We cannot hear often enough that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Because he lived a perfectly obedient life, satisfied the justice of God on the cross, and rose again to reign and intercede, we have forgiveness of sins, peace with God, full atonement, unimpeachable righteousness, heaven opened to us, the Spirit of God indwelling –gospel treasures worth more than all the worlds. It is important for us to see how the unsearchable riches of Christ come to sinners – how does he show his saving grace? To whom does he show it? In what ways does his grace transform us? The Gospels teach us these things so that we see the glory of our Savior’s grace and learn to trust his power more. Then, as we are drawn to follow him, the world will have less hold upon our affections. Its turbulences and troubles will not make us fearful but more trusting in our powerful Savior, who has called us into his fellowship. He will never let us go. He is the good Physician who has healed us and will keep healing us to the end of our race. He is the new wine from heaven who refreshes us by his Spirit and makes us fit vessels to enjoy his blessings. Let us rejoice in Jesus’ wonderful grace and seek him this morning.
He Calls a Tax Collector (vv. 27-29)
By His Effectual, Omniscient Word
Although Luke alone gives the tax collector’s name as Levi, there can be little doubt that our Lord’s calling of Matthew recorded by Matthew himself and again by Mark (Matt. 9:9-10; Mark 2:14), refers to the same person. Each record is immediately followed by a feast and Jesus’ words about the sick needing a physician. The most remarkable thing about Luke’s record of the event is that it was apparently a spontaneous calling without prior preparation. Surely Matthew had heard of Jesus’ words and works, for the whole region was filled with the news of the Nazarene. Yet, even if Matthew had some prior interaction with Jesus, his calling shows the sovereign and quickening grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who did not scruple to gather about him the dregs of society and by his power to transform them into his faithful servants. Matthew was one of many sub-revenue agents that were hired out to collect local levies and tolls. Matthew would have worked for someone like Zacchaeus. They were typically unscrupulous men and hated by their countrymen for getting wealthy through fraud. Our Lord seized upon all this in an instant. Looking at Matthew, he gave a sovereign call: “Follow me.”
“Follow me” did not always or even usually require a man to leave everything behind and follow Jesus as the sole business of his life. The time transcending relevance of his call is not that we are to follow a narrowly prescribed life of religious ritual or separatism to follow him, but that we are to follow him in everything that we do. Zacchaeus was a follower of Jesus, but he evidently remained where he was, albeit conducting his business very differently! But in Matthew’s case, “Follow me” meant “leave everything and come now.” Matthew arose and followed him. Given the feast he hosted in Jesus’ honor, it is evident that he did not simply abandon his post but gave it to another. Should the Lord suddenly call us to a different line of work, we should leave our previous one in a reasonably good state. The important truth is to see that Jesus’ word is powerful and quickens otherwise dead men so that they are willing to do what otherwise would be impossible. And when Jesus says, “Follow me,” he means to devote your life to my service.” In Matthew’s case, this was a call to join Jesus’ inner circle of disciples and eventually to be one of the twelve. For us, since Jesus does not limit “follow me” to a select few but gives this call to every disciple (Matt. 16:24; Luke 9:23; John 12:26), we are to see our lives as Christians as personally committed to the person and work of Jesus Christ, to believe upon his name and to walk as he walked (1 John 2:6). To follow Jesus means that we make pleasing him our life’s passion, view our lives as belonging to him and not to ourselves, and grow in love and obedience. Following Jesus is thus our defining, dominating reality because he is, because our lives are hidden with him in God, because we have been crucified with him and have no other life but that he raised us from death to life.
Matthew’s Life Changed, Humbles Our Hearts
When Jesus calls, men come. His effectual call is a quickening call. When he calls the dead, they come from their tombs; new life pulsates in the sin-killed soul, recovers his sight, renews his will, and empowers him to follow Jesus. Matthew did not rise from his tax table and begin following Jesus by anything in him. His will was not inclined to such a step. The word of Jesus breaks sin’s shackles upon our minds and wills, thus enabling us to respond in faith to Jesus’ call to come. We are also dependent upon the quickening call of Jesus Christ. In ourselves, we lack strength and resolve and ability to follow him. We may believe that he is the Christ of God, but we are unwilling or unable to devote ourselves to him. This can be true even of respectable church members. Doctrines can be believed and sacraments received, but a personal commitment to follow Jesus is lacking. This is evidenced by the lack of repentance, Spirit-produced fruit, and powerlessness to overcome sin and obey. Let us take seriously that Jesus’ call comes with power. He calls us into his fellowship (1 Cor. 1:9). His call changed Matthew’s life, and it changes all who hear his voice. And if we have heard his call, great joy and humility, as well as power unto fruit and obedience, are the clear evidences. Every true disciple of Jesus Christ has heard his voice. Following him is not the result of naturalistic forces in a man’s life, predisposition to a religious life, or family nurture. It is the voice of Jesus calling the dead from their tombs, the tax collectors from their tables, you and I from sin and death to new life and power.
