St. Matthew the Evangelist (Matt. 9:9-13)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Feast of St. Matthew (observed) + September 22, 2019

Text: St. Matthew 9:9-13

Jesus says, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  The Lord said this about Matthew, the Apostle and Evangelist.  Really it’s one of the main themes of the Gospel that Matthew wrote.  From the very opening verses, it’s a Gospel for sinners—law-breakers like Tamar, prostitutes like Rahab, outcasts like Ruth, adulterers like David and Bathsheba (1:1-17).  Jesus receives John’s baptism for sinners in the Jordan (3:13-17).  He invites good and bad alike to eat with Him (22:1-14).  He goes up to Jerusalem not to be hailed and adored, but to suffer at the hands of evil men and give His life as ransom (16:21, 20:28).  At the end of the Gospel, before He ascends to the Father, He commands that all nations be made disciples, being baptized into Him and being taught His Word that saves sinners (28:16-20).

And all along the way, we think God must have it wrong.  John the Baptizer said, “I need to be baptized by you and do you come to me?”[1]  The Pharisees said, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?”[2]  Peter said, “[Suffer and be killed?] Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!”[3]  There must be some mistake with the Christ, the Son of the living God!

Everyone expects God to call the righteous and to keep company with the good people.  Businesses open close to their clientele.  There’s a reason all the pawn shops spring up by Walmart.  So also, if you were in 1st century Jerusalem, looking for the Messiah, you would think to watch for Him in the Temple or with the most devout Jews.  That’s where any self-respecting Messiah would spend time.

But the Messiah says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”[4]  So Jesus should keep company with those who have never used the Lord’s name as a curse, who have never despised God’s Word and worship, who haven’t angered their parents and civil authorities, who have never had a hateful or unchaste thought, and so forth.

And Jesus would be entirely alone: “There is none who is righteous, no not one.”[5]

Jesus wasn’t born for godly people.  His very Name says it all, “He saves His people from their sins.”[6]  If He had wanted to avoid the ungodly, He would have stayed in heaven like the god of Islam.  But He didn’t.  He came to the very creation filled with sin, and to the very sinners who fill it.  The surprise of God’s Messiah is that He walks right into the tax collector’s booth and says to Matthew, “Follow me.”

But what about the Law?  We know our unholiness and what we deserve from God. “My punishment is more than I can bear,” cried Cain the murderer.  “Woe is me! For I am lost,” cried Isaiah before God’s throne.  “Our hope is lost,”[7] cried the sons of Israel.  And this is all the devil wants us to believe.  There couldn’t be hope for someone as miserable as you.  You’ve gone too far down, wandered to far from the fold.  You’ve messed up one too many times for Jesus.  You’re not good enough to come to church—maybe a biker church, but not a formal one.

But the true Jesus, the real Messiah, “preaches peace to you who are far off and peace to those who are near.”[8]  It is impossible to be too bad for Jesus.  He “came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  He came to call sinners, no matter how guilty, depraved, wretched, and naked.  No matter how long you’ve denied Him, what you’ve done years ago or this morning, Jesus is your Savior.

The problem isn’t being too sinful to have a Savior, but rather of thinking you’re good enough.  Jesus also says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”  The question for each of us is, when have we thought ourselves healthy enough to get by without Jesus?

Nobody goes to the doctor if they’re feeling fine.  We’re practical and busy people, and if there aren’t any symptoms, then why be bothered?  This is so much the case that some insurance companies use incentives to convince people to have preventive checks.  But if we’re feeling fine, there must be no problem, right?  Enough of us have had experiences that have showed that can be a false sense of security.

So also with our spiritual health.  Everything seems alright from our viewpoint.  Sure, I’m a Christian because I was baptized and confirmed.  I’m a member of that church…or I was one time.  But then our Lord, the Great Physician, starts asking diagnostic questions:

Have you loved everyone with whom you’ve crossed paths, always honoring, protecting, and doing everything you can to build them up? (4th-10th commandments)

Do you love God’s Word and are grieved to miss church? (3rd)

Do you always tell the truth, letting your yes be yes and your no be no?[9] (2nd)

Have you feared or loved in something on earth as if it were a god? (1st)

As you sit in the exam chair of the pew, things aren’t as fine as you think.  Then He orders lab results.  The results of that are even bleaker: “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth”…“God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all fallen away.”… “You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”[10]  We may not have the symptoms of someone who is terminally ill, but the test results are there in black and white.  Truly we are all sick to the point of death.

