Session #069 Go & Learn
Scripture Matthew 9:9-13
Summary Matthew 9:9-13 is about the miracle of Matthew and the mercy of the Messiah. It is all too easy to view the Pharisees with disdain, yet miss the ‘pharisee’ in ourselves. This passage challenges us to consider what the kingdom of God is really about, to go back to basics, to go and learn what it truly means to be a kingdom-minded believer of Jesus Christ.
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.” Matthew 9:9–13 (cf Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32)
What is Christianity for you? What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to be holy and separated? What is the church all about? What is the kingdom of God all about?
What is the heartbeat of God?
Where is “there”?
Capernaum, by the Sea of Galilee (Mark 2:13), is strategically situated between the tetrarchy of Herod Antipas (south) and Herod Philip (north). It was a trading and fishing village where people would travel to trade. It was a great place for a tax office, collecting taxes and customs. Matthew was a tax collector for Roman rule.
Matthew was mentioned twice in the entire gospel, both link Matthew as a tax collector in 9:9, sitting at the tax office; and in 10:3 as the tax collector.
As a tax collector, Matthew served King Herod Antipas collecting tariffs on goods passing on the road from Damascus to the Mediterranean Sea. He was a civil servant who hired locals as runners and allowed over-tax for profit. Matthew was probably an educated man and wealthy through these means. He was familiar with Greek and Aramaic and interacted with Gentiles.
He was referred to as Levi, in Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27. He was the tribe of Levi, born to be a Levitical priest or scribe but ended up as a tax collector instead
It was common to have a Jewish name and a Greek name. Another possibility was that his name was changed from Levi to Matthew after encountering Jesus, like Saul to Paul and Simon to Peter.
The Miracle of Matthew
The words, “Follow Me” were not just a discipleship footnote but also another miracle account, the miracle of Matthew, that even tax collectors can be saved by Jesus.
Tax collectors were mentioned nine times in Matthew. They were agents of the Roman government and usually locals who understand the culture and people. They are sanctioned by Jewish aristocrats with links to the Roman government.
Taxes were high but tax collectors often over-charged for their profit. Wealthy, corrupt, and merciless. They are extortionists who resorted to oppression, force, intimidation, and violence.
Tax collectors are despised by Jews and considered a traitor to their people, wearing a negative label.
Tax collectors were mentioned in the same breath as sinners, harlots (Matt 21:32-32; Luke 18:11).
Of all the miracles recorded, Matthew records his own “miracle”. It was more than physical healing, stilling storms, casting out of demons. And it comes immediately after the account of Jesus saying to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven.” More than physical healing, it is a spiritual healing that we all need. For Matthew, this was the biggest miracle, for the biggest sinner, with the biggest need – to be saved from himself.
Matthew was healthy and wealthy, but he still needed forgiveness and salvation. Later in listing the apostles in Matthew 10:2-4, Matthew describes himself as “the tax collector” – the worst of the lot. The other descriptor was for Judas Iscariot “who also betrayed him [Jesus].”
(Cf 1 Timothy 1:15); least of the apostles, not worthy to be called an apostle (1 Corinthians 15:9).
Matthew recognizes and remembers God’s grace extended to himself and others like him.
He was not proud of what he was but he was not afraid to let people know about his past. If there is hope for him, there is hope for everyone.
Follow Me! (Matthew 9:9)
This is not Matthew’s first encounter with Jesus as Jesus had already been ministering in Capernaum, around the Sea of Galilee, for some time. Matthew would have heard and seen much of Jesus’ teachings and ministry.
Consistent with the invitation to Peter, Andrew, James, and John, was an invitation to a deeper level of commitment and involvement. These had already been following Jesus but continued in their trade until Jesus invited them to follow Him on the road.
The same applies to us. Following Jesus begins the moment we put our faith in Him. He is the Master and we are His disciples. We cannot believe without following. Jesus is always inviting us to a closer walk and a deeper involvement with Him. There comes a time where we must choose to let go of what keeps us from following Him wholeheartedly and fully.
For Matthew, that day, “he arose and followed Him.” (Luke 5:28). From serving Caesar, he now serves King Jesus. From being a middleman for the Roman government, he became a priestly mediator for Jesus. From keeping strict accounts for profit, he became a scribe to record the good news of Jesus Christ From one despised, taking from others, he became God’s gift, given for others, and giving to others.
Matthew: The Gift of God
Mark records that it was Levi’s house Mark 2:15 “as He was dining in Levi’s house”. Luke adds that it was a great feast in Luke 5:29. From extortionist to evangelist Matthew as he invited all his tax collector friends and other questionable characters from his “hood” and “circle of influence”. Jesus and His disciples were also invited and they gladly obliged.
