Our apologies for not keeping the blog up to date during the last fortnight; we were without broadband for a few days.
The minster will be conducting worship in Brora Free Church this weekend so worship in BVP will be led by Derek Robertson.
We will be joining our neighbours in Partick South for the annual Wheel Trust service at 7.00pm.
On Sunday 6 November our studies in Matthew took us to the call of Matthew in Chapter 9:
‘Mercy not Sacrifice’
Matthew has been painting the most beautiful portrait of Jesusfor us. Jesus is the master teacher. In the Sermon on the Mount He gives themost wonderful exposition of goodness the world has ever known. Then Matthewintroduces the Jesus the healer; there is nobody so diseased, crippled ordecrepit that Jesus cannot restore them. Then he introduces us to Jesus thesovereign Lord who commands the forces of nature. At His word the tsunami thatrocked the Sea of Galilee is quelled, evil retreats in disarray and is destroyed,He even enjoys the divine authority to forgive sin.
Important though the authority of Jesus the most striking andthe most important dimension of this wonderful portrait of Christ is His love.In love He dares to touch the unclean putrefying flesh of the leper. There areno boundaries to His love; in love He heals the son of the wealthy aristocraticGentile centurion; in love he heals Peter’s mother in law. It is this wonderfulcombination authority and love that makes Jesus so remarkable. He does so withoutpretence, He said to young man who acme wanting to make Jesus his teacher, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air havenests but the Son of Man has no place to rest His head.’ Jesus whole lifewas one of complete service.
Having completed this wonderful portrait of Jesus Matthew nowleads on to the next episode in Jesus’ ministry the calling of the disciples.Well he does and he doesn’t. A new section definitely begins with Jesus callingMatthew but certain themes continue.
The portrait of Jesus was completed with Jesus healing theparalysed man by forgiving him his sin and we saw the paralysis was symbolic ofthe incapacity sin has brought to the soul of man. But this theme continues asJesus goes to have dinner with Matthew and talks about healthy having no needof a physician; and of course Jesus goes to Matthew’s home and eats with him.Matthew was a tax collector and because he served the Roman’s, overcharged andmade money out of Rome’s occupation of Israel he was considered a quisling, atraitor, someone unclean; no self-respecting Jew would associate with. It is asthough Matthew having completed the portrait of Jesus in its general form nowconcentrates Jesus’ eyes to paint in wonderful detail the exact nature ofJesus’s ministry.
Matthew was a tax collector; but not just any tax collector.Matthew had a wee shop and sold licences to others so that they had theauthority to collect tax in that area. Imagine that in the Barrows here in Glasgowyou could go and buy an official government approved licence for imposing fineson those who parked in the wrong place in Thornwood, Broomhill and Jordanhilland you could add whatever percentage you liked so long as the council receivedtheir £30 they would be happy. This would be e licence to print money. Theright to sell these licences would have been worth a fortune, the licenceswould have to be renewed regularly and imagine the bribes that would be onoffer. Matthew was the tax collector’s tax collector. Tax collectors were hatedand despised, they contributed nothing to the community they just soaked peoplefor all the money they could. It was not only the ordinary people who despisedand hated them the religious authorities had no time for them either –tax-collectors were answerable to their Gentile masters and they handled paganmoney and that made them ‘unclean’.
In calling Matthew to be His disciple Jesus was calling someonenobody wanted to know. Matthew was a pariah and so he gathered all his fellowpariahs together to meet Jesus.
The miracle is Jesus attended the party. Now for us having foodwith someone is a pleasant enough affair but in Jesus’ day eating with someoneI have lunch with different folk all the time it is a good way of buildingfriendship and getting some work done at the same time. But in Jesus day goingto someone’s home and eating with them implied much more than friendship itimplied oneness, unity looking out for each other. Just as traditionally awedding reception is much more than just a party to celebrate a wedding but twofamilies becoming one. In going to Matthew’s home, in allowing Himself be theguest of honour and reclining at Matthew’s Jesus is pledging Himself to Matthewin a very special way.
So Matthew knows this transformation in his life he goes frompariah to being the friend of this teacher par-excellence, this wonderfulhealer, the master of the wind and the waves, the one who has ultimateauthority over evil the one who has the divine authority to forgive.
Fascinatingly the Greek word Matthew uses for his rising fromhis booth to follow Jesus, is the word he uses later in the Gospel for theresurrection of Jesus. This was Matthew experience of following Jesus, he knewa resurrection. His old life of living for money, the old life bribery andliving to make a quick buck, the old life of despising and being despised wasleft was dead; Matthew now lived to walk with the this wonderful, beautifulJesus, taught the Old Testament as no one had ever taught the Old Testamentbefore, who touched the leper, reached out in love to the Gentiles, healedPeter’s mother in law, calmed the wind and the waves drove out demons and forgave.
