As we begin Matthew 9:9-17 the first thing we notice is that Matthew gives us a glimpse into his own story. The first thing we learn is Matthew was also known as Levi. His story is pretty simple:
9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.
People that collect taxes are not very popular now and they were even less popular then. The Jew was instructed to give a tithe (10%) of their income to the Lord every year at the temple. Beyond the tithe they still had to pay the taxes the government assessed. Since the area around Galilee was governed by Herod Antipas the money for taxes went to him. In Capernaum the tax burden was excessively high. There was the normal tax and then the tax that was placed on imported goods that had come across the Sea of Galilee.
The Roman government sought out an efficient way to collect taxes. They auctioned off various areas to wannabe tax-collectors. The tax-collectors contracted to pay Rome a certain amount of money. What the tax-collector took in beyond that amount was his to keep. So the amount of tax collected was purely at the discretion of the tax-collector. As you might imagine this was open to great abuse. Since no one knew what the amount owed actually was, it meant there was no way to regulate the taxes.
The assumption is that Jesus had met Matthew previously. However, this time Jesus walked by and told Matthew to: “come follow me, and be my disciple.” This was not like an invitation to join the boy scouts. This was a special calling. Jesus, was a peripatetic teacher (meaning teachers who walked up and down). One of the reasons Jesus spoke in parables and aphorisms (short, memorable statements of truth) was so they could be easily remembered by His students.
Jesus was asking Matthew to make an irrevocable choice! He asked him to leave his lucrative job (there were likely 50 other men who would quickly take his place), and his security. (It is a job he would not get back!) He was being asked to bet everything on Jesus! And in Luke 5 we read: “He got up, left everything, and followed Him.” This is what faith looks like. This is what Jesus calls each of us to do.
10 Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. 11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?
Matthew does not seem to be concerned about what he lost . . . he wanted to celebrate what he believed he had gained! He invited all his friends over for a party to meet Jesus. So from the beginning Matthew wants to thank His Lord for the opportunity to learn from Him and wants his friends to meet this one he will be following. Obviously, Matthew believed Jesus was someone worth following and wanted his friends to know Him too. Oh that God would give us this same attitude so we would be eager to introduce our friends to Jesus!
Not everyone thought this was a good idea! The religious establishment had their concerns. They cornered the disciples and said in essence, “Why are you guys hanging with a guy who hangs around with these kinds of people?” (Matthew invited his friends but the only friends he had were the kind of people who hang around with the despised tax-collectors . . . in other words the people that were unable to get better friends). These people were considered to be a negative influence by the Pharisees.
If you spend time trying to build bridges with non-Christian friends, you may face the same question: How could a real Christian (that’s always spoken with an edge) hang out with people like that?
Our Relationship with Unbelievers
Jesus heard their question and answered the criticism this way:
12 When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” 13 Then he added, “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.”
In other words, Jesus said I hang around with non-Christians because they are the ones who need to be saved!! In fact, Jesus said sick people are much more open to being made well than those who think they are not sick. Makes sense doesn’t it?
From the example of Jesus, we can learn important principles for our own discipleship. First, lost people matter to God. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Jesus did not turn away from lost and broken people, neither should we.
Jesus told us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.” Our JOB is to build bridges with lost people. We can’t do that if we write them off as unworthy of our time and attention. The best way to reach atheists, people with same-sex attractions, those who are caught up in the materialism of the world, and others, is to be their friend! They will never believe that they matter to God until they see that they truly matter to US. We must not compromise truth but we also must not surrender love.
Second, we were once lost people. Every believer would still be an unbeliever if Christians had refused to associate with them. You came to Christ because people were willing to build a bridge to you. They did not turn away from you, they turned toward you. It may have been a Pastor, youth leader, Sunday School teacher, co-worker, relative, or a random person on the street. The point is that these people did not shun you, they embraced you. That is exactly what Jesus is doing here.
In a sense, the Lord calls us to “pay it forward.” Just as someone reached out to you, we are called to reach out to someone else. Why is that we are willing to engage people in all kinds of conversations except for the conversation that really matters?
Third, the Lord wants action rather than talk. He says: “God wants mercy rather than sacrifice.” Simply stated, God is not looking for people who know more worship songs, or have memorized the most Bible verses. He is not interested is us becoming more “religious,” He wants us to possess His heart in an increasing measure. He wants us to be more like Jesus. We show that by the way we treat those who are different from us.
We can preach about how much God loves the world but until we show love, the words mean nothing. Here are some important questions to ask,
- Do unbelievers feel our respect even when they know we disagree with what they are doing?
- Does a newcomer in the church (especially an unchurched person) feel welcomed or do they feel judged? Do they sense love or condemnation?
- Do we shun those who are not like us or who have failed miserably in life, or do we seek to build a bridge to them?
- Are we better at pointing fingers or extending a helping hand?
Fourth, the person who truly understands who Jesus is cannot wait to introduce their friends to Him. You have to hand it to Matthew, he not only walked away from his past so he could follow Jesus, He also worked hard to introduce Jesus to his friends. Matthew was not content to be a private Christian. He believed in Jesus and therefore wanted all his friends to have the joy of knowing him too.
I’ve said it many times: if you are not sharing your faith with the people you say your love then either 1) you don’t understand what is at stake (you don’t take, sin, Heaven and Hell seriously.) 2) you don’t really care about your friends.
Here is a penetrating question: If you told your friends that you were a true follower of Jesus would they believe you? Would they be surprised? Would they draw the wrong conclusion about what it means to be a true follower because of your life? They may know that you go to church, but if you told them that you were “betting your life on Jesus” would they laugh, or would they ask for more information?
