Matthew is perhaps most famous for writing one of the four gospel accounts about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Not only did Matthew write what would end up being one of the four authoritative, preserved, and passed down accounts of the life of Christ, Matthew was also famously one of the original twelve disciples to follow Christ during the time of His public ministry in Israel.
With credentials like that it is easy to think of Matthew as faithful, stalwart, and true — an example for other believers and a great teacher of the gospel of salvation. However, that is not how people viewed Matthew when Jesus chose to invest His time and energy in making Matthew into an evangelist for His message of grace.
By all accounts, Matthew was a sinner.
When Jesus called him to,
“Follow me and be my disciple.” – Matthew 9
it was considered scandalous that a religious man, a holy man, a rabbi, a teacher of the law, an interpreter of the scriptures, a miracle worker, and a leader of the people like Jesus would choose not just to spend time with someone like Matthew, but to actually associate with him, invest in him, and trust him to teach others the good news of God’s kingdom.
It was shocking to everyone but Jesus.
When Matthew agreed to follow Jesus he invited Jesus and the other disciples to a dinner party with many of his friends and associates. It is reasonable to believe that Matthew, being impressed with Jesus, wanted to introduce Him to the people he knew, to give Jesus the opportunity to share His message with them as well. It was an act of generosity and hospitality, a gesture of friendship and trust.
However, when Jesus accepted Matthew’s invitation, He was choosing to be seen in the company of outcasts, rejects, and sinners — and according to Matthew’s own account of the party,
“Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners.” – Matthew 9
I imagine Matthew looking back on that dinner party as he recounted the story and realizing just how striking it was that Jesus had been willing to accept his invitation. It certainly didn’t help Jesus’ reputation or increase Jesus’ influence or political standing with the socialites, church leaders, or political figures of the day. Matthew actually reports that the general consensus of those in positions of authority was to ask,
“Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” – Matthew 9
But, the reason that I expect Matthew includes the story in his history of the ministry of Jesus, is because he was so impressed by and deeply appreciative of Jesus’ response to the people who looked down on Him and disdained Him for spending time with people who everyone else had already decided were beyond hope of redemption.
“When Jesus heard this, he said, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor — sick people do.'” – Matthew 9
Jesus actually had the power to reach, to heal, to restore, and to save people who were far beyond the reach of society, culture, religion, and the politically correct worldview of the day.
Jesus was not afraid of sin. Jesus embraced sinners. Jesus partied with the “scum”. Jesus called the broken, the flawed, the imperfect, the condemned, and the evil to follow Him and become His disciples.
And what’s more, Jesus challenged the believers, the faithful, and the holy to change their minds about what judgment and the consequences of sin should be. He said,
“Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” – Matthew 9
Jesus is quoting the prophet Hosea, who said,
“I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings. But like Adam, you broke my covenant and betrayed my trust.” – Hosea 6
The gospel of grace is good news. Salvation is good news. Healing and restoration are good news. The kingdom of heaven right here, right now is good news. The reality of Jesus Christ is good news.
“I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices”
Why did Jesus choose to challenge His followers to embrace sinners? Why did Jesus actually recommend embracing the fact that you are a sinner?
Jesus is not interested in having you try to prove your own righteousness to Him. You simply are not as righteous as He is.
Jesus is not asking you to be worthy or just, holy or right, wise or perfect. Jesus is asking you to realize that you are just the opposite.
Jesus wants you to get over yourself and realize that you are just like Matthew – flawed, sinful, prone to error, broken and lost, trapped by what the world believes about you and what you believe about yourself, desperately seeking meaning and purpose and willing to give it all up if God would just open the door and say,
“Follow me and be my disciple”
Well, that is what is happening right now. God is not asking you to justify yourself, prove yourself, or earn the right to join Him at the table.
“I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices”
Are you willing to join with those who know they are sinners? Are you willing to give up your need to be holy, pure, and perfect in the eyes of the world and accept that you are not better than anyone else in the eyes of God? Are you willing to embrace, acknowledge, and put down your baggage, your history, your hurts, your failures, and your defeats and choose instead to follow the one who is calling you to a new life?
There is nothing you can do to prove yourself to God. You can’t demonstrate that you measure up to an objective and infinite measure of perfection. There is no sacrifice you can make that would make up for your sins. But that is okay, because that is not what God is asking of you.
“I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices”
Too many religions teach that dogma is the universal metric of holiness and the only method or means of salvation. This is not what Jesus taught.
When I read the gospel accounts and consider the way the world works, I think that probably the most challenging, revolutionary, radical, and offensive thing that Jesus ever said was this,
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13
The purpose of truth is to invest in others. The purpose of judgment is to support others. The purpose of wisdom is to encourage others. The purpose of vision is to inspire others. The purpose of understanding is to heal, to restore, to build up, and to save others.
God did not give His word, His truth, His answers, His wisdom, His insight, His way, and His life to condemn the world. On the contrary, God gave us an awareness of the actual objective reality so that we could embrace it, change it, improve it, and join with Him to save it.
“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him” – John 3
Hosea records that although God created the human race for love and a relationship, the human race broke His covenant and betrayed His trust by choosing sacrifices and burnt offerings instead.
God said, “You have nothing to prove because I love you” and the human race said, “We want to prove our love to you anyway by destroying the gifts that you’ve given us to enjoy and refusing to embrace the goodness that you offer because of the sense of holiness we derive from the experience of loss, grief, isolation, and failure. We aren’t interested in your blessings or your favor because we don’t believe we are worthy. We don’t understand why you would provide for us and so we are going to reject the victory you are offering and choose the struggle and the defeat instead because at least that is authentically something we can provide for ourselves. We are so steadfast in our belief that you can’t be as good as you say you are, that we won’t let you be as good to us as you actually are. We don’t want the relationship that you are offering and we won’t receive the promises that you have spoken over our lives because we would rather be right in our own eyes than blessed; we would rather meet our own expectations and fulfill our own prophecies, than embrace the reality of your love and the overwhelming favor and blessings you have promised us from before we were even born.”
Come on people — let’s be the generation that changes this dialogue. Let’s be the generation that embraces the reality of God. Let’s be the generation that experiences the revolutionary grace, favor, and goodness of the promises of the one who created us. Let’s be the generation that restores the covenant, that builds the relationship, and that re-establishes the trust, the peace, the joy, and the favor that God has offered all people from the very beginning. Let’s be the generation that chooses love instead of sacrifice.
The choice is yours.
Are you a sinner like Matthew who is ready to change the conversation?
2 thoughts on “Changing the Conversation”
I also see the core issue to be “we would rather be right in our own eyes than blessed.” And love – loving ourselves, others, God – heals! I sat with a group yesterday who have come so close to their own physical deaths that they learned that love is the cure, and that it is God’s love for them that underlies all of their experience of love. And there is also the issue of fear of harm, or infection, from the sinners I may be surrounded by in my ministry, but loving them protects me from harm! For God’s love is not only a source of strength for me, it is a sphere of protection from all harm! Steve, did you preach this yesterday? I would love to see you preach live online!!!
Amen Clark! On the live preaching, we have definitely looked into preaching live on Instagram and Facebook, so we may do that in the future. However, for now, you can subscribe to my podcast that went live recently on iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/steve-simons-podcast/id1214628758 and Android http://subscribeonandroid.com/stevesimons.org/feed/podcast/