The Christ who calls - Matthew 9:9-17
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Are you the sort of person who likes to have surprises? I guess it depends on what kind of surprise you mean. Some are good, others nasty. For instance I came across this apparently true story in the paper recently. The article read: "A sheep leapt 30 feet from a railway viaduct yesterday, injuring a woman walking below, as it tried to escape 10 Austrians who were chasing it. The 31 year old woman who had been walking her dog was taken to hospital with serious bruising to her head, shoulder and back, but was later released. The sheep plunged onto the woman after it ran away from its flock outside Braunau in Austria. It was chased along the railway bridge by eight farmers and two policemen. Inspector Andreas Kirchtag of Braunau police station said: "They had a scare straight away as the sheep went onto the railway bridge. It panicked and leapt off. It was practically suicide. The woman below was walking her dog along a pathway. The sheep hit her but missed the dog. The dog just ran off and hid under a bush even though it was a German Shepherd Dog." The Inspector later commented that his office would be willing to offer the woman a written confirmation of the bizarre circumstance of the accident in case she needed time off from work and her employers didnt believe her. I have to say I do rather sympathise with her employers.
Now when we come to the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we discover many surprising things about Jesus. Here we find Jesus saying and doing extraordinary things, some of which weve looked at over the previous weeks. We find him calming a storm in a moment. We find him saying "follow me and let the dead bury their own dead." Just a moments thought makes us stop and think how utterly remarkable those things are. He clearly was an extraordinary figure in anyones book.
You see I think for some, Jesus would have been very uncomfortable to be with. Some people wouldnt have wanted to catch his eye for fear he might say something or do something which would make them feel very awkward. Its a bit like those shows you sometimes go and see at the theatre or a panto at Christmas time when there is the inevitable demand for a willing volunteer from the audience. And everyone is sinking slowly into the seats dreading that they will be hauled out. Some would have felt like that around Jesus. And yet for others who met Jesus it was the most incredible and deeply affecting experience they ever had in their life. What is clear from the gospels is that Jesus is a very surprising character, who constantly ruffles our spiritual feathers and makes up sit up and take notice. Hes not one for letting us sit easily and simply admire him from a safe distance. And perhaps for many of us who have been Christians a while, its easy to get blasť about some of the things we read in the gospels about Jesus. So this morning I want you to come with me into these stories from Matthews gospel, willing to take a fresh look at Jesus, and see three things which should amaze us about him. Ive called them surprises, because though we might be familiar with these truths, yet they remain staggering truths which make us stop and think about our own allegiance to Christ and the quality of our Christian lives. So three surprises about Jesus:
1) Jesus Compelling Authority (v 9)
2) Jesus Astounding Mercy (vv 10-13)
3) Jesus Deep Seated Joy (vv 14-17)
1) Jesus Compelling Authority (v 9)
So first, then, we notice Jesus compelling authority in verse 9. "As Jesus went on from there [which refers back to the healing of a paralysed man in Capernaum], he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collectors booth. Follow me, he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him." Now we may be quite accustomed to reading this sort of thing in the New Testament. Men are fishing by a lake, and along comes Jesus. Follow me, he says and off they go. Nothing special. A man is minding his business in a tax office, about to start the day with a huge mound of paper work, when in comes Jesus and says follow me, and off Matthew goes. Nothing special. But take a step back and think how staggering and life changing this was for Matthew. Put yourself in his shoes. Youre there at your desk and its 9:05 am on Monday morning. When all of a sudden some character walks in whom youve seen a few times. Hes the guy whos caused a bit of a stir around town by doing strange wonders and claiming odd things. Youve given him the once over and thought "hes not for me". But in he swaggers to your office and says: "Follow me." And theres nothing you can do but put on your jacket and walk out the door with him. It is remarkable. Now I guess some of us might be thinking "I wish that would happen to me on a Monday morning!" But seriously, consider the huge sacrifice Matthew was making. Tax collecting, whilst being a socially snubbed occupation, as well see in a moment, was a very lucrative business. You could make a huge profit on the sly and your working with the occupying forces would no doubt get you a few nice extras. But Matthew left all that behind. Theres no way he could go back to that job. For a start no-one would have someone so unreliable. And for seconds, his new found allegiance to Christ would raise some interesting ethical dilemmas. Hed forsaken his job, his security, his future, everything. All to follow Jesus.
And its all because of the compelling authority that Jesus has. He calls people to him and they follow. And the reason is that he has Gods authority over men and women. He is the Lord. When he speaks, people listen and obey. Thats the kind of Lord Jesus is. And in Jesus Matthew would find a life far more exciting than his job at the tax office. One writer puts it like this: "Matthew lost a comfortable job, but found a destiny; he lost a good income, but he found honour; he lost a comfortable security, but he found an adventure the like of which he had never dreamed." And of course God had a very special task for this ex accountant- writing this gospel. Matthew saw in Jesus someone who demanded everything and to whom he was willing to give it.
