Newtown Bible Church

Messiah: Mission of Mercy (Matthew 9:9-13)

  • Mercy may be defined as: God’s goodness to those in distress. In this sense the entire ministry of Jesus Christ could be described as a ministry of mercy. 
    • His very presence on earth as Son of God was a mission of mercy; His constant activity presented by Matthew, though primarily to display His Deity, as also to show His mercy to those distressed and ravaged by the affects of sin. Chapter 8 He heals a leper; the servant of a Gentile; Peter’s mother in law; all who are brought to Him; 2 men ravished by demons; a paralytic broken over sin; and now to a most unlikely convert.  
  • In each case, Jesus shows that a heart of mercy most reflects the heart of God. 4 Displays of Jesus’s ministry of Mercy that call to believe and reflect. (1) Call: The extension of mercy; (2) Crowd: Those who need mercy; (3) Confrontation: Those who lack mercy; (4) Correction: Mercy most reflects God’s heart


READ: Matthew 9:9-13

(1) Call: The extension of mercy

(a) A great sinner: 

  •  “And Jesus leaving there” - that is, leaving the house where He just healed the paralytic. Mark: “He wen out again by the seashore; and all the people were coming to Him, and He was teaching them.” The “seashore” is along the Sea of Galilee, the location of Jesus’s ministry and, as usual, the crowds are following Him. 
  •  “He saw a man, called Matthew, sitting in the tax collectors booth” - “He saw”means more than His eyes happen to catch. The point is that He saw him as the one whom He was looking for; He saw him with the intent to call him and make him a disciple. 
    • Mark & Luke both identify him as “Levi.”  Not uncommon to have two names (Hebrew, Greek: Simon / Peter; Saul / Paul). Matthew uses his Gentile name.
  • Jesus calls him from “sitting in the tax booth,”  - tells us a great deal about the kind of sinner he was. “tax booth” - term indicates his position of collecting taxes on all goods passing through that region of the country. This would have been a very significant and lucrative business located on a major road and trade route. 
  • (A) There were two basic kinds of Tax-Collector 1) (“chief tax collectors” aÓrcitelw¿nhß [Lk. 19]) - purchased right to collect taxes from Rome; 2) “tax gather” (telw¿nhß) actually collected in the various towns; a.k.a publicans. 
  • (B) Of the publicans there were two basic types. 1) Gabbai - according to Jewish scholar  A. Edersheim: 


“The … tax gatherer, collected the regular dues, which consisted of ground-, income-, and poll-tax. The ground-tax amounted to one-tenth of all grain and one-fifth of the wine and fruit grown; partly paid in kind, and partly commuted into money. The income-tax amounted to 1 percent; while the head-money, or poll-tax was levied on all persons, bond and free, in the case of men from the age of fourteen, in that of women form the age of twelve, up to that of sixty-five.” (Edersheim)


2) Second class Mokhes, these were the custom-house collectors (=Matthew). These were also the most hated because of they had the most room for dishonesty and taking advantage of the people. Again, Edersheim: 


“The classical reader knows the ingenuity which could invent a tax, and find a name for every kind of exaction, such as on axles, wheels, pack-animals, pedestrians, roads, highways; on admission to markets; on carriers, bridges, ships, and quays; on crossing rivers, on dams, on licenses, in short, on such a variety of objects, that even the research of modern scholars has not been able to identify all the names. On goods the ad valorem [tax on estimated value] duty amounted to from 2 ½ to 5, and on articles of luxury to even 12 ½ percent. But even this was as nothing, compared to the vexation of being constantly topped on the journey, having to unload all one’s pack animals, when every bale and package was opened, and the contents tumbled about, private letters opened, and the Mokhes ruled supreme in his insolence and rapacity [aggressive greed].”


    • (1) Roman taxes in general were an irritation to the Jews. A resentment displayed in Matthew 22:15-22; 1) it rubbed in the reality of having to pay to money to a foreign government for living in their own land; 2) the coinage itself bore the image of Caesar and his divine titles, which was blasphemy.
    • (2) They had an even greater resentment for fellows Jews who collected these taxes at the expense. 

