Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Thursday, 7 January 21:
Matthew 9:10-13 – “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.’”
“Jesus reclined at table…. [with] many tax collectors and sinners.” The Pharisees were livid with Jesus for his close, personal relationship with these tax collectors (reclining at table was a demonstration of deep affection). Tax collectors were hated by the Jews because tax collectors (also Jews) not only gathered taxes for Rome but also skimmed off the top for themselves (traitors and thieves of their own people). Yet, Jesus had gone so far as to pick Matthew (also known as Levi, perhaps a former Levite who sold out his heritage) the tax collector to be one of His inner-circle disciples!
Many have misinterpreted these verses to suggest that Jesus accepted or condoned sin as ‘no big deal’, and many have used these verses to justify their own complacency with sin and compromise with the sinful world. However, though Jesus invites all sinners to repentance, Jesus was NOT hanging out intimately with unrepentant sinners; He was fellowshipping affectionately with repentant sinners who desired to commit their lives to Him. The other Gospel accounts give us greater details behind this story:
Luke 3 tells us that, when John the Baptizing was baptizing, “Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than you are authorized to do.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.’” (Luke 3:12-14)
Then Mark 2:15 points out, “Many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.” These tax collectors were among those who had repented, trusted in Jesus, and decided to follow of Jesus. Sinners, yes, but repentant sinners who had turned away from sin and to the Lord in order to follow Him. Luke tells another story about a chief tax collector named Zacchaeus who also proclaimed repentance and life commitment to Jesus while dining with Him — “’Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’” (Luke 19:8-10)
- 2 Corinthians 6:14 — Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
- Psalm 26:4-5 — I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites. I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked.
- 1 John 1:6, 7 — If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
James 4:4 says, “Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Is Jesus a friend of the world? While the word “world” in the Bible can refer to the physical universe and people in general (Hebrews 1:2; John 13:1; 1 John 4:9), it most often refers to the humanistic, ungodly systems, mindsets, lusts, and attitudes that are at odds with God (Matthew 18:7; John 15:19; 1 John 2:15-16). Perhaps the most well-known verse in the Bible is John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) God loves those in the world so much He has invited them out of the world and has offered them a new eternal life in Christ. However, this is an invitation for sinners to join Him, not Jesus accepting an invitation to fellowship with the sinful world – “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:19-20) Jesus who loves those in the world is certainly no friend to the world (the community of sin), though He lovingly invites all sinners out of the world into friendship with Him. Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20) “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14) Many tax collectors and sinners opened the door to eat with Jesus. Ironically though, the Pharisees, the religious leaders, refused to recline with Jesus.
“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.’” Remember the Beatitudes? The Pharisees could not see that they were sick and unrighteous sinners too, like all people. They didn’t feel “poor in spirit” (recognizing their spiritual bankruptcy) or mournful (repentant of their own sins); they did not hunger and thirst for righteousness because they had filled up on self-righteousness (empty calories); therefore, they were not merciful, nor were they pure-hearted peacemakers. On the contrary, they were hard-hearted, mean-spirited accusers of others, no friends of God. They were not guilty because they condemned usury and extortion (as should be done for sake of justice), they were guilty because they condemned sinners — to them these tax collectors were unforgivable – as if forgiveness was theirs to give rather than God’s to give. Remember previously in today’s readings the scribes said, ““This man is blaspheming,” because Jesus said to a paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:1-8) Though they understood that forgiveness belongs to God and were ready to accuse Jesus of blasphemy, they refused to see their own hypocrisy in refusing to forgive as if they had such authority.
Jesus then points out that these ‘experts of the law’ didn’t really understand the law at all, partially quoting Hosea 6:6 which reads in full, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” These Pharisees knew how to do church but didn’t know God. And more than anyone else, these religious leaders should have understood that all people are sinners and God is eager to forgive the truly repentant:
- Psalm 14:2, 3 – The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
- Psalm 86:15 — But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
While the Pharisees refused to accept their spiritual bankruptcy, repent, and receive immeasurable, unmerited riches in Christ, many tax collectors and sinners did. Jesus will later offer this parable to the chief priests and elders who challenged Him:
- Matthew 21:28-32, The Parable of the Two Sons — “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.
Jesus’ greatest prayer was/is that we would abide in (to dwell in, live in, or remain in) His love, apart from the world, and that we would experience perfect fellowship with Him and with others in His love:
- John 17:9, 14-19, 20-23 — I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours…. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth…. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
True love and unity can only be found in Christ. Only those who truly appreciate God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness will respond to others with true mercy, grace and forgiveness. Those who truly appreciate God’s love will truly love others accordingly. Those who don’t wont. “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47) Also, those who are truly ‘amazed by grace’, will be compelled to proclaim the gospel of grace through faith in Jesus to others.
As humble, forgiven Christians who are spiritually bankrupt apart from the unmerited riches bestowed upon us by Jesus Christ, we must judge sin with a truly fearful and loving heart for the sinner, desiring their repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, while guarding ourselves against compromise and corruption – “And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” (Jude 22, 23) “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” (1 Corinthians 15:33) “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 7 Jan 21: Share the Gospel with at least one person today.