One of the things we must always keep in mind when we are studying or even just reading the Scriptures is that context is king. We must understand the context if we are to understand what the passage means.
Today we are going to look at a passage of Scripture that has been the basis for many preachers for sermons which were isolated their setting.
The story of the call of our Lord to Matthew to follow him and the resulting change in Matthew’s heart as seen by the feast he gives so that Jesus can speak to all of his friends has been the basis of some very motivating sermons.
Jesus’ statement that He “did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” is a rich statement that could be preached on for days, if not weeks, on end.
There have also been many inspirational sermons presented on the nature of the new life we have in Jesus Christ based on what Jesus says in Matthew 9:17 about new wine being put into new wineskins.
In fact, there have been church renewal and evangelism movements started based on these two passages. However, no matter how motivational and inspirational a sermon or a renewal or movement may be, if it misses the point of the Biblical text, it is a very poor effort and could even descend into chaos.
A passage of Scripture cannot be properly understood without its context.
Turn with me to Luke 5:27-39. The parallel passages are Matthew 9:9-17 and Mark 2:13-22. As you are turning there, let me set the context for you.
Luke 5:27-39 Amplified Bible
Call of Levi (Matthew)
27 After this Jesus went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi (Matthew) sitting at the tax booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me [as My disciple, accepting Me as your Master and Teacher and walking the same path of life that I walk].” 28 And he left everything behind and got up and began to follow Jesus [as His disciple].
29 Levi (Matthew) gave a great banquet for Him at his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others who were reclining at the table with them. 30 The Pharisees and their scribes [seeing those with whom He was associating] began murmuring in discontent to His disciples, asking, “Why are you eating and drinking with the tax collectors and sinners [including non-observant Jews]?” 31 And Jesus replied to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but [only] those who are sick. 32 I did not come to call the [self-proclaimed] righteous [who see no need to repent], but sinners to repentance [to change their old way of thinking, to turn from sin and to seek God and His righteousness].”
33 Then they said to Him, “The disciples of John [the Baptist] often practice fasting and offer prayers [of special petition], and so do the disciples of the Pharisees; but Yours eat and drink.” 34 Jesus said to them, “Can you make the wedding guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But days [for mourning] will come when the bridegroom is [forcefully] taken away from them. They will fast in those days.” 36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old one; otherwise, he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old [a]wineskins; otherwise, the new [fermenting] wine will [expand and] burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39 And no one, after drinking old wine, wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is fine.’”
The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.
The theme of Matthew’s gospel is that Jesus is the promised Messiah and throughout his account Matthew continually stresses that point.
Mark and Luke make similar emphasis in their accounts.
Mark’s focus is that Jesus is the Son of Man who came to serve and give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Luke’s emphasis is that Jesus is the Son of Man who came to seek and save sinners (Luke 19:10).
In all three accounts, whether they are chronological such as Luke or thematic such as Matthew, there is a progression in presenting Jesus’ authority as the promised Messiah.
Luke’s narrative simply presents Jesus’ miracles in the order they happened while Matthew’s narrative groups them thematically to demonstrate that Jesus has authority over disease and sickness, nature and the supernatural.
We have seen Jesus’ authority over nature in His turning the water into wine at the wedding in Capernaum (John 2) (See: The Wedding at Cana).
Jesus will continue to demonstrate that authority by instantly calming the waters of the sea (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:36-41) and walking on water (Matthew 14:24-33; Mark 6:47-51).
Jesus has authority over sickness and disease as demonstrated in His healing Peter’s mother-in-law of the fever that had put her in bed and many others of their various diseases that same day (Luke 4:38-41)
Jesus put his hands on the leper and healed him and made him clean (Matthew 8:1-4), healed a boy who was near death and 16 miles or more away by speaking a word (John 4:46-54).
Jesus has authority over the supernatural demonstrated by casting demons out of hosts of people. One of the first was immediately after he had finished teaching in Capernaum and a demonized man cried out.
Jesus rebuked the demon and commanded it to come out, which it did, and the people were amazed (Luke 4:31-37).
Later that same evening Jesus cast out many demons while He was healing people at Simon Peter’s home (Luke 4:40-41).
All of these miracles were signs which had demonstrated Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, God in human flesh. His abilities to do these things were the proof He also had the authority to forgive sin.
He told the paralytic man “Your sins are forgiven.” When the scribes and Pharisees who were present questioned His authority to forgive sins since only God can do that, Jesus healed the man in their presence to prove that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Luke 5:17-26).
The power to forgive sins is of the greatest significance because sin is the root of all man’s problems and so is his greatest need.
This is the context for what occurs next in all three accounts.
Jesus forgave and healed a sinner who was paralyzed.
Jesus had already shown great compassion toward all those who were sick.
Many would understand His forgiving the man as just an extension of that compassion to someone stricken with a severe ailment.
But what about people who were so despised the Jews considered them to be the equivalent of Gentiles? People they thought were excluded from being forgiven.
Jesus Calls a Publican – Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:13-14; Luke 5:27
The context of these passages is the demonstration of Jesus forgiving sinners and the change in life that brings.
Luke 5:27 summarizes what occurs, After that He went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me.”
Mark 2:13-14 adds more detail, 13 And He went out again by the seashore; and all the people were coming to Him, and He was teaching them. 14 As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.
Matthew 9:9 adds the detail that this man was also known as Matthew.
No text states how much time passed from when Jesus forgave and healed the paralytic until this event occurs, but it would not have been a long time.
Jesus has gone out from Capernaum and is walking along the road that runs by the shore of the Sea of Galilee when He comes to the booth of the tax collector.
We are not told exactly what the booth looked like.
It could have been a small building or just a table with some sort of covering for shade.
Sitting in the tax booth is a Jewish man named Levi the son of Alphaeus. He is also known at Matthew.
All three gospel accounts state that Jesus simply commanded him saying, “Follow Me!” While it seems so simple, this is an incredible command.
The common thought among the Jews at that time was that a person who was handicapped was crippled in direct relationship to their sin or the sins of their parents or grandparents.
That is why the paralytic man was such a good opportunity for Jesus to teach the religious leaders listening to Him that He had the power to forgive sins.
When Jesus said to that man,
“Take courage, my son, your sins are forgiven.”
It was already assumed that the man was a sinner in great need of forgiveness.
But now we have the example of Jesus calling one of the most despised classes of people in all Israel to follow Him.
Tax collectors as a whole were despised. They were called “publicani” and seen as traitors to the nation.
A publican was a national who bought a franchise from Rome that gave them the right to collect the taxes, the tribute, which Rome placed on the countries they had conquered.
The advantage to the one who held the franchise to collect the taxes was that Rome asked for a fixed amount, but anything collected above that could be kept by the publican.
This led to all sorts of abuses of the system.
Now, no one enjoys taxes (except certain politicians that like to levy them).
Even in our own country where we do have some say in our taxation through our elected representatives, few are happy have get a call from an IRS agent.
Now imagine IRS agents were not collecting taxes for the benefit of your own community, state and nation, but instead for another nation, an enemy nation such as North Korea or Iran
Add to that sense of indignation the fact he was getting mega rich in the deal by “collecting” more taxes from you than you actually legally owed.
That gives you some idea about the feelings against these publicans.
It was to Levi, or Matthew (gift of Yahweh) that Jesus says, “Follow Me!”
Matthew must have certainly known about Jesus either from personal experience in hearing Him in person or hearing about Him from the reports of the people.
I frequently tend to picture Matthew as a man who has heard the gracious words of our Lord but looking at himself and saying to himself something like,
“What Jesus says is wonderful, but they could never apply to someone like me who is a publican.”
But the day comes when Jesus is walking along the road by the seashore and comes upon Matthew sitting in his tax office and He says to him,
It was clear to those who saw this take place, and it was clear to the early Jewish readers of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus, by acknowledging extended His forgiveness to even the most despised outcasts of society.
The Publican’s Response: Matthew 9:9-17; Mark 2:14-22; Luke 5:28-39
Matthew 9:9 simply states that Jesus commanded him, “Follow me!” And he rose and followed Him.
There is no apparent hesitation. He gets up immediately and follows Jesus.
Matthew is modest about the personal cost of following Jesus in his own account.
Luke 4:28 states that “he left everything behind and rose and followed Him.”
Of all the disciples, Matthew paid the highest financial cost in following the Lord. There would be no returning to this job. Someone else would take his post.
Matthew alone knew the exacting cost and willingly paid it without hesitation.
He said not one single word, for his heart and his soul was locked deep inside the throes of a speechless surprise of unanticipated, and unexpected grace.
Matthew’s further response bears this out.
There was no mourning at all about what he had left behind.
Instead, he has extreme joy over the grace extended to him demonstrated by what he does next.
Luke 5:29, And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there were a great crowd of tax collectors and other people who were reclining at the table with them.
What do you do when you are very happy and have great news that you want to celebrate and someone you want your friends to meet?
You throw a party, and that is what Matthew does.
