Sermon Notes, St. Matthew the Apostle, 21 September 2014 Anno Domini
O ALMIGHTY God, who by thy blessed Son didst call Matthew from the receipt of custom to be an Apostle and Evangelist; Grant us grace to forsake all covetous desires, and inordinate love of riches, and to follow the same thy Son Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
9 And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him. 10 And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? 12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. 13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Matt 9:9-13)
We observe today the calling of the blessed apostle, Matthew, by the Lord Jesus Christ. This account is given as a lesson and guide to all who are called by Christ – either in a role of layman or as minister. Every outward evidence of the call of the Apostle Matthew seems to have been casual and non-circumstantial; however, a deeper examination of the account will reveal otherwise. God does nothing by accident or without deep rivers of compassion and meaning – so, the call of St. Matthew. Just as surely as Jesus knew whom He would meet at the noon day hour beside the Well that Jacob dug, He also knew whom He would find at the customs table by the shores of Galilee. There was a reason that Matthew, a Levite, had his table there – it was to assess taxes on those who crossed and landed in port on those shores. There was a reason that Jesus “passed forth from thence” (Capernaum) to those shores. He had a certain appointment there with Mattthew.
This was a day like every other day for Matthew, except what was about to transpire. He was now minding his own business, but would very soon be minding the business of the Lord. When God calls a man or woman, there is no time for excuse or equivocation – one simply answers the call and follows.
This apostle is referred to as Matthew, though he is called Levi by Mark and Luke perhaps to avoid labeling him with the lurid past as “chief of the publicans” (tax collectors). But Matthew, in his Gospel, refers to himself as Matthew so as to leave no doubt as to the depths from which he arose to become a blessed apostle of the Lord.
There came a time in every Christian’s life that he or she heard that voice. It may have been as a little girl swinging on the playground, or it may have been an older gentleman for whom the Lord had work to do in His vineyard – but the voice was heard as surely as Matthew heard this voice of Christ. “And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.” You will note that Jesus did not begin a rapport with Matthew to inquire as to why an Israelite would be doing the dirty business of the Roman government in collecting taxes. He asked nothing of him, for He knew ALL about Matthew. He did not tell Matthew to first straighten out his life and then come “follow me.” The need is now in your life to follow Jesus. If you follow Him, He will cleanse your heart and make you a useful vessel in His Temple. The invitation was not given owing to any particular merit in Matthew, “but notwithstanding the infamous employment he was in, as accounted by the Jews: this was no bar in the way of his call to be a disciple of Christ; and shows, that there was no merit and motive in him, which was the reason of this high honor bestowed upon him; but was entirely owing to the free, sovereign, and distinguishing grace of Christ, and which was powerful and efficacious: for without telling him what work he must do, or how he must live, and without his consulting with flesh and blood, at once, immediately.” (John Gill, 1765)
There were likely many men sitting around the shores of Galilee just whiling the hours away with nothing much to do at all. If any were from Alabama, they would have been whittling on a stick, but Jesus did not call those men – He called a busy man named Matthew. He seeks out doers and not idlers. If our hands are idle in profession, family, or some presumed need to retire from life, God does not need those lazy hands. He needs the hands, heart, and mind of men and women who will put those faculties God has given them to good use. So, Jesus found, and called, Matthew – a man who had never before met Jesus. So how did Matthew respond?
“And he arose, and followed him.” Matthew followed Jesus all of the way just as Ruth followed Naomi – not part of the way as did Orpah. Matthew was loyal to the end, and to the beginning of the glorious resurrection! He asked no questions, nor did he make any excuses. He did not plead for time to close out his books and deposit his tax money – he simply followed from that very moment. Have you responded in that way when the Lord called you? Or have you whiled away the days, the years, and the decades of your life as an unfruitful servant? Did you begin on the way, and then turn back as a dog to its vomit and the pig to wallowing in the mud? “But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:22) I have no patience for a professed Christian who is too lazy to follow the Lord all of the way to that calling to which He has called them. But, I believe the Lord has greater long suffering and patience than we mortals have. He will strive for a time with that uncooperative servant, but not forever!
“And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.” This reminds me of our pickiness in finding a church full of perfect little Christians. In the halcyon days of my early manhood, I went on crusade to find such a church to no avail. Once I attended a country church in a little hamlet of Alabama. The minister said something that I needed to hear badly at that time. He said, “Folks, if you are searching for the perfect church, you had better get out of it as soon as you can, once you have found it – because YOU will ruin it!” It is not the Church that is perfect, but the Lord whom she worships. If the heart of the church is fixed on Christ and His Word, that is all that matters. An old friend counseled me to “find a Church that puts her faith in Christ, and believes His Word, sink an anchor into the ground there, and hang on tight.” I have found such a Church, and I have hung on tight!
Jesus knew we were sinful and imperfect when He came to us. He knew that we could not be righteous, and no sinner can enter Heaven. So, He came to redeem us from our sins and make a way for us to enter that Gate of Heaven which He opened for us. Here in this verse, Jesus is sitting at a meal in Matthew’s house with publicans (tax collectors), sinners, and His disciples. He did not sit there among them to become like unto them, but so that they might come to follow Him also and become more like Him. But there are some who are so self-righteous that even Heaven cannot afford to have them.
“And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?” These pharisaical culprits had witnessed the Lord doing nothing amiss, but tried to judge Him by the company He was keeping. They could care less for the sinner and downtrodden – they were ABOVE all of that in their own minds. They were looking for grains of sand with which to make stones of offense. Moreover, gutless as they were, they did not confront Jesus directly, but rather asked of His disciples, there, prying and hateful little questions. Man has not changed from that moment until now. Those who bounce from church to church without ever saying what they found amiss to the minister, but do spread tales among the congregation, are just as gutless. The murmerers and back-biters are those who spread discord and discontent among the peace of the church. These Pharisees fit the bill perfectly.
If He did not hear their aural remarks, Jesus heard the profanity of their hearts. He responded with a comment that may have seemed a puzzle to some: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” The first sentence is fairly clear and reasonable to all. Jesus is the Great Physician who can heal every affliction of Mind, Body, and Soul. Those who are sick, and know they are sick, should consult a physician capable of the cure. Unfortunately, some diseases such as sinful hearts are so insidious that the afflicted are unaware of their depravity – they seek no healing at the fountains of Mercy. The Pharisees were too proud to see their own leprosy of sin discoloring their souls and hearts. They were, in a word, HATEFUL. The latter part of Jesus comment is what probably missed the heads of the Pharisees though they knew the words well from Hosea 6:6 – “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6) Mercy is a component of Love and the currency and coin of the Realm of the Kingdom of Heaven. If Love and Mercy are present, sacrifice is never necessary.
Friends, if any are called of God to any particular role, or office, you can never be of use to the Lord in it if you consider your calling a ‘sacrifice.’ It must be a labor of love and mercy for it is these two that grease the wheels of Heaven, and calls the Holy Ghost down to your endeavor. What of you, my friend? When God said, “Follow me” did you arise and follow? Did you follow all of the way?
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN.