Part two of a mini Series by Nigel Beynon on Matthew 9.
This week: “I desire mercy” (mercy for us, mercy for others)
A while ago I heard about someone who wanted to break the stereotype of ‘church goers’, so they said at the front of church – they knew people in the congregation who had committed adultery, lived in a lesbian relationship, had abortions, been addicted to porn etc. They didn’t name them – they just wanted to say – these are the sorts of people in our church.
I wonder how we react to that.
I think in our society today there are two common reactions. Some people react by saying “what are people like that – moral failures - doing in church. Such hypocrisy.”
It’s the voice of traditional morality. It’s the right wing tabloids – there is right and wrong – and of all people, the church should be a model of right living.
However others react by saying - what do you mean ‘moral failure’? How dare you judge someone else? People can live as they like.
This is the voice of the post-modern, liberal, relativist – how you live is up to you - all that matters is that you accept everyone’s choices - and of all people the church should be a model of acceptance and welcome.
Our question tonight is – as we look at Jesus in this passage - which one of those is the right reaction? Which gives us the right picture of church?
Let’s start with the central point of this passage,
1) Jesus came for sinners
Let’s start in v9 - READ.
Now to get this we have to understand that being a tax collector meant you were a moral and spiritual disaster.
Matthew was a Jew but worked for the Romans, so he was a traitor – not only of his nation, but his God because he was working for Gentiles, the enemies of God. Worse still tax-collectors over charged their own people – to line their pockets.
If we could imagine a member of the Taliban in Afghanistan, working for the Americans, who then ripped off his fellow Afghans – we’d begin to get an idea of Matthew. He was a moral and spiritual disaster.
But Jesus says to him – follow me.
And it’s not just Matthew. V10 READ.
The term ‘sinners’ is being used in a particular way here. The Bible is clear that we are all sinners – we have all rejected God. But here it’s referring to those like tax collectors - prostitutes, cheats, drunkards. The out and out, obvious moral and spiritual failures.
I suppose today it would be the obviously bad people in our society – the ostracised - the paedophile, the sexual harasser, the greedy dodgy banker.
But those are the people Jesus has supper with - and in his day, eating meant acceptance and relationship.
So the Pharisees say v11 READ.
But Jesus says v12, 13 READ.
There is the point - Jesus has come for sinners.
This fits with what we saw last week - he’s come to offer us forgiveness - our greatest need.
So now – who is Jesus interested in?
Well obviously people who need forgiveness. People who have mucked up, people who have made a mess of things. Sinners.
He illustrates it by saying he’s like a doctor – obviously doctors are interested in the sick. That’s what they are all about. Well Jesus is interested in the spiritually and morally sick. That’s what he’s about.
And if Jesus is a doctor - that makes church a hospital. Full of sick people. Full of moral and spiritual failures.
You get the point - Jesus came for sinners.
Now that really is the main point here – that’s pretty much all I’m going to say. But I want to chew this over a bit – by asking two questions of ourselves. First question,
2) Do we come to Jesus - as sinners needing mercy?
Now the Pharisees worked very hard at being good. They were respectable, religious and upright. Morally and spiritually they were A*, or grade 9 students.
So when they say v11, it’s not really a question – why is he with them - but an accusation - he shouldn’t be with them. He ought to be with good people, religious people, like us.
I don’t know if you are someone who goes to the gym. I’ve always found them rather intimidating places because there is always an in-crowd. Do you know what I mean – they are the people who whenever you go, they are always there. They call the staff by the first names. They even know how the machines work. They don’t spend ten minutes pressing the buttons randomly. Most of all of course they are fit – strong and impressive.
And when someone turns up – unfit, overweight, weak – you can imagine them smirking. What are they doing here? Get off my urg or what ever. The attitude is – this is my place. I topped the performance chart last month.
Well the Pharisees were like that. They worked hard at being good – they looked good. I guess they wouldn’t say they weren’t perfect but compared to these tax-collectors they were very good.
This reminds me of my parent’s generation – maybe your parents. Traditional morality – there’s right and wrong. And while we’re not perfect - we’re not bad.
If someone thinks like that – they won’t get Jesus. They think Jesus is about being good. So they’re confused - why is Jesus with these bad people? What are people like that doing in church? Jesus should be with decent people like us.
Now, to be clear, when Jesus says “I haven’t come for the righteous”, he’s just making a contrast with sinners. He doesn’t mean there is a group who are righteous and good. He’s made that clear earlier on in Matthew – back in the sermon on the mount Jesus talks about how we should live – and he makes it very clear - no one is righteous.
So when Jesus talks about not coming for the righteous but sinners – he isn’t saying - there are good people and there bad people. No, we’re all bad. The only difference is there are bad people - who know they are bad. And there are bad people who think they are good. That’s the Pharisees or the moralist today, who think they are OK.
That is a terrible position to be in. It’s like a person with a life threatening disease but thinks they are healthy. And thinking they are healthy won’t go to the doctor for help. They think they are good – so won’t go to Jesus – not as a sinner needing mercy.
That’s why with friends or family – who are like this – I pray for conviction of sin. I pray they might realise they are sinners – in trouble – sick. In some ways it’s not a nice prayer – I’m praying they’ll feel terrible – because they see how bad their sin is. How wrong it is. How serious it is. But that’s what they need - to grasp their true state – because then they will get Jesus. And how good he is.