He Calls Sinners to Repentance (vv. 30-32)
Truth and Irony: Sick People Need a Physician
Salvation’s joy must make itself known, and Matthew’s feast in honor of Jesus testifies to his newfound faith and love. He invited his old friends to the feast, and Jesus attended not because sin no longer matters in his new order of salvation or because the old boundaries should not be maintained but because sinners must be delivered from their rebellion against God. Any thought of using Jesus’ regular association with social undesirables to justify lowering God’s moral standards finds no justification in Jesus’ actions. When the Pharisees objected to Jesus’ feasting with such people, he made it clear that he came and participated as a physician to the sick. Yes, Jesus could also enjoy “eating and drinking,” but he had a higher purpose of reaching those still within the pale of the old covenant church, but who were lost in sin and hated by the Jewish leaders. There is irony in Jesus’ answer (v. 31). At one level, it might seem that the Pharisees were well and needed no physician, but in fact they were also sick and would not admit it. When Jesus makes us well by his grace, like he did Matthew, joy is the right response. But when we are yet sick because of sin, dead and in need of the Great Physician to raise us up, like the Pharisees, we cannot see it. Jesus must come to us, for we shall not come to him on our own.
Jesus Draws Near to Sinners to Call Them
This is one of the clearest declarations thus far as to why Jesus came into the world – to call sinners to repentance. Of all the things that men would like Jesus to be – the great teacher and example of unconditional love, the social revolutionary who cavorted with prostitutes and tax collectors to poke respectable society in the eye, or the Savior who opened the door for anyone to be saved, provided they use their free will – he is something very different and far more uncomfortable. He did not come to call the righteous – again, a touch of irony in the present context – but sinners. Now, since in Jesus God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:31), all men are sinners. None are righteous, no not one (Rom. 3:10). Perhaps Jesus distanced himself from the Pharisees, who thought of themselves as very righteous, just as some people in the church today. Do not keep telling me about the gospel, or trying to present Jesus to me in all his multi-faceted glory as the Savior of sinners. I am a good person. Surely to these as to the Pharisees, Jesus would say, “I have not come for you, for you feel that you are doing very fine without me and are quite righteous and good. I have come for sinners – like Matthew – who were thinking of nothing but their days’ wages, dead to all that is good, eternal, noble, perhaps feeling at times twinges of guilt but brushing it off as distracting from the main business of life, pleasure or profit, I have come to call them to repentance.”
This is the reason Jesus came. It is the meaning of his name: Savior from sin. It is the reason that the real Jesus remains just as uncomfortable and unwelcome today as when he came to his own and they rejected him. He challenges the self-evaluations of the dead – we are not dead! He saves from sin – we are not sinners, or at least not so bad that we need saving by the death of another on the cross! And who are you to speak of me as a sinner; there is no higher standard for morality than my feelings and beliefs. But the real Jesus, the reason that his gospel is called “the gospel of forgiveness of sins,” and the apostolic preaching of the cross, is the Son of God who came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). If you are a sinner, there is great deliverance for you in Jesus. Do not ask how he will deliver, but know that he is able. Do not judge him by your past failures, for he never fails. Do not hold back for fear of how he might change you. Believe upon his name, cast yourself upon his power and love, trust God’s promise of mercy. If he calls you to trust and repent, be assured that he will save you from your sins – their penalty, guilt, power, and one day, their very presence. This is who he is – the Deliverer, the Redeemer, the Savior of the world.
