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Matthew 9:9-17

Two Words that Can Change Your World

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We’re studying through books of the Bible here at the The Village Chapel as we always do. And if anybody needs a copy, we have some extra ones. Anybody need a paper copy while you’re here today? Follow along in the text. Raise your hand up real high. Somebody’ll drop one by your row, your aisle. Here’s one right in the middle. If somebody, be glad, keep your hand up nice and high that way these folks can see you. 

Our study of Matthew, we’re titling it, “The King and His Kingdom.” The King is Jesus. Matthew’s writing about Jesus—someone that Matthew, formally known as Levi, knew personally, sat around the campfire with Him, walked dusty roads with Him, saw Him heal people, saw Him raise people from the dead and listened to Him preach, including some of the stuff that we have studied already, what we call the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps the most well-known sermon in the world. 

Today, we’re going to jump right to it. We’ve got a little text here and we’re going to call our study, “Two Words That Can Change Your World.” Special thanks to Pastor Tommy last week who carried us through Matthew 9:1-8. 

So we’ll pick up right there in Verse 8, “The multitudes were filled with awe.” Verse 8 tells us, “They glorified God.” That’s the whole point of the miracles. It’s not just spiritual entertainment. It’s not just sensationalism. It’s so that people would come to glorify God who had given such authority to men. And so we pick right up after that. “As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man called Matthew.” Now, Mark Chapter 2, Luke Chapter 5 carry this story. This entire pericope we’re studying today is actually pretty well intact in the other two synoptic gospels, so I encourage you to read that on your own. There are a few little different details, additional information that we get from Mark 2 and Luke 5. I’ll refer to it a little but we won’t read it all. We’re just going to read the text right here from Matthew today. 

So, Jesus sees a man called Matthew. And the unusual thing is he’s sitting in the tax office. And He said to him, Jesus said to this man, “Follow me. And he rose and followed Him.” This is the shortest version between Matthew, Mark, and Luke (e.g., this is the shortest version of that event). Matthew doesn’t dwell on it much. He doesn’t give us as much detail as Mark and Luke do. And that’s why it’s interesting to read Mark and Luke’s account, to be honest with you, so I encourage you to do that. 

Verse 10: “It happened that as He, Jesus, was reclining at table in the house, behold, many tax gatherers and sinners came and joined Jesus and His disciples.” (‘At the table’ is implied there) “And when the Pharisees saw this, (these are the religious leaders of the time) they said to His disciples,” (meaning Jesus’ disciples) “‘Why does your teacher eat with the tax collectors and sinners?’” 

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the question “why?” cross your mind about something that God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit was up to. I have, and I welcome you to the fellowship of “why.” I am the president of the local chapter here, and I ask the question often. It is a question that human beings have been given as a gift. As far as I can tell, the rest of the animal kingdom do not ask the question, “why?” They ask the question “where?” Where is food? Where is someone that could be my mate? And we will propagate the race of birds or animals or whatever we happen to be. They ask all those kinds of questions, but not “why?”.  Why am I here? Why is there something rather than nothing? as the philosopher’s ancient question was summarized—a great question.  And the why that God has given us leads us to the who that He is. 

And so, (I love this) these guys, these religious leaders, say “Why does your teacher eat with the tax gatherers and sinners?” And they’re taken in a way. They’re offended, if you will. And we’ll see this play out. They’re offended at the guest lists of God, and who He would dare to be seen with, to hang out with. And see, I don’t know about you, but knowing myself, my status as a sinner, I kind of go, “Oh, He’s that kind of God.” And now I’m kind of stirred up and I’m kind of interested in that kind of God. ‘Why does He do that? Why does He eat with the tax gatherers and sinners?’ 

