Who is Jesus to you?
When you think of the person of Jesus, what do you think of? A teacher? A holy man? Do you just think of the cross? What does Jesus look like in your mind? What does he act like?
How well do you know the guy?
Today we begin a new series called “Moments with Jesus” and I hope it’s going to help all of us know our savior a bit better. We’re going to be looking at 5 very specific moments which give us a glimpse at the character of Jesus.
Some of these moments will focus on his love and compassion, but others will focus on his prophetic edginess and even the nature of his divinity.
My hope over these next five weeks is that we would grow deeper not only in our knowledge of Jesus, but in our passion for who he is and our desire to be like him.
I want us to inhabit these stories - to put ourselves there - so we can meet Jesus in a new way and be changed in the process.
Today we’re going to look at story of how Jesus called one of his 12 disciples to follow him.
CALLING OF MATTHEW
So please grab a Bible and turn to Matthew 9:9, Page ______.
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.
Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
It’s a pretty simple story, but there’s a lot to dig into here.
Let’s talk about tax collectors for a second. First of all, nobody likes paying taxes. So being the person whose job it is to take some of other people’s hard-earned income is never going to be popular.
But in Matthew’s day, there were other dynamics at play which made tax collectors even more unpopular.
For one thing, it was common practice for tax collectors to skim a little bit off the top. They kept the books, they could tweak the numbers, and the people couldn’t really do much about it.
Now, we don’t know for sure that Matthew himself did this, but there is a reason why “tax collectors and sinners” were lumped together so often.
I think the New Living Translation does a good job capturing public sentiment by referring to these people as “scum” in verse 11.
But it wasn’t just their shady practices that people didn’t like. Tax collectors were also kind of seen as traitors.
Matthew was collecting taxes in the city of Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum was essentially a border town between two different provinces.
The gospel of Mark says this whole scene takes place on the lakeshore, so Matthew might have been something like a customs officer on the dock taxing goods being shipped between the provinces.
Here’s why this was a problem for people. These two provinces were essentially set up by Rome (a Gentile empire) and they were ruled by these guys Herod Antipas and Herod Philip - that were constantly squashing rebellion, executing Jewish patriots… (Herod Antipas was the one who executed John the Baptist).
It was a time of rebellion - of revolution - and Matthew was working for the bad guys. He was like an American taxing tea for the British in the Boston Harbor. Pretty much a sellout.
So that’s Matthew: possibly skimming off the top, definitely working for the enemy, a guy that no upstanding, patriotic, religious Israelite would ever want to be associated with.
This is the guy Jesus calls to join his inner circle. Oh, and this is the guy he goes to dinner with.
Eating with a person back then was a sign of identifying with someone - of choosing to be associated with them. And Jesus intentionally goes to eat, not just with Matthew, but with (v.10) “many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners.”
Now, the text doesn’t say this, but these guys weren’t known for their religious observance. I imagine there were people getting drunk at this party and shady stuff is going on and remember it’s all being paid for off the backs of hardworking Israelites.
Jesus is partying with the bad guys. What is he thinking?!?
Well, that’s exactly what the Pharisees are wondering - the most patriotic and godly Israelites around. They ask Jesus’ other disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
And I love his response. Verse 12. “Healthy people don’t need a doctor - sick people do.”
It’s a great line. Essentially, “If I’ve got the ability to heal the sick - physically sick, spiritually sick - then why wouldn’t I go to the people who need it? And these people need it!”
And there’s interesting subtext here. Jesus is also kind of pointing the finger back at the Pharisees. Because they thought of themselves as the ones with all the answers.
“Purity and righteousness. That’s how we’ll break free of Rome’s grasp. That’s the cure to Israel’s sickness.”
Except they’re not willing to take that cure to the people who need it. They avoid them.
They’re like a group of trained, educated doctors huddled in a corner saying, “ew! Sick person! Don’t get too close.”
Which is why Jesus continues, in verse 13, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’
He’s quoting the Greek version of Hosea 6:6. In Hebrew, that word mercy is the word
ḥeseḏ - unfailing love, devotion, loyalty
It’s a word used hundreds of times in the Old Testament to describe the love God has for humanity. It’s a love that endures despite our failures, it’s faithful despite our shame, it’s loyal to us despite our sin… It is a selfless kind of love.
And in that verse, God is saying, “that’s the love I want you to have for others. I don’t want religious observance. I want you to love others the way I love you.”
Jesus tells the Pharisees to go figure that one out. Because they’ve missed it. Hesed. Unfailing love. Mercy.
How can Jesus say this? He can say it because this is exactly the kind of love he exemplifies. It’s the love he shows to Matthew.
There is a reason this story is told in 3 of the 4 gospels in our Bibles. It is a powerful glimpse into the character of Jesus.
He is a rabbi. He is a holy man. He is God himself. He would have every right to float around with a halo on and never get close to someone who might corrupt him.
