And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
(Matthew 9:11-13 ESV)
Over the past two days we saw how Matthew, the author of this gospel, left his life as a sinful tax collector behind and followed Jesus. We also saw that he immediately introduced his friends, other tax collectors and sinners, to Jesus.
However, when the Pharisees saw Jesus in the company of people they considered “sinners” they were not happy. It was their opinion that a rabbi (teacher) would not associate with such people.
The Pharisees were an exclusive group of religious leaders in Israel at this time who considered tax collectors, prostitutes, and the like to be sinners. Of course these people were sinners. But the Pharisees mistakenly thought that they themselves were not sinners.
The problem in their thinking is no one is righteous before God. All of us are sinners who fall well short of God’s requirements [Psalm 14:1-3, Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23 et. al]. The Pharisees were under the mistaken impression that they were going to heaven because they (allegedly) kept all the man-made rules in Jewish society at the time. But Jesus tells them that is not so.
Not only that, but the Pharisees, as so-called experts, should have known this because it is written in the Old Testament. That is why Jesus tells them to ‘go and learn’. They thought they knew truth. But they didn’t.
Jesus did not come to call the righteous – because there are no righteous people – but sinners. More specifically, Jesus came for those who recognize their sinfulness and repent of it, as Matthew did.
Just like those who are well have no need of a physician, anyone who believes they are “good enough” to get into heaven won’t seek Jesus. But those who are sick – and know they are sick – will go to a doctor to get well. Likewise, those who are sinners – and know they are sinners – will come to Jesus to be cured. The cure Jesus offers is forgiveness.
In the Sermon on the Mount, which we studied recently, Jesus made it clear that only those who hunger for righteousness within themselves will be forgiven [Matthew 5:3,6]. Anyone who already thinks they are a “good” person will not hunger for righteousness. Tragically, such a person will be left out of God’s kingdom (heaven) despite their protestations [Matthew 7:21-23].
We are all up to eyeballs in sin. The penalty for that is eternal separation from God. We call that hell. Hell is the eternal destiny all of us deserve.
But God came up with a way for us to avoid that. He sent His son to earth to be a sacrifice on our behalf. On the cross Jesus incurred God’s wrath in our place. He took on the penalty of our sin so we don’t have to. Without Jesus there is no way to heaven [John 14:6].
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