Pentecost 3a

Preached: June 1, 2008

Only Sinners Need the Doctor
Matthew 9:9-13

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior from sin and death. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to our Savior is Matthew 9.

As Jesus was passing through from there, he saw a man, called Matthew, seated at the tax-collector's booth. He says to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him. It came to pass while he was reclining [at the table] in the house that behold many tax collectors and “sinners” were coming and reclining [at the table] with Jesus and his disciples.

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

He heard them and said, “The healthy have no need for a doctor, rather the sick do. But go and learn what this means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous but rather sinners. (Matthew 9:9-13)

This is the Word of our Lord

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Doctors specialize in all sorts of fields. We experienced that first hand with Veronica. Last fall she had back pains, so we sent her to the chiropractor. He decided it was more than simply bones out of place, so he sent her to a medical doctor. When it seemed that she might have Lupus, the medical doctor sent her to a rheumatologist. And in order to make sure the Lupus hadn't damaged her kidneys, the rheumatologist sent her to a nephrologist.

When you're sick, you want the right doctor. You want a cardiac surgeon, not an oral surgeon, doing your heart bypass. You want an oncologist, not an ophthalmologist, planning your cancer treatment. On the other hand, if you don't have a specific disease, you don't need to see that kind of doctor. Why see a cardiologist if your heart is good? Why see an ophthalmologist if your eyesight is 20/20? And if you are not a sinner, why do you need the sin-doctor?

That brings us to our theme today: Only sinners need the Doctor. For you see only one doctor specializes in getting rid of sin. His work is flawless. He doesn't need any malpractice insurance. His healing never fails. But many die because they thought they were healthy and so didn't t needed him. Only sinners need this Doctor, but that certainly includes you and me. Let's think about that as we see this Doctor heal another sick sinner by the name of Matthew.

A. Don't deny the disease

1) How does Jesus expose the disease in us, even though we try to deny it?

Matthew was a tax collector. In his day, that was far worse than working for the IRS. Tax collectors were viewed as collaborators with the enemy, similar to out attitude toward someone sending money to terrorist groups. He collected taxes for the Romans. The Romans ruled over the people. The Romans kept the land under the iron foot of their legions. They were the enemy, and Matthew was collecting taxes for them. On top of that, many tax collectors overcharged the people so that they could make a handsome profit.

Now contrast Matthew with a Pharisee. I know that the word Pharisee has a very negative meaning in our minds, but put yourself back in Jesus' day. The Pharisees were the outstanding citizens, both religiously and politically. They did things the right way. In fact, they even made extra rules to make sure they stayed within the lines. They gave 10% of everything. They publicly showed their faith by praying and fasting. They generously donated to the poor. They towed the line and kept themselves separated from all that contaminated.

That's why they wondered how Jesus could contaminate himself by eating with tax collectors and others known for their sins. And wondered is too mild of word. If they were simply curious, they would have asked Jesus. But they ask the disciples to get them to doubt their teacher. They were attacking Jesus. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collects and ‘sinners’?” (Matthew 9:11 NIV) they accuse.

Then the Doctor goes to work. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick . . . I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12, 13 NIV), he says. The Pharisees imagined that they were spiritual healthy. They were right in their own eyes. So why would they need a sin-doctor?

Although we know better than to deny our sinfulness, a part of us does want to justify ourselves, prove ourselves righteous. For example, when I reflect on the arguments I have had, especially with my wife, often what drives me on is my desire to be right. I want to justify myself, prove that I am right. That's what a Pharisee does. He or she wants others to see how right they are, how spiritually healthy. How deadly when we deny the disease because we imagine ourselves healthy and righteous on our own!

So the sin-Doctor must first show us how wrong we are. That hurts. But that is the only way we will go to the sin-Doctor, when it hurts bad enough. I don't like going to the medical doctor; others are like that too. When certain people finally agree to go to the doctor, you know they must be in a lot of pain.

So Jesus aims to expose the disease in the Pharisees and in us. “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9:13 NIV), he says. Like a skilled surgeon, Jesus cuts to the heart. “Yes, you Pharisees, all your outward actions, observances, and sacrifices may look righteous and healthy, but what's coming out of your heart? Is there mercy, love for the lost, for those in such great spiritual need like these tax collectors and known sinners? You want to deny them the only medicine that can heal the sin-sick soul. Look at your heart and see that you are even sicker than they are.”

2) Why is this disease so dangerous?

