Thoughts from Matthew 9…
“I lived a good life. God will want me.”
“You need to clean yourself up before coming to Jesus.”
“God only likes you if you are good person.”
These are popular thoughts. This belief even makes its way into the church — that God only wants you if you are acting nice. Clean yourself up. Act respectable. Then, and only then, can you get close to God.
But Jesus says the opposite. He did not come to congratulate the righteous. He came to save the sinners!
In other words, Jesus does not come for those who are acting good. He came those who realize that they need Him. For those who know that they can’t save themselves.
Jesus showed that the He has power over sin. He is God, and therefore He can forgive the broken man as easily as He can heal his body. Nothing is too great for Him!
And then, Jesus demonstrated the type of people whom He would call. Walking by the Sea of Galilee, He came to one of the most hated of all people, a tax gatherer. This was a local Jewish merchant who had contracted out to the oppressing Romans to gather their taxes for them. As part of his job, the tax gatherer was allowed to increase the required taxes, and even to invent new taxes as he wanted. These men were renowned for being liars and cheats. This tax gatherer, Matthew, had set up his office at the seaside, taxing the fishermen, their boats, and their fish.
Jesus passed by Matthew’s tax booth and simply says, “Follow me.” Matthew immediately left everything behind to follow Jesus Christ!
Matthew then threw a great feast at his house, giving a chance for his fellow tax collectors to meet the Lord. But not all are happy. The religious leaders, the Pharisees were indignant that this teacher would associate with such wicked people!
But Jesus has already shown that a holy lifestyle is not what is important to Him (see here). Instead, He came to show mercy to those who truly need Him. It is the sick who need a doctor, not the healthy.
Even John the Baptist’s disciples questioned His behavior. Doesn’t He know that this is the time of fasting? Jesus answered that there will be a time for fasting, but He has come to bring in the new kingdom. The old rituals are not compatible with the new kingdom in the same way that you cannot put a new patch on old clothes, or new wine into old wineskins. It is time for something new!
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
Mercy is more important than sacrifice
Jesus called Matthew to leave his tax business
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.
The Jews in the first century hated their Roman oppressors. They were controlled by the Roman Empire and were forced to follow the Roman laws, including paying taxes. The Romans would contract out the business of gathering taxes to the highest bidder.12 These men were responsible for gathering the required taxes for Rome, but they were also fully allowed to increase or add additional taxes for themselves.
There were fixed taxes, such as the poll tax per person or the property tax. Then there were also variable taxes on goods bought and sold, imports, and anything else as that the tax collector wanted. These men would would lie, cheat, and swindle their own countrymen in order to make themselves rich.a
But this one tax collector, Matthew, must have noticed this new teacher. As he listened to the teacher’s words, he saw his own brokenness and how worthless he was before a holy God.7 But there, that day, Jesus came up to Matthew himself and said two simple words, “Follow me.” Matthew dropped everything and followed Jesus, never to return to the tax business.
It is important to note that Matthew had two names. His given name appears to be Levi, but he is known as Matthew, meaning “gift of Yahweh”. Many commentators expect that Jesus had given Matthew his new name when he left his business to follow the Lord. This would be similar to when Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter (Matthew 16:17-18). This is the same Matthew who wrote this gospel account, and his own record shows that this is the name he used for himself.
Matthew invited Jesus to his retirement party
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples.
And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.
And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them.
Matthew then made a great feast for Jesus in his house, inviting all of his friends, including his fellow tax collectors. Many commentators see this as Matthew’s retirement party from the life of a tax collector.10
Jesus not only came to the dinner, but he mixed in and was reclining with the tax collectors and other sinners. Clearly, He was not offended to be in the presence of these wicked men.
The Pharisees criticized Jesus for associating with sinners
And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
But the Pharisees were offended by Jesus’ actions. How could a man who held Himself up as a rabbi, a teacher of their law, join in with these sinners? He was eating and drinking with them and reclining at the table with them, showing a level of intimacy and community that should offend any righteous person!12
“The legalist can never understand the grace of God to the undeserving and utterly lost.” – H.A. Ironside2
Conclusion: A relationship with God is more important than holy living
But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
But Jesus quickly answered the complaints of the Pharisees with two points.
First, it is those who are sick who need the physician. As long as the Pharisees were caught up in their self-righteousness, they would never be able to come to Jesus Christ and be forgiven. Jesus would later illustrate this with the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14). It is those with the broken, sinful lives that realize they need Him. Those are the ones who will be forgiven.
Second, Jesus quotes the prophet Hosea, saying “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” (Hosea 6:6). The Pharisees all knew the law and the prophets, so they would be well acquainted with Hosea’s message. Hosea 6 is a call for those who have disobeyed God to return to Him. Now, Jesus applied this challenge to those who were living upright lives. When your lives are in order, don’t look down at those who are sinful and broken. Rather, respond with mercy so that they too can come to Him!
“Most people believe that religion is for good people. The truth is that it is for bad people, who know just how bad they are.” – John MacArthur13
We all need to live holy, upright lives before God. But a relationship with Him is much more important than any good deeds that we can offer to Him!
The new ways cannot mix with the old ways
John’s disciples asked Jesus’ disciples: “Why do you not fast?”
Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”
Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”
And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.”
Matthew’s feast was during the spring, which was also the time when many devout Jews would spend large periods of time in fasting.7 8 Some fasted in order to show their piety (see here), but there were still many others, including the disciples of John the Baptist, who fasted in order to show their dedication to to the law of their Lord.
John’s disciples also had another cause for fasting. They had devoted their lives to this great teacher, of whom Jesus would describe as the greatest prophet (Matthew 11:11). John had led them, taught them, and had baptized them (see here). But now, John’s great ministry was struggling. John’s following had been eclipsed by Jesus’ ministry (see here), and their leader, John himself, was languishing in Herod’s prison (Luke 3:19-20). Their prayers and fasting would have been centered on John’s release and restoring his ministry.b
But John’s disciples came to Jesus, asking why His disciples did not fast like them. This must have been a formalized time of fasting since all other religious groups expected to be part of this fast. Their question to Jesus is almost of surprise — why don’t His disciples fast like everyone else?
“You don’t feast while the bridegroom is present”
And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.
And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.
And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.”
Jesus replied to John’s disciples with three analogies. The first analogy is of the guests at a wedding. The wedding feast, which would last for several days, would begin with the arrival of the bridegroom and would end when the bridegroom left with his new bride (see here for more details about the marriage rituals in that day).11 The wedding was a time of feasting, joy, and celebration. It would be inappropriate to stop the wedding feast for a time of mourning.
Jesus is present with His disciples, therefore this is a time of celebration. But the time will come when Jesus will be taken from them.c That will be the time when mourning and fasting will be appropriate.
“By using this image, Jesus was saying to His critics, ‘I came to make life a wedding feast, not a funeral.’” – Warren Wiersbe6
“You don’t sew a new patch on old clothes”
No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made.
No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.
He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old.
The second analogy is about patching old clothes. If you sew a new patch on to old clothes, the patch will tear the garment making it even worse.
You could not buy preshrunk clothes from Walmart in those days. Clothing was handmade from leather, wool, or linen and would naturally shrink over time. If you used a brand new cloth to patch in old garment, the patch would begin to shrink, causing it to tear away from the garment. The end result would be even worse than before you applied the patch.d
The point of this analogy is that the new kingdom does not mix with the old traditions. To try and add the old rituals of the law with the new kingdom is like putting a new patch old an old clothing. They cannot match.f
“You don’t put new wine into an old wineskin”
Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”
The final analogy is about storing wine in wineskins. Wine was not bottled, but was instead stored in containers made from sewn leather. The leather would stretch as the wine fermented and aged. But the old wineskins had lost their elasticity and could no longer stretch if you filled them with new wine. Instead, the new wine would cause the old skins to burst, thereby destroying both the wine and the skin.
Once again, the new kingdom cannot mix with the old traditions. To mix the old traditions with the new kingdom would be like filling an old wineskin with new wine. The end result is that both are destroyed.e
Conclusion: You can’t mix the new kingdom with the old rituals
Jesus used the question by John’s disciples to show that instead of the old rituals and traditions, He has come with a new kingdom.
He taught about the new kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount, showing that the new kingdom does not do away with the law. Instead, He fulfilled the law. He fulfilled the law by completing the promises that the law had made, such as the blessings for obedience and the penalties for disobedience. He fulfilled the law by becoming the object of the sacrifices and temple worship. He was the long-awaited Messiah that they all pointed to. And finally, He fulfilled the law by raising the standard. He took away the rituals of the law and brought us back the relationship with God that was originally intended! See here for more details.
But you cannot attempt to please God by picking and choosing from the old law and the new kingdom. You cannot take Jesus’ new standards that you like, and also borrow sections from the Old Testament law that you also like. You cannot mix the new kingdom with the old rituals.
“To attempt to amalgamate the two principles of law and grace would annul the true meaning of both (Romans 11:6).” – H.A. Ironside2
“The Christian life is not a mixing of the old and the new; rather, it is a fulfillment of the old in the new.” – Warren Wiersbe5
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
In all of the scenes here, Jesus showed that a relationship with Him is more important than any rituals that you can offer Him. He has come to seek and save those who are lost, whether you are at the top of society or if you are at the bottom. Those who think they have “made it” with God need to look carefully to make sure that they are not simply caught up in the rituals and have missed knowing Him.
And finally, you cannot mix the old traditions with the new kingdom. You cannot mix and match pieces of religious actions and then pretend to trust Him. You need to come to him completely, leaving behind all of your good deeds and your bad deeds. His kingdom is something completely new!