               But what treatment is there for such ill patients?  Some will try home remedies.  After all, it’s so much hassle to go to church and the people can be overwhelming.  The pastor might say something that hits too close to home.  Better just to stay at home and watch a church service on TV, or read the Bible in the privacy of your own home.  If you have a question about something, just ask an Internet forum and there’s sure to be an answer that makes sense to you.

               Another option is to get a second opinion.  Take your illness to another pastor and church and see if they give you a different answer.  Maybe you’ll find one that silences your guilty conscience and lets you live the life you want.  Even better, you could find a church where nobody knows you, and  you can fly under the radar.

               But if neither of those options sounds good, you can always just ignore the diagnosis until really bad symptoms manifest.  The Great Physician hasn’t given you a prognosis on how long you’ll live, but wouldn’t it be better to live out your days enjoying the time you have left?  Check off your bucket list!

               There is only one Physician who can treat and heal this sin-sickness.  If you recognize your terminal condition, He is always ready to heal.  Here’s what the treatment will be like: You may see some immediate results, but don’t be discouraged if you can’t see them.  There are no side effects from the medicine, but your disease will definitely respond adversely to it—like the raised bumps on your arm after a TB vaccination, only worse.  In the pamphlet called the Book of Romans, St. Paul teaches us what signs to watch for: “For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.” (Rom. 7:7-8)

               The medicine that Jesus gives to sin-sick people is His Word. “He sent out His Word and healed them,” says Psalm 107[:20], “and delivered them from their destruction.”  His Word kills and brings to life because its active ingredient is the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, is in that Word to raise sinners up from spiritual (and one Day also bodily) death.

               What’s more, the Great Physician has more than one way to administer this saving Word.  He applies it with water: “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  With water and the Word He washes our hearts and gives us a good conscience before God.[11]  He gives us the Holy Spirit to confirm and strengthen us in faith.  It is vital for everyone who desires salvation to receive the medicine in Baptism—“for the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.”[12]

               The Lord also applies His Word in Confession and Absolution.  He puts His Word on His people’s lips with the amazing reality: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”[13]

He also gives His medicine in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.  He “earnestly desires” to share His Body and Blood with us,[14] because of how He heals and strengthens us.  Taking bread, “…he gave it to them saying, ‘This is my Body, which is given for you.’”[15]  Taking a cup, “he gave it to them saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is sacrificially poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’”[16]

               And in this congregation, we have the profound opportunity to receive these treatments weekly—well not the last one, but if anyone wants to help out on altar guild, we can look at that.

               It is a mysterious treatment that our divine Physician gives because it doesn’t work a full cure until the resurrection on the Last Day.  You may see improvements in symptoms here and there, but you will still see yourself moving toward the grave.  Fear not and don’t stop His treatment.  His Word is effective, for by it the heavens were created.  And, as St. Paul writes in Romans 8, “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies.”[17]

               Fellow sinners, you are all beloved by God.  He came down from heaven with you in mind.  He sought out Matthew in the tax collector’s booth and He is seeking you now.  “Follow Me,” is His call, for He is fully able to absolve you and bring you to His eternal Kingdom.  Amen.


[1] Matthew 3:14

[2] Matthew 9:11

[3] Matthew 16:22

[4] Matthew 5:20

[5] Psalm 14:1-3

[6] Matthew 1:21

[7] Genesis 4:13; Isaiah 6:5; Ezekiel 37:11

[8] Ephesians 2:17

[9] Matthew 5:37

[10] Genesis 8:21, Psalm 53:2-3, Matthew 5:48

[11] Ephesians 5:26, 1 Peter 3:21

[12] Acts 2:39

[13] Matthew 18:18

[14] Luke 22:15

[15] Luke 22:19

[16] Matthew 26:28

[17] Romans 8:11

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