JESUS SINNERS DOTH RECEIVE
But when Jesus heard it He said to them: The healthy do not need a physician, but those who are sick, do. Go and learn what this means!" I desire mercy and not sacrifice, for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.. Matthew 9:12-13
TODAY the church remembers St. Matthew whose titles include: Tax Collector, Disciple, Apostle, Evangelist, and Saint, but in commemorating Matthew we are in fact remembering Jesus who found him, called him and cleansed him from his sins, thus rendering him a saint. Jesus has done the same for you!
The first thing we should consider today is who this man was. The verses we read as our text come from Matthew's own gospel. They are a short but trustworthy autobiography of the sinner made saint by Jesus. In verse nine we read these words, "Jesus saw a man sitting at the tax office, named Matthew." Here we gain two vital pieces of information about the man. First his occupation, that he was a tax collector. That in itself is no sin. Please be certain that Christians are free to labor in government service, or in any other vocation, as long as they do so with integrity, but in Matthew's day tax collectors were sleazy and despised. First, because they were Jews collecting taxes from God's people that went to support the un-holy Roman Empire. This enraged many zealous Jews, but second and equally as disturbing was the fact that tax collectors had the power to levy arbitrary fees above and beyond the taxes they had to remit to Rome. This made them powerful and greedy men; men who served mammon instead of God, their own desires, instead of their neighbor. Matthew was such a person, a man who needed to repent, so that he might gain heavenly treasures instead.
We then learn his name in verse nine, Matthew, which in Aramaic means "Gift of God." Matthew was this, too; God's gift to the church. When Jesus first laid eyes on him He knew that this would be the man the Spirit would charge with writing this indispensable and possibly first of the four gospels. One of the features of the new Christ Lutheran Church will be the return of St. Matthew's statue that adorned our former chancel, representing the Lord's true humanity, even as will St. John's which represents his true divinity.
Matthew's call was also remarkable. Jesus saw him sitting in the tax office and said to him, "follow me," and Matthew did exactly that. Without the slightest hesitation he left everything he knew behind and instantly became a disciple of Jesus.
We should all remember today the explanation to the third article from the catechism which says, "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith..." This reminds us that Matthew did not find Jesus, Jesus found Matthew. The same is true of you. You did not find Jesus, but Jesus found you. He found you, called you to be His own, and washed you with the blood of His cross, in the water at the font. Neither did he wish you a happy life and leave you there to fend for yourself. Instead He brought you into the church where He dines with you at His holy altar and where by the preaching and teaching of God's inspired word, He causes you to grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ so that He who began a good work in you, who gave you the gift of faith and the mind of Christ, might bring it to completion on the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ. That will be the best day of all!
As the Lord called Matthew to be a disciple, which means "student," even so He calls you, not only to worship at His altar, which is the highest of all Christian privileges and duties, but also to engage in learning all that you possibly can about your holy Christian faith, it's history and practices, doctrines and dogmas, art and architecture, its music, its morals and its ethics. If you are not growing in the grace and knowledge of your Lord Jesus Christ as St. Matthew did, then you are a lukewarm disciple, like the Christians in Laodicea whom the Lord threatened to spit out of His mouth because they were neither hot nor cold, but may we never be lukewarm. Let us rather be as quick as St. Matthew to answer the Spirit's call to repentance because even as disciples we are wounded by sin each day. As wounds and medicine are to the body, so sins and repentance are to the soul, so let us not despair, however overwhelming our sins might be, because there is no sin that does not retreat before the power of Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross.
Lest we should succumb to self-righteousness, let us remember that Jesus did not come to our world to redeem the righteous, but only to save sinners. If you think that you are pretty good, not so bad, or even in a tiny way better than other people against whom you might choose to measure yourself, then Jesus has no business with you, none at all, but only with sinners who desire mercy each day.
We are those sinners and it is for our sake that the Spirit called St. Matthew to be an evangelist, to be the writer of this enduring gospel by which we gain faith and confidence in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by which we obtain spiritual strength to turn from the love of uncertain riches and to single-mindedly follow Jesus in the path of poverty, service, death and resurrection. May we be such disciples. Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras