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The “religion” that Jesus advocated wasn’t one that fit nicely into a one hour service with padded pews, stained glass windows and polite platitudes emanating from a pulpit. It was rugged. It was real. It forced people to a point of decision. People couldn’t straddle the fencepost around Jesus. He called them to make a decision and live by it. There was no room for hypocrites around Jesus and that’s why the Pharisees regularly resisted him. He constantly made them uncomfortable and they despised him for it. (Would folks respond well to this today? Jesus hasn’t changed.)
A narrative is given in Matthew 9 that tells of a time when Jesus, once again, upset some religious folks. Let’s look at it and draw out a few points.
Matthew 9:9-13 (New Living Translation) “As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me and be my disciple,’ Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him. Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with such scum?’ When Jesus heard this, he said, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do.’ Then he added, ‘Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: “I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.” For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.’”
Here are some points to ponder today:
Jesus surrounded Himself with folks who were known sinners. Tax collectors were “sinners” in Jesus’ day for at least a couple of reasons. First, they had the authority of Rome to collect taxes from their fellow Jews. However, they typically inflated the tax bill and pocketed the difference. Second, they committed these acts of theft against their own Jewish people thus receiving the title “traitor.” Yet, this is exactly the sort of people that Jesus surrounded Himself with for His three years of ministry.
Jesus didn’t care what others thought of His company. Pharisees could ridicule, the masses could gossip, His family could cringe if they wanted. Jesus really didn’t care.
That’s the offense of the Gospel. It begins with the realization that we’re not OK. We’ve got a problem. We’re guilty sinners before a holy God. But here’s the crux of the matter: Those that are willing to acknowledge that they are sinners will find the presence and friendship of Jesus. Those who are not will have to settle for a comfortable, lifeless, Christ-less “religion.”