Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Devotional: Jesus Calls Sinners Into Service #1, Matthew 9:9-26

The next section (Matthew 9:9-10:42) makes the point that Jesus calls sinners to follow him, provides healing and forgiveness, and then empowers them to serve him in his kingdom. The passage is framed by the calling of Matthew into Jesus’ service (9:9-13) and the sending out of the twelve to minister as his kingdom representatives (10:1-42). It revolves around the healings of two women and a blind man (9:18-34); people that no one would expect to have prominent places in Jesus’ kingdom. This means that God is now doing things in a different way through Jesus, and anyone who wants to follow God must humbly acknowledge oneself as a sinner, come to Jesus in faith and follow him. Jesus’ kingdom welcomes and embraces sinners but then changes them into God’s images, representatives, and servants, Only those who are willing to humble themselves and acknowledge this are invited into the “kingdom banquet.”
Matthew uses himself as an example (9:9-13) that Jesus repairs people who are broken by sin. Jesus is not ashamed to reach out to a man who would be hated as a Roman collaborator and may have even scammed the other disciples. He was a man who could not be trusted and would not have been welcomed into the homes of the religious leaders or the fishermen disciples. Yet, Jesus not only welcomes him, he eats with him and his other Roman collaborator friends and then makes Matthew one of his representatives. Jesus connected with sinners to make them into his co-workers. This should also be the business of the church. Our practice should also be to connect with and welcome sinners. When we do not, perhaps we are with the Pharisees: outside the banquet Jesus is hosting. We are in God’s service because “Jesus the doctor” healed us. We are now obligated to take that healing to others.
This kind of ministry would require a change in the way God worked through his people. The situation had changed because God’s people were no longer preparing for the king. Now the king was there and so new methods, forms and structures to serve him were required. Jesus answers the questions of John’s disciples, about why he did not fast (9:14-17), with an illustration that urges us to discern the times and act appropriately. It was not appropriate to fast when Jesus was there healing and restoring sinners. That was a time to celebrate and feast. The time would come when Jesus was taken away and then there would be hard times and fasting. The purpose and goals of the old traditions would be “fulfilled,” but would be updated and applied to the new situation. Jesus’ disciples, and we the church, are called to engage sinners and allow God to work through us to bring healing to all those around us. We need to be alert to what God is doing around us, and not so sure of our own man-made theological systems (like the Pharisees), so that we are able to live out God’s inspired word in a way most appropriate to the times we live in. 
The healings at the center of this section provide the evidence for Matthew’s point. The healing of the bleeding woman and the resurrection of a young girl provided powerful evidence that Jesus had the ability to do what he promised (9:18-26). The blood flow would have barred this woman from many of the temple and synagogue activities and likely would have destroyed her personal relationships. In her desperation she reached out to Jesus in faith for healing. Instead of drawing back, as was required in the old covenant, Jesus called her “daughter” and welcomed her touch. He could do this because he knew that she would not transmit her uncleanness to him, but he would transmit his wholeness to her. This is seen even more clearly in the raising of the young girl. There was nothing so unclean or debilitating as death. Yet, Jesus touch was even able to overcome that. The point is that there is no barrier to God that Jesus cannot remove, no sin that he cannot overcome, or no sickness that he cannot heal. He is always willing and able to fix whatever we bring to him in faith.
This is why Jesus connected and engaged with sinners. Their sin did not taint him. Instead his wholeness changed them. When we have been touched and experienced his healing we can do the same thing. Jesus “came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Let’s practice the “mercy” he desires and minister that healing to everyone we meet.

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