For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Previous post: The Kingdom is about Forgiveness
 Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King, Kregel Publications, 1980, Matthew 8:18-34, pages 128-132
 H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Matthew 9, The King Continues to Manifest His Power and Grace
 H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Address 17, The Call and Response of Matthew, Luke 5:27-39
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Matthew 9:1-17, page 29
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Mark 2:1-22, pages 93-96
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Luke 5:17-39, pages 151-153
 Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book III, CHAPTER XVII: THE CALL OF MATTHEW, THE SAVIOUR’S WELCOME TO SINNERS, RABBINIC THEOLOGY AS REGARDS THE DOCTRINE OF FORGIVENESS IN CONTRAST TO THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST, THE CALL OF THE TWELVE APOSTLES (St. Matthew 9:9-13; St. Mark 2:13-17; St. Luke 5:27-32; St. Matthew 10:2-4; St. Mark 3:13-19; St. Luke 6:12-19.), https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.viii.xvii.html
 Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book III, CHAPTER XXVIII: THE STORY OF THE BAPTIST, FROM HIS LAST TESTIMONY TO JESUS TO HIS BEHEADING IN PRISON (1. St. John 3:25-30. 2 St. Matthew 9:14-17; St. Mark 2:18-22; St. Luke 5:33-39. 3. St. Matthew 11:2-14; St. Luke 7:18-35. 4. St. Matthew 14:1-12; St. Mark 6:14-29; St. Luke 9:7-9.), https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.viii.xxviii.html
 Doug Bookman, Life of Christ, Audio Series, Lecture 7. http://www.jesus.org/life-of-jesus/harmony-of-the-gospels/14-jesus-saturates-galilee-with-his-message.html
 Stephen Davey, Never Off Duty . . . Always On Call, Mark 2:1-17, 11/1/1987
 Stephen Davey, Splitting Hairs, Mark 2:18-3:6, 11/8/1987
 Stephen Davey, The Trouble with Matthew, Luke 5:27-32, 1/10/2013
 John MacArthur, Receiving the Sinner/Refusing the Righteous, Part 1, Matthew 9:9-13, Nov 30, 1980
 John MacArthur, Receiving the Sinner/Refusing the Righteous, Part 2, Matthew 9:14-17, Dec 7, 1980
[a] There were two types of tax collectors in Jewish society. The first, known as the “Gabbai” was responsible for collecting the fixed taxes, such as the poll tax, the tax on roads, etc. It was very difficult for the Gabbai to become wealthy since they were not allowed to mark up the fixed taxes. The second type of tax collector, known as the “Mokhes”, would tax all other items. They could tax as many items and charge as much as they wanted. The Mokhes would become very wealthy from their taxes and were the most hated among the tax collectors.
There were two classes among the Mokhes: The “great Mokhes” would hire other men to sit at the tax tables for him. The “little Mokhes” would sit at the tables himself. As much as the Mokhes was hated, the little Mokhes was the most despised.
Matthew was a little Mokhes. He was at the seaside, adding taxes to for fishing, sitting at the table himself. We have no evidence that Matthew was actually a thief, but his very presence of a tax collector would have made him despised among his countrymen.6 7 10
[b] John the Baptist would never be released from prison. He would remain imprisoned at Herod’s palace in Machaerus until the fateful day when Herod’s new stepdaughter extracted a promise from the king after a lewd dance. She demanded John’s head on a platter and Herod, forced by his promise and his guests, grudgingly fulfilled his promise. Thus ended the life of the greatest prophet (Matthew 14:1-12).
[c] The language for “the bridegroom is taken away from them” in Matthew 9:15 implies an act of violence. Jesus has not yet told his disciples about his death, but this is one of the places where he foreshadows what is to come.1
[d] Luke’s account in Luke 5:36 adds another perspective regarding not putting a new patch on an old garment. In Luke’s account, if you tear the patch from a new garment, you will ruin both garments. The new garment will be torn and the (patched) older garment will not match. The analogy is slightly different but the point is the same: you cannot mix the old and the new.
[e] Commentators have long debated the the addition in Luke’s account (Luke 5:39), which says, “And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”Some have interpreted this to mean that the old, better-tasting wine is the new covenant under Jesus Christ while the newer, harsher tasting wine is the oppressive ritualism of the law. The problem with this interpretation is that it switches the old and the new in the analogies. The new kingdom is presented as the “old wine” and the old law is presented as the “new wine.”
A better understanding, and one that most commentators agree with, is that Jesus is warning that it will be difficult for those from the old system of law to accept the new. Be prepared that they will be slow to leave their old traditions and commit the new kingdom.
[f] “By using this illustration [of the new wine into old wineskins], Jesus refuted once and for all the popular idea of a compromising ‘world religion.’ Well-meaning but spiritually blind leaders have suggested that we take ‘the best’ from each religion, blend it with what is ‘best’ in the Christian faith, and thus manufacture a synthetic faith that would be acceptable to everybody.” – Warren Wiersbe5