We are in the middle of a section of the Gospel of Matthew where the focus is on the power of Jesus to change lives. Chapter 8 has revealed the kind of faith that is needed to follow him. Jesus has the desire, authority, and ability to heal lives. But we are reading that there are many who are unwilling to allow Jesus to overhaul their lives so that they can be healed. Matthew 9 is going to show this power again in Jesus for your life. As we begin I want you think about what you really need in your life. What is the most important thing that you need? We might come up with all kinds of answers initially. We can have funny shirts and coffee cups that declare how we need coffee, need sunshine, need a hug, need a pet, or some other need. But what do you need the most? Jesus is going to show that to us in this text before us today. Please have your copies of God’s word open to Matthew 9.
What Jesus Gives (9:1-8)
We are told in Matthew 9:1 that Jesus crossed back across the sea to his home area of Galilee. While in town some men bring a paralyzed man to Jesus, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw the faith of these men, he said to the paralyzed man, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” Now I want us to think about what this looked like and what this sounded like. People are coming to Jesus now that he is back in Galilee. Some men bring a paralyzed man to Jesus. The obvious reason for bringing this paralyzed man to Jesus is so that Jesus could heal him. This is what it looks like Jesus is going to do. Jesus says, “Take heart, my son.” Have courage! Be encouraged! Good news! But what he says next is surprising. Jesus does not say, “Take courage because you are healed.” Rather, Jesus says to take heart and have courage because your sins are forgiven. I don’t suppose that anyone expected that to come out of Jesus’ mouth.
It is clear that the religious leaders were not happy with this. Look at verse 3. They say to each other that Jesus has sinned. He is blaspheming God! Only God can forgive sins and this guy just told this paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven. Now I want you to think about verse 4. Jesus knew their thoughts. They did not say this to Jesus. They are thinking it and muttering these things to themselves. But Jesus knew what they were thinking. He knows what he is doing and he has a reason for why he decided to tell the paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven.
But notice what Jesus says in verse 4. “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?” Jesus really casts a shadow on the motives of these people. They are not legitimately concerned about the holiness of God, his name, and the keeping of the law. They have evil motives. They have evil thoughts. But they look like they are righteous and pious. So Jesus challenges these scribes. Jesus asks them a question. Which is easier for a person to do? Is it easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven” or is it easier to say, “Get up and walk?” Now it is easier to say to someone that your sins are forgiven because that is something that cannot be seen or verified. People still do this today, proclaiming the forgiveness of sins that only God can give. But it is not easy to tell to a paralyzed person to get up and walk because that can be seen and is observable.
This goes to the strange response that Jesus gave to the paralyzed man. Why did he not just tell him to get up and walk? Why tell him that his sins are forgiven? Jesus answers this in verse 6. He wanted to show that he has the authority to forgive sins. So now he does the miracle of healing the paralyzed man so that everyone know that Jesus has come to forgive sins. Notice that the crowd understands this. They are filled with awe and give glory to God. They understand that Jesus possesses the authority of God to forgive sins because of the miracle they just witnessed. This is the mission of Jesus. Jesus has come to forgive sins. The miracles are to show everyone that he possesses that authority. He is not blaspheming God. He is God because only God can forgive sins.
What Jesus Wants (9:9-13)
Now Matthew is going to show what Jesus wants. Look at Matthew 9:9. Jesus continues his way in Galilee and comes across a tax collector named Matthew. He tells Matthew to follow him and he does. Jesus then is having dinner in Matthew’s house, where many tax collectors and sinners were invited to eat with them. Notice what the Pharisees think about this in verse 11. They ask Jesus’ disciples why Jesus would eat with tax collectors and sinners. These are terrible people. These are sinful people. These are not people that you want as friends. These were people to be avoided, not people with which to share dinner. Do not read “sinners” as people who are generally good but are not fully devoted to God, like a good neighbor you might have. “Sinners” are the people who are known to the community as wicked people. These would be known sexually immoral people. These would be known thieves and cheats. These are the kinds of people that cause the devout to ask why Jesus would eat meals with these kinds of people!
Jesus’ answer reveals the mission again. Jesus has come to forgive sins. The healthy do not need a doctor. But the sick do. Jesus has not come to try to heal and forgive people who do not think they need it. If you do not think you are sick, then you will not go and see the doctor. People who know they are sick are the ones who will receive a doctor. But Jesus speaks about this relationship in the other direction. Can you imagine a doctor who will not see sick people? Imagine trying to make an appointment with your doctor because something is wrong only to receive the response the doctor will not see you because there is something wrong with you. Jesus has to go to the sick. Jesus cannot fulfill the mission by avoiding the sick. I want you to take hope in this picture. Jesus did not come to stay away from you because of your sins. He came to forgive your sins.
