WHERE WOULD YOU BE SITTING?
strength requires sacrifice
Jesus saw Matthew sitting among the tax collectors. Matthew was among the marginalized, the outcast, and the immoral. He would not have appeared to have much potential for as a Christ follower. Yet Jesus extends the invitation “Follow me” and Matthew responds impeccably. Luke 5:28 records that “he left all, rose up, and followed him.” Although Matthew was sitting in the place of the sinner, he responds with the true heart of faith. He acts with reckless abandon leaving the physical responsibilities to those around him while taking up his own cross to follow Christ. Matthew would no longer sit as a sinner, he would follow as a Christian.
We must be willing to leave things that need to be left and take up the work of Christ. Paul asked, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?….And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9, 11). The invitation “Follow Me” is descriptive of the way in which we must follow Christ. The word has to do with being united in the same road. It could be literally translated “disciple”. Thomas asked Christ, “Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by me” (Jn. 14:5-6). In John 8:12, Jesus said”I am the light of the world: he that follows after me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life”. We should follow Christ as the torch that lights the road of our life.
A “sinful woman” in Luke 7:36-50 demonstrated the way which we should all follow our Christ. In the story Jesus is asked to eat with a Pharisee and during the meal “a woman of the city, who was a sinner” brought an alabaster flask of ointment and wiped Jesus feet with her hair and tears as she cried. The Pharisee found even her presence objectionable, but Jesus pointed out that she loved him all the more because she was forgiven of far more. Likewise we should count the cost of our wrongdoing so that we will be humble enough to follow our Lord’s voice.
SITTING WITH THE SAINTS?—MATTHEW 9:12-13
Some time after Matthew began to follow Christ, Matthew held a great feast for the Lord in his own house and many tax collectors and sinners were there (Luke 5:29). But here we see an intensification in the narrative. In Matthew 9:9, Matthew is simply “sitting” in the tax booth, but here at this large feast Jesus is “reclining” (ESV; NASB). This is the customary way for people of that time to share a meal–sitting or reclining in the floor. We cannot overestimate the meaning of eating a meal together in that culture. Jesus is placing himself in the company of those who were labeled as sinners. The NASB and NIV place the word “sinners” in quotation marks because the Pharisees labeled those who did not keep their law as sinners even though they may have kept the actual requirement of the Mosaic Law. The fact is that many were unable to live up to the Pharisees standards because they did not have the money to afford their rituals.
Jesus was not sitting with what the world would have called the saints. He was far from the popular table. His presence at this meal made him impure to the Pharisees who would not have even entered the house, but simply “saw” that Jesus was there. From outside the house, the scribes of the Pharisees tempted the disciples with the question: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
How easy it is for us to fall into the same Pharisaical trap! We look out at our neighbor and we label people according to their mistakes, their economy, their culture, or their false doctrine. We label them so that we can degrade them. We have derogatory words to refer to different races. We look down on those that are poorer or richer than ourselves. We see that someone made a mistake and we never forget so that we can appear more righteous beside them. This is the way we behave when we are righteous! This is also how we behave when we are not sitting with Christ!
It is written in Proverbs 3:3-4, “Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart. So shalt thou find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man.” Proverbs 14:21 says, “He that despises his neighbor sins: but he that has mercy on the poor, happy is he.” Hosea said, “Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel: for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land” (Hos. 4:1). Micah said, “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7). Jesus condemned the Pharisees because they paid tithes of the smallest matters and neglected mercy (Matt. 23:23). James 2:13 provides the warning: “For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy; and mercy rejoices (“triumphs” ESV) over judgment.”
Sometimes we focus on the faults of our own brethren to exclude them and exalt ourselves. Do we not remember the life of Peter who was one of the Lord’s 3 closest disciples, an apostle, and an elder of the Lord’s church? Was he not given to anger? Wan’t he often publicly rebuked by the Lord? Wasn’t it Peter who denied Christ three times and cursed those who accused him of being in Jesus’ presence (Mark 14:66-72)? Yet it was also Peter who preached the first Gospel sermon. Shouldn’t we be more forgiving of our brothers and sisters?
There is an unfortunate disconnect between our prayers, our worship, our attitudes, and relationships. We need to remember what we are doing during the Lord’s Supper. In the Lord’s supper, we examine ourselves, promote Christian fellowship, and proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. There is not a time when we are more humbly and intimately connected with the body of Christ. There is not a time when we should more readily confront the perfect holiness of Christ and the utter shame of our own sin. I always appreciate the invitation to go out to eat with brothers and sisters in Christ after morning worship, or any other time. But on more than one occasion I have shared the humble time of the Lord’s Supper when we begged for forgiveness only to go to a restaurant where we can point out and magnify every mistake the waitress and cook made. It is no wonder the waitresses and waiters don’t like the Sunday morning crowd–they don’t tip well and they complain the most. If we are not able to let simple lunch hour mistakes slide why should we expect God to forgive our sins!
Would we be willing to sit with someone who sinned? Would we be willing to eat with the poor? Would we be seen with someone of a different race? Would we, with Jesus, sit with the sinners?
INVITATION FROM THE SCRIPTURE:
Jesus heard the scribes’ accusatory question and apply responds by saying: “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” (Matt. 9:12-13). Jesus addressed the teachers as their teacher. In effect he told them “If you don’t need me, then I am not for you.” Who among us is ready to present ourselves as the righteous person? Wouldn’t we rather sit with the weak sinners at the feet of Christ?
Strength requires sacrifice. Many cultures sacrifice their weakest members to maintain their strength. Jesus sacrificed his strength to make us strong. Jesus–the Word “was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14). “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession, for we have not a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infinities: but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to hep in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16).