Because when we do realise we’re sinners – as I’m sure most of us have - then Jesus becomes wonderful news – because he has come for sinners – he’s come precisely for someone like us. To give us what we desperately need - mercy.
Mind you as well as bad people who think they are good. You also get bad people who think they are bad – but they also think Jesus is about being good. Rather than mercy.
I remember talking with someone who said they didn’t want to come to church, or do God stuff. I asked, why not? Because I’m not that sort of person, I’m not good enough.
They thought coming to God was like a job interview – you dress up smart, and then try and impress them with how great you are. But they knew they weren’t great so thought they shouldn’t bother trying.
If I had thought of this passage I would have said to them – do ever do that with the doctor? Try and look really healthy – and impress him with how well you were?
Of course not. I remember a while ago not being well – and called for an appointment but the person said, I’m not sure if we can fit you in today. I said, “Oh, I would really – cough, cough, ohh, really appreciate it, cough.”
Now that is me being silly – but the point is to see the doctor – you just need to be ill.
It’s the same with Jesus. The only qualification we need for him is to be sinner – and we all qualify. We don’t have to clean up our lives before we can come to him. We can come to him as we are – he came for sinners. He came to give them mercy – to accept and to forgive.
Now at this point the liberal ‘anything goes’ relativist – I mentioned at the start - they will be happy because this sounds like Jesus accepts everybody – doesn’t matter what you’ve done – you’re welcome.
Well it’s certainly true Jesus will accept everyone. But there is a big difference. Liberalism says we should accept everyone because it doesn’t matter how we live – anything goes. Don’t judge - just accept.
Saying – live as you like – is like a doctor who says to the chain smoker on 40 a day – you’re doing fine. Don’t worry about the cough, you carry on as you are and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It is an unprincipled acceptance.
But Jesus has principle – he says it does matter how we live. And he’s straight with us – he says we’ve done wrong and we’re in trouble. And so he offers us – not unprincipled acceptance - but mercy. He says, you’re not fine – but I’ll deal with your wrong, I’ll win your forgiveness and put you right with God.
That means this acceptance for sinners is no excuse for sin. By accepting sinners Jesus isn’t saying sin doesn’t matter. Far from it – he had to die for our sin.
And we could add, while Jesus accepts as we are, he doesn’t leave us as we are. He calls Matthew to follow me – following Jesus will lead to change. Hospitals are there to help you change – to make you better. And Jesus’ mercy – accepts us – forgives – and then works in us to change us, make us more like him.
So our question is – do we come to Jesus as sinners for mercy. Not as good people but sinners. Not coming for easy free acceptance. But mercy – that says our wrong matters, and leads us to follow Jesus.
3) Do we welcome sinners – with mercy?
Let’s go back to the Pharisees for a moment – you know I don’t imagine they went around saying, I deserve a place with God because I’m so great. But when they see Jesus welcome these sinners – they think - what are you doing with them? Their reaction to out and out sinners shows their true attitude.
And Jesus says v13 READ.
It’s a quote from the OT, where God is saying - it’s not saying that sacrifice, or other religious performance is wrong, but he’s all about mercy. And he desires mercy in his people. As we’ve just been saying we need mercy from God to us – and should then lead to mercy from us to others.
But of course that is exactly what we don’t see in the Pharisees. Stick a moral and spiritual failure in front of them and they react not with mercy – but morality and judgement.
Well what about us? How do we react to sinners?
If someone says to us – I’ve really mucked up. I got drunk at the weekend. This week I’ve been consumed by envy and greed. I had sex before marriage. Whatever it is. How do we react?
I remember talking to someone about admitting sin to each other and how we react. And they said – I suppose the problem is – if someone says, I’ve mucked up and we say to them – it’s OK - it sounds like sin doesn’t matter. But if we say sin isn’t OK then sounds like morality and judgement.
As we’ve said, often those feel like the only two options. Morality - say there is right and wrong – but that leads to judgement. Or free acceptance but that leads to accepting sin.
I hope we’re seeing how wonderful different Jesus is. He offers mercy.
And as we just said - mercy means sin matters. If you need mercy then you must be in trouble – you must have done something wrong. So when Jesus says to the sinner – there is mercy for you – he’s not condoning sin. He’s not saying it doesn’t matter – they need mercy for it.
But at the same time Jesus is saying there is mercy. Saying sin is wrong doesn’t lead Jesus to then condemn us. No in his mercy – he offers us acceptance and forgiveness.
The challenge for us as a church is to model that reaction. To be a community of mercy. Not a gym where we work hard to impress and look down on those who fail. But not a free for all where everyone is accepted because it doesn’t matter how you live - you can do what you like.
But a hospital for the sick – a hospital of mercy.
So a friend says – I’ve really mucked up. We don’t think – how awful – I’d never do that. We don’t think – you can do what you want.
We think - here is someone just like me. Here is the patient in the hospital bed next to mine. Maybe I’ve been in the hospital a bit longer – I might have recovered from some of my symptoms – but really at heart I’m just the same as them. A sick person needing mercy.
So we say to them – great you’ve come to church and you’re with us. Sorry it’s been a bad weekend.
I struggle too – but I hope you know God forgives.
I’m sad to hear it’s not been good – but Jesus is full of mercy. Is there anything I can do to help?
Jesus came for sinners - to give us mercy. Mercy that recognises sin as sin, but overcomes sin with forgiveness and grace and acceptance.
So let’s come to him – come to him this week - as sinners – and receive mercy.
And let’s accept sinners with that mercy.