Simon Bowkett's Podcast

Matthew 9:9-13 - The Scandal of God's Grace - Part 2

September 03, 2022 Simon Bowkett
Simon Bowkett's Podcast
Matthew 9:9-13 - The Scandal of God's Grace - Part 2
Show Notes Transcript



{What sort of people should Christians associate with?}


            •          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 mistakeJesus 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 this account that we’ve been looking at in Matthew 9?