But if you are in a class of people that is despised by most of the community, who do you invite?
Luke states that he invites “tax gatherers and others.”
The tax collectors are his co-workers and among the few with whom he could be friends, but who are the others?
The particular word used here (allos) means others of the same kind.
Matthew and Mark state that they were “sinners.”
These would be other Jews who were also outcasts of society for various reasons Perhaps – prostitutes, criminals, untouchables, and the non-religious.
It may well have likewise included Gentiles who were his friends as well.
There is no doubt that Matthew wanted them to know what Jesus had done for him and could do for them too.
Matthew invited Jesus and His disciples to his home for a reception and then invited his friends who were sinners to come meet Jesus, hear his good news.
The result was that these tax-gatherers and sinners were “reclining at table” with Jesus and His disciples (Matthew 9:10). Jesus, God in human flesh, the Holy one of Israel, is dining with the penultimate outcasts of Jewish society.
What an incredible scandal was taking shape here!
The Response of the Self-Righteous– Matthew 9:11, Mark 2:16, Luke 5:30
Luke 5:29 is specific that this banquet Matthew was holding in Jesus’ honor and so that his friends could meet Him was at his house, but apparently it was also a location in which those who were attending could easily be seen by those who were not attending.
Both Matthew 9:11 and Mark 2:16 state that the scribes and Pharisees saw Jesus’ dinning with those invited to Matthew’s banquet.
Luke 5:27 tells us what resulted from that,
The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?”
Matthew and Mark point out that it was not so much that the disciples were eating with sinners, but that Jesus, their Teacher, was eating with them.
These were not questions of inquiry.
They were grumbling.
These are rhetorical questions of rebuke to the disciples of Jesus aimed at Jesus.
The point of their statement to the disciples was a challenge to them along the lines of,
“How can you dare to attach yourselves as followers of such a man who associates with such sinful people.”
They reasoned that if Jesus was really a man of God, then He should not be in the company of such wicked people.
If Jesus was really a man of God, He should be dinning with good and upright people like themselves.
Of course, none of them had invited Jesus to a dine with them, but that was beside their point that Jesus should not be in the company of those people.
Let me stop to quickly give you a couple of questions that need to be considered concerning these Pharisees.
First, why are they following Jesus around and so interested to see with whom He is dining?
In current contemporary times, I suppose we expect it from the paparazzi who follow celebrities all around trying to get the latest gossip to publish in their tabloids, but these are the “highly respected” religious leaders in ancient times.
Are they also interested in gossip or are they already trying to find a way to discredit Jesus? Remember, Jesus had already challenged their evil manner of thinking when He forgave the sins of the paralyzed man and healed him.
Second, why do they put the challenge to the disciples of Jesus instead of to Jesus Himself?
If they were interested in the truth about Jesus, what He taught and why He did things, wouldn’t it be better to ask those questions directly of Him?
Perhaps they have felt the sting of conviction for their own sinfulness when they have heard Him teach or talked with Him in the past.
They avoid Jesus while striving to intimidate the disciples. You would think they would have something better to do.
The Pharisees judged everyone else by their own standards and traditions.
As far as they were concerned, righteous people associate with righteous people and sinners with sinners. Jesus claims to be from God, but He associates with sinners, therefore He could not be who He claimed.
This is their case against Jesus, all the proof they wanted to conclude Jesus was not from God regardless of His teaching and the many miracles He performed.
Jesus’ Response – Matthew 9:14-15; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:31-32
When Jesus heard about what the scribes and Pharisees were saying, He then went out and talked with them directly.
All three-gospel account record nearly the same thing, but Matthew 9:12 & 13 gives a fuller account of Jesus’ response.
“But when He heard this, He said, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”
Jesus makes three arguments against their premise that He should not associate with sinners and in favor of His ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation as demonstrated by His willingness to associate with sinners.
Argument from Medicine:
The first argument is based in the realities of medicine.
It is a very simple and logical argument.
“Healthy people do not need a physician.”
“It is the sick that need to see the doctor.”
This same principle applies to the spiritual world as it does for the physical one.
Those who are spiritually healthy do not need a spiritual physician, only those who are spiritually sick.
A doctor is expected to go out to those who are sick.
What sort of doctor would spend all of his time with healthy people and would refuse to associate with those that were sick?
The implied rebuke was blunt and crystal clear.
The Pharisees claimed to be those closest to God, but they avoided sinners instead of helping them.
The scribes and Pharisees were quick to diagnose the disease of sin in others, but they offered no cure, no comfort, and no compassion.
