Write down the names of three people with whom you would like to share the gospel. Be realistic when you write down these names. Write down the friends you could have a real opportunity with. We will return to this shortly. Matthew 8-9 is filled with short narratives of Christ healing and teaching people that Jews normally avoided. In Matthew 8, Jesus touched a leper, healed a Gentile’s servant, and showed concern for a woman. Jesus interacts with more unlikely people in today’s story – tax collectors. Matthew uses these stories teach his readers about the unexpected types of people who are in the kingdom of heaven. Like all people, the religious elite of Jesus’ day surrounded themselves with similarly minded people. Christ set a different precedent for his ministry. Christ surrounded himself with people nothing like him. Though we may naturally desire to surround ourselves with moral and religious people, this hurts us when we consider teaching sinners. Today’s story will teach us to show a greater concern for sinners. Christ is the master teacher and he approaches people we avoid in simple ways we do not normally consider. Our goal is to seek the same people Jesus sought and learn how to exemplify his unpopular methods.
Jesus, Tax Collectors, and Pharisees (9:9-13)
In a portion of Scripture that emphasizes Christ’s unlikely associations, Matthew pauses to tell the story of his own call to follow Christ. Though it is fantastic that Matthew quickly joins Christ when called, what is amazing is that Christ calls Matthew at all. Matthew was a tax collector. Tax collectors had a poor reputation among Jews. Tax collectors were considered traitors because their occupation aligned them with the hated Roman Empire. They collected taxes for the oppressive Caesar. Their poor reputation was made valid by the way they performed their jobs. Tax collectors were known for exacting taxes beyond the required amount so that they could line their own pockets. Tax collectors were greedy and dishonest. Christ called one to be his apostle.
Christ did not just call a tax collector to be one of his apostles. Verse 10 tells us that Christ and his disciples “reclined at table” with an entire group of sinners and tax collectors. “Reclining at table” was the common posture of those banqueting on special occasions. Just picture the scene. See the Son of God eating, conversing, and laughing with known sinners. Christ kept company with sinners.
The funny part is that it is not Jesus or his disciples who are uncomfortable with this situation, but the Pharisees. Notice their reaction in verse 11. They are appalled that Christ would eat with tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees ask Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with these people?” It is helpful to know that eating with someone connoted association and acceptance. As Grant Osborne puts it, “Meals were important social occasions in the first century… For Jesus and his disciples to eat with such people was scandalous; it meant they were accepting these tax collectors and identifying with them and sinners.” We should not be too harsh with the Pharisees. How many of us would be upset if Christ came back to earth and spent all his time with lowly sinners instead of us? Yet, this is what Jesus did when he came to earth in the 1st century.
Jesus Calls Sinners (9:12-13)
Why? Why would Christ spend his time with people who are so impure and dirty with sin? Christ answers in verses 12-13. “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.” This statement is simple, yet profound. As we study Christ’s methods of teaching, this is where we learn whom Christ’s teaches. Though we might expect Christ to spend his time with religious people, this is not the precedent he set here. Christ came into the world to call sinners. Christ called tax collectors and sinners to be his disciples because it is they who are sick. He is a spiritual physician. Why spend time with the healthy or those who perceive they are healthy? Christ calls sinners because they need a physician. Christ came to heal the sick.
If Christ came to the world to save sinners, this is who we ought to focus on teaching as well. Christ wants to heal those who are spiritually infirmed. Yet, on whom do we mostly spend our gospel-sharing efforts? With what types of people do we often seek to fill our churches? Often our desire and focus can be on filling up our churches with good, moral, religious people. Consider the list of friends you made at the beginning of our lesson. How many of those people do you consider to be good, moral, and maybe even religious people? I will ask the same question many ask today. Are churches hotels for saints, or hospitals for sinners? This question gets to the heart of Christ’s statement in verse 12. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Imagine what would happen if all hospitals declared they would no longer take sick people, but only healthy people. Nobody would come. Though churches are designed to be families and hospitals for sin-sick people, we struggle believing that Jesus really wants them.
We need to replicate Christ’s ministry and focus on the people he focused on. Notice how quickly Matthew dropped his obligations to follow Jesus in verse 9. Many of you have stated in personal conversations that it is much easier to teach someone who isn’t religious at all. Jesus agrees! Jesus points this out in Matthew 21:31-32 when he says that prostitutes and tax collectors would go into the kingdom of heaven before the religious elite of Jerusalem. We need to learn from the example Jesus gave in his ministry and focus on sinners like he did. This is not to say religious people cannot be taught. But when we focus on teaching only moral people, we forget Christ came to save sinners.
Jesus Eats With Sinners (9:10)
Not only can we learn from the types of people Jesus taught, but we can also learn from how Jesus taught. Because Christ wants to call sinners, he eats with them. We all recognize the great difficulty of teaching a cold contact. Though Christ took many different types of opportunities to teach, we can learn from Christ’s methods here.
Christ befriended sinners. Matthew 11:19 says that Jesus was slanderously called the “friend of tax collectors and sinners” by many. The dinner scene we see at Matthew’s house confirms that this statement truly describes Jesus. This is significant. Many times before Christ taught people, Christ took the opportunity to get to know them. Christ surrounded himself with sinners and became their friend. This is often our most crucial mistake. We don’t love to befriend sinners. Who here really loves being around sinful people? I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not very easy. Sinners curse and dress immodestly. They drink too much. They are materialistic. They are always sleeping with some new person or getting a divorce. They are different. They make us uncomfortable.
