Simon Bowkett's Podcast

Matthew 9:9-13 - The Scandal of God's Grace - Part 1

August 27, 2022 Simon Bowkett
Simon Bowkett's Podcast
Matthew 9:9-13 - The Scandal of God's Grace - Part 1
Show Notes Transcript

         •        Introduction

Christians talk a lot about grace … but many of us find it very hard to live with.

You see, grace breaks all the rules. 

Most people … I suspect many Christians in good churches hearing good ministry every week … re-adjust what they’ve just heard from the pulpit as they leave by the church door, and so (whatever they repeat from the sermon over Sunday lunch) they actually live with a sense of life that’s a bit like karma, which says:

Do good, get rewarded; do bad, get punished. 

But what you get from Jesus is this incredible good news that God loves us not because of who we are but because of who God is. 

No matter what we’ve done, forgiveness is there for the asking.

Now that might sound amazing, but it has a flip side which can cause ENORMOUS offence, and that glorious offense of the Gospel is something we need to look at today.

Let me show you what I mean in Matthew 9 verses 9 to 13 …

         •        Calling outcasts to be disciples, vv. 9-10

Jesus has just demonstrated the extent of his spiritual and physical authority in Matthew 9:1-8

“Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”


3 At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”


4 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” 7 Then the man got up and went home. 8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.”

So you see the point?

Jesus, the ‘one like a Son of Man’ from Daniel 7

has authority on earth to forgive sins” (v. 6) 

So the sign that proves this to these ‘Teachers of the Law’ is there before their very eyes:

the man who could not walk previously gets up at Christ’s mere verbal command, 

picks up his mat, 

rolls it up and 

walks home.

That’s the context of the passage we’re now going to look at: the authority of Jesus, the Son of Man, to forgive sins as evidenced by this miraculous act of the Messiah (prophesied in Isaiah) … making the lame man walk.

Against this authoritative sin-remitting background, Jesus approaches an outrageous man they all knew as Matthew.

Matthew. Also known as Levi … so he was from a priestly family … now the quisling tax collector.

            •          Matthew where Jesus found him

V. 9 “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth.”

Now just in case anyone is thinking ‘hang on, it doesn’t SAY Matthew was a tax collector, just that he was sitting at the tax-collector’s booth. He may just have dropped by for a mug of tea’ … well, there’s something important you need to realise here about 1st century tax collectors.

Nobody dropped by for a mug of tea with 1st century tax collectors in Israel.

Nobody except other tax-collectors, that is.

Despised and rejected by the general population who they oppressed, they only had one another, really, to socialise with.

You see that coming out in v. 10.

But let’s not jump the gun.

Matthew was sitting … doing his job … at the τελώνιον

The tax booth.

The tax booth was a booth located at a port or on the edge of a city or town to collect taxes for trade. 

These taxes were a form of customs duty or toll applied to the movement of goods and produce brought into an area for sale. 

As such these tolls were a sort of “sales tax” paid by the seller but obviously passed on to the purchaser in the form of increased prices. 

The system as a whole is sometimes referred to as “tax farming” because a contract to collect these taxes for an entire district would be sold to the highest bidder, who would pay up front, hire employees to do the work of collection, and then recoup the investment and overhead by charging commissions on top of the taxes. 

Although rates and commissions were regulated by law, there was plenty of room for abuse in the system through the subjective valuation of goods by the tax collectors, and even through outright bribery. 

Tax overseers and their employees were obviously not well liked. 

There was a tax booth in Capernaum, which was on the trade route from Damascus to Galilee and the Mediterranean. 

And it was at this tax booth that Jesus met Matthew (also named Levi [see Mark 2:14, Luke 5:27]) who, although indirectly employed by the Romans, was probably more directly responsible to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee appointed by Rome. 

It was Matthew’s job to collect customs duties for Rome and he was thus despised by his fellow Jews, many of whom would have regarded him as a traitor, and quite possibly an extortioner over-charging and doing then out of their hard-earned money.

Given that Jesus has recently also called to be His followers some fishermen trading their catch along the highways out of Capernaum - Andrew and Peter, James and John - humanly speaking team meetings could be about to get a bit spicey!

So Jesus found Matthew at the tax booth being the sort of person who was hated, despised and made an outcast by his very own people because of the work he did for Herod Antipas and also for the Roman invaders.

Worse than that … we already noticed his other name there.

He’s called Matthew but he’s also called Levi.

This did not indicate that his family were in the blue jeans business.

It indicated that his lineage lay firmly in the priesthood, but as we know his life was being lived NOT as a servant of His God but as a collaborator working for the oppressors of his people.

Other disciples (I’m thinking Simon the Zealot, but the feeling would have been pretty general) would have seen Matthew as the lowest and the worst of their people for not just economic but nationalistic reasons.

But look … Jesus sets the principle from these very early days that He is GOING to call all sorts of undeserving people into His Kingdom.

            •          Matthew where Jesus called him to

So Jesus called an unacceptable individual and called on that person to follow Him.

There are two things there that no self-respecting Jewish rabbi in the culture would have done:

Firstly He went and spoke to a tax-collector … deemed by then to be an unclean person.

Secondly, Jesus called the man to be His disciple, whereas with Jewish rabbis of the time you had to persuade them to take you on as your disciple and it didn’t come cheap.

And yet Jesus marched straight up to Matthew who was currently engaged in the activity that made him such an unacceptable person in the view of the religious leaders and devout people of His time, and Jesus was utterly specific about what he was calling Matthew to do.

He did not need to specify what He was calling Matthew from, because it was strongly and clearly implicit in what Jesus called Matthew to:

V. 9b ““Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.”


1) to follow one who precedes, join him as his attendant, accompany him 

2) to join one as a disciple, become or be his disciple 

Jesus is calling Matthew … as he generally calls on everyone … to leave a life of sin and walk in His way.

Now this is crucially important.

We get into a whole world of grief if we don’t straighten out our theology at this point here.

The Biblical position is that we have all … like wandering sheep … gone astray.

That we have turned every one of us to our OWN way.

Isaiah is unfalteringly explicit about this.

You can read about it in Isaiah 53:6

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

    each of us has turned to our own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

    the iniquity of us all.”


Now then.

Do you see?

The decisive intervention is made not by us but by the Saviour of our souls … the distinction in humanity is NOT about the good and the bad, but it is about the Lord laying on Him (and you know Who) the iniquity that belongs to us all.

And THAT’s why there’s hope for the outrageous person who turns to Christ but none for the lovely little old lady who refuses Him.

Let’s take a moment there …

“Trevin Wax: “Could it be possible that Jeffrey Dahmer, one of the most evil men to ever live, was granted eternal life? And could it be possible that a sweet old lady who never trusts in Christ would face judgment?


If that scenario bothers you …  you haven’t truly grasped just how radical the gospel of grace is. 


It means that, deep down, you still think good people go to heaven and bad people to go hell.


But the gospel shatters that whole way of thinking. 


Scripturally speaking, there are no good people. We all have sinned. We have turned away like sheep and gone astray. We all have raised a fist toward our Maker to say, “I want my life my way!”


The radical message of the gospel is that our problem—sin—is worse than anything we could ever imagine. But also that the solution—grace—is better than anything we could ever deserve. Through repentance and faith, any sinner no matter how great the offense receives access to God through the cross of Jesus Christ.”

Just pause there a minute, if you would.

Are you OK with that? 

Are you OK with the Lord doing and saying this sort of thing?

Are you sure?

Because the consequence of that looks like this, says Trevin Wax:

“Hell is full of people who think they deserve heaven. Heaven is full of people who know they deserve hell.”

Jesus called Matthew the Outrageous (which is basically what ‘Matthew the Tax-collector’ amounted to).

Called HIM to turn from what he’d been doing to follow in Christ’s Way.

That was the decisive intervention, to which Matthew made the decisive and appropriate response …

What was Matthew’s response?

            •          Matthew’s response

καὶ ἀναστὰς ἠκολούθησεν αὐτῷ

There is a conjunction there indicating that Matthew heard Jesus call him to the following of discipleship and got up straight away and followed him.

The description of what Matthew does uses the exact same verb you get in Jesus’s call to him.

It reflects pretty much what rabbinical discipleship was all about.

Yes, trainee rabbis learned from the teachers of the Law that they were discipled to as those teachers discoursed daily on the finer details of the Law.

But they lived in the rabbi’s home and were expected to trail them around from dawn ’til dusk watching, prying int the details of the way they lived out the teaching of Jewish law in their lives … following, observing and learning to live the rabbi’s way.

And Matthew straight away got up, walked away from the toll booth at the road side and followed the Jesus who had called him, along the way.

We’re invited IMMEDIATELY to contrast THAT with the response of the teachers of the Law to the authority and to the Kingdom call of Jesus.

         •        Calling outcasts friends, v. 10

What happens in vv. 11-13 is that Matthew’s response to Jesus is immediately and dramatically contrasted with the Pharisees’ responses.

But where does that outraged and offended response the Pharisees made later come from?

It comes directly from v. 10 … look at this!

“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.”

So, first of all, here’s something ELSE in contrast with anything any contemporary rabbi would have done … and it was yet another thing that was going to cause the religious and self-righteous types utter shock and outrage.

            •          Jesus invites Himself to Matthew’s house

Jesus has something of a track record for doing this.

You may well remember one Zacchaeus … another tax collector … who Jesus called out of a tree and invited Himself to Zacchaeus’s house for tea (as the children’s song puts it).

But here it is in Matthew’s case:

“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples …”

‘Follow me”

‘Where are we going?’

‘Your house. Get the dinner on.’

That would be a scandalous thing to say in our culture anyway … but there, rabbis were besieged with invitations to dinner and only accepted the best ones, which it was the host’s great privilege to have accepted.

Here Jesus invites himself to dinner with someone who considers themselves way below having Jesus to dinner.

Rabbis would be scandalised by such graciousness.

But there’s more …

At this point please notice:

§  Jesus demonstrates His authority to forgive sin by doing one of the works of the Messiah prophesied in Isaiah 35:6 about the lame being made to leap for joy.

§  He then straight away goes out to where He knows He will find one of the biggest social and religious outcasts of His day … a Levite who has turned his back on his people and now to their great outrage plies a disreputable trade profiting from the exploitation of his own people by a foreign invader

§  And against every custom and precept of the time Jesus calls THAT man to follow Jesus and be saved.

Who do you want to see enter the salvation He brings?

Who do you deep down think He will save or has saved, in fact?

Trevin Wax is not wrong about this matter … we DO tacitly, under the surface, react and behave as if Jesus is for the nice people.

The truth is that He only saves sinners, which is great news because there are in fact no naturally nice people.

By nature humanity is shot through with the tendency and the predisposition to sin … it just shows up in different ways in different people.

And yes, that isn’t what we want to hear.

We’d in many ways rather be saved by grace ourselves, then run with the Pharisees in our responses.

Their distorted view of respectability is an addictive thing that many of us long for.

We’re all Pharisees there somewhere deep beneath the skin!

Can you COPE with Jesus the scandalously gracious God Who calls sinners into fellowship with Himself?

Not just the sort of sinners that we like, but the ones that with a passion we’d despise?

There’s one more feature of the scandal of such glorious grace which we’ll come back to in the passage when we meet next time.





            •          Jesus associates with Matthew’s mates

V. 10 “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came …”


Same house.

Same air space.

Same gathering in one venue.

With tax collectors and sinners.

Not one or two.


It wasn’t as if Jesus got ‘caught out’ because the odd one snuck into the kitchen by the back door!

FULL ON … front room … many … 

πολλοὶ τελῶναι καὶ ἁμαρτωλοὶ

We’ve looked at what they thought of tax collectors but the word linked to that here is 

ἁμαρτωλός (hamartōlos) 'sinful'

(a.) sinful, as an absolute moral failure; (n.) sinner, one who violates God’s will or law; in some contexts, one who does not keep orthodox traditions and behaviors.

That’d be about right here with this lot Jesus was breaking bread with.

You see, there’s the thing.

ASSOCIATING with such people, having their shadow fall across you and all that, was to the Pharisees’ way of thinking rally defiling.

Here’s what’s unique about Jesus … and we see here a facet of His Divine Person and Authority.

Time and again we see Jesus associate with, touch, and allow to touch Him those who were deemed unclean people that the self-righteous religious of His day  would have strenuously avoided.

Time and again we see Him touch Him and He touch them but instead of that contact  ‘contaminating’ Him, their contact with Him decontaminates them.

There’s the woman who’d been subject to bleeding for twelve years in Luke 8, there’s the drink He got from the Samaritan woman in John 4 … lepers healed, lame walking, blind healed … you’re getting the idea.

And now Jesus … not fearing He’ll be contaminated by them but knowing He can decontaminate them by the blood He will shed on the Cross … associates freely with loads of Matthew’s quite scandalous mates.

Oh the absolute stinger is yet to be revealed though …

It’s one that from our viewpoint in our future we may have missed … but this is what leaves the Pharisees and teachers of the Law unable to contain themselves any longer

            •          They ATE together

v. 11 “When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Firstly Jesus wasn’t worried about doing this at all.

He wasn’t concerned too much about the standards in the kitchen nor the company in the dining room … but in first century Jewish culture sitting down to a meal was much more than simply taking on nutrition.

There was this concept they had of a thing called ‘table fellowship’.

