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Grace and Power

Matthew 9:9-17

Lesson audio

“He ate with sinners so that you may know His grace and power”[1]

This section relates the call of Matthew. In accordance with the modesty of writing of the time, Matthew gives us little detail about himself. In this account it is not even clear that Matthew is the one holding the reception for Jesus; the writers Mark and Luke give us more detail. One thing Matthew does not withhold – his occupation. It is comforting to note that a man who was a tax collector – for the invading, conquering Romans – can go from such a despised life to being an apostle of Christ. Indeed, of the twelve, we know the call of only five (the others being the fishermen Andrew, Peter, James and John). In each instance the occupation was at the bottom of the social ladder.

But when such a man as Matthew is saved, what is his reaction? He throws a party! It is no somber event; Matthew celebrates it by giving a banquet – and inviting all his low life friends, too. It’s a lesson for us: the angels rejoice when a sinner comes home.

As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector's booth; and He *said to him, "Follow Me!" And he got up and followed Him. Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, "Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?" But when Jesus heard this, He said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. "But go and learn what this means: 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

(Mat 9:9-13 NASB)

The Call

Christ moves on

After the healing described in Matthew 9:1-8, Christ does not stay in that place – but rather moves on. Why? Why is this man always without a place to lay His head?

  • First, he’s made his point – the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins.
  • A second reason is this: He does not want to provoke the Pharisees; rather He gives them time to think. He came to seek and save the lost. Even those lost in hypocrisy.[2]
  • And, He has a little recruiting to do. Matthew no doubt was familiar with the reputation of Jesus; perhaps even made himself noticed by Jesus. No matter; the Son of Man has chosen him; he can accept both forgiveness and call, or reject. Christ’s terms; not his own.
The call of Christ

May we examine the call of Christ and Matthew’s reaction? Learning from them what we can?

  • The call is simple and direct. Simple enough to appeal to the smallest of minds; its directness comes from the power of Christ Himself, and therefore beyond true comprehension by the greatest of minds.
  • The call rescues the sinner. Matthew’s employers will certainly not like this; indeed, this move may have been with some danger in it. The sinner cuts the past life off; Christ calls him to move forward in the kingdom.
  • The call requires courage – especially on the part of those who are called to a specific role.
  • The call is cause for celebration.

Celebration? Indeed. But remember the younger brother in this.


Many have noted how God’s timing is perfect – even if we don’t see it. Matthew would not have responded with the fishermen; it was too early in His ministry for this. But now that Matthew has seen and heard the grace and power of the Christ, he’s ready.

It’s a curious thing. “Levi” means adhesion, or clinging to something. “Matthew” means “given” or “a reward.” The one who used to be stuck in the tax collectors tent is now both giver (in his Gospel) and gift receiver. The transformation happens quickly, for the power of Christ is great.

Mercy, not sacrifice

Jesus eats with sinners

A story is told from the American Civil War. A sergeant in the Union Army lived in a boardinghouse. As was the custom of the time, everyone in the boarding house ate at the same, large table each night. One night the sergeant was surprised to see that the boarding house had taken in six new guests – all of them generals. After the military formalities, one of the generals remarked to the sergeant, “You don’t often get an opportunity to dine with generals, do you, sergeant?”

“No sir. Before the war I was particular about who I ate with; now, I’m obliged to eat with just about anybody.”

The church has had a conflict from its very founding. We are told to make disciples, with no qualification other than that they are sinners.[3] That says we should not at all be “particular” – because there’s a war on. That’s evangelism. But we are also to nurture the Christian; as part of this process the Christian grows away from worldly things. We are not to associate with a “brother” who refuses to repent. The net result is an organization which will go anywhere, no matter how vile, to preach the good news. And yet wants to be a collection of virtuous souls, too. Are we the hospital of sinners or the health club of saints? Worse, why do we want to choose between the two?

You mean we can do both? Sure. But there is one thing that needs be recognized to do this: all of us are sinners. We may be sinners who can help rescue others; we may be the rescued – but we all need rescuing. The church is both, you see; but only sinners would recognize that.

The Pharisee’s complain

It is interesting to note that the Pharisees direct their questioning to the disciples, though clearly the question is aimed at Christ.[4] It’s a back door approach. The intent is to use the pressure of social gracefulness (don’t answer what you weren’t asked) to keep Christ silent and attack His disciples. There are two reasons for this:

  • First, the Pharisees have learned by now that it’s not easy to spar with Jesus of Nazareth.
  • Second, they hope to separate His disciples from Him.
Go and learn

Christ’s reply is short and to the point.

  • He tells them to go. If you’re not comfortable in the house of this tax collector, then leave. You have better things to do anyway.
  • Better things? Yes, like “learn.” To learn is to change, preferably for the better. When commanded, it is required. Change is difficult – especially when you think you know it all.
  • Note, please, just how pragmatic Christ’s response is. He gives them a simple illustration (the doctor) which is easy to understand but yet makes the point clearly. He then follows it by a command – taken from the Old Testament about which they were supposed to be such experts.[5]

Good teaching, followed by command. There comes a time when the debate must stop and the action must begin. A pure heart produces acceptable sacrifice.

John’s disciples

Then the disciples of John *came to Him, asking, "Why do we and the Pharisees 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? 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 people 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."

(Mat 9:14-17 NASB)

The person and power of Jesus

There is an extraordinary nature to this. Look at it from the point of view which asks, “Just who is this Jesus?”

  • His mere presence sets aside the regulations given in the Law of Moses. Therefore one greater than Moses must be here – and Moses was indeed great in God’s kingdom.
  • His presence alone is a cause for rejoicing! The mere fact that He is physically present is reason for a party.

Indeed, note that the disciples of John ask why the disciples of Christ do not fast – and Christ replies by telling why they cannot mourn. To be fasting in His presence is indeed mourning; He came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.

Teaching technique

May we take a moment to see Jesus teaching technique?

  • He begins with a couple of homey metaphors – things that everyone of that day would quickly understand. It may be deep, it may be profound, but Christ puts it into a word picture that is easy to understand.
  • May we point out that He used two such metaphors? Repetition has its place in learning.

This is part of the condescension (in the good sense) of Christ. Despite Who He is, He still knows our weaknesses and leans down from the heights of heaven to reach those of us on sinful Earth.

Old and New

Now, it is clear that the new covenant is greatly superior to the old one. Gone are the animal sacrifices and rituals. But it is still true that the old wineskin holds some good wine, and so we treasure the Old Testament as well, for it is full of wisdom for us. The old and the new meet each other and kiss.

The day is coming, however, when we shall see this metaphor of marriage before our eyes. The wedding of the Lamb of God[6] is coming; soon, Lord, soon.

Take home

  • Christ came to die for all sinners, including the lowlifes of this world.
  • He has commanded the church to call the lost and make disciples – with no limitations on who.
  • Sometimes, our own righteousness stands as a barrier to this; especially when we take great pride in it.

[1] Rabanus, AD 776-856, Bishop of Mayence (Mainz), noted also as a hymn writer.

[2] See the parallels to the woman taken in adultery, John 8.

[3] Some of us are exceedingly well qualified in this. Like me.

[4] Luke’s account makes this clear, in comparison.

[5] The parallel with the “Jesus Seminar” folks is rather disturbing.

[6] Revelation 19:5-9

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