Many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and His disciples. Jesus was possibly the only rabbi who would hang out with them, at such proximity. Some of these may have been like Matthew who had seen and heard Jesus before and wanted to know more (Mark 2:15).
Enter the Pharisees (Matthew 9:11)
There are two possibilities that the Pharisees saw from a distance (outside the house) since the Pharisees would never consider being in the same location as tax collectors and sinners. Or it was reported to them, and they sought to clarify.
They first ask His disciples and then as things escalate before they go directly to Jesus.
Their main objection was that Jesus was not heeding God’s Word, not to associate with such sinners. Sinners are irreligious Jews such as backsliders, carnal Christians (Psalm 1:1). To them, holiness means not to be tainted by these dirty sinful people. For Jesus to have table fellowship with these was unthinkable.
Do you feel the same? When you see pastors or Christians hanging out with non-Christians and others who do not belong to the church?
Through their interpretation and religious lenses, they misunderstood Jesus. They were upset with Roman rule, with Roman taxes, hence with tax collectors. They felt Jesus should feel the same about it too.
Jesus was not against taxes, and we need to render taxes when they are due (Matthew 22:21). In His teachings, Jesus does call out the wrong practices of tax collectors. Using the same phrase “tax collectors and sinners” in the same breath. John the Baptist taught the same in Luke 3:12–13.
Although accused of being a “glutton and winebibber” (Matthew 11:19), Jesus did not get sloshed or slept with women. Jesus was not being influenced by them but was instead influencing them with the kingdom of God. Jesus did not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, stand in the path of sinners, sit with those who scorned at all. Jesus did not follow them. They followed Him.
Go and Learn What It Means (Mark 2:17; Luke 5:31)
If you are a sinner, you will need spiritual healing from the Great Physician Himself. Jesus’ focus was to call, to invite the sinners. That was what He was doing, spending time with tax collectors and sinners, calling and inviting them.
Conversely, if you are righteous then you will think that you do not need any healing. Jesus was not saying that the Pharisees were righteous although they considered themselves to be very righteous (cf Luke 18:9-14).
As much as they tried to be righteous through the keeping of the Law, through rituals, they entirely missed the Spirit of the Law.
Paul, the Pharisee of Pharisees, later declares that “there is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:1-3).
Only Matthew Inserts a Critical Old Testament Quotation (Matthew 9:12-13)
Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6. Our attitude towards sinners should not be acceptance or avoidance but rather mercy. As followers of Jesus, we neither accept the sin nor avoid the sinner. Rather in mercy, we seek to lead them to Christ who can help them (Cf Micah 6:8).
The religious institution has become cold, harsh, and judgmental. They perfected the forms and functions but missed the kingdom of God. In the same way, Jesus used this to expose the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
Sacrifice is important but obedience to God’s commands is more important. If you do not do it with love and mercy in your heart, you are not doing it right. God does not want mercy instead of sacrifice and obedience. Rather He wants mercy along with sacrifice and obedience.
“Go and learn what this means”
As someone in full-time ministry, it is so easy to miss the big picture, to lose sight of what is important to God. As a teacher who desires not to compromise the Word of God, it is easy to get lost in the details and miss the outworking of those details in the lives of those who desperately need to experience God’s love and mercy.
Do we need to “go and learn what this means” too? What is Christianity to and for you? What does it mean to follow Jesus? What is the church all about? What is the kingdom of God all about? What is the heartbeat of God? Have we been stuck in our ivory towers? Do we consider ourselves righteous and despise others who are sinners?
We frown at the injustices in the world but do we in one clean sweep, also condemn the “tax collectors”, the prostitutes, the gender-confused, the same-sex attracted, the adulterers, the fornicators?
Do we ask our King what our part might be? When others choose to extend love, grace, and mercy, do we respond like the Pharisees, accusing these of having defected to the other side? The best person to learn from is Jesus Himself, the King, full of grace and truth.
What is the kingdom of God all about? What is the heartbeat of God?
This passage is more than about Matthew. Anyone can come to Jesus as Matthew did. It is about the mercy and grace that Matthew experienced. The key is mercy. Without it, Matthew and the others would have remained where they were.
This passage also cautions us against the pride and deception of religious and ritualistic practices. We can be like the Pharisees without realizing it. We need to be merciful to sinners, even as God was merciful with us.
Let us learn from Jesus and Matthew. His experience with Jesus overflowed into his circle of influence, his Area of Operation. He hung out with his old friends but was not pulled back into the old ways. Instead, his friends followed him, to follow Jesus.
May we heed the words of Jesus in Matthew 21:31, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.” These believed, obeyed, and did the will of the Father.
Go and learn what this means.