Someone Like You - Matthew 9:9–13
Well, today is St. Patrick’s Day and I see many of you are wearing your green. Let me tell you a little bit about Patrick. He was born in what is now Scotland near the end of the 300s A.D. When he was 16, while working on his father’s farm, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and was made to labor in Ireland, but after about 6 years, he escaped and returned home. However, during his time as a prisoner in Ireland, his faith in Christ grew deeper and he sensed God leading him to return to Ireland to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
He did return, and he spent the next 30 years ministering to the people there. Much of what we know about him comes from his autobiography, which he begins with these words: “My name is Patrick. I am a sinner.” What does that word, “sinner” mean to you when you hear it? Would you feel comfortable beginning the story of your life that way? And if you began your autobiography by describing yourself that way, what would say next? Would you “but” and then list some good things you’ve done? Yes, you’re a sinner, but you’ve kept the rules, or you’ve made some good choices, and done certain rituals, so, you’re a sinner, but you’re a good person too.
We naturally feel the need to give disclaimers after admitting that we are sinners. But a basic principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that he came to save sinners. And for that reason, we should never stop characterizing ourselves that way, even though we do good things and break habits and become more like Christ over time. Our trust should never move from what Jesus has done to what we have done. But how might you be able to tell where you are placing your trust?
This passage in Matthew 9 helps us answer that question. On page 6 of the WG is an outline of the passage. Where are you placing your trust: Well, as God calls undeserving people to saving faith, it overjoys those who trust in Jesus, and it confuses those who trust in rituals. So let’s look together at these.
Verses 9-10 are unique in that here we learn more about the writer of this gospel, Matthew. Turns out he was a Jewish tax collector and tax cols were outcasts among their own people. They were seen as traitors because they gathered taxes for the Roman empire and also viewed as unclean because they associated so closely with the Gentiles. And since birds of a feather flock together, other outcasts would associate with tax collectors: people with outward evidence of sexual immorality or other sins in their lives.
The word “sinners” in verse 13 was something of a catch-all word referring to people who were obviously stained by certain things in which they had taken part. In other words, dirty people; people who were too far gone; deep in their sinful way of life, which had, no doubt, become habitual. Their sin formed their identity in Jewish society. Notice that Matthew, as he writes his gospel account, isn’t trying to hide his past. He obviously is comfortable with everyone knowing his background and understanding what Jesus saved him from. He’s not proud of the things he used to do,
but he’s amazed and thankful that Jesus would save someone like him.
Matthew knew he was a sinner, in part because Jewish society continually told him so. They had a word for people like him: hamartolo – “sinner.” By calling someone like Matthew to follow him, Jesus was communicating that he was accepting people based on different criteria than that of the Jewish religious leaders. Essentially, Matthew is saying, “Look, Jesus called someone like me! A sinner like me!”
The long-awaited Messiah, the Savior of God’s people, wanted to include someone like Matthew among his followers, and Matthew was overjoyed because he knew he was a dirty person. He knew he had stains on his life and his past that he could never remove.
Don’t you find that after being born again, some time passes and we begin to change our sinful ways and put distance between us and our past, and it’s natural to begin to forget where we came from? The apostle Peter urged the members of the early church to pursue the qualities of godliness so that they might become more like Jesus. And he says, in 2 Peter 1,  whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.
Have you forgotten? I don’t want to just dig up bad memories, and I’m not calling anyone to announce the skeletons in your closet, but do you remember where you came from? Maybe you need a trip down memory lane. Have you forgotten that Jesus had to die to save someone like you, in fact, to save you? If you trust in Jesus, you will be overjoyed by that news, because you know you didn’t deserve what he did for you. But if it doesn’t bring you joy, if it confuses you or doesn’t sit right with you, or if you feel that the things you’ve done add to what Jesus has done or that they somehow take away from what he’s done, then you are trusting in rituals not unlike the people Jesus speaks to here in verses 11-13. In these verses, we get something very important. We get an OT quote.
Have you ever watched a TV series or a movie that offered flashbacks? The storytellers will flashback to the past to shed light on the events of the present. And the flashbacks are rich in meaning. They amplify your understanding of the story.
OT quotes are something of a flashback. They fill in the gaps for us. They catch us up to speed with what is taking place. Obviously, things in the present are a result of what took place in the past. God had already addressed the attitude demonstrated by these Jewish religious leaders. Notice verse 11: when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” The Pharisees were the dominant religious group among the Jews at the time. The Scriptures often draw a distinction between them and another group called Sadducees. I don’t want to oversimplify the difference between the two groups,
but it boiled down mostly to this question: what has God said to his people? The Sadducees relied only on the first 5 books of the OT – what was called the Torah.
They followed it strictly, and in that way, you could call them conservative. The Pharisees, on the other hand, felt that the Torah was not all God had spoken. So, they accepted the writings of the prophets (which was good) but also, they adhered to a host of oral teachings and traditions developed over time by the Jewish people. For the Pharisees, understanding of God’s Word should evolve, and for that reason, you could call them the progressives or liberals. Now, I know those words are supercharged with emotion and conviction today, and this isn’t a commentary on those views. But realize, this was 2000 years ago. The more things change, the more they stay the same. At other times, Jesus would deal with the errors of the Sadducees. But here, he deals with the group who accepts this evolved version of OT law. They accepted the prophetic writings. And so, Jesus quotes for them a prophet.
He quotes Hosea. Now who was Hosea? Well, Hosea prophesied between 750 and 715 B.C.
He grew up during a time of great prosperity and great idolatry in Israel. The people had financial affluence and ease in life, but they had succumbed to the pressure and allure of pagan worship and ways of the nations. Hosea preached against their decadence. The primary themes of his preaching were Israel’s breaking of the covenant that God made with them at the exodus and God’s judgment for their violations. To illustrate the unfaithfulness of Israel, God instructed him to marry a prostitute. Hosea married her essentially knowing that she would be unfaithful. And that paralleled God’s relationship with unfaithful Israel. Along with that theme was the theme of repentance and understanding what God wanted from his people: not sacrifices, but faithful hearts.
The call for faithful hearts couldn’t be any clearer in the book of Hosea, and these Pharisees are the so-called experts on the prophets. So, when they skeptically ask his disciples why Jesus would associate with these dirty people, Jesus makes an illustration, but he also appeals to what they say they understand and believe. First, a bit of common sense, verse  he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Then he quotes Hosea 6:6 but prefaces it with this,
verse 13: “Go and learn what this means.” People who consider themselves smart regarding a subject generally don’t like to be told to go back and study it again because they don’t get it. But Jesus is telling them that if they understood Hosea, they wouldn’t be asking that question, because God was saying this through Hosea:
You’re all dirty people, and the things you’ve done have not made you clean. Now if you go back in your bible to Hosea 6:6, rather than “mercy” you’ll might the words “steadfast love.” When they translated the Hebrew text of Hosea into Greek, they translated it “mercy.” The Greek word for “mercy” was close in meaning to covenant love or steadfast love in that God desired from his people the demonstration of love toward both God and other people. God wanted them to demonstrate their loyalty or faithfulness. They were unfaithful, adulterous to God. Their idolatry during Hosea’s time had resulted in the mistreatment of the poor and needy. So, they were making sacrifices according to the Torah, but their lives didn’t demonstrate true love of God or other people, two loves which are always intertwined. If you don’t show love to people, you don’t really love God, regardless of what you say. No one was righteous, neither back in the 8th century B.C. nor in the first century A.D. and so, Jesus concludes by saying to the Pharisees “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” It’s not that these Pharisees are righteous. Hosea is clear that they are not. But they don’t see themselves as sinners, as sick people who need the doctor. People who trust in rituals have a sense of self-righteousness and they are confused when God calls undeserving people.
They are offended by his mercy, by his love and acceptance of sinners.
So, they need to go and learn what it means that rituals don’t earn pardon from God.
Rituals are fine. We do things ritually in worship on the Lord’s Day and in our daily lives that help us know God better. But those things don’t earn pardon for our sins,
and neither do any of the good things you’ve done in your life.
Each of us is dirty, each is stained by sins; everyone, even someone like you.
You know, each of us is unique, but at the same time, there are many people like each of us. I was surprised many years ago, after speaking for the first time with a Christian counselor, how “textbook” my thoughts and fears and experiences were. As it turns out, there are many, many people who are very much like me. And there are many people very much like you. There is someone out there like you, very similar upbringing and life experiences, same values, same work ethic, same interests, born around the same time as you, and will die around the same time as you. And that person will die without Jesus Christ, and they will go to hell.
But also, there is someone out there like you; again, very similar upbringing and life experiences, same values, work ethic, and interests, born around the same time as you, and will likely die around the same time as you, and that person knows Jesus and will go to heaven. See, someone like you will go to hell, someone like you will go to heaven. But where will you go? Where will you put your trust? Will you trust in Jesus to save you, or will you trust in your own ability?
I don’t normally do this, but to close this sermon I’d like to lead you in singing, acapella. The song is titled “Not What My Hands Have Done.” It was written in 1864 by Horatius Bonar. These are three of the 5 verses. And we will sing it to the tune of “This Is My Father’s World.” If you aren’t familiar with that tune, listen to verse 1 and try to join in.
Not what my hands have done / can save my guilty soul;
not what my toiling flesh has borne / can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do / can give me peace with God;
not all my prayers and sighs and tears / can bear my awful load!
Thy work alone, O Christ / can ease this weight of sin;
thy blood alone, O Lamb of God / can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God / not mine, O Lord, to Thee,
can rid me of this dark unrest / and set my spirit free!
I praise the God of grace / I trust his truth and might;
he calls me his, I call him mine / my God, my joy, my light.
'Tis he who saveth me / and freely pardon gives;
I love because he loveth me / I live because he lives!
“In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” able to save someone who trusts in Jesus alone, even sinners like you and me.
Let’s pray together.