Encounters With Jesus
With thanks to Leon Barnes
By Paul Robison

“For centuries people believed that Aristotle was right when he said that the heavier an object, the faster it would fall to earth. Aristotle was regarded as the greatest thinker of all time, and surely he would not be wrong.  Anyone, of course, could have taken two objects, one heavy and one light, and dropped them from a great height to see whether or not the heavier object landed first.  But no one did until nearly 2,000 years after Aristotle's death.  In 1589, Galileo summoned learned professors to the base of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Then he went to the top and pushed off a ten-pound and a one-pound weight.  Both landed at the same instant.  The power of belief was so strong, however, that the professors denied their eyesight.  They continued to say Aristotle was right” (Bits & Pieces, January 1992).  Isn't it amazing how we can sometimes make up our minds about something, be proven wrong, but still keep thinking the same old thing and refuse to change and admit we were wrong.  Someone puts it this way:  "I have been comforted for more than 20 years by the thought that Jesus welcomes, not only sensible sinners, but stupid ones as well."  Jesus encountered this same difficulty during His lifetime.  He was bringing to Israel some good news, but the Jews' reactions to His teachings were all over the board.  During July, Sunday morning's sermons will be entitled “Encounters With Jesus”.  We'll see how some of the Jews reacted to Jesus and how He reacted to them.
 
Let's look at our text again, Matthew 9:9-14: “As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office.  And he said to him, 'Follow Me.'  So he arose and followed Him.  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.  And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples: 'Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?'  When Jesus heard that, He said to them: 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.'  For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.'  Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, 'Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?'”  As we read this story, there are many characters involved.  Which character are you like? 
 
Are you like Matthew?  Let's think some about Matthew.  Tax collectors weren't very well liked by the Jews because they worked for the Romans (unclean Gentiles) and overcharged people.  They were usually very rich and could call the Roman army to help protect them.  When Jesus calls Matthew to follow Him, we notice that Matthew doesn't hesitate at all and walks away from good-paying career.  You see, once he left his tax-table, he could never return.  This shows us that Matthew was decisive.  Maybe Matthew had grown tired of his Roman bosses, or maybe he began to think there must be more to life than just earthly riches, or maybe he felt it was just time for a career change.  Whatever motivated him, we see that he responded to Jesus' call, and then he never turned back to his lucrative business.  His response was just the opposite of that of the rich young ruler who was unwilling to give up his wealth to follow Jesus.  Matthew was probably very joyful and excited to be added to Jesus' group of disciples.  He would now get to know this young Rabbi that he had heard so much about.  He saw that Jesus had cared enough to call him personally.  Someone observes: “Matthew’s conversion shows us that Jesus saves anyone who will truly follow Him: ...the hated....the bitter...the unjust...the non-religious...the traitor...the thief...the immoral....the person without purpose or meaning.  Jesus saved Matthew, and Jesus even [saves us] because Jesus goes where the sinners are” (Sauer).  We see too that Matthew was generous and evangelistic.  One of the first things that Matthew does is to have a feast because he probably wanted to have his friends meet Jesus.  Matthew had lots of friends because the text says that “many tax collectors and sinners” came to his feast.  Matthew did not want to shun his friends, but he wanted them to learn more about Jesus.  And we later on find Matthew writing a book to help his fellow Jews see that Jesus really is the long-awaited promised Messiah!  Maybe you are like Matthew, maybe you're determined, enthusiastic, and evangelistic.
 
Or are you like the tax collectors and sinners?  This group was probably pretty rowdy.  They liked partying and were probably pretty boisterous, loud, gluttonous, and undisciplined.  A feast was a place to have a good time and live it up for a few hours.  There was probably some laughing, joking, and even cursing going on among them.  They shared stories of how they had ripped people off and how they had gotten good deals on new items that the traders had brought to the marketplace.  They were a bunch of good old boys having a good old time at their good old friend Matthew's house!  They often missed the Sabbath services, liked to gamble with the Roman soldiers, and knew where most of prostitutes hung out.  Yes, this is the group that like riotous living rather than righteous living.  Do you relate to them?  Are you following the ways of the world?  Are you letting Satan and our culture call the shots and set the standards for your life?  By the way, those of who are Christians need to remember that we used to be among this group as well.  Have we forgotten that we once were “sinking deep in sin far from the peaceful shore”?  Paul writes in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  Only by God's grace and someone's concern for us did we learn that there was a way to come back home and get out of the pigpen in which we found ourselves at one time.  The old hymn has it right: “Sinners Jesus will receive, sound this word of grace to all.  Who the heavenly pathway leave, all who linger, all who fall.  Come, and He will give you rest, trust Him for His word is plain.  He will take the sinfulest, [and will cleanse each spot and stain]” (modified McGranahan).  If you feel like the tax collectors and sinners, Jesus offers you hope and forgiveness if you will admit your spiritual sickness.
 
Or are you like Jesus' disciples?  How did Jesus' disciples feel during this party of Matthew?  They probably had some very mixed emotions.  Having the tax collectors and the scribes and the sinners and the Pharisees at same party certainly made for some uneasy moments.  Can't you hear one of those disciples: “Hey, Peter, why did we ever let Jesus talk us into to coming to this?”  Did they feel more at ease with Matthew's friends or the religious leaders?  What did they feel as they saw Jesus laughing and enjoying Himself with Matthew's guests?  The text says that the Pharisees asked them a question:  “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  They don't answer right off the bat.  Interestingly, before they can get an answer out, Jesus steps in and gives a reply.  They were probably grateful to get a nice big meal for a change, but this was definitely a most unusual outing!  It's interesting that when we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we can end up in some unusual situations.  The Scriptures show us that Jesus had visits with all kinds of people: the religious leader Nicodemus, the tax collector named Zacheus, a Samaritan prostitute, the devoted family of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, a Pharisee named Simon, a naked demon-possessed man, a blind man named Bartimaeus.  Isn't it amazing how Jesus accepted them all and touched them at their deepest point of need?  Following the Light of the world into a world of darkness makes for some interesting (and maybe even uncomfortable) encounters.
 
Or are you like the scribes and Pharisees?  They weren't having any fun at this party were they?  Someone observes: “They didn’t understand the concept of the ‘new birth.’  They didn’t believe that people could change.  They prided themselves in being the ones who were right with God, and they felt it was their job to [criticize] and judge those who didn’t live up to their standards” (Sauer).  Another preacher puts it this way: the religious leaders thought it best to avoid sinners, but Jesus chose to associate with them; the religious leaders thought it best to fast, but Jesus chose to eat with others and teach them while doing so; the religious leaders thought tradition must be honored, but Jesus thought God's will needed to be honored (Chesnutt).  What prompted the religious leaders' question to Jesus' disciples: “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  We they seeking some answer that they might use against Him?  Or were they trying to drive a wedge between Jesus and His disciples (Coffman)?  Jesus told these leaders: “But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.'”  Did you know that Jesus is quoting Scripture here?  It comes from the prophet Hosea (chapter 6: verse 6).  The Jews had been mistreating and cheating one another.  Showing mercy to others was more important to God than offering Him sacrifices.  Someone else explains it like this:  “The Pharisees were committed 'churchgoers.'  But 'Church-i-ness' will never impress the Lord.  You see, when Jesus talked about sacrifice, He was referring to their religious traditions and ceremonies.  We can paraphrase Matthew 9:13 this way, 'Until you can look at all people with mercy and compassion, your church attendance and worship are meaningless to Me.'  In other words, Jesus was saying that sick people need treatment not tradition.  If you’ve ever been in the hospital, you know that you will be constantly interrupted for treatments.  You’ve just drifted off to sleep when the lights blare on, and some nurse wants to test this, or get you to swallow that, or sit you up, or stick you with something.  But imagine a hospital where they just go through motions.  They turn the lights on and wake you up three times a night without fail.  But they don’t give you any treatment. You ask why they keep waking you up, and they say, 'Hey, it’s just our tradition.  We’ve done it that way for so long that no one actually remembers why.'  That’s the way church can become if we’re not careful.  We sit, and stand, and sing, and bow our heads, we smile and greet and say “Amen” ---all at the proper times.  But no one remembers why.  It’s just the way we 'do church.'  Actually, it’s possible for the church to become its own god, worshiping its own ways, refusing to make any changes, or even to examine why it does what it does” (Skidmore).  Isn't it sad that the religious leaders' “bitterness toward the despised and socially unacceptable masses was the prime reason for their failure to recognize Jesus as their Lord[?  You know] snobbishness is still a reality in many hearts, and its effect of spiritual blindness is just as real and fatal now as then” (Coffman).  Are you like the religious leaders: self-righteous, judgmental, critical?
 
Or are you like John's disciples?  Matthew says that they ask Jesus a question in verse 14: “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”  Looks like Matthew invited Jesus' cousin and his disciples to this feast as well.  Remember that Pharisee in Jesus' parable who prayed to himself and mentioned in his prayer how he fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12)?  Now nothing was wrong with fasting, but it could be turned into a religious badge.  Remember how Jesus said that some Jews liked to disfigure their faces so that everybody would know they were fasting, and talk about how “holy” they were (Matthew 6:16-18)?  But what prompted this question in the first place?  Were these disciples just curious, or maybe a bit jealous that Jesus' disciples were getting to enjoy more food than they were, or proud that their spiritual actions were a little bit above that of the average Jew?  Well, whatever their motive, Jesus had an interesting answer that those who were friends of the bridegroom had to enjoy their wedding cake when the groom was in their presence.  There would be a time to fast, and one day His disciples would, but right now was a time to celebrate.  One commentator notes that the bridegroom will be “taken away” from the disciples, and this must be an allusion to Jesus' arrest and subsequent death on the cross. (Lewis).  There is a seriousness and dedication about being a Christian, but there is also a great joy and wonderful exuberance when you realize you are a disciple of the King of kings and Lord of lords!  Jesus brings us the great news of God's grace, His church, and the indwelling Holy Spirit!  Are you like John's disciples?
 
Or are you like Jesus?  Let's flip over to Luke 5:36ff: “Then He spoke a parable to them: 'No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one; otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined.  But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved.  And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires the new; for he says, “The old is better!”'”  Jesus was so merciful.  He gave Matthew a new life and wanted to heal all the diseased friends of Matthew.  Someone observes: “Jesus saw 'a man'.  Some would have seen only a tax collector, but Jesus saw … the human heart … How often people's eyes are blinded by prejudice, social bias, or self-interest, and they fail to see the man [or the person]” (Coffman).  If Jesus is the doctor for the sick and wounded, then doesn't that mean that His church should be a clinic for sinners?  Someone challenges us with these thoughts: How do “we see the wounded people all around us[?]  Let’s face it; society today is different than it was when a lot of us were growing up.  It used to be that most people shared a kind of “Judeo-Christian” heritage.  Whether Christian or not, most people had a basic agreement about moral standards.  That is no longer true.  It’s not that most people in our society have rejected Christian values.  Many of them don’t even understand what Christian values are.  So let me give all of us a little reminder.  Sinners tend to sin.  And sin always gets ugly.  It messes people up.  So stop and think a minute: how do you view the people around you who don’t share your values, tastes, and opinions?  Do you feel irritated: “They ought to know better!”  Do you go a step further and get angry?  Or do you go even further than that and condemn them” (Skidmore)?  Jesus was at ease in eating with sinners and wanted them to turn toward God.  Not only did He love the sinners but also He challenged the religious leaders and tried to help them draw closer to God.  Someone rightly observes: “The difference in Jesus and the Pharisees lies in their conception of priorities in the will of God: for the Pharisees, the first priority is obedience to regulations, for Jesus, [it was] a mission to people.  A healer must get his hand dirty [and touch those who are wounded]” (France).  Did you notice the parables?  Jesus let these religious know that He “was not going to be just a patch in the garment of Judaism to cover a threadbare area.  Jesus was bringing in a whole new outfit to wear” (Nelson).  “The meaning of the saying new wine into new wineskins is that the presence and teaching of Jesus was something new and signaled the passing of the old.  Jesus could not pour His new ministry into old Judaism.  Judaism had become inflexible due to the accumulation of centuries of [man-made] traditions. … Jesus did not come to reform an old and worn out system but to fulfill or complete it, and then introduce something radically new” (Nelson).  You see, Jesus was trying to challenge these religious leaders and help them to see that He was offering a totally new way to get closer to God.  He was trying to teach them if they had ears to hear.  But He knew there would be resistance from them: “And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires the new; for he says, “The old is better!”'”   “The Pharisees liked the old [covenant] better. They didn’t want to let loose of the old way.  Ever met anybody [else] like that” (Skidmore)?  Are you accepting, seeing the best in others, and challenging like Jesus?
 
Did you know that one hundred pianos when tuned to a single pitch fork will all be tuned to each other as well?  When one hundred people are together tuning in on Christ, then they too should become more attuned to each other as well (Tozer).  May our congregation put mercy above tradition.  May we view people around us with compassion and lead them to the Great Physician.  May we have the patience with each other to allow Jesus to work in each one's life and bring us all into perfect forgiveness, wholeness, and harmony (Skidmore).  Matthew followed Jesus immediately.  Why don't you do the same if you are not a Christian?  The religious leaders needed to change.  As a Christian, maybe you need to change as well?  Why not tune yourself to the joyful Jesus?