Well, Jesus heard this. He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are ill, but go and learn what this means.” I’ve got to stop there for a second because you have to understand that in their day, in their kind of way of schooling and teaching, when you read a bunch of commentaries on this and a whole bunch of them will point out the fact that this wasn’t just Him saying, ‘Go figure this out.’  No, this was like what a teacher would say to someone who has forgotten the very basics. He’s schooling them.  He hadn’t even been to rabbinical school and He’s schooling these experts in the law. And He’s saying, ‘Go back and check your notes from seminary.’  ‘You know, you may be well-schooled, but you don’t really understand. You don’t really understand the basics, the very basics here’, right? ‘Go learn what this means.’  And then He quotes from Hosea 6:6, which they would’ve known. “I desire compassion and not sacrifice.” And that’s the kind of God the God of the Bible is, the God of the Old Testament, as well as the God of the New Testament. Because He’s quoting Hosea from the Old Testament. 

And Jesus then follows it up and just shows what He’s doing. “I didn’t come to call the righteous but sinners.”  Jesus came to call and to save the sinners of the world, the tax gatherers, the sinners that were right there in the room.  And they’re the self-righteous religious leaders of the day, ‘Why are you sitting with them?’  Well, that’s because He came to save them!  He came to call them to Himself and to repentance.  

Verse 14, “Then the disciples of John…” This is a different group now—not the religious leaders, not the Pharisees but the disciples of John, John the Baptist, the one that pointed out, ‘Jesus, He’s the One. I’m not even worthy to untie His sandals.’ So John the Baptist’s disciples, and I’m going to guess that by this time, John the Baptist is actually in prison, locked up by Herod Antipas, and his disciples are wandering around going, ‘I’m confused. I don’t know what’s going on. What do we do?’ And then one of them probably said to the other of them, ‘Hey, remember John’s cousin, Jesus? He said, “Jesus is the One. We need look no further.” Let’s go hang out with Him for a while and we’ll follow Him and see what He has to say.’ They have questions. 

Maybe you have questions, too. Maybe you’re a church person.  You’ve been raised in the Christian faith. And like John the Baptist’s followers, you kind of understand there needs to be repentance. You’ve been baptized by John the Baptist. You understand there’s a change coming, a new way of being that’s on offer from God as we are called to His new kingdom. And you don’t really understand everything, just like I don’t and just like we don’t. And so you ask questions, and they ask a question, too. 

They have a “why” question as well. And they say, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast?”  He’s sitting in a meal with the tax gatherers and sinners. “Why do we fast, but your disciples do not fast? And Jesus said to them, ‘The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?‘” 

Now, have you ever wanted Jesus to just say yes or no? I want clear answers. I’m often praying, “Lord, is it this or that?” And yet He wants to teach me something in the whole process. And I get impatient with Him because of His pedagogy. I don’t like His method of teaching. I would prefer Him to just answer, you know, fill in the blank?  And I offer Him a binary choice and He goes off on some story about a wedding, right? “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do men put new wine into old wineskins otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out, and the wineskins are ruined, but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” 

Now, a long time ago, I was a teenager. A long, long, long time ago and far away I was a teenager, and we bought our jeans without any tears or holes in them. Back then, I think we paid maybe $20 for a pair, really high-level quality pair of jeans was $20.  And I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older, that that’s changed. Not only the price of jeans, but the condition of the jeans that you pay that price for has changed dramatically. But I would wear that same pair of jeans over and over and over and over again, like I still do. And when they got a tear in them, I would take them home to show them to my mom and my mom would offer up a couple choices on patches. And back in those days—I don’t know if any of you are from the ’60s or ’70s, the hippie days, that sort of thing—you might get like a flower power patch or you might get a different kind of a patch on there, a paisley thing or something like that, and it would be like a little fashion statement for you. Well, nowadays the fashion statement is actually the hole itself and the raggedness of the jeans!  And you pay $150 for a pair of jeans that somebody else has beat up and torn up!  And that’s just a wacky world we live in today.  

Jesus says, ‘If your jeans get a tear and a hole in them, it would be foolish for you to take a brand-new patch, put it on some jeans that have been washed a bunch of times and expect it not to rip away as you wash it again and again and again because that new patch is going to continue to shrink. It’s going to tear the jeans even more.’  And I know some of you might say, “Well, that’s more desirable. The more holes the better.”  But it wasn’t that way back in the first century. 

