Follow the Leader
Sunday of St. Matthew Apostle/Evangelist

September 20, 2009

Rev. S. D. Spencer – Pastor Messiah Lutheran Church


St. Matthew 9:9-13

       As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, "Follow Me." So he arose and followed Him.

Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" When Jesus heard that, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. "But 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."


Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Christ Jesus our Lord, amen!

The Son of God is seeking disciples. Twelve are called and chosen to follow Him for three years of intensive catechism. You might even say this was their seminary training. Eleven of them will be sent into the world to make disciples of all nations; baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. They will suffer great hardship and even death. One of them was a tax collector name Matthew.

Matthew was an outcast. For Jesus to call Matthew to be a disciple was a risky business and definitely politically incorrect. Tax collectors in those days were considered traitors and crooks. They’re still not appreciated today, are they?

First, they were Jews working for an oppressing Roman government who collected taxes. They were like the American Taliban found in Afghanistan – someone who not only sold out to the enemy but even took their side in the struggle. In the case of Matthew, he collected taxes and custom charges at the border crossing in Capernaum.

Second, they were wealthy.  There’s nothing wrong with being wealthy but a tax collector’s wealth was typically gotten by reprehensible means, ill-gotten means. They would charge far more in taxes than the law actually required. And then would use the Roman military to enforced payment. Talk about intimidation!  

Third, Matthew being a tax collector and customs official had daily contact with all those "unclean" pagan gentiles. In addition, we are told that Matthew actually allowed these tax collectors and sinners into his home. Not only did Matthew break the Judaic cleanliness laws but also he broke the Sabbath policy as well.

Was Matthew a sinner? Was Matthew unclean? Was Matthew a crook? Did Matthew sell out to the hated Romans? Yes – Yes - Yes And Yes. Jesus knew all of this, Jesus was aware of it all. Jesus never implied that Matthew was innocent. Jesus never implied that Matthew was a good man, a saint, a hard working person nor someone with a good spirit.  Yet, Jesus called out Matthew and said, "Follow me." Boy, was that risky business! That was politically suicide!

But, then, why had Jesus come? Why the incarnation? Why did the second person of the triune Godhead take on our flesh? Why did He call a sick sinner like Matthew to follow Him?

Was Matthew a sinner? Absolutely! But then so were those who were so eager to condemn Him. We’re told that when the Pharisees saw Jesus eating with Matthew, tax collectors, and sinners, they questioned His disciples about it. This wasn't just mere curiosity on their part; rather it was an accusation of anger and hostility. "WHY DOES YOUR TEACHER EAT WITH TAX COLLECTORS AND 'SINNERS'?" Why does Jesus lower Himself and be contaminated with such as these?  The Pharisees show they also are sinners when they so quickly exclude and condemn Matthew. The Pharisees show they are sinners when they can’t extend a forgiving and restoring hand to Matthew. The Pharisees show they are sinners when they show no mercy to Matthew, a brokenhearted man needing mercy. They could only see how he was breaking their precious rules and their precious regulations.

"Follow me." These are the words Jesus says to Matthew and to sinners and to tax collectors and also to the Pharisees. "Follow me." These are the words Jesus says to you the sinners at Messiah Lutheran Church in Salem as well. And, we all are sinners – you, me, the elders, the organists, the ushers and even the wee little babes.  

Jesus knows your sins – just like He knew Matthew's. He knows your lusts, He knows your coveting, He knows your disobedience. He knows how you ignore His wishes and commands. Yet He still says, "Follow me."

Still, why did Jesus come? Why the incarnation? Why did the second person of the triune Godhead take on our flesh? He did this to call sick sinners – like Matthew, and the Scribes and Pharisees, and you and me – why? To follow Him! We are we are called to be like Jesus.

I read an interesting story about Billy and Ruth Graham. You know who Billy Graham is of course. I don't know if I could have done what they did.

Do you remember Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and their PTL ministry (PTL stands for "Praise The Lord" but the press liked to say it stood for "Pass the Loot"). In 1986 the PTL's income was $129 million which included Heritage USA a 2300-acre religious theme park in North Carolina, with a hotel, a shopping mall and a TV station broadcasted on more than 1200 channels.

If you recall, Jim Bakker in 1980 had an affair with his church secretary Jessica Hahn. He resigned in 1987. It was made public later that he had paid about $265,000 to her to keep the affair private. Hush money they called it, but in simple terms, blackmail.

After his resignation, it was discovered that the Bakkers had taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from the ministry fund. The IRS investigated and discovered that the couple had diverted more than $4.8 million dollars for personal use. Part of that money came from fraudulent partnerships, which gave each partner three days per year of free lodging at the hotel in Heritage USA. But the Bakkers took the money from the partnerships and never followed through on the agreements. The fraud was on such a scale that it was estimated that over 1500 people a month were being swindled out of their time-share fees. Jim Bakker was indicted for fraud in 1988 and sentenced to 45 years in prison and fined $500,000.

When the scandal broke, their Christian friends quickly deserted them. They became outcast in the Christian world. And when Jim was sentenced, even his wife, who was involved in the scam, left him and then divorced him, claiming she had no knowledge of what he was doing.

Six months into his sentence, Jim was surprised to have a visitor, Billy Graham. When Graham came in, Bakker asked him why he had come to visit – because he knew that any association with him would tarnish Graham's reputation. Billy replied that Jim was his friend in good times but also now in bad times. He would stand by his side. And Billy Graham was true to his word. Bakker's sentence was eventually reduced, on appeal, to ten years.  When Jim came out of prison on parole, he had nowhere to stay. So the Grahams invited him to stay with them. On the Sunday following Jim’s release, Ruth Graham took him to church with her. Disregarding what people might think about her, she stood up in church and introduced her friend Jim Bakker to the congregation. The love the Grahams showed to Jim Bakker is very much like the love Jesus showed to a tax collector named Matthew in this morning's Scripture's reading. Jesus knows the corruption and the intent of Matthews heart.

Are we able to show this kind of love? Are we willing to show this kind of love?

Many times we put up walls, in our homes, in our churches, in our circle of friends. We put up walls that keep people like Matthew out. We pick and choose and look down on some people, like the Scribes and Pharisees looked down on Matthew. We look down on some people and conclude they’re a lost cause; they’re not worth the effort or our time. We separate ourselves from the very people our Lord Jesus came to save. If Jesus acted the same way that we do Matthew would have never been called. So, we need to hear the words of Jesus: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick ... I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

The calling of Matthew to follow Jesus is the lesson of our text for this morning. Notice the two-fold comparison Jesus makes. He talks about healthy and sick, righteous and sinners. Tax collectors and sinners – like Matthew – are compared with the sick. Jesus so clearly points out; “it’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” It isn't the healthy who make a visit to the emergency room, but the sick.

Jesus is the doctor. He’s the One Who gives healing. He’s the One Who heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He’s the One Who heals the sick, raises the dead, and cleanses those with leprosy. He’s the One Who cures the sickness of our souls. Jesus has come to call sinners. He’s the One Who can heal all the wrongs in your lives and make you God's child once again. He’s the One Who meets you in your misery and calls you to come to Him and be healed and made whole again.

Jesus is the doctor. So it’s no surprise that one chapter earlier than our Scripture reading we see Jesus healing two men who were demon possessed. And, in the same chapter we see Jesus healing a paralytic and forgiving his sins. And, right after our Scripture reading we see Jesus raising a dead girl and healing a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.

Jesus is the doctor. And, we with Matthew, the tax collectors, the sinners, and Scribes and Pharisees are the patients who need healing from His mighty hand.

“Follow me," says Jesus to a sick sinner named Matthew. Notice how Matthew responded? Matthew got up and followed Him. This couldn’t have been easy for Matthew to do. This meant sacrifice. This meant commitment. This meant a different direction in his life. Do you think Matthew was still able to be a tax collector after he answered Jesus' call? Do you think he could still hang out with all his old friends and do the same things that he once had done? Do you think his life went on the same as it was before?

Following Jesus isn’t an easy thing to do. It often it requires sacrifice. Often those who follow Jesus have to give up something or maybe even everything. But Praise the Lord Matthew followed. He knew he couldn't go back to his old job. He knew life was changed forever.

Why did Jesus come, why did the second person of the triune Godhead take on our human flesh, why the incarnation? Because Jesus came to call the sick!

Matthew was one of the bad people, one of the worst people, in the Jewish community. Yet, Jesus came to call him a man infected with sin.

Do you know what that tells me? It tells me no one is beyond the reach of God's grace. Matthew wasn't, the tax collectors and sinners weren’t, nor were the Scribes and the Pharisees, who so quickly condemned him and wrote him off. And neither are sinners like you and me nor our loved ones. But the question I have for you is  how will they know of this great love, this grace of God if no one will tell them. Jesus says: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Who will tell them of God’s mercy?

Jesus has come for sick sinners. He has come to call us to follow Him as our leader. He has come to heal us and restore us and make us whole. He has come for you? Through His life, through His death and through His glorious resurrection Jesus has come to make you His own.  For by His death on the Cross of Calvary and by the pouring out of His own precious blood Jesus has forgiven all your sins. You are forgiven for Jesus sake and in Jesus name, amen and amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, AMEN.