(C) In addition to this, they were also known for their Corruption

  • (1) The main source of income for these tax-collectors was what they collected over and above the required taxes. (Lk. 3:13 “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to”; 19:8 “If I have defrauded anyone of anything I will give back four times as much”)
  • (2) Also, they were notorious for making false accusations of unclaimed goods in order to have them confiscated for their own use, and there was little protection from the government. Even more, the taxes charged in many cases were dependent upon the collectors estimation of the value of the goods, which meant that there was much arbitrariness and room for taking advantage. 
  • (D) Generally hated & mistrusted by both Gentiles and Jews. 
  • (1) GENTILES: “calls sleep a tax-gatherer which robs us of half life”; one in a heated debate called his hated opponent “a tax-collector, a dog, a very Charybdis [ka-rib-dis], sucking up everything and never satisfied.” 
  • (2) JEWS: It was no better. Even Jesus mentions them as outside of the kingdom of God (5:46-47; 18:17). There were essentially 3 reasons they were hated by the Jews. 
    • 1) They were traitors to the foreign occupying government, who got rich at the expense of their own people. 
    • 2) They were immoral and generally disobedient to the Law (oral trad), and had constant contact with Gentiles, they (and family) were unclean; even entering a house made it unclean; and they could not appear as witnesses in a court of law. 
    • 3) Because they were considered thieves and robbers it was not deemed wrong to defraud them. the Rabbi’s had sanctioned deception, in some cases, in order to avoid paying what was perceived as dishonest or unreasonable fees; 
  • So, this is the man Matthew; despised, hated, unclean, immoral outcast of society. He was a great sinner, whom Jesus showed a greater mercy. 


(b) A greater mercy. 

  •  “He said to Him, ‘Follow Me!’” - a call of mercy to one who was rejected and hated by his people, now called to follow the Messiah! 
  • Here a call to salvation, but that discipleship that would bring him into the inner circle of the 12 (cf. 10:2f). The power and compassion of the Savior must have been overwhelming. The mercy being displayed certainly is. 


“The prophet of Nazareth was not like those other great Rabbis, or their pietist, self-righteous imitators. There was that about Him which not only aroused the conscience, but drew the heart - compelling, not repelling. What He said opened a new world. His very appearance spoke Him not harsh, self-righteous, far away, but the Helper, if not even the Friend, of sinners.” (Edersheim).


  • No doubt Matthew regularly experienced the disdain, the disgust, the despising, and demeaning attitude of the religious leaders who reserved for him only the most vehement scorn and repulsive hatred. Yet, here come Jesus full of mercy.
  •  “and he arose and followed Him” - repentant faith; no such thing as a faith that does not follow. Like the other disciples (4:20, 22); Lk 5:28 “He left everything behind.”
    • It is likely that Matthew had been observing the ministry of Christ as He taught and healed. Remember, he was in constant contact with travelers and the very crowds that attached themselves to Jesus everywhere He went (Matthew may have even been among them). 
    • He would have been aware of the healing of the paralytic, possibly had a growing conviction He was Messiah. It is possible he was long under conviction of his sin and longed - like the paralytic - to be forgiven and restored to God. 
      • Whatever the case, Matthew was clearly prepared in heart and mind to count everything loss to gain Christ; to deny himself, take up His cross, to lose his life here to gain his life eternally, to count the riches of forgiveness greater than the riches of this world. In short, the one who had been mastered by money, was now mastered by the Master, the Lord of heaven and earth (6:24). 
  •  (1) This is a portrait of saving faith / repentant faith. 
    • He was under no pretense of personal righteousness; he knew he was guilty; his life bore an overwhelming testimony to his corruption and guilt before the Law, that rescue by another was his only hope. 
    • He left it all, but if you were to ask him, I bet he would say he didn’t leave anything. When a person knows their sin, and are awakened to the grace of Christ, everything else looses its luster. All of a sudden, as the hymn writer says: “The things of earth grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” The glitter of this world just looses its appeal when compared to Christ. He had found the treasure of the field and the pearl of great price (Matt. 13).
  • (2) A portrait of divine mercy
    • No one is beyond God’s salvation (1 Tim. 1:15). Salvation is the mercy of God in action; God’s rescuing sinners, through the cross, in mercy (Titus 3:3-7; Rom. 5:9).
  • (3) A portrait of supernatural transformation
    • No one is beyond usefulness to Christ. Even the worst sinner, saved by grace and possessing the Holy Spirit can be made to a useful slave of Christ. 