And then He says the same kind of thing about the wineskins. That is, when you want to pour in new wine (which Jesus wants to do metaphorically, when you want to bring the new wine of the gospel), you don’t pour it into old wineskins thinking that they will survive. They’re not going to survive. And it’s not that Jesus has come to abolish the law. No, what He’s saying is, “I’ve come to fulfill the law.” He’s already said that. We’ve already studied that. 

In this case (and we don’t want to over-interpret the metaphors), what’s happening is, Jesus is essentially saying to John’s disciples who are leaning in the direction of faith in Christ, as opposed to the religious leaders who are still stuck in their hard and fast religious rule-following, Jesus says to John’s disciples, ‘There’s a new day arriving. There’s a new wine. And some of the old wineskins, they’re just not going to be able to handle this.  They’re not going to understand grace. They’re not going to understand God’s mercy and forgiveness and how eager God is to forgive your sins. And so it isn’t going to take you following religious rules like fasting to receive God’s grace and mercy. No, God’s going to be pouring out the new wine. He’s going to pour it into new wineskins. Those new wineskins will be essentially the framework of the Gospel itself.’ 

What a great and interesting passage. I’ve had such a good time marinating on this text.  And I do have a couple things I want to share with you from it. 

First of all, I think that we need to notice verse 9.  By the way, we could camp out on verse 9 for a couple weeks just analyzing.  What does this mean? These two words that can change your world?  What does it mean, “Follow me?”  I think it’s interesting. The original word follow here in the Greek is akoloutheo.  It appears about 90 times (89 times is what I got in my computer search in the New Testament).  It means “to follow one who proceeds, to join him as an attendant.” That is, to do your leader’s bidding, to accompany him. 

I think that when Matthew sat down at his desk that day, right there in the tax collector’s booth, the publican’s booth as they’re called back then, he was just doing another day at work, in one sense. And in another sense, I would speculate that God’s already been working on his heart. He may have already heard Jesus preach. I don’t know. He may have already heard about some of the miracles. We’re right in the middle of these nine miracles in Chapter 8 and 9.  And here’s this conversion story. It’s as if Matthew, speaking about his own story is saying, ‘And the greatest miracle of all is that He called me, that He chose me. How amazing that He would choose me.’ Why? 

Well, because tax collectors—in this case, Levi, Matthew—was a Jewish person hired by the oppressive Roman empire to extract money from his own people (the Jewish people) and then to give that money to the Roman government that was oppressively ruling over top of the Jews.  Add to that, if he could actually charge more, he got to keep the difference so it’s like incentive!  The job description is incentive to extortion, to take advantage of your own people. So the fact that he, a Jewish person, is serving as a tax collector made him the vilest of sinners. We just sang that, didn’t we? Though vile as the worst, how in the world could Jesus want to stop and call Matthew on that day? Two words changed Matthew’s world: “Follow me.” It’s pretty amazing. 

I love the way the calling of Matthew was portrayed in the television series called “The Chosen.” Has anyone seen “The Chosen”? Raise your hand if you’ve seen “The Chosen.” So even if you haven’t seen it, and I don’t usually stand up here and recommend entertainment matters or shows or anything like that, but this scene is worth watching and I’ll tell you why. First of all, the television show is just brilliant for the way they portray him. He’s very smart, but he’s on the spectrum and he’s in the booth and he’s working there. He’s just great with numbers, and they want somebody who can do the job. And he’s standing there in the booth and he’s just doing his work that day. And Jesus and the disciples come walking by. Jesus is wearing a kind of worn out, old sweaty-looking robe.  And His disciples are kind of a ragtag band of people following, men and women both, and Mary Magdalene among them, out of whom Jesus casts seven demons. And so they come walking by a tax collector, who’s a Jewish person, of whom typically other Jews might come by and throw things at him.  I mean, they hated them.  So the fact that they come walking by and Jesus stops and then actually walks back, in this depiction of it, to where He can face Matthew square on. And He says these two words, “Follow me.” And there’s a Roman centurion standing there as well, or a Roman guard, maybe not a centurion. Matthew stops what he’s doing in this depiction. He thinks for (you can tell) just a minute and then replies to Jesus and says, ‘Who, me?’  And Jesus says to Matthew, ‘Yes, you.’  

