"Jesus Sits with Sinners"
TEXT: Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. Matthew 9:10
What a beautiful picture we have in our Gospel today. Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God, sitting down to dinner with all manner of people.
The Pharisee’s question of the disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" shows they neither knew Jesus nor themselves. For Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Messiah, who has come to save sinners. That is what His very name, Jesus, means -- "Jahweh saves," that is, "I Am Salvation." And there is not one among them, or us, who is not a sinner.
Why did Jesus eat with sinners?
- Unsinners don’t need Him.
- Unsinners cannot recognize Him.
- If He did not eat with sinners, He would have to eat alone.
Now imagine Jesus were to come today. Where would He go to find sinners and eat with them? Right here. Unless we realize and confess that we are, each of us, a sinner and even more the worst of all sinners, He does not invite us to eat with Him.
We are not Pharisees gathered here today to show God how much we love Him, or how much we have done for Him; to get His attention by our many words of prayer and petition, or by our beautiful songs of praise. We are sinners gathered here by the Lord to receive His attention, to be forgiven our sins and strengthened in faith unto eternal life by His precious Word, for Him to lavish us with His love and send us forth into the sinful world to speak this loving Word of forgiveness of sin, life and salvation and to sin no more. This is what Jesus means when He says to Matthew and to all His baptized disciples, "Follow Me."
Now this text, this message that Jesus eats with sinners can be a real land mine for the pastor to preach. For if we take it out of the context of the rest of Scripture, we can make it say all kinds of things. And if the pastor is not aware of and ready to teach the Baptized "to observe all things that I have commanded you," (Matt 28:20 NKJ) there is real danger that the Baptized will be led to believe in some kind of universalism that says, since Jesus came to save sinners and eat with them, that everybody is going to heaven and will be at His banquet table.
This is simply not true, as Jesus points out very clearly in the words of our Gospel from last week, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven....And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matt. 7:21, 23)
Out of a desire to offend no one or a fear that we will turn people off of or away from God, there is the temptation for the pastor and/or his congregation to use this passage as rationale to ignore and excuse all kinds of sin, because it is what Jesus did in sitting and eating with sinnersw, isn’t it?
While we must admit that, yes, Jesus ate with sinners, we also must not forget that He did not eat with all sinners. He ate with those sinners whom He taught, and He taught those sinners with whom He ate. And that is the pattern and command He gives to the baptized, forgiven people of His church and those He has called to shepherd them.
In the verse that precedes our Old Testament lesson from Hosea we read about what must happen to sinners before they seek the Lord’s face and sit down to eat with Him:
"For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear them and go away; I will take them away, and no one shall rescue." Then after this painful application of the Law the Lord says, "I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me." (Hosea 5:14-15)
And this is not just Old Testament religion speaking either. The Apostle Paul warns those who would mistake forgiveness, which is deliverance from our sin, for license, which is permission to keep on sinning:
"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor 6:9-11 NKJ)
False teachers tell you that you can continue in these things. Our Baptism into the Holy Christian faith teaches us otherwise:
"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. . . . Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace." (Rom 6:1-14 NKJ)
Yes we are under grace. Though we are sinners, we are forgiven our sin and freed from it for Jesus desires mercy not sacrifice. That is, because sacrifice is of men but mercy is of God.
By outward appearance and according to the works of men, Jesus sits at the table with sinners. But by the inner reality and according to the work of God, Jesus sits at the table with His saints. Saints not given to their sin but sinners clothed in His righteousness.
Therefore, we who belong to our Father in heaven and are kept by the Holy Spirit with Christ Jesus in His church, teach repentance -- that is hatred for our sin and turning away from it to the forgiveness Christ Jesus earned on Calvary. This is precisely what the prophet Hosea is speaking of in our Old Testament lesson today when he says, "Come, and let us return to the LORD; for He has torn, but He will heal us; he has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight."
Thanks be to God our Father, and His precious Son Jesus Christ. We are not doomed to live in our sin and damned to live without God. For Jesus has suffered, died and risen for us. Everything the prophet Hosea writes about the people of God has been visited upon His Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ, in our place. Truly, in Christ, we ourselves were torn and stricken on the cross. By pouring out His Holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death on Calvary some 2000 years ago He has forgiven the sins of the whole world. In the waters of our Baptism, in the confession & absolution of our liturgy, in the proclamation of the Gospel, in the body and blood of the Lord’s Supper -- in all of these things we have been revived and raised up with Christ to come and return to the Lord our God. For in these things the Lord Jesus Christ is present today to "revive us; ... [and] raise us up, that we may live in His sight" even as He forgives you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen