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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Call of Matthew

Matthew 9:9-17, Mark 2:13-22, Luke 5:27-29

Lesson audio

Preceding Miracles

In this short section of Scripture we omit several miracles which Jesus has performed. He has gone from place to place, healing and preaching the kingdom of God.

This explains why the call of Matthew is so abrupt; we tend to see it as an isolated event; but Christ’s fame in the area would have reached even the tax collector’s ears. So when Christ comes to Matthew, the appeal is short and sweet.

In a sense, however, it is a miracle of its own right. The men called by Jesus up to this point have been sturdy and honest men, working in the open air to make their living honestly. Matthew is a tax collector; like Zaccheus later, he has some repentance to do. Christ has rescued him from a life of greed – as powerful a sin as any that fostered a twelve step program. The price Christ paid for this at the Cross makes it an expensive rescue. “Christ died for sinners, of whom I am chief.”[1]

Attack of the Pharisees

Before we actually come to the Scripture, we might see that the Pharisees – who have also seen this string of miracles – do not attack Jesus directly. Their case rests not on the will of God but the perception of the common man. They intend to split off some of the disciples. Without ceremony, Christ answers the attack. It is a lesson to us – seek the truth in the Scriptures, depend upon the Holy Spirit and see if our Lord will not defend us.

Matthew names himself

There is an unusual literary event here: Matthew mentions his own name. In the custom of the time this would have been considered unseemly.[2] Matthew does it so that we might see him as he was: a tax collector for the invading Romans, a man universally despised. He does not hide his sins, but brings them out so that we may see that even the worst of sinners is not beyond redemption.

There is more to it than that. Here is a man who is accustomed to handling money, but we do not see him ever portrayed as handling the money for the disciples. It is possible to be drunk on money; do not tempt those known to have the problem.

Let us therefore see what has occurred.

Debate: Hospital or Health Club

Mat 9:9-13 NIV As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (10) While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. (11) When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" (12) On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. (13) But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'[1] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Within the church we have a conflict: what is the mission of the church? People see two views:

  • First there is the idea that the church is a hospital for sinners. Her primary purpose is to seek and save the lost. No questions about whether or not someone is “worthy enough” should ever arise. The fact that it is full of sinners is a cause for rejoicing; we need not worry about our image to the world.
  • The other idea, however, is that the church exists to build up the saints. It should be conducting training classes (like this one), and generally preparing the saints for life in the world but not of the world. Our appearance to the world is extremely important – for they are ever alert for hypocrisy. Sometimes my sin is seen as hypocrisy; “if you really believed you would …”

We shall see what each view has to recommend itself.


Briefly put this position says that everyone is a sinner – and knows it. That last is the important distinction; we preach repentance to those who know they are, and being born again to those who are sure they aren’t sinners. This concerns the sinner side, to whom we say:

  • Despite what you’ve done, Christ is not ashamed to call you home to the family of God.[3] He died for your sins; He loves you and wants to heal you.
  • The great example of this is the Apostle Paul[4] – who persecuted the church, even to the point of death. Christ called him – and you’re certainly no worse.
  • Importantly, the hospital church makes no distinction between the worthy and unworthy members.[5] She does not segregate her people, but welcomes all.

In short, the church says, “Repent.”

The Health Club

The health club approach is rather opposite. The members are often those raised in the church; they do not consider themselves sinners in the same sense that hospital Christians do. They generally believe that they have done all required.

It is not that they are legalists. If you asked them what they thought the Old Testament Law required, they would tell you “perfection.” They understand that no one can be saved that way. But they might point out:

  • They are to be perfect.[6] They know that’s impossible. So they must constantly seek forgiveness for failure to be perfect – to be a complete imitation of Christ. So it does appear that they say one thing and practice another. If you’re not on the inside, this is hard to understand as anything but hypocrisy.
  • They are also commanded to do their good deeds in secret.[7] As a result, they again look like hypocrites for hiding the good things they do.[8]

As they care for the reputation of the church – which is greatly connected with evangelism – they are reluctant to deal with sin in public. The world therefore sees them like the athletes at the local health club. On display through one-way mirror glass, showing the world how trim and vigorous they are. The world sees this and reads it as “fat slobs need not apply.” If you’re not in shape, don’t come to our health club. You’d embarrass us.

The resolution

How, then, are these pictures of the church to be reconciled? Only in Christ. It is in His person that we are one. He alone has the power to weld the church together – by methods that vary from age to age. But He does tell us to be both health club and hospital:

Mat 28:18-20 NIV Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (19) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[1] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

We are to go and make disciples – and then teach them. There is room for both health club and hospital in the church – if we will only do as He commands.

A question of fasting

You might well ask how this union is going to come about. I answer: “In the person and power of Jesus Christ.” See in this section just such a problem.

The disciples of John have been taught to fast; Jesus disciples do not fast (yet). Why?

Mat 9:14-17 NIV Then John's disciples came and asked him, "How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" (15) Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. (16) "No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. (17) Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."

John is the preacher of repentance. His disciples fast; it is a way of showing true repentance (among other things). It is something that is not required by the Law of Moses, but was commonly done as a spiritual preparation. So you can see the dilemma that the disciples of John have. On the one hand, their teacher tells them to fast. But on the other, the man whom John has identified as the Messiah does not fast. What gives?

In a real sense, John’s doctrine is last and greatest under the Old Testament. The question is a powerful one, and I suspect they leaned forward to here the answer.

New wine

Christ gives us a metaphor which deals with the health club and hospital problem while at the same time dealing with the immediateness of the question. We must note:

  • Christ has the personal authority to forgive sin. That’s new.
  • Such “newness” must be handled carefully. As it supersedes the Law, it cannot be contained in the old legal form. It must be given a new form.
  • That form is the church.

What does this mean? Those under the Law at this time are very much “health club.” Christ is telling them that a new form is coming, one which will include the “righteous” and the “sinners.” Only the power of God could do that.

Two views

Two metaphors are given to us here to portray Christ.

  • He is portrayed as the great Physician – seeking the lost as one would go to the sick. The Physician sees the world as full of sick people who need Him. He is the Lord of the hospital church.
  • He is portrayed here as the Bridegroom – the one who presents to Himself the church as His spotless bride. His bride is the church of the health club.

Ultimately, these views are just that: views. They are vantage points from which the Bride of Christ can be seen – hospital for the sinner and health club for the saint.


[1] Paraphrase of 1st Timothy 1:15

[2] See Mark 14:51-52 for a counter example to this.

[3] Hebrews 12:2

[4] 1st Corinthians 15:9

[5] See James 2:1-5

[6] Matthew 5:48

[7] Matthew 6:1-4

[8] But see Matthew 5:15-16 as well.

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