The incredulous Peter interjects himself. You know, he can never keep his mouth shut. He’s just ‘Open mouth, switch feet’ all the time, right? Peter is incredulous and he says, ‘What are you doing?’ to Jesus.  ‘Don’t you know what kind of person that man is?’  And Jesus, with eyes still fixed on Matthew, says to Peter, ‘Yes, I know who he is, yeah.’  And then Peter says to Jesus, ‘I don’t get it!’  And Jesus says to Peter, ‘You didn’t get it when I called you, either.’ That’s just brilliant. Peter then says to Jesus, “This is different, he’s a tax collector!” And Jesus says to Peter, “Get used to different.” Get used to different. And that’s just all through this pericope we’re reading today. Get used to different. He doesn’t do things the way you or I think He ought to do everything. Jesus chooses those no one else would choose. And Jesus uses those no one else would use. 

All the while in that picture, if you happen to go watch it, watch Mary Magdalene. She’s just brilliant.  This is a person who, from the darkest of all darkness—demon-possessed—Jesus changes her life. And when Jesus says, ‘Get used to different,’ and ‘You didn’t get it when I called you, either,’ you just watch Mary Magdalene.  She’s just kind of smiling knowingly because she’s been there herself. It’s really powerful. 

Jesus summoned Matthew. He stood up, probably grabbed his pen and his journal on his way out the door. And later it’s likely that Jesus Himself changed Levi’s name to Matthew. And as he wrote later, this particular record, he continues to use his name Matthew.  Why? Because Levi was a tax collector, and he kept a record of what you and I owe. Matthew means “gift of God.” He kept a record of how God—Jesus—has paid the price in full for what you and I owe. It’s really powerful. What a difference can be made in a day when God calls and we respond in obedience. 

I’ve said it before and it bears repeating, God is always the initiator; we’re always the respondent. “Follow me” begins with Jesus, His call to us. (verse 9) This was a defining moment in Matthew’s life and now is for our lives as well. Matthew’s response was to leave behind what needed to be left behind in order to get up and to begin to follow Christ. Let’s take that lesson from just verse 9. And there are many more lessons from verse nine, but I don’t have time to pursue them all today. 

I used this quote by John Stott a couple of weeks ago, and I was a little hesitant to use it again, but I think it really applies to this particular situation. 

“Our Christian life began not with our decision to follow Christ, but with God’s call to us to do so. He took the initiative in His grace while we were still in rebellion and sin. In that state, we neither wanted to turn from sin to Christ nor were we able to, but He came to us and called us to freedom.” 

John Stott

And we see that in the way Jesus goes to where Matthew is to his everyday job and meets him there. Matthew was not looking for Jesus that day. That’s not what the text said. It doesn’t say, “And Matthew was on a search to discover God.”  No.  God reveals Himself.  And that’s why the Christian faith is so different from all other religions.  It’s not man’s search for God; it’s God searching for humanity that He can call His own, men and women, sons and daughters.  

So we don’t lose track of the fact that Jesus chooses those no one else would choose and uses those no one else would use. To borrow from Don Carson, 

“I am not a prophet. I’m not the son of a prophet, and I do work for a non-profit organization. But if you think Jesus may be calling you to follow Him, I’m going to go ahead and sound a little prophetic here and say, ‘He is calling you.’ If you think He is or might be, He is calling. If you even think that’s possible, yes, He is. Now the question is, how will you respond? 

Don Carson

Secondly, “Follow me” is a summons to sinners who realize they need grace and mercy. (verses 10-13) The question in verses 10 through 13, the question of the Pharisees is, ‘Why? Why are you eating with them? Those repugnant others.’  And I’ve said this before here at The Village Chapel. There is no repugnant other to Jesus, and there should not be for you or for me either when we follow Him. Who’s your repugnant other? It might be just on a global level. It might be on a national level. You might just think it’s people across the aisle politically. Let me tell you something. Matthew was across the aisle politically. Matthew was across the aisle financially. He was quite wealthy. It was a very plum job back in that day. Because again, he makes as much money as he can extort from his own people. And his only friends are tax collectors and sinners.  My guess is some of those categorized as sinners were prostitutes, so paid friends, and those are his only friends.  And those are the ones that come to the party that night, which is fascinating to me.  “Follow me” is a summons to sinners who realize they need grace and mercy. Jesus said, “I didn’t come to call the righteous. I came to call sinners.”  