Table Fellowship in Judaism was a complex and important issue for the observant Jew, especially those of the Pharisaical party. Jacob Neusner studied the rabbinical traditions that appear to come from the Pharisees. He notes that of the 341 rulings that go back to the Pharisees, 229 concern to table fellowship. For this reason, Neusner suggests the Pharisees were something like an “eating club.”

There are several examples of separation from the unclean at meal time in the Bible … not least the separation from the Gentiles that Peter fell for and that  Jesus’ association with Paul rebuked him for when certain Jewish believers came down to Antioch from Jerusalem.Jesus eating with this they thought to be “unclean” people often confused the Pharisees. 

He even shared meals with tax-collectors and other “sinners”  as here in Matthew 9:10. 

Now make no mistake Jesus understood what it meant socially to sit down and eat a meal with someone, therefore when he ate with someone that was a part of the “underclass” he was crossing a social boundary in order to meet a spiritual need and make an outrageous theological point about the people that God graciously accepts.

That is EXACTLY what’s going on here in Matthew 9.

If we are following this Jesus there’ll be times when our behaviour will be thought scandalous and unacceptable.

You see, the point in vv. 11-13 is that the self-righteous religious people were very deeply and utterly scandalised by the grace of Jesus.

         •        Pharisees offended … and then some more, vv. 11-13

Jesus’ table fellowship with prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners had tremendous meaning – he was elevating them to his status circle and expressing his solidarity with them. 

Of great importance is Jesus’ defense of himself as a ‘friend’ of such people (Lk.7:34). 

This scandalized the Pharisees, of course, and meal scenes are always a source of conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. 

Making this particularly ironic is the fact that the Pharisees, ‘although they did not reject the priesthood or the Temple cult, in light of the priests’ and the Temple’s vulnerability to impurity, sought to renew Israel by shifting the locus of holiness to their homes. 

This resulted in the Pharisees’  special focus on the purity of one’s everyday food and of one’s companions at every meal.’ Jacob Neusner observes that this zeal for ritual purity extended so far that the Pharisees viewed the tables on which they ate their meals as representations of God’s altar in the Jerusalem Temple. 

Although Luke mentions more than once that the early Christians had table fellowship with each other, we should not assume that this practice was for Christians only. 

It can be said with some confidence that table fellowship was one of the early Christians’ outreach vehicles, as it was for Jesus. 

When we come across statements in Acts like, ‘And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved’ immediately after mention of the believers taking their meals together regularly (Acts 2:26-27), we should probably see the early Christians as continuing the practice of Jesus, extending table fellowship to ‘tax collectors and sinners.’


            •          The direct challenge to the theology of the Pharisees

Vv. 12-13: “On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.””

Again, as we saw last week when we looked at Matthew 4, the Lord frames His worldview and His responses from the Scriptures.

Not TO the Scriptures.

FROM them.

His response goes like this …

            •           ◦ An appeal to ‘common sense’

V. 12 “On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”

            •           ◦ A direct reference to the Scriptures

A direct reference to Hosea 6:6 follows:

“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

The LXX renders the Hebrew text of Hos 6:6 as comparative: “I want mercy more than sacrifice,” and this is probably closer to Hosea’s meaning.

But Hosea 6 is a really interesting chapter for the Lord to quote in this context when He’s challenged by these Pharisees.

The prophet Hosea is all about challenging the historic people of God about their outward observance but actual spiritual adultery in idolatry and practical everyday abandonment of God for the pleasures that this world has on offer at the expense of everyone else.

But in chapter 6 the people say, lightly and insincerely … hypocritically in fact because they’re just play-acting …

(Hosea 6:1 ff.)

““Come, let us return to the Lord.

He has torn us to pieces

    but he will heal us;

he has injured us

    but he will bind up our wounds.

2 After two days he will revive us;

    on the third day he will restore us,

    that we may live in his presence.

3 Let us acknowledge the Lord;

    let us press on to acknowledge him.

As surely as the sun rises,

    he will appear;

he will come to us like the winter rains,

    like the spring rains that water the earth.”

Can you see what they are dong there?

It’s the kind of presumption on God’s special favour that was summed up by Catherine the Great’s famous comment making light of her own grievous faults:

““I shall be an autocrat: that's my trade. And the good Lord will forgive me: that's his.”

Well, obviously not!

But that’s what those Israelites were doing in Hosea 6 and Hosea therefore goes on to denounce that:

““What can I do with you, Ephraim?

    What can I do with you, Judah?

Your love is like the morning mist,

    like the early dew that disappears.