It is wonderful that Matthew threw this banquet for hiscolleagues so that they too could know Jesus. Matthew had lived in their skin.He knew that making money by exploiting people made you feel dirty, his was ademeaning life. He knew what it was to bear the contemptuous looks of thePharisees harden your heart and sneer back at them; he wanted his friends toknow this resurrection life he now enjoyed. Evangelism is no big deal; it isknowing what it is like to be in someone else’s skin and showing friendship sothat they can share the resurrection life you enjoy in Christ Jesus.
But Jesus’ sitting down at Matthew’s table causes an outrage.The teachers of the law who are always watching always looking to find faultare appalled that Jesus should enter the home of a tax collector and whatfollows leads to one of the great defining moments in the ministry of Jesus.This is one of the passages from the Gospel that we think we understand but ismuch more profound than we might at first imagine.
The central issue I think here is a question ‘What is theessence of true faith and discipleship that is pleasing to God?’
For the teachers of the law the answer to that question seemedto be that it was a man’s primary duty to offer sacrifice to God: to go up theTemple and offer to God a bull or a goat, if you were wealthy, or a pigeon, ifyou were poor, to prove your devotion to Him, to express your sorrow for yoursin and to find forgiveness. But you cannot come to God and simply do yourreligious duty and wander off home again; nobody is as foolish to believe that,so the life of offering sacrifice required that a man or woman devotethemselves to keeping God’s law, the understanding the commandments and livingto honour God, respect the Sabbath and do one duty to ones neighbour.
When we begin to unravel how the teachers of the law thought Iam not sure that we would disagree with them would we? What is true Christianfaith? Is it not coming to the Lord’s Table to express our trust in Christ andto find the assurance of forgiveness? We know we must not come to the Table ina casual, offhand way we must examine ourselves and come and so we seek to liveby the Sermon on the Mount. What is so wrong with that?
The primary fault with such a frame of mind is that you are atthe centre. Your devotion to God, your need for forgiveness, your holiness yourfaith is all about you, you you; me, me me.
Jesus does not dismiss the importance of sacrifice and ofdevotion to God, what He says is compassioncomes before sacrifice. Sacrifice is vital; Jesus gave His life insacrifice. Matthew could not know his new resurrection life apart from thesacrifice Jesus makes for Him. Sacrifice is vital; but sacrifice without compassionis meaningless.
Jesus goes to Matthew’s home in crossing the door intoMatthew’s home Jesus becomes unclean; the filth of Matthew’s life falls uponJesus. Jesus forgives Matthew, how can He do that? Matthew has no doubt taken bribes;God hates those who can be bought. Matthew has lived well by exploiting thepoor and the vulnerable. How can God forgive him?
It is the sacrifice that Jesus made upon the cross that givesJesus the freedom to enter Matthew’s home for on the cross Jesus became sin, Hebecame filth in order to take filth away. On the cross Jesus died the death ofthe most vile tax collector in order that God might be justified in forgivingMatthew.
It is the sacrifice of the cross that sets Jesus free to go toMatthew’s home and bring to Matthew and his friends a new resurrection life. Whatled Jesus to Matthew’s home? Compassion. What led Jesus to forgive Matthew?Compassion. What led Jesus to share a new resurrection life? Compassion. Whatled Jesus to the sacrifice of the cross? Compassion.
God asks no sacrifice from us. Sacrifice is something Jesusoffers for us. The sacrifice of the cross sets us free from guilt andcondemnation that we might without fear, in the full joy of absoluteforgiveness so that with Jesus we might say to the Father ‘Not my will but Thywill be done’ and pour our lives out in compassion and devotion.
Fascinatingly Jesus here quotes Hosea 6
v6 and in quoting Jesusquoting Hosea Matthew renders the Hebrew in Greek; Matthew does his best butHosea does not actually use the word compassion he uses the Hebrew word hesed
. Matthew needed such a friend, afriend who went to his home even though he was a pariah. A friend who wouldgive His life in sacrifice that he might know a resurrection from the old tothe new. This is the life Jesus calls us to a life of hesed
love the love of a friend who is always, always, alwaysthere; a friend who is utterly faithful will do whatever is necessary no matterthe cost.
So Jesus came in hesedlove to heal sinners Matthew. Did that mean the teachers of the law did notneed Jesus that through their religion they were OK?
Two years ago I had a secret plan. In nearly thirty years inthe ministry I had only missed two Sundays through illness. My friend inInverness, Anoghas Iain, always boasted that in thirty five years in theministry he had never missed a Sunday; then he was struck down with a heartattack and was off for six months. I thought to myself I’ll easily beat hisrecord now, the bragging rights will be mine. In my folly I did not realise twomalignant tumours were growing inside me that needed major surgery to remove.
The teachers of the law railed at Jesus for going to the homeof the sinner Matthew in their folly they had no conception of the malignancyof their own souls.
We all need to put ourselves under the care of the greatphysician the lord Jesus Christ.