So if you’re here this morning and you’re righteous, you don’t think you’re a sinner, you don’t need to come back next week. Matter of fact, you kind of bother me. Don’t come back next week. If you come here today and you are watching online or whatever, and you acknowledge that you’re a sinner, please come back next week because I’ll be here, too. And I don’t want to be alone, and I need you and you need me and we need each other as we come before the Lord to worship Him, to lift up the empty hands of faith and receive grace and mercy that He gives freely to sinners who realize they need grace and mercy. 

I love to imagine this dinner. I didn’t see this on the aforementioned TV show, but I love the idea of the dinner party at Matthew’s house. That it ties in so closely, right in the text here, just like it does in Mark and Luke with the calling of Matthew. It’s almost as if it was that night, you know? And it’s at least possible that this dinner happened either that night or maybe a couple nights later because there’s a lot of people that come so maybe word had to get out. But at this party we are told there were tax collectors and sinners here. Again, probably referring to non-practicing Jews, but they could have been persons of ill repute as well. The tax collectors would’ve been wealthy so lots of late model high-end chariots out in the driveway, which I think is cool. Probably some seminary valets out there. ‘Let me park you chariot for you.’ They take it out, you know, give them a ticket, whatever. A lot of scrabble students serving the food and the drinks and all that sort of thing just trying to earn a few extra shekels to pay their seminary bills!  

And if you can see these people coming through the door of the house all dressed up nice in their fancy robes to meet this curious little carpenter-turned-rabbi-turned-miracle-worker that everybody’s been talking about. ‘Oh, I hear Matthew’s got that guy, you know, the one that all the buzz is about, coming to his house.’ Some of them may be escorted by their mistresses, some of them escorted by their wives who had demanded to come along, hoping that Jesus would cure some of their problems or health problems or answer questions they had. They had heard that he’d healed a blind man with some mud and maybe they wanted to buy some of that. Maybe they’d set up a booth and sell some of that mud. Wouldn’t that be great? Matthew had likely sent word out to his fellow tax collectors and business associates that he had a new boss and he was leaving the profession so this was his farewell dinner. One of his guests might have arranged an engraved gold sundial for him to read, ‘Lev, we’re going to miss you.’ 

The guests arrive. They’re greeted by Levi sporting his new name badge, ‘Hello, my new name is Matthew.’ Shows them the way into the dining room. They all sit in front of the big bay window. Maybe Jesus’ disciples are sitting with their backs to the open window because the Pharisees are milling about, we’re told. They’re just outside the window and occasionally leaning in to get a good look at Jesus, find out what He’s up to and to hear what He says. When they see Jesus telling some stories, eating food together at the table, fellowshipping with those people, those repugnant others, it just lights them up.  And Jesus applies a little logic lesson here.  He’s come to eat with this group of people because it’s very simple to Him. They need a physician, and He has the kind of medicine they actually need. Those who are sick and know it are the only ones who are going to admit they need a doctor like Him. 

Jesus is the great physician, as we learn here from verses 10 through 13. That image that you’ve heard before probably comes from this passage. I know we have a lot of medical people here at The Village Chapel. We’re near a bunch of different hospitals and a medical school itself. I want to be sensitive when I say what I’m about to say, but quite honestly, I personally do not like going to the doctor. There’s often an interminable wait, the uncomfortable indignity of sitting on that cold aluminum table with little more than a napkin to cover yourself. And then the good doctor pokes and prods you in places you don’t usually like to be poked and prodded. And if you’ve ever had any kind of surgery like I have, you imagine that all kinds of things could go wrong. And that’s happened to me before. 

I went online, I found a little list of things you don’t want to hear as you drift into anesthesia. Just a couple of them.  And it sounds like reverb because you’re starting to go off into it, right?  So it’s in the distance but, “Nurse, did this patient sign the organ donation card?”  I don’t want to hear that. I’m not thinking that’s a good thing to hear. “You know, there’s big money in kidneys.”  That’s not something I want to hear. The doctor or the surgeon saying, “I wish I hadn’t forgotten my glasses.”  Or, “Mm, someone call the janitor. We’re going to need a mop.”  I don’t want to hear that.  And I really don’t want to hear, “Accept this sacrifice, O great Lord of darkness.”  Not interested in hearing that at all. 