(2) Crowd: Those who need mercy

  •  “And it came about that He was sitting at a table in the house, and behold many tax-gathers and sinners came and were sitting with Jesus and His disciples” - Matthew’s house, implied here, explicitly stated in Lk 5:29 “Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house.” Note, the first thing he wanted to do was tell others. This was certainly the outcast, despised, and rejected of society gathered together into one home.  
    • It is hard to imagine a more offensive scene the Scribes and Pharisees, but there is not a more appropriate scene for the life of the One who came to save sinners.
  • “sinners” - a term regularly used in the gospels to speak of those who lives were marked by disobedience to the Law, and especially to the oral traditions of the Scribes and Pharisees, which the Lord dismantled in the Sermon (cf. 5:20f)
    • There could not be a larger cultural, moral, and spiritual divide in the minds of the people. For this reason the Pharisees and Scribes constantly questioned and were antagonistic to Christ and the disciple’s association with them. 
    • Yet, these are exactly the ones that Jesus came to save. These are the ones that would get into the kingdom of God - not the religious elite (21:31). Why: These were the one’s who knew and were will to acknowledge their sin, that they needed to be saved. It is impossible to save a righteous person, there are none.

(3) Confrontation: The absence of mercy

  • “and when the Pharisees saw [this] said to His disciples, ‘Why does your Teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’” - the self-righteous leaders had a real problem with this scene; a Jewish Rabbi dining with these sinners. They were not allowed to even enter the house of a tax collector, to eat with was unthinkable and tantamount to making Himself and His followers unclean. 
  • “to His disciples” - not Jesus. This could be because they were acting cowardly and did not have the nerve to go to Jesus directly. Or, it could be they saw in the disciples the weakest link and if they could put doubt into their minds then they would put a wedge between the teacher and His followers. 
    • In either case it is a strongly derogatory, and shows they have no problem, in their own mind, condemning Jesus. Self-righteousness is so blinding, because it appears and feels so pious. God addresses a similar attitude in Is. 65:5
  • The very heart of their system did not welcome, but condemned & distanced themselves from sinners. The very name Pharisee - “separate one” - shows the inherent separation they made between themselves and those viewed as less righteous; even sinners (cf. John 9:30-31 [also Matt. 7:1-6; Lk. 7:34f)
    • The problem with this is that they were morally superior on the outside ([cf. Phil. 3:6 “as to the righteousness found in the law, blameless”]). However, thier error was that they compared themselves with themselves and not with God. When compared with other men they were righteous (John 5:45), when compared to the holiness of God, even what they consider righteousness is putrid, unclean like filthy rags in the sight of God (Is. 6:1f). The outside was clean but the inside was rotten and putrid (Matt. 23:25-28).
  • This is the danger of self-righteousness and it comes in many forms, both religious and non-religious. It is the most horrible of conditions to do deceptively mask over our wretchedness, our depravity, our deep guilt and sinfulness before an infinitely holy God.  
    • They were not more guilty, or sinful than the Pharisees; their’s was just more externally obvious. How about you? Do you generally think of others as worse sinners that yourself? 
    • If you have ever had the thought: “I would never do that” or felt innately morally, or spiritually superior to another, you are guilty of the same thing Jesus is here rebuking the Pharisees. 
  • We use the statement sometimes in referring to a hypocritical remark: “Well, that’s the pot calling the kettle black.” 
    • So it is when we look down on other sinners, as if our sin were somehow less offensive. No one will be concerned about comparative levels of badness in hell. Then it will be eternally clear there is only perfectly righteous and profoundly wicked. 

