Miracle of a Transformed Life

9As 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. 10While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with Him and His disciples. 11When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?"

12On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Here Matthew relates his own call into service by Jesus: "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" (vs. 9). Interestingly, Matthew places this episode within a section of his book in which he is recounting various miracles of Jesus. Matthew surely realized that the transformation of his own life from a tax collector to a follower of Jesus was miraculous. "It is surprising that Jesus should call a tax-collector, but even more so that that man should be ready so promptly to leave a business so lucrative" [Thomas, 125]

In that culture, tax collectors were normally very prosperous. They would bid to the Roman government for the right to collect taxes and tolls. Then, having paid the government for this right, they were free to collect as much as they could in order to make a profit. Their actions to extract every penny they could on taxes and tolls made them very much hated. Certainly, the hatred they faced must have, in turn, engendered much hatred within them. Yet, through Jesus’ transforming power, Matthew became a man of love. Brothers and sisters, do not give up praying for your unsaved friends and relatives. The Lord can soften the hardest of hearts, transform the most corrupt of lives.

It appears that Matthew worked near the seaside (see Mark 2:13–14). He very likely sat in a booth and collected taxes for the transit of persons and goods across the lake, and received tolls on the fishing and trade of the lake. "We can account for his immediately leaving all and following Jesus by the reasonable supposition that at the place of toll by the lakeside he had often seen and heard Jesus, and had gradually become prepared in mind to obey such a call" [Broadus, 198]. Matthew gave up much in worldly terms to follow Jesus—much more than the other disciples. The fishermen could go back to their professions, should things not work out, but a tax collector could not return to his profession, as his contract with the government would have been awarded to someone else. And then, who would want to employ a former tax collector?

Some time later, "while Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ came and ate with Him and His disciples" (vs. 10). Those who are hated in society tend to flock together, and so, Matthew’s friends were tax collectors and others who were named as "sinners" by that society. When Matthew became a follower of Jesus, he did not shun his unsaved friends. Rather, he invited them over when Jesus was there, most certainly hoping that they would also become followers of Jesus.

Rather than seeing the good that could come from Jesus’ influence on the "sinners", the Pharisees disparaged Jesus for socializing with the "sinners": "When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and "sinners"?’" (vs. 11). Note that the Pharisees didn’t go directly to Jesus with their question. They asked the disciples. Were they afraid to ask Jesus directly? Or did they want to sow seeds of doubt concerning Jesus in the minds of the disciples?

Their question, of course, was rhetorical. The Pharisees were, in effect, saying, "No true man of God would associate with such sinners." In saying this, the Pharisees were greatly misunderstanding the purpose of the ministry of the Messiah, which was to save sinners. This ministry of the Messiah was prophesied (among other places) in the book of Isaiah: "I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I’" (Isa. 65:1). "In their proud blindness [the Pharisees] fancied that a teacher sent from heaven ought to have no dealings with such people. They were wholly ignorant of the grand design for which the Messiah was to come into the world, to be a Saviour, a Physician, a healer of sin-sick souls" [Ryle, 85]. The Pharisees were also greatly misunderstanding their own standing before God: they didn’t realize that they themselves were sinners, greatly in need of salvation through Jesus. Instead, the Pharisees maintained a "holier-than-thou" attitude that is greatly displeasing to God. The Lord, through Isaiah, described His feelings toward those who are "holier-than-thou": "I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts; a people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; …which say, ‘Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou.’ These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day" (Isa. 65:2,3,5, AV).

Jesus, hearing the Pharisees’ question, though it was directed to the disciples, answered it succinctly and powerfully: "On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’" (vss. 12–13). Jesus’ reply consisted of three parts: an argument from analogy; an appeal from Scripture; a declaration of His mission. First, His analogy: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick." When Jesus healed those who were physically sick, no one had any problem. But when He sought to heal those who were spiritually sick, the Pharisees found fault. Recall the three aspects of Jesus’ ministry, as summarized by Matthew: "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people" (Matt. 4:23). Just as Jesus’ healing power would have been wasted upon the physically healthy, so also, His teaching and preaching skills would have been wasted on those who were spiritually healthy. We also would do well to remember this: it is not those who have it together spiritually who need Jesus, but those who are lost in sin, spiritually sick. "Here is a lesson needed in every age, for we are too apt to hold ourselves aloof from the vile and disreputable, when kind and patient efforts might win some of them to better things" [Broadus, 200].

Second, Jesus appealed from Scripture: "But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’" It must have been quite shocking to hear Jesus tell the respected teachers of the Law to "go and learn". Jesus was in effect pointing out to them that their knowledge of the Holy Scriptures—which was the basis of their supposed ‘righteousness’—was lacking. The Pharisees needed to learn that the ritualistic portions of the law—the sacrifices, etc.—were worthless if one did not practice mercy. "The mere externals of religion are offensive to God, where its spirit and life are absent" [Broadus, 200]. "If sacrifice is emphasized at the expense of mercy, it loses its spiritual value, and becomes an act of hypocrisy" [Thomas, 126].

Third, Jesus declared His mission: "For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." This statement was surprising to the Pharisees. Presently, they expected the Messiah, I suppose, to come and pick out the righteous, beginning with themselves, and lead them into the throne room to rule the earth with Him. Jesus had a more important work to do, however. By the Lord’s great mercy and grace, He came first to call sinners to Him, so that they may be imputed with His righteous. You see, at that time, there were none who were truly righteous. Some could be temporarily righteous, by performing the prescribed sacrifices of atonement for their sins. But as soon as they sinned again, they were no longer righteous. The problem with the Pharisees was that they did not know that they were not righteous. They were self-righteous, but not righteous in God’s eyes. Their self-righteousness was keeping them from the kingdom of heaven. How true are the Lord’s words: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3).

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