Don't deny the disease. For you are sick, just like me, like Matthew, and like those Pharisees. You are sick with a congenital, terminal illness. Sin. You were born with it. It brings certain death. But it doesn't end with death. Rather it continues in the terror and torture of hell forever. You can not beat it. We can put up arguments that we're not that bad, that we've done good things, that we've tried our best. You can be righteous in your own eyes. But sin will kill you none the less. Only the sin-Doctor can heal you. Don't deny the disease. Don't run after other cures. Don't think that you need a second opinion. Only the sin-Doctor can heal you. Only sinners need him. But that means you and me.

B. Follow the Doctor in celebration

1) What's the Good News, which is the only medicine that heals sin-sick souls?

What healing this Doctor brings! We're not sure how much Matthew knew about Jesus. But judging from his response, he must have heard what Jesus had been preaching.

Jesus had been preaching the Good News. He preached the comfort of forgiveness for those whose mourned over their sins. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4 NIV), he said. He had come to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17), meeting it's holy requirements for us as our Substitute, so that the Law no longer can condemn those in Jesus. Even his name proclaimed Good News. For as the angel had said before his birth, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21 NIV). Jesus means “The Lord saves.” Maybe Matthew had even heard about or seen Jesus healing a paralytic earlier. Before Jesus healed him, he had said, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2 NIV).

But could this Good News include someone like Matthew? He was a tax collector. He wasn't allowed to worship with the others Jews. He was an outcast. But then Jesus specifically says to him, “Follow me” (Matthew 9:9 NIV). “Yes!” Matthew must've thought, “Yes! This Good News is even for me. Yes, even my sins are forgiven. For Jesus calls to me.”

And Jesus calls to you. All too often we are not amazed that he does so. We are too much like the Pharisees. Rather look at yourself with Matthew's eyes. See yourself as the outcast. For that is what my sin makes me and that is what your sin makes you. An outcast, cut off from God, cut off from his people, cut off from any hope. Outcast!

Then from the depths of despair and isolation, hear his voice: “Follow me. Yes, you, sick-sinner and outcast that you are, follow me. Yes, I'm talking to you. See it was your head that water was poured on in Baptism. I have placed my name on you. It is your mouth that eats my body and drinks my blood in my Supper. I call to you, yes you. In my wounds, you have healing. For in me is full forgiveness. I am your Savior, your sin-Doctor. That's why I came from heaven. That's why I suffered and died on the cross. That's why I rose from the dead. To bring you healing, to be your sin-Doctor, to save you, yes even you.” What joy Jesus' words bring us!

2) What changes does this Good News work in us as we follow the Doctor?

And notice that Matthew in joy left his sinful way of life behind when he believed that Jesus was his sin-Doctor. Don't think that forgiveness is simply like a pill we take in the morning and then go and do whatever our sinful flesh desires during the day and then we just take a pill again at night. Then we become like the Israelites in Hosea's day. In the First Lesson (Hosea 5:15-6:6), you heard how they spoke nice sounding words that seemed to be repentant and seeking forgiveness. But the Lord rejects those words. They are like an outward sacrifice that simply goes through the motions. The Lord wants their hearts filled with love and mercy. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6 NIV).

Forgiveness changes us. We leave behind the sinful ways of life. We leave behind love for the material things. Matthew's life-style changed drastically when he followed Jesus. So also, our life-style as followers of Jesus should be a drastic contrast to the worldly life-styles that run after sinful pleasures and material gain. What changes are Jesus working in you to make?

Yes, because of our flesh we still fall into sin. But there is a world of difference between falling into sin and willfully wallowing in it as our chosen life-style. Repentance turns away from sin. Faith follows Jesus, not sin. And when we see just how great our sin-Doctor is, why would we want to turn back to our old way of life? Real joy comes from him. Follow him. Follow the Doctor in celebration.

We see that celebration in Matthew as well, don't we? The Good News of Jesus brings him such joy that he celebrates. He has a party. The Gospel of Luke refers to it as “a great banquet” (Luke 5:29 NIV). No doubt the joy Matthew felt was like the joy of the former slave-trader John Newton that led him to pen these words: “Amazing grace -- how sweet the sound -- That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, Was blind but now I see.” (Christian Worship 379 :1).

That is your joy as well. For you too have experienced the healing from the sin-Doctor. You too know his forgiveness. He has brought us outcasts into his family and given us eternal life.

Celebrate that joy like Matthew did. He had to share it with his friends. That's why there were tax collectors and known sinners at his house. He wanted them to know the sin-Doctor, to know Jesus and the healing that only he can bring. Only sinners need this doctor, but that includes not only you and me, but your friends and neighbors, yes, everyone. Invite them to come see your Doctor, Jesus Christ. Invite them to church, to VBS, to Sunday school. For only this Doctor can heal them, just as he has healed you. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313