But now Jesus has an important message which is the primary point of this message. Look at verse 13. Jesus tells the Pharisees that they need to go and learn what this means. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” What did Jesus mean? Jesus is quoting from the prophet Hosea. So we need to go back and look at what the prophet was saying to understand what Jesus is teaching.
1 “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. 3 Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” 4 “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears. 5 Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth— then my judgments go forth like the sun. 6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:1–6 NIV)
The context of this quotation is important and amazing. The people of Israel sound like they want to return to the Lord. The first three verses proclaim their desire to come to the Lord. He will heal us. He will bind up our wounds and restore us. Let’s acknowledge the Lord and return to him and he will respond to us like refreshing rains that water the earth. It sounds great. The words sound wonderful. But notice what God says to this in verses 4-6.
God responds that their love is like the morning mist and early dew that shortly fades away. You say all the right words but your devotion lasts for a moment and then disappears. Rather than refreshing rains, God says he is going to bring judgments on them like the certainty of the sun. The reason is given in verse 6 which is where Jesus quotes from. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.” Jesus told the Pharisees that they needed to go and learn this text. So what did it mean and what is Jesus also saying?
What Needed To Be Learned
First, Jesus wants people who want him, not people who pretend to want him. Jesus wants people who want a relationship with him, not people who just offer up sacrifices. The Hebrew word translated “mercy” also means steadfast love, faithful love, and loyal love. Jesus has no need for pretenders. It is clear from our study in Matthew 9 that he is dealing with people who are pretending to care about God but do not have a true relationship. Jesus proclaimed that they had evil motives and were thinking evil thoughts. Jesus proclaimed that he was interested in people who wanted to be forgiven and healed, not people who did not see their need. Jesus is not interested in people who are looking to keep the minimum commands. Jesus does not want people who look at his laws and determine what are the ones that are necessary to have eternal life. Many people came up to Jesus asking that question. Jesus wants people to want a relationship with him. With this perspective, the law is not looked as a chore that we try to minimize or get out of doing. Rather, the law becomes like honey, like David expressed in Psalm 19, because it teaches us about God so that we can draw closer to him. God’s word is not a bunch of commandments. God’s word is the way to know him so that you can love him and obey him.
Second, Jesus wants people whose devotion lasts. Jesus does not want false starts and head fakes that look like a devotion toward God. Jesus wants your loyalty. Jesus wants your faithfulness. Jesus wants your love for him. Think about the problem Hosea is noting. These are people who have troubled times come, turn to the Lord, to only go back to what they were doing before shortly there after. Jesus does not simply want the words of righteousness, but lives that stay loyal to him. Think about what this looks like in relationships you have experienced. You have probably had people in your life who would ignore you when things were good, but then came running to you when they needed you or had problems. So you help only for them to ignore you again until the next time they have a problem. This is not a real relationship and we get frustrated by it. God is telling us that he is not looking for us to play ping pong with him, where we bounce to him, bounce away from him, going back and forth. It is a terrible relationship to lack devotion to the person no matter what the circumstances are. This is what Jesus is trying to point out to us. Jesus wants your lasting devotion.
Third, Jesus wants people who are ready to show mercy to others because they care about souls like God does. They are not interesting in just looking the part. They truly care about other people and desire for them to be saved. It is not possible to have a relationship with God and not have a heart to help people come to the Lord and find forgiveness. Think about this is the context of the story in the gospel. Jesus has called Matthew to follow him. Matthew now invites the people he knows, tax collectors and notorious sinners, to have the same opportunity. Come meet Jesus and follow him. Matthew had mercy on others just as Jesus had mercy on him. Matthew did not become self-righteous. Matthew did not think much of himself because he was chosen to follow Jesus.
To sum up what Jesus wants us to learn is that he wants a people who walk the walk and do not simply talk the talk. It is easy to say the words that look like devotion to God. It is easy to do some external acts of worship that look like devotion to God. This is why Jesus talks about counting the cost to follow him. God wants people who will seek him continually. God wants people who know who they are and how much they need forgiveness. God wants people who want a relationship with him, not just offering up some expected external acts. God wants people who are truly repentant and are not for the show. God wants people who will show others mercy because they are fully devoted to the Lord Jesus has showed them mercy.