Repentance the Fruit of His Call
Repentance is what sets the sinner’s teeth on edge. To some still in love with their sins, the thoughts of leaving them – wait! – the thought that what I am doing is wrong, even wicked? Some ages have had a stronger sense of guilt than others, and some have turned every vice into virtue. This is guilt screaming so loud it drowns everything else out, but the noise makes it a challenge to confront sinners quietly. But Jesus can and does. There is no coming to him in a way that pleases him unless there is coming with repentance. He must call us to this. We have no strength to turn from our sins, even to hate them for what they are before a holy God. Sin’s consequences may be distasteful to us, but this is something very different than actually hating sin and longing for righteousness. Jesus gives this when he calls sinners. This is his message to sinners – repent or perish (Luke 13:3,5). We cannot therefore have Jesus Christ and our sins. If we try to find a way to hold fast to our lusts and lifestyles but also have Jesus, we shall find it a fool’s errand. He comes to call sinners to leave their lusts, to hate their hatred and their anger, and to abandon their selfishness and self-centeredness. This is true repentance, and it can only come from heaven. From a conviction of sin’s ugliness in itself and hatefulness to a holy God, we hate the sin, turn from it, renounce and self-judge ourselves for it (1 Cor. 11:31; 2 Cor. 7:10-11), turn to God to walk in obedience to him, all the while clinging to Jesus Christ as our cleansing and our righteousness.
He Gives Joy to His Disciples (vv. 33-35)
Beware Manmade Spirituality!
The Pharisees were getting mad by this point, for they felt that this conversation was not going as they intended. Wait – is he saying that we need to repent? That we are not really righteous after all? Why would he remain in the company of these stupid, filthy people? Their hard unrepentant hearts could not understand what Jesus meant, so they turned as usual to a defense of their manmade rituals. Every good Jew, especially among the leadership, fasted on Monday and Friday, the supposed days that Moses went up into Mt. Sinai. John’s disciples also fasted – did they join with the Pharisees and scribes at this moment to condemn Jesus – so why did Jesus and his disciples feast? Today’s rebuttals of Christians are on the other end – why will you not have fun with us (1 Pet. 4:4). In Jesus’ day, why are you not as austere as we are, as mature in your self-denial of the body, above the pleasures of eating and drinking?
Rejoice! Christ Has Come
Jesus answered in two ways. First, I am here, and this is no time for crying! Who else can deliver men from sin and death? Do you not understand how much misery has been in the world since Adam’s sin? Everywhere, at all times, in all men, corruption has been spewing. There has been no one to deliver. It was so bad in Noah’s day that I judged the whole world and began again with Noah and his family. But “Lo, I have come.” The Deliverer God promised to Adam is now here, the Seed of the woman, the Seed of Abraham, the Seed of David, Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, Jeremiah’s Righteous Branch, Malachi’s Sun of Righteousness, John’s Lamb of God. Jesus Christ is the Bridegroom who has come to save his bride – could his attendants be sad? The day of betrothal had come, when he fulfilled his commission from the Father and his pledge to be the Surety of my sinful Bride. For the moment, he says to them, let my people sing and rejoice. They must. I am the new wine of joy and peace and life.
Second, but I will soon be snatched away, a reference to his bloody death, and then my disciples will fast (v. 35). Even this, however, is not for the purpose of denying the body, which Jesus also came to save, or for austerity’s sake. If beating up or denying the body was virtuous, Jesus would have practiced it! He did not, for he rejected manmade spirituality. Yes, moderation in all things is very much a need of our hour, but this is because too much enjoyment of this life dulls us against pursuing the greater glory of the life to come. It remains hard for rich men to enter God’s kingdom, for earthly riches, even if gained in the path of obedience, have a way of calling attention to themselves and not to the God who gave them. We shall enjoy full and holy feasting in heaven. Here our feasting, like our fasting, is for higher ends – not to be foodies, but to be thankful for God’s saving grace in his Son and to celebrate the wonderful grace of Jesus, or to be morose killjoys. We must occasionally fast, although no hard and fast rule can be made, to curb our inordinate desire for this world so that we may set our affections on things above. There is no virtue in fasting in itself – the higher ends and consecrated heart are what make it useful at times to reset our hearts for God and his kingdom, as well as our pursuit of holiness.