5 Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets,

    I killed you with the words of my mouth—

    then my judgments go forth like the sun.[a]

6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,

    and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Now then … given that background to the text that He choses to quote … what do you suppose the Lord is telling these Pharisees here?

They are NOT making too much of human sin.

In fact they are making too little of it.

Here’s the point.

They are acting as if some people are good enough … clearly they have themselves in view … but actually it’s the case that no-one is.

We live in an era of what’s open ‘exceptionalism’.

It says: condemnation applies to everyone but me.

‘I’ll be fine.’

It doesn’t wash.

EVERYONE is in this same boat.

These Pharisees are talking and thinking about the ‘tax collectors and sinners’ as if sin were so trivial that the religious, the ‘righteous’ (their gang, basically) are different, better, set apart from the rest of humanity and therefore don’t have to worry about a thing.

Superficial remedies for their faults are all they’ll deal with.

THEY are not the tax collectors and sinners!

They are NOT going to take seriously the seriousness of their own sin.

Their repentance will not be genuine.

Their love is therefore like the morning mist … in Hosea’s phrase … and Jesus hasn’t got anything to offer to that.

It takes far more than ritual and sacrifices to deal with the debt of human guilt.

“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,

    and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”

And that’s where the final point the Lord make here is taking us …

            •           ◦ A latent reference to the role of the Messiah

V. 13b “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Now here’s the thing … here’s the point of the whole section here.

The prophets were very clear, though until it happened it was difficult to understand it, that the Messiah was going to deal decisively and self-sacrificially with human sin.

It was sin that had got humanity in the mess we’re all in, and so the prophetic formula for all we who like sheep have gone astray was that the Lord would lay on HIM the iniquity of us all.

So how could these men so thoroughly versed in the Old Testament scriptures ever conceived that their self-generated righteousness would put them right with God whilst these tax collectors and sinners could be looked down on and sneezed at because THEY couldn’t manage it.

Isaiah 53:6 … for instance … was absolutely clear.

It was ALL who needed their iniquities to be laid on HIM.

This idea that comparative good and adequately good … looking good and being righteous … are identical is an absolute fallacy.

Jesus is clear here there is bio Saviour for the self-righteous.

            •          ◦ The direct challenge to the authority of Jesus

It’s the same here, Jesus is reaching out not just to Matthew but to his circle of friends … and the Pharisees threw their toys from the pram …

Scandalised and shocked they challenge the followers rather than tackling full on the One those disciples follow to that meal:

“‘When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

That isn’t a theological question of the sort rabbis fielded in the synagogue or Temple Courts.

That is a direct challenge to His authority by going not to Him but to His followers, the disciples and seeking to draw them away.

In fact the theological question that arises is really why the disciples of these Pharisees do not.

         •        Conclusion

So now then, let’s return to the sweet little old lady who lives down your street … maybe comes to your church sitting smilingly, happily, in the pew.

And let’s consider the person who burst into a home in Manchester this week and opened fire killing a nine year old girl.

The Bible’s clear that unless she reckons herself unrighteous and turns from sin to follow the Lord Jesus then she’s just as unsaved as the Manchester killer is.

And it is clear on this because we’ve all sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.

It’s more stark than that and this is where the Pharisees switched off from Jesus and walked away.

You see, if the Manchester man turns from sin to follow Jesus … Jesus welcomes that man into His saving fellowship.

Tea with the tax collector.

And the same holds true on the self-same terms for our sweet elderly lady.


Here’s the thing where people haven’t understood how scandalously merciful but how appallingly necessary grace of God really is want to leave the room.

If the Manchester man turns to Christ in despair for the horrors he’s committed, but the sweet elderly lady clings still to her own works, deeds and merits to be right with God … what are we going to say then?

You see, there is the rub with the Gospel.

It’s not that the Pharisees have take sin seriously and Matthew has not.

It is PRECISELY the other way around.

The Pharisees for all their obsession with rule-based righteousness have not appreciated the seriousness of their sin … so that only the substitutionary sacrifice of the Saviour could fix it.

But Matthew the tax-collector has abandoned all his sin gave him to follow the Saviour in faithful trust.

My friends Jesus hasn’t come to save the righteous.

They’ll never turn from the resources of their own sinful selves to trust the Saviour.

He’s come to call self-acknowledged sinners to repentance.

It’s NOT being good that saves your soul at all.

It’s the merits of Christ that are put to your account by repentant faith.

And if THAT scandalises you when you bring it down to the level of who’ll be saved and who will not … who IS it that you actually identify with in the account the we’ve been looking at here in Matthew 9?