All they did was “stand on their marble pedestals” and pronounce “judgment.”
One other point should also be made here.
People who are sick but refuse to acknowledge it do not go to doctors.
I am sure all of us know people like that.
It is obvious to everyone else that there is a problem, but they say it is nothing,
they’re okay, they will be fine, and they do not go to the doctor even though it is plain to everyone else they need a doctor.
Only people who recognize that they are sick go to the doctor.
The Pharisees were spiritually sick as they could be because their hearts were twisted by self-righteousness yet saw themselves in perfect spiritual health.
For that reason, they just refused to seek the spiritual physician and instead criticized Him.
The publicans and sinners knew they were sick.
They desperately wanted a spiritual physician.
Argument from Scripture:
Jesus’ second argument is from Scripture.
He quotes from Hosea 6:6, “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice.”
This was a very stinging rebuke to them for several reasons.
Jesus preceded the Scriptural quote with the phrase, “go and learn,”
which was the phrase used by the Rabbis to rebuke those who did not know something they should have already known.
It was a stinging rebuke against their supposed superior knowledge.
the scripture quote itself was directly against their thinking and actions.
They were more concerned with carrying out every minute regulation they had set up in their vain attempt to be righteous than in carrying out what the Mosaic Law actually said.
They missed the whole message of God’s patience, mercy, and forgiveness running throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.
Third, the fact the quote was from Hosea made the point even more forceful because the story of Hosea’s continuing love and forgiveness to his wife Gomer,
though she was unfaithful in the extreme, was God’s living illustration of His love and forgiveness to Israel, though they had been unfaithful in the extreme.
The story was a picture of God’s desire for compassion and mercy rather than sacrifice.
Without the heart, all the rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices of the Pharisees were unacceptable to God.
Without mercy, they were shown to be more ungodly than the sinners who made no pretense of godliness.
Argument from Purpose:
The third argument was based on the very purpose for which Jesus came which was to save His people from their sins (Matthew. 1:21).
Jesus says here, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
This is a common theme throughout Jesus’ teaching and actions toward people.
He is compassionate and forgiving as He was to the paralytic man.
There are only two groups for whom Jesus had harsh words and actions.
The first are the moneychangers and marketers who had made the temple a place for thieves.
The second are the self-righteous religious leaders who claimed to know and show the way to God but were instead leading people to hell.
To sinners, you never find this harshness.
Instead, there is compassion and mercy. Jesus healed their diseases and cast out their demons.
He wept over Jerusalem’s hardness of heart.
His consistent call was like He gave to the woman caught in adultery,
“Where are your accusers? Neither do I accuse you. Go and sin no more.”
He never excused sin
but was always extending grace to the sinner who admitted his condition.
Jesus did not come to call the righteous.
If a person could have been truly righteous, there would be no need for Him to call them.
If such a person existed, there would be nothing to forgive, and they would qualify for heaven on their own merits.
Jesus’ call to repent and be forgiven goes out to the self-righteous, but such people would not heed it because they see no need for it.
Jesus came to call sinners to Himself. It is the poor in spirit that enter the kingdom of God. Repentant sinners receive mercy, grace, and salvation.
Unrepentant sinners and the self-righteous remain condemned in their sins.
What a wonderful truth this is to me because it means that Jesus’ came to call me, the Chief of ALL Sinners unto Himself.
And if you will admit your own sinfulness,
it means He came to call every single “Chief of ALL Sinners” unto Himself too.
In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,
Let us Pray,
We thank you, O God, that you have given us an enduring hope—one which cannot disappoint us or mislead us. We thank you, that through our faith in you and in your Son Jesus Christ, you enter into every believing heart and make new lives that have been torn asunder by the darkness of this world…
Lord, hear our prayer…..
We pray today O God that those believers who are asleep may awake and know that salvation is nearer now than when they first believed. Help them, and us, to lay aside the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light that you bestow upon those who actively seek you day by day. Grant that their faith and ours may be fully alive….
Lord, hear our prayer…..
We ask today, O God, for those who have lost hope and for those who have never had it. Grant to us, to those we lift before you in our hearts a new and abiding vision of what have you have done, and what you are doing, and what you will do, to save and redeem your people and indeed the creation itself. Grant, O God, that all might see and believe and discover their purpose and the purpose of all that is and all that is yet to be….
Lord, hear our prayer….
We ask all this of you, O God, knowing that you are our hope and our salvation, a very present help in times of trouble, and the One whose purpose is to grant and new and abundant life to us and our world. Praise be to your name. Amen.