Now let me ask: Is this the Jesus you know and love, whose authority is compelling, who you are willing to obey at any cost? Sometimes I wonder if we think of Jesus rather as a sort of spiritual comfort blanket rather than the one with compelling authority who bids us follow him. Yes he does comfort us in wonderful ways as well see, and yet he is also the Lord who calls us to follow him wherever he goes and whatever it costs. Does it surprise you that Jesus can make that sort of demand of you? Well if youve read the gospel and seen who he is, then it shouldnt. Ernest Shakleton was one of the great polar explorers at the turn of the twentieth century. And for one of his polar expeditions he advertised in the London papers for people to join him. And the advert went like this: "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, complete darkness, constant danger- safe return doubtful." Its not surprising there were few applicants. And as we saw a few weeks ago, Jesus calls us to follow him, despite the cost, and despite the huge demands on our lives. For he who calls us is no less than the living God. Our lives are not our own, our money is not our own, our families are not are own. He is the boss. He is the Lord. Hes the one who calls the shots. Matthew was willing to pay the price. He was willing to follow Christ where he led. For Jesus has the compelling authority to demand everything of us. Thats the first surprising thing about Jesus- his compelling authority.
2) Jesus Astounding Mercy (vv 10-13)
But if it is surprising that Jesus should have this compelling authority, then see now the second surprise, that he has astounding mercy. You see we might be tempted to ask why we should give all to follow Christ? But just look in verses 10-13 at what Jesus does for us. Verse 10: "While Jesus was having dinner at Matthews 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?" Once again Jesus was doing something very surprising. You see, usually a Jewish rabbi like Jesus would never have mixed with the dregs of society as he was doing here. People who took their religion very seriously, people like the Pharisees, believed that certain members of Jewish society were unclean, they were untouchable. Tax collectors were in this bracket because they worked with the Gentile Roman army. Prostitutes and lepers were also in this bracket because they were ritually unclean and sinful, in the eyes of the Pharisees and the religious establishment. These sort of people were the dregs of society. Any self respecting Jew would not mix with these people. Its hard to think of a modern equivalent, but drug pushers and pimps would probably fit the bill. You just dont socialise with them. And thats what outraged the Pharisees. Here was Jesus having dinner with people like this. And in those days, sharing a meal together was a way of saying: "Im with you. Im youre friend!" "How can you do this Jesus?" they asked.
But notice how Jesus replies in verse 12: "On hearing this, Jesus said: It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick..." And at the end of verse 13 he says: "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners." What does Jesus mean? Well by saying this Jesus is making another staggering claim. He is saying that these people that he is mixing with all have a serious problem. They are sick. They are sinners, people out of relationship with God because of their sin. And he is the doctor who has come to cure that illness. He is the one who has come to provide forgiveness for these people. And that was what the Pharisees were unwilling to admit. They thought they were the righteous ones. They thought they were above this crowd. And Jesus turns to them and says: "Ive not come to call the righteous, but sinners." In other words Ive not come to call people who think they are OK, but those that know they are seriously and fatally ill. Its not that the Pharisees were righteous or innocent and sinless. The tragedy is that they too are sinners like the rest, but they wont admit it. And Jesus wont have anything to do with people who refuse to admit they have a problem. They are too proud. And they miss out of the best gift that Jesus came to offer. Hes come for those who know they are sinners, and he will heal them. He will forgive them of their sins. Jesus is the Doctor.
The surprise here is that Jesus has not come to chin wag with the religious, those who think they are OK. Hes come to offer mercy to those who are sick. Hes interested in mercy, not merit. Thats why he quotes from the OT prophet Hosea to the Pharisees. In the context Hosea is chiding religious people for being more concerned about their religious credentials than the state of the hearts. Oh they do all the right things, they make the right noises, but they are spiritually as dead as a dodo. I desire mercy not sacrifice, says God through the prophet. And here Jesus says, "Just admit you have a serious problem and I will heal you. Stop trying to impress me with your religious acts. It wont wash. Ive not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Now is that not just the best news you have ever heard. What a relief. We dont have to impress God with our acts. Thank goodness for that. We deserve to be thrown away. If it was up to me, I would have given up on me years ago. In fact I probably wouldnt have started. But Jesus is not like that. He shows astounding mercy. Hes come to heal us. And I am amazed that he should bother with me. Now there are at least two lessons we can learn from this astounding mercy that Jesus shows us. First is the need to be humble. Humble, that is, to admit we have a problem in the first place. Perhaps some of us are too proud to admit we are sinful, that we need curing. If thats you, then see what Jesus would say to you: "Ive not come for the righteous but sinners." We all need to admit were sinners. It may be slightly risky to admit this in present company, but the fact is I dont like going to the doctors. Forgive me for saying that, when there are about 20 different medics here this morning. If ever you get ill in church, then thats the best place to be! But I dont like going to the doctors. I get very scared to go to the surgery. Dont ask me why. But of course if Im ill, then I must go. If I ignore my illness, things will only get worse. The doctor can help. He can prescribe the drugs I need. So too with Jesus. Hes the doctor who can cure the worst disease of all. He can cure my sin and yours, he can heal the breach of relationship between us and God. Be humble and come to the doctor who can heal you.