I think it’s curious what Jesus didn’t say here.  If we’re talking about things we don’t want to hear, what did Jesus not say?  He didn’t say, “Follow your heart.” He didn’t say that. He didn’t say, “You know what, Matthew? You do you.”  He didn’t ask Matthew, “Matt, where would you like to go?” Jesus calls us to the submissive response of following Him. And we have so lost sight that in our country and our culture, maybe I should say it that way. Because in the West it just feels like we all think it’s about us. Let me make sure Jesus is on the little leash and I’m leading Him around and He does my bidding. It’s so inverted. It’s perverted. 

Jesus often surprises true disciples by doing stuff like this. But I think He confounds the merely religious people. You chose him? Peter is asking, ‘Do you know what you’re doing?’ You know, that kind of thing.  Jesus is constantly confounding. ‘Why don’t you fast?’ John’s disciples ask. And Jesus instead just says, “Follow me.” Which really means, go where He goes, see things the way He sees things, love and value what He loves and values. Give away what He gives away. Be gracious like He is gracious. And if you’re going to get mad at anything at all, get mad at self-righteousness in yourself because that’s a problem we have that Jesus didn’t have. And get mad at injustice in this world and work against it and weep over what He weeps. That’s what “Follow me” means. 

And the beautiful thing, again, is that He comes to a guy like Matthew who isn’t even there yet. He’s not looking for Jesus. He’s still sitting there pulling money in as Jesus goes to where he is and calls him to follow Him. That’s because Jesus is just doing so many things inside out and upside down. Dane Ortlund (in Surprised By Jesus) says, 

“In the kingdom of God, the one thing that qualifies you is knowing that you don’t qualify, and the one thing that disqualifies you is thinking you do.” 

Dane Ortlund, Surprised By Jesus

I mean, let that sink in, you know?  That’s it. You think you qualify? You think God owes you something? No, that’s why we often pray around here. Lord, thank You for coming to save us. You didn’t have to. You didn’t owe it to us. And then in our prayer lives, we don’t go to God saying, “I expect You to do this,” or, “You’ve disappointed me.”  We don’t give Him a tongue-lashing because He didn’t do it the way we wanted Him to.  Prayer is us placing ourselves before Him so that the first thing He changes is us.  And then sometimes He changes our circumstances. That’s right, sometimes the answer to our request is “yes.” Sometimes it’s “no,” sometimes it’s “wait.” But in all cases, we recognize that He knows what we don’t know, and He can take us where we might not want to go, but where He can do some pretty amazing things to bring glory to Himself and for our highest good. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but He loved us, sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

Some of you go, “Okay, that’s great, but what in the world is ‘propitiation’?”  It’s Jesus satisfying the wrath of God on the cross. That is, God takes sins seriously. Jesus takes sin seriously. And the wrath of God is meted out on the sin of the world because it’s all on Jesus at that moment.  God isn’t just sweeping our sin under the rug or just turning away from it, acting as if it didn’t happen. No, He actually is taking it quite seriously. In His death on the cross, Jesus is taking my sin that seriously. And that’s one of the reasons when I know how amazing that is and how serious He was about sin, I can be serious about it too, and be very serious about receiving His grace and mercy too. And really know with seriousness, with a great sincerity that I’ve actually been forgiven.  Why?  Because God took my sin seriously and He seriously paid the price for my sin. 

And then I go, “Oh, so I don’t have to wrestle with whether or not my repentance is effective or not.” I already know the response to my repentance from the Bible. God is so delighted when I repent; Jesus is just thrilled when I turn to Him and confess my sins. God demonstrates His own love toward us while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)  That’s not, God demonstrates His own love toward us in that, when we got our act together, Christ died. No, you’re Matthew sitting in the booth and so am I. You’re not even looking for Him. You’re still stealing right now. You just stole a minute ago in some way, you know? And yet He comes for me and He comes for you. 