He Brings the New Order of Salvation (vv. 36-39)
Judaism (Legal) Will Not Blend with the Gospel (Grace)
Two parables drive home the wonderful grace of Jesus. First, the old cloth of Judaism cannot be mended with the new cloth of the gospel. This seems to be the point of the comparison. Judaism has a tear in it. First-century Judaism is by no means the same thing as the Old Testament religion revealed to Moses and the prophets. Judaism did not believe Moses, i.e., it was an official rebellion against God’s word and covenant (John 5:47; 8:44). Judaism was a substitute for the Old Testament – as illustrated by the commandment for weekly fasting. You will not find this commandment in the Old Testament. And this is true for the spirit of Judaism also – “God, I thank you that I am not like this publican” (Luke 18:11). Anytime one’s righteousness is based upon ritual and manmade works, pride is inevitable. You will wind up comparing yourselves to other men, rather than the majesty of God’s holiness. The coming of Jesus Christ into the world to call sinners to repentance highlights the newness of God’s saving grace. It was certainly promised and present in the Old Testament “covenants of promise” (Eph. 2:12), but Judaism had practically extinguished the light of true religion with their system of works and rituals. God’s grace appeared in Jesus Christ to fulfill God’s promises and to expose Judaism for the impotent lie that it was and remains. As bad as it was then, it is worse now, for there is no longer any pretense of being a religion of Torah, but of the rabbis. God’s grace in Jesus Christ is the new garment in which we must clothe ourselves entirely, his righteousness, blood, and intercession. The ripped garment of manmade religion and ritual is now obsolete.
We Must Be Made New to Receive Christ’s Life
That’s right, some say, “Don’t give us any of that old religion.” But remember, the old religion to which Jesus refers is not God’s religion but a perversion of it. Other will say, “Accept me as I am,” but Jesus’ newness has something to say about this as well. What else did he mean by calling men to repentance but that we cannot receive the new wine of his grace and life in our old skins? He here calls himself the new wine from heaven, as the prophets promised (Joel 2:24-32; 3:18; Amos 9:11-15). The comparison highlights the refreshing relief to men’s souls that Jesus gives by delivering us from our sins. God’s grace in Jesus Christ is like the new, sweet wine – refreshing, delicious, invigorating – but you cannot put new wine into old wine skins, for they rupture under the pressure of the fermentation process. While we should not press the metaphor overmuch, the implications are clear. Sin has so killed us, torn our lives with lies, and broken our souls like old wine skins, so that we cannot bear the new cloth and new wine of Jesus Christ unless he makes us new men and women. This was his constant message. To Nicodemus: You must be born again. Here: I have come to call sinners to repentance. To his disciples: Unless you repent, you will perish.
And thus, when we hear his, “I make all things new,” our hearts should leap within us. The new birth with a new heart, as Jeremiah wrote, with God’s law written upon it by the Holy Spirit, so that instead of being fundamentally rebellious we are teachable before God! A new record, no longer guilty and condemned but innocent and righteousness through the satisfaction Jesus Christ rendered for us on the cross and the obedience he imputes to us so that we stand before God holy, without blame, without a charge against us! And a new life in union with Jesus Christ our Head and in communion with the Spirit of holiness, so that we have a new desire to please him, a new power to obey him, and new affections to love and worship him. Try to put this wine into an unrepentant sinner, a man or woman not yet made new, and however attractive such gospel blessings may be, they will rupture his life and make the tear worse. We cannot bear this new wine until we are made new. Hearing this, each new man or woman should rejoice and shout for joy at God’s renewing grace in your life! If you are not yet made new by the power of Jesus Christ, through turning from your sins, renouncing your willfulness, do so now. Why stay clothed in the tattered old cloths of a worn out life or self-centered religion? Why keep drinking the world’s vinegar when you could be drinking the sweet, new wine of Jesus Christ.
Some Prefer their Old Ways to New Life in Christ
But some prefer the old. Most of the Jews of that generation did. They say, “The old is better.” Here Jesus is not talking about drinking wine but men’s response to the spiritual wine he gives. It seems to some too much to give up the old ways. “We have always done it like this.” “It will cost too much to change my ways now. There is much to lose by yielding to Jesus Christ. What will he ask of me?” These and similar questions are why men prefer the old. We must be given new taste buds, and only the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit gives them to us. And hence, in an age that wants to reduce everything to statistics and metadata and human processes – including the way we do “church” and worship, we do well to recover some sense of conviction and humility before the words of our Savior. Salvation, Christian living, worship are not issues in which we try to find something that works – traditionalism, ritualism, emotionalism – then stick with it no matter what. Jesus is a living and breathing person. He is the Son of man, the God-man person, the New Wine Person. We must come to him and ask him to make us new, to write true religion upon our hearts and give us the new wine of his grace and power. Allow no old wine in your life to keep you from coming to him. Ask him to make your new. If you are already new, ask him for fresh tastes of his power and grace.