Don’t miss the fact that the Bible does give us some cautions about our relationship with unbelievers. First, we are not to be joined with them in marriage or in business partnerships. The reason for this is not that these are bad people . . . it is that we are operating from entirely different value systems. It is hard to have a good marriage or a successful business if you are not on the same page spiritually. You are building on different foundations. Someone’s values are going to have to give. Too much of the time it is the values of the believer.
Second, we are warned not to be conformed to this world. Simply put, as we reach out to our friends and neighbors we must make sure that we are impacting them and not that they are pulling us down. Paul reminds us to continually renew our minds (Romans 12), in other words, we have to remember again that we live by a different system of values than the rest of the world. Our daily time with God and our time in fellowship and worship with other believers is essential to maintaining our balance.
If we compromise what is true in order to connect with others, our entire purpose for connecting will be destroyed. If we do not continue to live a life in contrast with our friends we extinguish the light of Jesus we want them to see.
Take these cautions to heart. However, don’t let them paralyze you. We must find a way to be in the world without embracing the values of the world.
The second question in our text that comes from a different source. This question came from the disciples of John the Baptist.
14 One day the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked him, “Why don’t your disciples fast like we do and the Pharisees do?”
Why Don’t You Do Things Like We Do?
Like the Pharisees, it appears that John’s disciples had regular fast days. It was a sign of mourning for sin and a way to make one attentive to the voice of God! In fact, they were fasting when they observed the disciples eating, drinking, and having a good time. John’s disciples found this offensive and inappropriate.
It seems like the disciples were ignoring the Law of God. But that is NOT the case. The Bible required a fast on the day of Atonement to prepare for the day of national confession. The Lord recommends fasting as a way of gaining clarity with the Lord but it is not a law that one had to fast 1 or 2 days a week!
This is another cases of taking OUR preferences and turning them into laws others must follow. There is this pernicious idea that if we do things differently one or both of us has to be wrong (and it’s not me). This creates division in churches, between churches, and even separates believers. Today the issue is seldom fasting. But you may be criticized for
- The version of the Bible you read
- The songs you sing in church
- How often you celebrate communion
- The activities you participate in
- The clothes you wear
- The car you drive
- The food you eat
Whenever we take our own conclusions and preferences and turn them into laws we are overstepping our boundaries. We are always to act in good conscience but another person’s good conscience is not measured by my interpretation of things. Our only true authority is the Word of God! Any other authority is not binding. So, Jesus and the disciples were not ignoring Scripture. They were ignoring the “behavior police”.
Listen to how Jesus responded to these critics:
15 Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests mourn while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.
16 “Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before.
17 “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.”
Jesus used the illustration of a wedding. He asks, “Do people mourn or celebrate at a wedding?” The correct answer is: celebrate! Jesus calls Himself the Bridegroom. This is significant because Israel was referred to as the Bride. In a very subtle way Jesus is again affirming that He is the One promised to Israel.
I have watched several movies on the life of Christ. In one series on the gospel of John Jesus was always smiling! He was joyful. At first it seemed odd. But why? Where do we get the idea that Jesus never smiled? Is it from looking around at other Christians? A Jesus with a twinkle in his eye and a warm smile seems perfectly consistent with the Biblical picture of Jesus.
Jesus said the disciples would face a time of mourning when Jesus was arrested and crucified. They certainly mourned during the times of persecution when their brothers and sisters were being killed because of their faith. Yet, even in these times we hear that they rejoiced to be identified with Christ. They rejoiced to be able to suffer in His name.
In the book of Philippians, the apostle Paul told us to rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS. How can we possibly do that when the world is in the mess that it is in? We do that by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. He is the One who conquered death, He is the one who said we will live even though we die. He is the one who promised that even though we have tribulation in the world, we know that He overcomes the world. We rejoice because we don’t fix our eyes on what is going on in the world . . . we fix our eyes on Jesus. He is the Ruler over all. He is the one who reigns over all.
Jesus also had a second answer. There are actually two illustrations that are both making the same point: patches for clothes and wineskins. When you tear your clothes you fix them with a patch of older material otherwise the first time the repaired garment is washed the patch will shrink and tear. Likewise, when you have new wine (yet to ferment) you don’t want to put it in old wineskins. The old skins have already expanded to their limit. If you use an old wineskin, when the wine begins to ferment and expand in the skin, the skin will rip and the wine will be lost.
Jesus makes the point that with His coming, a new paradigm is established. The gospel does not fit in with the sacrificial system of old (the one true sacrifice has been made), The people of God are no longer confined to one nation or to a physical locality. The new Kingdom is not political but spiritual. It no longer needs a curtain separating man from God (we have now gained access). It is no longer about trying to live better lives in the hope of gaining God’s favor; now it is about entering into the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and joyfully following Him as His new creation. The old ways of Jewish traditions are no longer able to serve the Kingdom of God established by Jesus. If you will, Jesus is saying there is a new administration in town.
Everywhere you turn there will be other Christians who will try to get you to act like them.
- You should have devotions like they do
- You should structure your worship as they do
- You should view the end times the same way they do
- You should vote the same political party
- You should have the same passions and ministries.
It is always a good idea to ask someone: “where do you find that in the Bible.” You may be surprised at some of the ridiculous extremes people go to try to wrench a Bible verse to fit with their preference.”
Christ has set us free to serve Him passionately. He calls us to serve in different places and often in different ways. Our job is not to get people to conform to our viewpoint or our discipline . . . it is to serve and honor the Lord. When we understand the wonderful diversity that God has in His Kingdom and when we grow to love our brothers and sisters who honor the Lord even though they see and do some things differently than we do, the church will change. We will frown less and smile more. We will stop looking like we are angry and more like we have been set free by the grace that makes us new. And that kind of attitude has the power to change the world.