To take the first step towards teaching sinners, we must stop looking at them with harsh attitudes. We would be just as sinful if someone did not have the patience to teach us. We must love sinners. Christ wants us to spend time with our spiritual family, but this does not mean he wants to rip us out of all our social spheres in the world. How else will Christ reach people from our workplaces or schools? Instead of avoiding people at work, school, or activities, take these opportunities to befriend sinners. Start with a couple people. Make many friends that are sinners because you love their souls. Remember why you are befriending them. We don’t make friends with people in the world to harm our own hearts with sin. We befriend sinners to affect their hearts with Christ.
Have a Matthew Party.
Once we have befriended sinners, what is the next step? How can we help our friends feel more comfortable around our Christian friends so that we have a better opportunity to teach them? Matthew was in a similar situation. He had friends that did not yet know Christ. Though there are many ways we can proceed from here, we can learn from what he did.
Luke 5:29 says Matthew held this dinner party. This is probably where the tax collectors and sinners came from. Matthew invited his sinner friends from work to have a meal and meet Jesus and his disciples. Friends eat together, so a dinner is natural. This was low-pressure way for Matthew’s friends to meet Christ and his disciples and visa-versa. We cannot exactly replicate this situation. Asking your friends to come over for dinner to meet your preacher probably won’t work. Though we cannot replicate this situation, we can try to come close. You will need to gauge what your friends will be most comfortable with. Here are a couple of ideas.
Community group studies have a similarly low-pressure atmosphere. Our community group studies are designed to be visitor friendly. We study the Bible and eat and socialize afterwards. Our friends have the opportunity to both study the Bible and meet our Christian friends.
For some, a community group study may be too direct. Another possibility would be for you to throw a dinner party and invite a mixed group of your Christian friends and worldly friends. You can find any excuse to have the party – Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve, etc. It can be big or small. Though spiritual discussions may arise, the point of this party is more about creating connections before inviting them to a Bible study or worship. Be aware that your sinner friends talk differently. They may talk about that time they got drunk. Don’t be concerned about correcting them yet. Just build the relationship.
Teach Christ Crucified.
Though we are not told how Matthew and Christ proceeded from here to teach his new tax collector friends, it is important to recognize the different ways your relationship with non-Christians can proceed from here. If you have not already, find opportunities to talk about spiritual things in a natural way. Pray for opportunities. God will answer. Their interest may be peaked in a conversation and they may ask questions. This is a great opportunity to ask them if they’d like to come over or meet somewhere sometime to study the Bible.
The venue for studying the Bible depends on what you think they are most comfortable with. They may be most comfortable studying with you alone or you and a couple other friends. If you are not comfortable teaching, Brent, myself, or someone else could lead the discussion. As we have mentioned, a community group study is a simple way to advance their relationships and knowledge of the Bible. “Hey, you know those people you met at my house the other week? They are getting together to study marital love next Friday. Want to join?” This is a comfortable setting because they may have already become acquainted with many of these people at dinner a couple of weeks ago.
If you feel inadequate for the job, do not worry. We are all inadequate. Christ created you to do this. Note what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:1–5, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” Paul was one of the greatest evangelists of all time. When he spoke to people he trembled. He did not speak eloquently. He was able to teach people because the power was in the gospel, not himself.
The great thing about teaching people from the world is that they will often do the same thing Matthew did. They will tell their friends in the world about Jesus. By reaching out to the non-religious population now, we will find our opportunities multiplying in the future.
Jesus Rejects Pharisees (9:11-13)
There is still a great danger. Notice the Pharisees’ reaction in verse 11. When the Pharisees saw Christ eating with sinners, this made them very unhappy. They thought, “How could Christ spend so much time with such awful sinners?” We are at danger ourselves of becoming like the Pharisees.
There is a religiously elite attitude that is extremely prevalent today that says, “I just can’t justify associating with such people. They are so vile and wicked.” In a different place and time I overheard a couple of professed Christians talking about needing to get out of Florida and into Bowling Green because they hated being around so much sinfulness. Similar things are often said to promote one’s decision to not associate with worldly people at the expense of those who do. Which person is more Christ-like: the one who removes themselves from most social spheres to avoid sinners or the one who remains in those social spheres to preach Christ? Which person truly loves the sinner? Pharisees avoid sinners. Pharisees don’t befriend sinners. Pharisees don’t welcome sinners into their spiritual family. Pharisees don’t recognize their own sinfulness. When we first came to Christ, we were not perfect. Sanctification takes time. Sinners require our love and patience.
Christ dispels Pharisaic thinking in verse 13. “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.'” Some feign a superior righteousness by shunning worldly people. Christ tells us that he desires us to be merciful towards these people. He is a physician and he came to the world to heal sick people. If we look down on sinful people, we are the self-righteous people that Christ avoided. This scene is reminiscent of Jesus’ prediction of a future spiritual banquet in Matthew 8:11–12, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”” In this scene, Jesus reclined at table with the types of people that would be banqueting with him in eternity. Christ associated with sinners to show them their maladies and heal them lovingly. Do you see sinners like Christ sees them?
When we think about evangelism, we need to think like Christ did. Though we naturally think we should seek out highly moral people, Christ came to save sinners. Though it is easy to surround ourselves with “good” and “religious” people, Christ surrounded himself with sinners. He ate with them and happily associated with them. When you are tempted to follow the religiously elite attitude that separates from sinners, remember Christ’s words in verse 13. “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Focus your evangelistic efforts on people who are sinners. Introduce Christ to them for the first time. He will heal their iniquities.