Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
June 8, 2008
Text: Matt. 9:9-13

Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners. So if you believe you are without sin, or that what little sin you have does not exclude you from the Kingdom of God, or that you have any righteousness whatsoever in and of yourself, don’t expect a place at Jesus’ Table. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:12, 13; ESV). Jesus comes to call tax collectors and sinners like Matthew into His fellowship. He comes to heal those who are sick unto death with sin. He comes to call those who, in repentance, say of themselves, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserve Your temporal and eternal punishment” (LSB, p. 184). “Go and learn what this means,” says Jesus. “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13). Jesus desires to have mercy on you, to save you, without works of your own, by grace, through faith, which receives all the benefits of the salvation won by our Lord Jesus Christ in His sacrifice on the cross and in His victorious resurrection from the dead.

But if you are to receive Jesus’ mercy, which He so freely extends to you, you must know that you are a sinner in need of that mercy. Who are the tax collectors and sinners in our text? They are the despised and rejected among the Jews of Jesus’ day. They are despised and rejected because they are notorious for their lack of scruples. Not only do they fail to uphold the Law of Moses to the degree of the Pharisees. They grossly transgress that Law. And these are the type with which Jesus feasts at Matthew’s table. Undoubtedly the company would have included other tax collectors, Matthew’s colleagues. Such tax collectors were despised because, first of all, no one likes to pay taxes… even we can identify with that… and secondly these tax collectors would routinely take more money from the individuals being taxed than was required. Whatever extra the tax collector collected was his to keep. But also gathered around Matthew’s table were those termed “sinners.” Who are they? Perhaps, or even probably, this number would have included prostitutes. Maybe it included some dishonest businessmen, or known adulterers. At any rate, it was not respectable company. And there is Jesus in the midst of them, treating them as the objects of His favor. This infuriated the Pharisees who looked on in disgust. They didn’t have the guts to confront Jesus directly, but they said to His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (v. 11).

Now, one thing we must be clear about, and perhaps this was misunderstood among the Pharisees… Jesus does not condone the sin of the sinners gathered around the table. Jesus does not pretend that the sin is okay. If there’s one thing we know about Jesus, it’s that He is not afraid of offending people when the time comes to speak the truth. When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, He was very pointed in His speaking the Law to her: “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true” (John 4:17-18). “You are living in sin. What you are doing is shameful. This should not be.” When a woman was caught in adultery and the scribes and Pharisees wanted to stone her, Jesus said He would not condemn her, but He also told her to “go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11). And certainly such mercy on the part of Jesus will lead the one receiving His mercy to repentance, as was the case with Zacchaeus, another notorious tax collector, in fact, a chief tax collector. When our Lord came and ate with Zacchaeus and his friends, again, tax collectors and sinners, Zacchaeus was so overcome by our Lord’s mercy that he declared in the presence of all, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8). These good works were not done by Zacchaeus in order to earn our Lord’s mercy, but in joyful response, as a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise, and as a mark of repentance. Such good works, such sacrifices, are a result of the mercy and salvation Jesus has already freely given. So Jesus says to Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (v. 9). Jesus desires mercy, and not sacrifice. He desires to have mercy. The sacrifice on the part of those who receive His mercy comes as a result of that mercy. It is the forsaking of sin and the serving of the neighbor in love. That’s the sacrifice of thanksgiving. Jesus does not condone sin, He forgives it, and as the great Physician of souls, He heals the sinner, and makes the sinner righteous with His own righteousness.

So who are the tax collectors and sinners of our day? They aren’t just IRS employees. And who are the Pharisees, for that matter? The answer to both questions is you and me and all people. For “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). None of us, not one, deserves to sit at the table of Jesus and eat with Him. But we, each one of us, are certainly the lost that He has come to seek and save, the sinners He has come to call, the sick in need of our Great Physician. It isn’t the righteous who need Jesus, but sinners. And yet, there is a little Pharisee in each one of us, who may piously say he is unworthy, but in his heart believes he is more worthy than others, and brings at least a little righteousness of his own to the table. This Pharisee likes to give lip service to the idea that salvation is by grace alone without works, but he doesn’t really believe it. And this little Pharisee is named Adam, and he needs to be drowned each day in the waters of Baptism. He needs to be drowned because Jesus doesn’t want the righteousness you bring to the table. That kind of righteousness is filthy rags (Is. 64:6). No, Jesus wants you to come to the table as the sinner that you are, so that He can forgive you. He wants you to come in repentance, believing that He is able and willing to give you the forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation, all the things He won for you in His death on the cross, and in His resurrection. Thus he is truly worthy and well prepared to come to the table of Jesus who has faith in these words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” But anyone who does not believe these words, or doubts them, whether it is because he believes Christ to be a liar, or believes he does not need the forgiveness Christ offers, is unworthy and unprepared, for the words, “For you,” require all hearts to believe. This is the great paradox: Those who think they are worthy, are not. But those who know they are unworthy, such tax collectors and sinners, are the very folks with whom Jesus wants to dine, and for whom Jesus prepares a feast, a foretaste of the eternal feast to come, the Supper of His body and blood.

Jesus eats with sinners. Don’t let the little Pharisee in you be offended at that. You are the sinner Jesus wants to eat with. You are the sinner Jesus wants to feed. You are the sinner Jesus wants to fill with His forgiveness, life, and salvation. You are the sinner Jesus loves, and gave His life for, to whom He gives His own righteousness and eternal life. The Lord’s Supper is for sinners, and sinners only. The Lord’s Supper is for you. And look what Jesus does with the tax collectors and sinners He gathers to Himself: There’s Matthew, Levi, as he’s also known, sitting at the tax booth, and Jesus just walks right up to Him and says, “Follow me” (Matt. 9:9). And then Jesus comes into Matthew’s home and eats with Him, and makes Matthew into the great apostle and evangelist whose Gospel we Christians meditate upon every day. Matthew doesn’t earn any of this by his sacrifices and good works. Jesus desires mercy, not sacrifice. Jesus has mercy on Matthew. As the Great Physician, He heals Matthew. He heals Matthew from the sickness of sin. And there is always a place at the table for Matthew, who even now joins us at the Lord’s table from the other side of the veil. And so there is always a place for you. For every sinner there is a place at our Lord’s table.

If you are a visitor who has not been instructed in Lutheran doctrine and therefore cannot join us at the altar this morning, come and talk to me, because we want you here in the fellowship of this altar. Come and be instructed, because we have a place for you, or better, the Lord has a place for you at His table. And you who are instructed, who receive the Lord’s Supper here week after week, isn’t it amazing what we sinners get to receive here?! The Lord Jesus, very God of very God, but who has taken on our flesh, is here among us as both Host and Food, and He actually places His true body and blood, the very same body and blood given and shed for us on the cross, into our mouths, into the mouths of sinners, making sinners righteous. Jesus eats with sinners. Therefore come to the table this morning, with all your sins, with all your shame, with all your unworthiness, come and be forgiven. Jesus is here. The Supper is ready. In His mercy, Jesus desires to feed us with His own sacrifice, that of His body and blood. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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