests upon us because no sin is permissible to him. All have fallen short of his glory. All are liable to judgment. And yet, we’re still here! How? But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive—together with Christ—that we might receive the fullness of him. It is by grace that you have been saved. In other words, the solution to our anxiety, anger, feelings that God owes us is to ground ourselves not in the things we do but in the mercy of God displayed for us in Jesus Christ.
And there’s an easy way to know if we’re doing this. All we have to do is test ourselves and evaluate, on the one hand, how we deal with the moral failure of others. When someone wrongs you, wrongs God, or someone you love, do you berate him or her and put them down? Do you make them feel the pain they’ve caused you? Because if you do, that’s not mercy. That’s Pharisee righteousness. That’s a heart that doesn’t require a physician because all the physician can offer is help, but you don’t need help. No, you’re too good for that.
Yet, on the other hand, how do you handle moral failure in your own life? Do you turn inward and try to hide from God? Do you forsake the help of others? Are you more concerned with saving face and keeping your success, your reputation, your ego? Because if that’s you, then, again, Jesus isn’t your Saviour. You are.
And here’s the point: those who belong to God’s kingdom—those who know and have been broken by their sin—are those who can lay down their pride and humbly admit to themselves that they’re worth nothing. All I deserve is judgment and wrath. Yet, as soon as we do that, what does Jesus do? He floods our lives. He sits with us. He saves us with mercy too incredible for words, and that makes a difference to us. That changes us—radically so—that we no longer go to him with mere lip service or meaningless sacrifice.
Pharisees can’t go beyond this and display a greater righteous—a true mercy because they don’t know mercy, but we know mercy—a great mercy—a crucifying, wrath-bearing, sin-defeating kind of mercy. So, then, let us then respond accordingly and affectionately to the Christ who offers it to us—that we might show mercy freely and sacrificially to all because our majesty has given mercy freely and sacrificially to save sinners like us.