But instead, what does he do? He gets close to the corrupt. He shares meals with the disreputable. And he invites into his inner circle those who have no right to be there. Who haven’t earned it, who don’t deserve it, and who would fit better just about anywhere else.
He does it all because he is the perfect embodiment of God’s unfailing love. Of God’s mercy. Of God’s grace. Jesus doesn’t call perfect, godly people to follow him.
Jesus calls the broken.
Which is why on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus spots Matthew, the tax collecting scum, and says “that’s the one I want. Follow me.”
Is it really much of a surprise that Matthew drops what he’s doing and leaves it all behind?
Now, I really resonate with the story of Matthew’s call. It feels very familiar to me. Let me tell you why.
Back in 2005, I had the chance to live in Kenya for a year, interning with our partner, Nairobi Chapel.
I came into that year at one of the lowest points of my life. I was cynical, I was aimless, I was confused… I was sitting in the rubble of the deconstruction of my faith.
But God used that year to transform everything about me. Specifically my call to ministry. Here’s how it happened.
As an intern with Nairobi Chapel, we had to go on these solo spiritual retreats. And I went on my first on in March of that year. We didn’t have a lot of guidance of what to do other than read the Bible, pray… that’s about it.
So while I was there, I decided, “you know what I’m going to do? I’m just going to list out my sin struggles and any unconfessed sins in my life to see if there’s anything I need to work on.”
“This thing… I’m addicted to this… I struggle with this… Oh, I never confessed this…”
I kept writing, I kept writing… Imagine my surprise when I turned the page and kept going…
Until this point, I had never seen all of my mess in one place before. I had compartmentalized all my brokenness so I’d never feel bad about myself.
And it had worked, until now, when I had no choice but to stare my sin in the face.
Needless to say, I was pretty humbled and even a bit ashamed. Now, over the next few months I experienced a lot of healing and forgiveness, but I had developed a sense that, in all my brokenness, God wouldn’t be able to use me for much.
Until one night, sitting around a campfire, when one of the pastors I was working with - Pastor Simon - pulled me aside and asked if he could share a prophecy he had for me.
He said, “The other day I was praying and I saw a vision of you. You were a basket of fruit, surrounded by people. They were taking fruit from the basket and eating their fill. Everyone was laughing and full of joy.”
And then he looked me in the eyes and said, “Barry, I believe God is going to use you to bring life to many people.” And then he put his arm on my shoulder and he prayed for me.
Then I wandered off into the darkness a bit and sat down by a tree. I could not reconcile my brokenness, my shame, that list of sins - with the fact that God would want anything to do with me. Much less use me to bring life to others.
It did not make sense.
I started bawling my eyes out and saying, “Why me? Why me? Why me?”
And this has never happened to me before or since, but I heard or felt an audible voice say to me, “because you’re my son.”
For the first time in my life I understood grace.
Jesus was not waiting for me to deal with all my brokenness and sin before he’d talk to me. He was calling me right then and there, like Matthew on the docks.
I was a raw, broken, shame-filled nobody at that point, and that’s when he said ‘follow me.’
Now, I’d been a Christian all my life but it was that moment - sitting by that tree - that I gave my life to him. “It’s all yours. I will follow you wherever you lead.”
That moment changed the trajectory of my life forever. And frankly it’s the reason I’m standing here.
Jesus calls the broken.
I tell you all that, because when I talk about Jesus calling the broken. I want you understand that’s my story too.
And if it’s not already, I believe it can be yours.
INHABITING THE STORY
So with that in mind, here’s what I want to do. I want to give you an opportunity to inhabit the story of Matthew’s call. I want you to put yourself in Matthew’s place.
What is it that disqualifies you? What is the brokenness inside that makes you unworthy? What are you ashamed of?
When I was in Kenya, it was my laundry list of sin. Addictions and lies and selfishness. Right there on the page. I knew I wasn’t worthy.
What is your brokenness?
Or another way of looking at it. Is there something about you that other people despise? That isolates you from the crowd?
Or maybe not. Maybe you’re buttoned up and you’ve got it all together. You’re putting on a great show. But inside, if people really knew who you were, they’d kick you to the curb.
How are you broken?
When we face our brokenness and shame like this, it’s not that hard to imagine how Matthew must have felt day today. Yeah, he’s going about his business but he’s full of shame, full of guilt… he knows he’s unworthy.
Which makes it all the more spectacular that Jesus turned to this broken man and said, “follow me.” Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. He knew exactly who he was calling.
And he knew the ones most capable of healing the world are those who’ve experienced healing themselves.
Jesus knows exactly who you are. He knows your guilt. He knows your shame. Yet he wants you to follow him. He wants to spend time with you. He wants to be close to you.
He sees something in you. He believes in you.
Jesus calls the broken and Jesus is calling you.