Advent Week #2 Not this, but that: “For I came not to call the righteous but sinners”
Throughout the advent season this year we are looking at various statements from Jesus where he tells us clearly why he came. Last week we looked at John 6:35-40 where Jesus tell us that he came “not to do his own will, but the will of him who sent me”. The will of God the Father was to draw people to salvation and to preserve their faith so they’d be raised up with Jesus to eternal life. We learned that God draws people from a variety of backgrounds to himself and that he alone satisfies the longing of our souls.
This week we look at another statement of Jesus that emphasize his mercy and grace: “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:13
Two words from Jesus had the power to change someone’s life: “Follow me”. One of the consistent things we see in the gospels about Jesus was how he called the least and unlikely to follow him. Jesus was drawing huge crowds and lots of interest due to his powerful teaching and miraculous ministry, and the people around Jesus were surprising — people freed from demons, healed from diseases (that most people thought were consequence for sin), women who were a forgotten group in the 1st century followed Jesus and not to mention all the gentiles coming to see him and hear his teaching. Jesus gathered the least and unlikely to himself. It is no surprise that none of his close disciples would be people the culture would consider to be worthy to follow such a rabbi. Fishermen, zealot freedom fighters and tax collectors made up his inner circle. The tax collectors were the worst too! Matthew gets called to follow Jesus in Matthew 9:9 and he was a tax collector; he was someone who was paid by the Roman government to collect taxes for their military occupation of Israel and on top of that he was able to mark up the charge and extort money from his own people. Tax collectors were also considered “unclean” because of how much time they spent with the gentiles. Who could be worse than this guy? Yet notice Matthew’s response, he got up and followed him. More than that, he does not exhibit sorrow over losing his lifestyle or job, instead Matthew throws a party and invites all his buddies. Of course none of his friends had their lives together religiously or morally, they were all just like Matthew was before meeting Jesus. And instead moving away from this crowd, Jesus draws near, much to the anger and frustration of the Pharisees.
The Pharisees had built their identity around how different they were from people like the tax collectors and sinners. The name “Pharisee” means “separate ones”. They developed as a religious sect of Judaism during centuries of foreign oppression as a way to preserve Jewish religion, faithfulness and the teaching of the Law. They did this primarily by being separate from those who did not follow those things. One could even argue that based on the Old Testament teaching that the Pharisees were well grounded for their actions and philosophy. The Law of Moses called for moral purity and to not be defiled by people who were considered “unclean”, likewise familiar passages like Psalm 1:1 warned against falling into the practices of sinners by “sitting with them”. One could think that to preserve faithfulness to God it would be better to just create a little bubble for groups like the Pharisees or in today’s world we can create a bubble for the church or a Christian sub culture so we can avoid being with “those people”. There’s just one problem: we are “those people”. Every person who comes to place their faith and trust in Jesus must first recognizes their sinfulness and need for mercy from a holy God. Jesus cares about the people the world rejects and he grounds his actions of hanging out with sinners in two realities. First, he is the great physician and doctors come to help the sick not just check up on those who are well (Matthew 9:12). Jesus’ holiness cannot be corrupted by his time spent with people who’ve been socially cast out. Second, Jesus he points to scripture quoting Hosea 6:6 saying that God desires us to be people of mercy not (just) religious sacrifice (Matthew 9:13). Mercy means physically drawing near to someone else in compassion and love to seek their spiritual good. A person who truly knows and loves God, who has been changed by his mercy and grace, will be someone who cares about those who are called “sinners” in our culture.
If this is a core part of the character of Jesus, then it is no surprise that the birth of Jesus featured some gritty and grimy people as well. The only people who attended and celebrated the birth of Jesus, apart from his parents and possibly some farm animals, were shepherds. A host of angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds but they actually did not visibly attend themselves (Luke 2:15). The grimy and gritty shepherds who were known for being outcasts in the day and time of Jesus attended the birth of the king who’d come to seek and to save the lost. From his first breath, Jesus thoroughly loved those that the world considered to be ordinary or even rejected.
As the people of God we should strive towards holiness and put into practice devotional religious practices; both are good things! However, we would do well to model the heart of Jesus and hospitably love those the world would call “sinners” because it is by the grace and mercy of God that we are able draw near since God chose to draw near to people like us two thousands years ago in Jesus!
At your community group:
Spend 15-20 minutes sharing prayer requests and praying for one another.
How did the Spirit speak to you through the sermon and the scripture passage?
As a fun opening question for your group talk about: What is your favorite Christmas time food or drink? Would you rather go to an ugly Christmas sweater party or a white elephant gift exchange?
Read Matthew 9:9-13 together as a group. What are 3-4 things you notice about Jesus in this passage?
What is the “not this, but that” statement we’re given in the text?
To eat with someone was a sign of deeper friendship, fellowship and hospitality. Jesus does not simply spend time with the “sinners” but actually does some things that shows his life is open to them. This naturally draws some criticism from the religious crowd. Why would the Pharisees not want to hang out with people like the tax collectors and sinners?
Have you seen this kind of attitude in the modern church today? What are some things followers of Jesus can do to model this part of Jesus ministry? Are there any dangers in living this kind of lifestyle?
Jesus used the image of a doctor treating people who are sick to illustrate what he was doing in his life and ministry to defeat sin, forgive sin and give new life. The thing is that both the “righteous” and “sinners” needed to see the doctor, but the righteous were like those who pretended they weren’t actually sick! Think as a group… What are some things people do to put up a mask or pretend that they don’t have a sin issue to deal with?