But we need also to have the humility to admit that we cannot live the Christian life on merit. Even as forgiven people we still stumble and fall. I guess we often fall into the trap of thinking that once we are forgiven, then God leaves us to get on with the Christian life ourselves, and we have to do lots of things to stay in his good books. Maybe weve stopped praying for a few days or weve not read the Bible recently, or you feel guilty about a particular incident. And we think "Does God still love me?" Well of course he does. But theres no point letting it eat away inside us. Jesus has come for sinners. Hes the doctor to heal us. We need to keep coming to him for mercy. Its by grace we begin the Christian life, and by grace we continue. So be humble and keep coming back to him.
But also be prayerful. If Jesus can heal and change a Matthew, if he can heal and change a Nathan or you, then surely he can do it with our friends. So pray that they too would recognise the doctor who cures and accept Jesus astounding mercy.
Centuries ago, a number of workmen were seen dragging a lump of marble into the city of Florence in Italy. It had come from the famous marble quarries at Carrara and was intended to be made into a sculpture of one of the OT prophets. But it contained some perfections, and when the great sculptor Donatello saw it he refused it at once and the block lay in the builders yard unused and unwanted. One day, a young sculptor saw the block of marble and believed he could do something with it, and he resolved to sculpt it. After two years of hard work, on January 25th 1504, all the great artists of the time gathered round the young artist to see what he had produced. As the cover dropped to the floor, a masterpiece was revealed and there was rapturous applause. The artist was Michelangelo, and the piece his David, one of the most famous and beautiful of all sculptures in the world. Well Jesus sees in Matthew and us something to work on. He doesnt discard us like lumps of marble. He cleans us up and shapes us into men and women made in the image of God. Can he not do that for our friends as well? Pray that he will. Pray that Jesus will show the astounding mercy he showed to Matthew that day, and that he shows to us. Thats the second surprise, Jesus astounding mercy.
3) Jesus Deep Seated Joy (vv 14-17)
But then finally the third surprise is Jesus deep seated joy (vv 14-17), and by this I mean not the joy that Jesus has himself, but rather the joy he brings to us. And in these verses some people come to Jesus and ask him a question which we may think quite strange. Verse 14: "How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" We might think that that is completely irrelevant. But actually it is not. Jesus isnt telling us about how Christian churches today should or should not fast. We can look at other passages to tell us that. Instead in these verses Jesus reveals another claim to divinity, though it is veiled. In this case we ought to congratulate the Pharisees at least to start with. Because they believed that in order to speed the coming of the Messiah, Gods rescuer promised in the OT, they should fast and pray. And there is nothing wrong with that, unless it becomes ritual for the sake of it. The trouble is that they had rather missed the boat. Because Jesus reply reveals that he is the one for whom they have been waiting. So theres no point fasting any more. Rather rejoice. Jesus answers in verse 15: "How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn [which represents fasting] while he is with them?" Jesus is here claiming to be the Messiah who everyone has been expecting. In the OT the title the Bridegroom or the Husband was a title God himself used. For instance in Isaiah 62, a prophecy about Gods future dealings with his people God says: "As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you." Jesus is saying the time has come. Im the one. Im the promised Bridegroom come to rescue his people the church, which as the NT says is Jesus bride. So dont be sad, dont fast, rather rejoice. Its time for feasting. Since when have you ever gone to a wedding and just had water. No you get stuck in. So the coming of Jesus means great joy. There will be a time though, says Jesus when mourning will be appropriate, as when Jesus will be taken away, and executed, but the overriding concern is joy. He is the Bridegroom.
And that is true for the Christian as well. Jesus has come to bring joy to his people. Now that doesnt always mean happiness. That is one of the difficulties we face until Jesus comes again to take us as his bride for ever to be with him in heaven. Its not an inane grin regardless of circumstances. That is not Christian joy. Some experiences are very sad and difficult. But it is a deep seated joy that Jesus brings when we know that we are forgiven and heading for heaven. A new dawn has broken. Thats what Jesus is talking about in those final verses. He has brought new wine which cannot be contained in the old wineskins of Judaism. He is doing something new. And it causes us to rejoice. Its the joy Paul can talk about of the Thessalonian Christians when he says: "In spite of severe suffering you welcomed the message with the joy given you by the Holy Spirit." Its the joy that can make Paul tell the Philippians: "Rejoice in the Lord always." A deep seated joy which rejoices in all Christ has done for us. And its a joy which pierces through all the sadness and troubles we face each day. And again that is very surprising isnt it? Maybe we are tempted to think Christianity is dull and dry. Well these verses show otherwise. Christianity is about deep seated joy which comes from knowing God personally through the work of Christ. And none but the Christian can know this sort of joy deep down. Thats the final surprise about Jesus- Jesus deep seated joy.
Well so often Jesus takes us by surprise doesnt he? And today weve seen again three surprises- Is this the Jesus you know and love and love a serve? Jesus compelling authority, he is the Lord. Jesus astounding mercy, he is the doctor. And Jesus deep seated joy, he is the bridegroom.
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