Even when we’re confused about the religious practice of fasting, like John’s disciples, He’s still coming for us. That’s awesome. And I’ll even go further in that middle group. Even when we’re belligerently opposed to Him and working against Him, He died on the cross not only for Matthew, not only for John’s disciples, but He died on the cross for those Pharisees.  And some of them, and we don’t know exactly when it happens, but Joseph of Arimathea is on the council, the Sanhedrin. And he turns at some point. I don’t know when that happened.  Nicodemus turns at some point.  I don’t know how that’s all paced into the story. All I know is that some of these guys are on their way and they don’t even know it. 

Is that you? Maybe you’re on your way and you don’t even know it. I hope that’s the case that the Lord is moving amongst us in that way. The call to follow Jesus begins with Jesus. And this call is for those who realize they need grace and mercy. Is that you? Is that you?  God’s guest list includes all kinds of sinners—even the vilest of sinners. And it’s an invitation to a complete renovation of the heart to the outcast, to the outsider, to all of those who know they don’t qualify, you are on God’s guest list. 

Will you come to Him?  Jesus was saying what we all intuitively know: that we need fewer moral policemen out there and more gospel paramedics. We look at the Pharisees and we think, “Ugh! you know, because they’re all self-righteous religious leaders. And we all detest that in some ways.  And Jesus is essentially saying to them and to John’s disciples, ‘It’s not about you performing religiously. It’s not about how well you do.’ It’s about what Christ has done. And that’s why we want to come to Him. It’s a whole new kind of wine. It’s a whole different garment. It’s a beautiful thing. “Follow me” begins with Jesus. “Follow me” is for sinners who know they need His grace. 

And thirdly, finally, “Follow me” is the call to a joy-filled life of feasting in the presence of Jesus! (verses 14-17)  It’s John the Baptist’s followers. You know, they’re not quite feasting just yet. They’re still fasting. And they’re still trying to earn a little bit. There was a day—one day—prescribed in the entire Jewish year that the people were called to fast, the Day of Atonement. But the religious leadership of the ancient Jewish people, they had added all these kinds of rules and regulations and called for fasting way more frequently than the Old Testament actually calls for it. 

So Jesus’ “Follow me” is not a call to some religious rule-following. It’s not a call to some kind of robotic, mechanical religious practice. He isn’t calling you to become sour and dour, some kind of church curmudgeon. No, Jesus has come to turn your mourning into dancing. And it’s like going to a wedding in a new garment and drinking some of the best wine He could find. 

Follow me” is a divine call, but it does demand a response. Matthew heard the call, stood up, grabbed his pen and paper, left everything else behind. We no longer have the physical presence of Jesus with us, but we can still follow Jesus by living in union with Christ, seeing what He sees, caring about what He cares about, working toward what He would work for. Not switching it up, not inverting at all, but actually allowing the Christ life to flow through us. 

I’ll close with this quote from John Newton (The Works of John Newton): 

“For if our physician is almighty, our disease cannot be desperate. If He casts none out that come to Him, why should you fear? Our sins are many but His mercies are more. Our sins are great, but His righteousness is greater. It’s like a new garment you put on. We are weak, but He is power. Most of our complaints are owing to unbelief and the remainder of a legal spirit. 

John Newton, The Works of John Newton

Let’s pray. 

Lord, I do pray for myself and for my friends here. This is the Gospel. This is the Good News that it isn’t up to us. It’s not about what we do. It’s about what You’ve done. And we simply lift up the empty hands of faith and trust You, place our hope in You, turn to You in repentance. You’ve even given us the faith to do that. As Luke’s account says, this following You involves repentance. It involves turning away from our old ways and turning toward You to follow You. Lord, some of us have followed at a great distance right now. Lord, as we turn to You, I pray that You would help make up that distance for us, Lord, that You would draw us close to Yourself. May our proximity be set right that we might see Jesus, that we might see Him so closely, follow Him so closely that our lives begin to look just like His, our actions, our deeds, our words, the things we care about, the things we rejoice in would all look exactly like what Jesus rejoices in. I pray this in His precious and beautiful name. Amen and amen.

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