(4) Correction: God desires mercy not sacrifice 

  • (A) A stinging observation: “And when Jesus heard, He said, ‘It is not those who are healthy (lit. have strength) that need a doctor, BUT those how have sickness’” - Obvious parallel: Healthy / no doctor; righteous / no Savior. 
  • This is such blinding hypocrisy, they thought themselves so righteous, so holy, so much exalted above others; they simply did not, would not see themselves as sinners.  
    • They would accept Him as a political deliverer because they can see and experience their oppression from Rome; they would not accept Him as a spiritual deliverer because they simply did not see and experience their bondage to sin (cf. John 8:33).
    • This is how it is, Jesus Christ simply will be that impressive, or precious to one who does not understand the reality of the depth of their sin. If you minimize His work as Savior; the central reality of the atonement from the gospel then Jesus becomes nothing more than another good spiritual leader. They had no interest in Him as Savior
  • (B) A stinging rebuke: “God and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’” Basically, He is telling them: “You who are the teachers and learned of the people; go and learn what the Scriptures teach!” (22:29 “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God.”) 
  • The quotation is from Hosea 6:6; to get what is going on here, turn to Hosea
    • God is addressing the spiritual unfaithfulness of His people against the backdrop of God’s faithfulness to them. To illustrate this God call his prophet Hosea to marry a woman by the name of Gomer who would prove to have an immoral character. So, Hosea marries her, loves her, has children with her, but she keeps playing the harlot and gives herself to other men - despising Hosea’s love. At the lowest point, he goes and purchases her back from one who probably bought her as a concubine; possibly she was a temple prostitute; either case he buys her back for the price of a slave. Picturing God’s relationship with His people. 
  • Hosea 6:6 comes in the midst of God’s pronouncement of judgement on Ephraim and Judah for their treachery, idolatry, pride, dishonesty, violence, hypocrisy, and rejection of the Lord (4:16-19; 5:2-7). Therefore, God designs His judgement to punish, but also to break them they would return to Him (5:14-15). And this they do at first (6:1-3), but their faithfulness and their return is not from changed hearts, but simply the distress of the judgment (worldly, not godly sorrow). 
    • Therefore, God laments as a scorned lover over the fickle faith of His people (6:4), rejects their hypocrisy (6:5), and calls them to sincere faith (6:6). The point being that in the midst of their hatred of God, their rejection of His Law, their dismissal of His faithfulness, their scorning of His love, and their rejection of His covenant God yet calls to them as a faithful lover calls to wayward wife. 
      • So God is a scorned lover who calls out still to His faithless and adulterous wife in love, exposing His heart to rejection in the hopes of winning the affection of His people. He delights in hesed, mercy, faithfulness, grace, patience, love. 
    • The basic idea is this: God is more concerned about our love for others in meeting their greatest need, for this most reflects His character, than He is about those things we may do or sacrifice personally under the pretense of devotion to Him. This was the constant theme of the prophets against His people, they should have gotten this - Micah 6:6-8 “He has shown You, O Man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (cf. 1 Cor. 13:1-13). 
  • So, here is the connection: the mission of Christ, the Son of God, reaching out now not through the prophets but One come in the flesh. Like Judah and Ephraim of old rejected God and scorned Him, yet God sought them out in mercy; so Jesus reaches out in mercy to tax-gathers, sinners, and outcast in the ultimate display of God’s covenant faithfulness and love. 
    • Yet, the Pharisees are like Ephraim and Judah of old, they never understood the heart of God, in spite of all their religious pretenses, activity, dutiful obedience they were as unlike God as one could be. They honor Him with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him. (older brother of Lk. 15; Prodigal comes home, Father reaches out in love, the older self-righteous brother hates them both). 
  • They were of the same spiritual lineage as their fathers who spurned the Lord and killed the prophets (Matt. 23:29f). There sin looked different because instead of the open rebellion, it has been masked over with the thin veneer of external righteousness, but their hearts were unchanged (Matt. 12:43-45)
    • Now, in their minds, their hardness of heart was righteous devotion to God. After all, it was God Himself who established the priority of holiness, the concepts of clean and unclean, the ceremonial Law, and the exclusivity of His people. The problem lie in the fact that they applied these as means of gaining God’s favor, without first broken by the Laws demands, and depending solely on grace. For this reason the obedience was being built upon the wrong foundation of self, rather than God and His grace. Thus, they were already righteous and did not have a need for a Messiah that rescued them from the judgement of their own sin

(4) Condemnation: No mercy for the righteous

  • “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” - This is a deep rebuke to their self-righteous pietism; a rich call of saving mercy to sinners who know themselves to be such.  We are not talking about those genuinely righteous before God and those genuinely unrighteous before God. Just those who recognize their sin. 
    • It is not about going to church, it is not about simple Bible reading, growing in theological data, doing more. If in your mind these things equal the Christian life and what it means to be a Christian, then your understanding is inadequate. The Christian life, what it means to be a Christian is loving Jesus Christ as a response of deep gratitude for the grace shown to one so utterly sinful, guilty, and profoundly unworthy. It is longing to know, honor, love, please, and be like Him. It is longing after righteousness, because He is righteous, and from the deep sense that we are of ourselves unrighteous.  
  • But for those who see themselves as sinners, as guilty, and helpless before God; who sense deep within their only hope is to cry: “Be merciful to me the sinner!” Jesus is a precious, gentle, and merciful Savior. This was His mission, to rescue sinners.
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