The Mercy of God Calls Us
NKJ Matthew 9:9 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. 10 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. 11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 12 When Jesus heard that, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 "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. Luke 5.32)"
Heavenly Father, You’ve called us out of sin’s delusions. Yet the temptation to return is always there. We give You thanks this morning for Your steadfast love, for Your mercy that endures forever. Amen.
One of the problems that all human beings struggle with is captured in that one word that all of us detest so much – the word "hypocrisy." We see it at work – people submitting false resumes, kissing up to the boss, etc. We see it in politics – promises made, promises unfulfilled. We see it all too often in the church – spiritual leaders who lead two completely different lives. There’s even a death metal band from Sweden that has the name "Hypocrisy." Their songs probably rage against the hypocrisy of this world. We can rage all we want, but it won’t do any good. Is there any remedy for the problem of hypocrisy? There is. Jesus came into the world to show God’s mercy. This is the only thing that has the power to break the bondage of hypocrisy.
Build on the Rock
Last Sunday’s Gospel urged us to build our lives on the rock solid truth of God’s Word. But what is that truth? How would you boil it down? To build on it you have to be able to get a hold of it. Matthew 4.17 gives us a good summary of the teachings of Jesus. There we read, "From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’" Here is a summary of everything Jesus taught. He called sinners to repentance, and He offered them the kingdom of God – salvation through the grace and the mercy of God. Jesus didn’t come to help us improve our lives. He came to give us a new life altogether.
There is a lot of resistance to this. The prophet Hosea was called to address the hypocrisy problem of Israel. In his day the people acknowledged that they sinned. They thought it could be easily fixed with a few superficial sacrifices. But God wanted a deeper change. He wanted mercy not sacrifice.
Jesus focused on the Pharisees. Their resistance to the call of repentance and the mercy of God could be seen in their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah and their rejection of those they labeled as sinners.
Unfortunately there is a little Pharisee in all of us that is constantly trying to reclaim the throne of our hearts.
Jesus told of a Pharisee and a tax collector who went up to the temple to pray. The tax collector prayed, "Lord, have mercy upon me a sinner." Jesus said that he went away justified. The Pharisee prayed, "Lord, I thank You that I am not like other men… especially like this tax collector." We know that same temptation – the temptation to focus on ourselves. Have you ever seen someone who has made poor choices and has really made a mess of their life? Have you then patted yourself on the back for your self-discipline and hard work? Did you despise them or pray for them?
Jesus said that the Pharisees were hypocrites – whitewashed tombs. Have you ever come to worship out of obligation? Have you come because you really want to be with Jesus or because your parents or spouse told you to come? Do you come to hear the words of God or to count the panels of the stained glass windows behind me and to look at your watch?
The Bible says that the Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus. Have you ever attempted to solve your problems with anger, intimidation, and even payback? There is a little Pharisee in all of us. Jesus came to call the Pharisees as well as the tax collectors to repentance.
Self-Sufficient or Self-Deficient
You see there really isn’t much of a difference between the Pharisees and the tax collectors like Matthew. They were both self-sufficient. They really didn’t need God. The Pharisees may have talked a lot about God, but they didn’t cry out for His mercy. Matthew realized that he was self-deficient. There was an emptiness in his heart. It was a tomb… perhaps not as whitewashed as that of the Pharisees, but it was a tomb. He realized that his emptiness could only be filled by that one Jesus Christ. He of all people was not a hypocrite. He died innocently. He was laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. That tomb was opened to show the glory of God and most importantly – the mercy of God. That’s what raised Matthew up from the tax collector’s booth that day. He realized what Jesus was saying, "Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous but sinners.’" St. Luke tells us that Matthew had actually prepared this feast for Jesus. He invited all his friends to meet Jesus. He was so impressed with the mercy that He showed to him.
God is Merciful
I want to show you one of the most powerful examples of God’s mercy in the Bible. We find it in chapter thirty four. This chapter follows what is sometimes called the "Great Apostasy" in Israel. Moses had gone up to Mt. Sinai to receive the Law. When he came down the children of Israel were dancing and worshiping a golden calf. In anger Moses broke the commandments that had been written on the stone tablets. But then we read in chapter thirty four the restoration of Israel and one of the most beautiful descriptions of God. "The Lord passed before him and proclaimed ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will be no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, ‘If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance’" (Exodus 34.6-9). The whole story of the Bible is the story of God’s mercy or steadfast love. The very thing that God demands is always the very same thing that He gives by His grace. "I desire mercy," He tells us, and in Jesus Christ He has shown us that mercy. Those who know the mercy of God will show the mercy of God. Those who know that they have acted in a hypocritical way, who cry out for God mercy, will be enabled by that same truth to show the mercy of God in their daily lives. They can live a life that is not just superficial but real in the mercy of Jesus.
Heavenly Father, we know that we have strayed from You in various ways. We cry out for Your mercy. Now lift us up and help us to serve. Help us to show the mercy of God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Pastor Michael P. Walther
Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2005
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