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

10 As Jesus was reclining at the table in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were actually there too, eating with Jesus and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “The healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. 13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ In fact, I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:9-13

Two years ago Mrs H and I took a trip to western Nebraska since we were invited to attend the graduation of two college students.  We landed at Denver airport (because Mrs H found some great deals) and rented our car to head to Chadron, Nebraska (about 300 miles, or about 40 minutes from S Dakota).  We stopped to eat and then finished the trip to the hotel along the way.  But, here’s the thing.  If you look at the Cricket Wireless coverage map, you’ll notice only a few places that don’t have coverage—and western Nebraska is one of those places. So, do you know what it’s like to be driving in the wide open, devoid of humanity western Nebraska without a cell phone signal?  That also means no Google Maps!   Being lost is no fun.  It’s as terrifying as a 4 year old getting lost from Mommy and Daddy between two clothes racks at Target or Kohls!

But, being lost in walls of clothes or the vastness of Nebraska is nothing compared to being spiritually lost.  Yes, being physically lost can cause great anxiety, but being spiritual lost can lead to eternal torture.  And what makes matters worse, is that most people who are spiritually lost don’t really know it, or don’t really care.  So, how are we going to reach Joe and Jane who are living down the street perfectly content in their nice house, fancy car, designer clothes, smart phone, pampered kids and managed debt?  How are we going to get through to relatives who don’t want to listen?  How can we convince the average college graduate that there is more to life than a job and a paycheck?

It all begins with understanding and treasuring what Jesus is like and what he has done for us.  These two truths are captured so well in Matthew 9 as St Matthew writes about his personal experience with Jesus.  What happened to him has happened to us.  And when we understand all the better what happened to us, we can in turn make it happen for others.  So, let’s join Jesus to:

Have a Heart For the Lost!

Know the Context

When I was training to be a lifeguard our instructor was adamant that we would know the context of the situation before jumping to save someone.  So, what kind of person is God looking for in order to serve him?  Look at the context!  10 As Jesus was reclining at the table in Matthew’s house, …. the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  The Pharisees believed they had the answer.  They were the self-appointed religious teachers of Jesus’ day.  They were the kind of people who would say to Jesus, “You don’t have to recruit people to serve God.  What more could God want than what he already has in us?  Look at our heritage!  We come from the deep end of the gene pool.  We associate with the right people!”

Now look at the context of the person Jesus chose. As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting in the tax collector’s booth. He said to him, “Follow me.” Matthew got up and followed him.  Do a background check on Matthew and you’d probably think Jesus made a mistake.  His context was being a tax collector.  No, I’m not suggesting that all IRS workers today are crooked people—I’m sure there are some very nice people who are IRS agents.  That wasn’t the case in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.  The territory around Jerusalem was under the jurisdiction of the Roman Empire, and the Romans would hire local tax collectors to bring in the cash.  And now you might be thinking, “Why would a local Jewish guy ever want to be a tax collector?”  Well, the answer is really quite easy: money!  The tax collector was given a quota to met by the Romans, but if they told their citizens they owed even more, then they would pocket the extra money.  So, Jewish Tax Collectors were hated as traitors and cheaters.  Respectable Israelites were forbidden to have social contact with them.

And now you see the context where we find Jesus.  10 As Jesus was reclining at the table in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were actually there too, eating with Jesus and his disciples.  Had Jesus made a mistake?  Did he fail to check the address where he was eating?  Did he fail to do the proper background check so he’d know the context?  No!  Matthew and his friends were just the kind of people Jesus was looking for.  Jesus said to the Pharisees, I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. Jesus was looking for people with whom he could be real.  He would show them the context of their life—where they had been and where they would end up without him.  Jesus was looking for people who would see their real desperate condition when they heard what God demanded, and would realize how much they needed God’s mercy.

So, if Jesus were here today, would he come to your house for lunch?  If your heart has become so calloused to think he doesn’t need to come to your house, then just remember that God knows everything.  He knows your context.  He knows the dirt of your life that you hope nobody ever finds out.  Jesus knows your context.  He knows all your sins.  And he also knows what to do about them.  If Jesus can take a tax collector like Matthew and have mercy on him, and turn him into a witness for Jesus, surely it would be easy for Jesus to have mercy on a sinner like you and me and turn us into a witness for him.  That’s because Jesus Has A Heart For the Lost in their Context, and

Know Our Condition

What we see in our condition, and what Jesus knows about our condition—well, let’s just say Jesus knows you better than you know yourself.  The Pharisees thought they knew their condition pretty well as they looked at their resumes:  “Look at us Jesus!  We show up at the temple at the right times for prayer and worship.  We offer the appropriate sacrifices.  In fact, every time we get out the spice jars to prepare dinner, we count out the particles of lemon pepper, basil, and parsley and set aside 10% for God!  It’s so obvious that the condition of our lives is just what God is looking for!  We are so squeaky clean there is no way God would ever find us eating with the like of Matthew and his dirty friends!”

And now we can understand clearly why Jesus said, The healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. 13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’  Those sacrificing Pharisees would be in for a big surprise on the day they face God in judgment.  They would offer their lives as a testimony to their own goodness before God and he would show them the stains of sin that was smeared all over their offerings.  They thought their own righteousness would get them into God’s good graces.  But, Jesus was making the point that only one thing, only one qualification, only one condition allows anyone to stand before God.  Matthew has it.  The sinners Jesus was eating with have it.  They are honest with themselves to admit their rotten sin before God, repent and believe that their righteousness comes from Jesus’ forgiveness.  They believed their condition was this: They were sinners, but they were forgiven sinners enjoying fellowship with Jesus and bearing witness to his divine mercy.

Praise be to God!  You also know what’s on your resume.  You know your rotten sins of foul language, failing to help your neighbor protect his reputation and property, the fleshy lust, hatred for others, despising authority that God has set up over you, and even the many times you have failed to fear, love and trust in God above all things.  But, you also know something else on your resume. It is shocking to see it there, for you know what you deserve from God.  Look, there it is clear as day.  It says you’re a baptized child of God washed clean of all your sins for Jesus’ sake.  It says right there you’re God’s forgiven child.  It says God knows your Context and he knows your Condition—forgiven for Jesus’ sake.  You know Jesus Has a Heart For the Lost, for he knew your Context, your Condition, and called you by the power of the Holy Spirit to be his witness.  Yes, Jesus also wants us to Have a Heart For the Lost and

Know Our Calling

We know what happened to Matthew after he had a run in with Jesus.  Jesus gave him an assignment.  How do we know?  It says, As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting in the tax collector’s booth. He said to him, “Follow me.” Matthew got up and followed him.  After that Matthew seems to blend into the background as the Holy Spirit inspired him to recall this account in his gospel.  But, there is much more.  Matthew grew up a Jew.  He knew all the OT rules and regulations.  He thought like so many other Jews thought, and his gospel is filled with tons of prophecies that Jesus fulfilled during this time on earth.  Matthew could relate to his people and give a witness about Jesus his people could relate to.  Matthew fulfilled his calling as a witness of Jesus. He could identify with people who are lost and show them the unexpected mercy and forgiveness of Jesus.  It was Matthew that wrote about Jesus’ unjust trial, Barabbas, the two criminals crucified with Jesus, his cry of agony, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matt 27:26), about the temple curtain tearing from top to bottom, the burial, the guard and the Women and the empty tomb, and about the report the guards gave to the religious leaders and their scheme to cover up Jesus’ resurrection.  Matthew knew his calling to tell people the Good News of Jesus Christ.  And is there any of what I just said that you don’t already know?

Dear Christian Friends, then you are also equipped to be witnesses for Jesus.  You can tell your friends, relatives, acquaintances and neighbors the context and condition of your life.  You can tell what it would have been like without Jesus and then tell them what it is because you know Jesus who had a heart of love to seek and to save the lost—that’s you and me!   Perhaps they’ll ask you why you have such a positive outlook on life and you can tell them.  Or how you were so brave during your sickness and surgery and you can tell them.  Or when life got tough with job or relationships and you can tell them.  You can tell them Jesus Has A Heart For The Lost, and he found me!  He found you!  And now I’m here to tell you that Jesus has a heart for you. 

We all can tell stories of what it is like to be lost.  Being lost is no fun, whether at Kohls, Target or western Nebraska.  We can tell stories of people who were living without direction for life, or to live without hope, or in the guilt of past sins.  That’s what Matthew 9 is all about.  It is about lost sinners that were found, forgiven and treasured by Jesus.  You know what Jesus is like and you know what Jesus has done.  So, let’s all find someone in our life and pray for God’s help to know their context, know their condition, and know our calling to Have a Heart For The Lost because Jesus Has A Heart For You!  Amen!